The Lexington Comic and Toy Convention, now in its fourth year, has mushroomed into a three-day weekend expected to draw 20,000 enthusiastic fans of superheroes, Manga, horror, fantasy and science-fiction.
The center of action is the cavernous exhibition hall packed with retailers selling stuff and celebrities autographing stuff. Special events — panel discussions, costume contests, science-fiction speed-dating — are scheduled on an hourly basis around the Lexington Center, sometimes on other floors. There also are nighttime activities, including a magic show, movies and a dance party.
If you are heading out, here are some suggestions for how to prepare and how to behave:
1. Arrive early
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This is one of those deliriously busy March weekends in downtown Lexington. The comics show will be downstairs in the Lexington Center while Rupp Arena, upstairs, simultaneously hosts Disney on Ice, certain to attract many thousands of families with shrieking, happy children. Outside, on Saturday, the Lexington St. Patrick's Day Parade, Shamrock Shuffle 3K Race and live Irish music will shut down Main and Vine streets, also known as the main routes through downtown.
2. Wear comfy shoes
You'll spend a lot of time in line. There is the line to buy tickets at the entrance — or if you wisely purchased them online in advance, the separate gathering of folks clutching tickets, wondering why they still have to stand in a very long line to enter.
Doors open to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Many people arrive hours ahead of that. Some might be camped there right now.
Once you're inside, there are lines to meet the more popular guests (i.e., anyone connected to Star Trek, Star Wars or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). There are lines to get into the conference rooms for the more popular panel discussions. If a dealer has an especially good collection of old comics for sale, you get to patiently wait your turn before you dig through his boxes.
3. Be cool
Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation will be delighted to meet you, assuming you don't follow her into the bathroom to explain how episode 72 (Ménage à Troi) changed your life.
Celebrity guests and comics pros are stationed at clearly marked tables around the hall. When someone you want to meet is available at his or her table, politely stick out your mitt and introduce yourself. You're welcome to ask for an autograph or — if the person is an artist — for a sketch. Of course, you might be charged. This is how some of them make a living now.
When asking for items to be autographed, limit yourself to one or two things. Don't plunk down a stack of merchandise destined for eBay and tell them to start scribbling. And if there are people waiting in line behind you, keep it snappy. Same goes if the celebrity is glancing at her watch or clearing his throat and looking over your shoulder. This is called "body language."
4. Ask first
"Cosplayers" are dedicated fans who wear costumes to conventions so they'll look like their favorite characters, such as Wolverine or Chainmail Armor Bikini Girl. The costumes can be impressively professional looking. They also can be quite skimpy.
Most cosplayers cheerfully will agree to have their picture taken if you ask. But don't assume you're invited to shoot a photo — or ogle, make remarks or touch — just because a cosplayer walks near you. Lewd behavior toward cosplayers has turned into a serious problem at comics conventions around the country. Nobody likes a creep.
5. Travel light
The main floor of a comics convention isn't a great place for wheeled suitcases, baby strollers or costumes with a 5-foot wingspan (sorry, Hawkman). It is extremely crowded much of the time, almost claustrophobically so. You don't want to be the logjam in the aisle who keeps everyone from reaching Chewbacca's table. Anyway, you're going to buy 20 pounds of stuff while you're there, so you might as well go in empty-handed.