Emerald City Comicon 2012: the kids are all right
– by Rachel Sanders
My house is filled with superheroes. Since my husband works in the comic book industry and my six-year-old son shares his dad’s interests, I’m constantly gathering up piles of dog-eared Avengers comics and tiny plastic action figures. So a family trip to the Seattle comic convention is hardly a getaway from my daily life. Still, it’s a trip I’d been dying to take for years.
Every spring, my husband heads down to the Emerald City Comicon to shake hands and sign books. And every year I stay home with the kids, drinking extra coffee and suffering stabs of envy over tales of open bar parties and massive, plush hotel beds. We’ve considered turning it into a family trip, but every year we’ve dismissed the idea as reckless and ill-advised. I used to love travelling. But infants, man, they suck all the glamour out of it.
When we realized this year’s con fell on the weekend of our son’s seventh birthday, we decided it was time to bite the bullet. But we were worried. How would the kids handle it? This would be a business trip, after all, with certain obligations attached. We were pretty sure the seven-year old would be fine. But we’ve got a four-year-old, too, and she’s got a four-year-old’s sense of reason and decorum. So we were thrilled when Granny offered to come along for daytime child-wrangling and evening babysitting. Problem solved, I figured. My husband continued to fret.
The three-hour drive down was painless. A quick border crossing and a few rounds of car bingo and we arrived at the Seattle Sheraton, which is directly across the street from the Convention Center – a key, it turned out, to the trip’s success.
Granny’s presence allowed my husband and I to skip off for the evening, attend a couple of panels, and have dinner with colleagues at Spur Gastropub. Post-dinner beers at the hotel bar – which was teeming with industry folk – turned us giddy with freedom. A feeling that evaporated at 6 a.m. the next morning, when the overexcited birthday boy burst through the adjoining door with his sister.
But it was con day, no time for loafing, so we staggered down to the buffet. After gorging on hotel waffles, the kids dressed for their first visit to the convention floor. As soon as they were outfitted in last year’s Halloween costumes – a homemade Thor and a store-bought Spider-Man – we crossed the street to brave the line-up.
It was long and winding, but moved quickly and provided plenty of entertainment.
“Look Mummy, there’s Waldo,” my son said, every time we zig-zagged past the guy in a red-and-white-striped shirt and pom-pom hat. A toddler-sized Spider-Man caught my daughter’s eye and they stared each other down. My son got a high-five from a full- grown Thor. The kids decided to start counting their doppelgangers.
In a fit of pre-con anxiety, my husband had drawn up an itinerary. A smart move: it kept us focused and the kids engaged.
Stop 1: The DC booth, where mini-Thor and mini-Spidey posed for photos while we stood in line. Kids in costumes were a rare sight at the con; despite the event’s family-friendliness, comics don’t attract kids like they used to. The long line ended in a generous pile of free pins and comics, well worth the 20-minute wait.
Stop 2: The T-shirt booth. This one proved fruitless. There were hundreds of adult-sized shirts and a few infant sizes, but no decent shirts that fit either of our mid-sized kids. We consoled them at the toy booth with squishy, melon-headed Thor and Spider-Man stuffies to match their costumes.
Stop 3: Artists’ Alley, to check out Daddy’s table. The con floor was heating up, the crowds bigger than previous years, according to several of the pros. Both kids were glassy-eyed and the four-year-old was getting squirrely. We decided to beat a retreat and go for lunch, but the route to the exit was swarming and filled with distractions. A stop for some handshaking at the Vertigo booth and a pause to look at beautiful hand-painted Tiny Kitten Teeth comics and Chris Yates’ hand-made wooden jigsaw puzzles triggered a full-scale preschooler meltdown.
This is where the conveniently-located hotel and the extra adult paid off. We sent the over-stimulated four-year-old across the road with Granny for an afternoon of Animal Planet and cheese crackers. Our instincts, it turned out, had been right. There but for the grace of Granny went I.
The rest of the day was a pleasure.
Stop 4: The quarter bins, where the boy spent an hour selecting old ’80s comics – with their episodic nature and simpler storylines, they’re the most kid-friendly ones out there.
Stop 5: Artists’ Alley again to beg for sketches. While artists charge fans anywhere from $25 to $400 for a commissioned drawing at a con, many don’t mind doing small sketches for kids for free. The boy collected four Thor head sketches and was satisfied.
Stop 6: Photos and costume-spotting in the lobby. Pictures with an impressive Galactus and Silver Surfer capped off the con experience nicely.
Stop 7: Pizza, ice cream and arcade games at Gameworks, across the road from the hotel.
All-in-all, the greatest birthday a seven-year-old boy could hope for.
Lessons learned: Pre-scouting the con floor and putting together an itinerary was invaluable. And kids under seven are only likely to last an hour on the con floor, so bring a babysitter or be prepared to bail early if you’re travelling with tinies.
Overall, our first family comicon was a success. I’ll be sure to treasure the memories, because I have a feeling it’ll be a few years before the short ones and I get to tag along again.