Friday, September 24, 2021

So you want to bring your kids to Comic Con...

(Guest Post by Ken)

Among geeks there are few rites of passage as big as attending a Comic Con (or “Fan Expo,” or other similar name that means the same thing). And yet, until last weekend I had never actually been to one myself. I’ve always been on the fence about going, but have finally given it a try… well, sort of. You see, I brought my kids with me. 

I attended Friday and Saturday of the Dallas Fax Expo last weekend. There were big names there like William Shatner, George Takei, Zachary Levi, Stephen Amell, Adam Savage, and more. (Sadly, a reunion visit from Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry in a commemorative 20th anniversary Lord of the Rings panel was canceled last minute). I saw some of these people in person and was impressed to see their friendliness with fans. But I didn’t attend any panels or meet-and-greets because on Friday I had my 6-year-old son and on Saturday I had my 4-year-old daughter in tow and kids aren’t really keen to stand in long lines to see some old people who to them bear no significance. 

Taking each of my two older children on a “daddy date” with me was a nice way of being able to get out and do something social with the friend who invited me while also getting some great time in with my kids, but it will definitely alter your conference experience. Of course, as a first-time attendee, I can’t quite comment on what I was supposedly “missing out on,” but I can give you the pros and cons of taking your kids to a Con, at least through the lens of my experience at the Dallas Fax Expo.

Kid Specific Programming

There was a room, somewhat distanced from the main events and large crowds, specifically designated as the “Family Zone.” They had a number of craft activities and play areas for kids, though some of the play areas were lacking (one was literally just all the cardboard boxes used for supplies shipped in to set up the expo so the kids could stack them in towers; clever, but it seemed very last minute and didn’t hold my kids’ interest). 

Arts and crafts time at Dallas Fan Expo!

This area also hosted a number of events geared towards children. One event my children were both interested in, and which was thankfully held both days, was the Harry Potter Sorting Ceremony, as we’ve been reading the Harry Potter books together this year (we’re three quarters through Prisoner of Azkaban right now). This was a genuinely nice event and my son really enjoyed getting sorted (into Gryffindor, no less!). My daughter loved the idea, but when her turn came, she became like the kid who waits in the line to see Santa only to panic and scream at the finish line. She was so scared she might get sorted into Slytherin that she would not get in the chair. The team in charge kindly let her get a Gryffindor pin afterwards that she’s been wearing ever since. 

My son got sorted into Gryffindor!

The sorting ceremony was genuinely entertaining, featuring the commentary of the presenting “wizards” and an actual talking hat who responded in real time to specific conversations with each recipient. Only one thing irritated me about this event (and it was a bigger problem on Saturday than Friday): the number of adults who quickly dominated the front of the line of an event specifically marked for children and made the intended audience of sometimes attention-deficit children wait in a very long line. I don’t mind adults wanting to play Harry Potter games at a con, but at an event for children they should at least let all the kids go first and if there is extra time they can then do adults. The line ended up having a cutoff on Saturday and some kids got turned away while more than half of those who actually got to be sorted were adults without kids. And while my own daughter ultimately panicked at the finish line, she was so excited just to be there that if she’d been told “No” while a bunch of grown ups got sorted instead, she’d have been truly devastated. Incidentally, my daughter had a less panicky experience later with the Jedi Padowan training event where she got to learn lightsaber skills, and this event did a much better job of being truly kids-only. 

Overall, the family-centric offerings at Dallas Fan Expo managed to just clear the “acceptable” bar. The Harry Potter and Star Wars events were genuinely fun, but other “events” turned out to be a lot of nothing, and lots of times there wasn’t much specifically offered to kids and families other than the meager craft table. But my kids did enjoy the activities that were aimed at them and that made it easier for them to spend some time looking at other areas of the con in-between that were aimed more at adults. I wasn’t wowed by the family offerings, and hope that maybe in a further post-COVID world they may up their game a bit in that regard.

My daughter learning to be a Jedi!

The Booths (AKA, The Minefield)

Much of the real estate space of the conference center rented for the event was devoted to various booths, primarily for vendors selling art, comic books (the historical origin of these events), collectibles, anything even vaguely geek-connected, and even a few random things that aren’t geek-specific at all (one guy tried to sell me solar panels and another was pedaling water filtration systems). This is the zone that wants your money. I admit that it is a fascinating place to walk around. I’m not a huge collector myself, so it wasn’t particularly tempting, but it was still fun to see especially the homemade and handcrafted wares, or the vast collections some people acquired over decades. 

Of course, when you bring kids who realize that this is a shopping experience and not a museum, you start to see the widening of their eyes in this cornucopia of toys and colorful oddities. The subtle questioning of whether we could buy something started early with my son. Ultimately, each child was allowed to buy an old throwback comic book from the $2 boxes. My son found a 1964 gem where Lex Luthor appears to turn Superman into a purple dragon, while my daughter picked the 1980 Avengers titled that first introduced Yellowjacket as a villain. Allowing them to get SOMETHING helped placate and tame the requests for all the other fun things, such as toys that are insanely expensive because they are some throwback collectible pre-dating the Carter administration but just look like a regular toy to a 6-year-old. 

Comic books selected by my children

The “I-Want-That!” trap was tempered by the other big downside of this area: its sheer claustrophobia. Perhaps I’m still adjusting to crowds after 18 months of pandemic, but this part of the con had narrow walkways and lots of people and I felt genuinely uncomfortable spending too much time there. Thankfully, my daughter especially felt the same way and so her desire to see and ask for cool things was countered by her distaste for the teeming crowds. 

Other Stuff

A quick note on food: The food court offerings were modest. I expected more vendors given the crowd size, but the lines moved pleasantly fast. The prices were about what I expected: a little more than you’d pay normally, but not the highest. In my head I have a continuum of food pricing from low to high that goes:

Regular fast food/food truck < Mall Food Court < Airport < Theme Park

The same item will cost more as you move to the right along the continuum. The food offering here were priced squarely in the “Mall Food Court” zone. And I gotta add that the personal pizzas we got were… surprisingly good! My kids approved as well, though they were disappointed that Hawaiian was not an option.

Eating surprisingly not bad pizza

Cosplay was fun for the kids to observe. While a few of the costumes were scary or edgy, for the most part the kids delighted just in seeing all the fun characters. My daughter adored that my friend Spencer was dressed as Nick Wilde from Zootopia, and she saw a Flynn Ryder from Tangled who she instantly recognized and pretty much melted over. My son, upon hearing that people would wear costumes, actually got into the fun himself as a few minutes before we left home he grabbed his strap on butterfly wings that he has thoroughly worn out over the last few years. Some may find it a bit odd to see a boy wearing monarch wings, but he loves all things science and had a bug-obsession phase a couple years ago. I love that nobody looked at him strange for wearing his beloved wings, and in fact he got lots of compliments. 

The wandering droids were a hit with the kids

Of course, as mentioned earlier, there are many experiences you’ll have to forego if you bring kids. I didn’t even attempt to go to any panels, screenings, Q&A’s, or meet and greets, because I know my kids would have been bored out of their minds. Some of the panels looked really interesting, and someday I may try a con again either sans kids or with older kids who may want to see some of those things. But there were a lot of things I didn’t do, so I can’t quite give my full review of the con experience. Of course, I knew that going into it, so I wasn’t disappointed for missing what I planned to skip when I decided to bring my kids. 

In conclusion, here’s my biggest takeaways for bringing your kids to a Comic Con:

  1. Don’t expect to do the same things you’d do without them. If you want to spend time with your kids by bringing them, you need to alter your plans and expectations to what they will enjoy.
  2. Don’t plan to stay all day. The attention span for littler kids just isn’t there for that.
  3. Make sure the con you are attending has some kid-friendly activities. If you don’t see much programming geared towards them, you might be better off not bringing them.

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