We’ve all been there: You went to a convention and had three days of fun and frolic. But come Monday morning, you feel like homemade death. Your head is muzzy, and your coughing up something halfway between green and orange that definitely isn’t in the box of 64 Crayolas. You have almost enough energy to take a nap, and that’s about it. Congratulations—you’ve got the con crud.
As comic conventions get bigger—130,000 at San Diego and 66,000 at the Orlando MegaCon, anyone?—the crud gets more prevalent. More fans and more creators lose almost a week after cons with that vague sickness that seems almost unavoidable. But what is the con crud? Germs? Bacteria? The pon farr?
Dr. Maurico Heilbron is a fully boarded general surgeon with a practice in Los Angeles. He’s also a lifelong comic fan who attends multiple conventions every year, some work-related, and some to feed his comics need. He says, “Most of it’s mild, most is viral, and most can be cured with hand-washing. One of the attributes of the con is that you’re among a lot of people. The con crud happens for the same reason people tend to get colds in the winter—It’s more people in a tighter area with decreased ventilation.”
The comics world is gearing up for New York Comic Con, with an expected 116,000 attendees, plus publishers, writers, artists, and exhibitors. X-Force writer Rick Remender can’t make it this year, but he attended last year. And got the crud.
“I dose some vitamin C, I’ve started taking Vitamin D, but inevitably, yeah, I’m never able to avoid it,” Remender says. “Easily 9 out of 10 shows, I’m sick for a week after. It’s just par for the course at these events.”
Remender thinks it’s all the handshakes that do it—or maybe just one. “You shake that many hands, easily 100 a day, and there’s that one—you know it!—that’s the cold, clammy handshake. There’s one Dewey Stickyhand in every crowd. And you know, ‘Oh, I’ve got it.’”
Many creators turn to Purell or other hand sanitizers to help combat the crud. Some, like Remender, do it on the sly after a Dewey Stickyhand experience. “You want to just bathe in Purell,” he says. “But you don’t want that guy to see you.”
Dr. Heilbron’s advice is to forget the social embarrassment factor, or better yet—go one step up. “If you’re a creator sitting in a booth literally shaking a hundred hands an hour, a little bit of Purell isn’t going to offend anybody. In fact, I think a lot of people nowadays appreciate it,” he says. But the better bet is to hit the rest room. “Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but hand-washing is much better than hand sanitizer.”
And for every 9-outta-10 Remender, there’s a George Pérez. The now 39-year comics vet has attended hundreds of conventions in his time, but is rarely laid low. “I seem to have an incredibly resistant nature,” he says. “I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve actually been ill. But that could have been form anything—the food, the plane. Who knows?”
As anyone who’s seen him knows, Pérez is the outgoing type. And he never bothers with Purell. “I shake hands, I kiss, I hug…when fans want to take a picture, I don’t just sit behind a table, but I get up and take a photo with them because it feels more personal that way,” he says. “I guess it’s kind of amazing I haven’t become Typhoid Georgie.”
When (metaphorical) typhoid hits, the reverberations can felt throughout the industry. Tom Brevoort is a longtime Marvel Comics editor, now a senior VP of publishing. He’s sometimes personally responsible for a dozen books a month, and knows the con crud wreck havoc with schedules.
“It’s a big-time domino effect,” he says. “If you have three guys on a team each losing three days, you’re missing a week-plus on a monthly schedule. It just gets nuts.”
Brevoort is in the middle the Remender-to-Pérez scale when it comes to catching the con crud. He thinks the slap-dash pace is what does him in. “Once you get in the show and you’re moving from panels to booths to signing areas, you’re shaking hands with people, forgetting to sanitize, and if you eat at all during the hours of the con, it’s a concession stand hot dog sometimes.”
Simply forgetting to eat can be the final straw. “Cons are work for some people, and fun for others. And when you’re in that mode, the rest of the world can go away,” says Dr. Heilbron. “So yeah, you might realize you haven’t eaten in nine hours.”
Pounding something good into your system is crucial. “Vitamins in general and improved nutrition unquestionably helps,” Heilbron says. “You want your immune system to be as strong as it can be. Hydration is important, and I always tell people to drink something with some nutritive value—don’t only drink water, drink orange juice or apple juice. And when carrying snacks, an apple or banana is a lot better than a Snickers bar.”
Sum it all up, and you can beat the crud. Dawn writer/artist Joseph Michael Linsner has been through the fire…and no longer gets burned.
“I used to get sick all the time,” he says. “But these days, I wash my hands a lot, and I never go to a show without taking vitamin C with me.”
Half (okay, three-quarters) the fun of a con is the after-hours cocktail circuit. But Linsner now goes easy on the social ramble. “I also limit my alcohol intake,” he says. “Alcohol lowers your resistance, so I figure if I get drunk and also shake 500 hands, I’m putting myself right in the crosshairs. I might have one cocktail here or one beer there, but that’s it.”
Another key component of the Linsner recovery plan? Take one day off to rest right after a con. Even if you don’t want to. “I pretty much work seven days a week ’cause I love what I do, but I’ve started making myself take a day off to recover after,” he says. “I try not to pick up a pencil, anything. It’s tough sometimes, but I feel I have to do it. And it seems to be working.”