Awesome Con 2014 lived up to its name with its second annual show and was indeed awesome! Everything about this year’s convention made it feel like a convention that had been around for years instead of just a year. The range of media, literary, and artist guests was incredibly impressive for a second year show. Congratulations DC: I think we finally have a comic con.
Before we get into more about my positive experience with the convention, I did want to touch on a few things. First, I have to offer my utmost respect to Ben Penrod and others involved with running Awesome Con for their willingness to stand up and admit that there were issues with lines and other aspects on the convention this year. Not everyone would be as readily willing to admit that there were a few problems. To be completely honest, if there hadn’t been growing pains for Awesome Con this year, I would’ve been absolutely shocked. In its second year, Awesome Con went from 5000+ attendees to almost quadruple that. That’s a huge leap. There were bound to be problems. So we’re going to go a bit into the feedback portion of the report before I dive into everything that helped make the convention so awesome.
The good thing is that these are all problems that can be solved. As a member of the press, I didn’t experience the long lines to pick up badges but all it takes is a quick Google search to see people’s disgruntlement. From an outsider’s point of view, two things might help here: extending the show hours or at the very least extending the hours during which people can get a badge and also using more of the convention center space. I’d also recommend moving the media guests into their own hall where there is more space and so the Artist Alley and Dealer Room can grow.
I was hesitant on whether or not to bring up the weapons check here. As someone who’s lived in DC for years, I get that there was going to be a pretty strict weapons policy at the door. However, there’s a point where peace bonding and weapons checks goes a little too far. Sonic screwdrivers and lightsabers aren’t something that needs to be peace bonded and really, what is a strip of plastic going to do? While I respect Awesome Con’s decision to take a look at every potential weapon that came into the convention hall, perhaps a more restrained approach to peace bonding might be better in the future.
As far as panel lines themselves went, I found myself utterly baffled with how Danai Gurira’s Q&A line was shuffled along. First, we were asked to move in order to not block traffic which made sense. Then we were told that we couldn’t sit while in line because apparently sitting took up too much space? (From my point of view of a limited portion of the line, the switch to standing didn’t help much.) What I found to be absolutely confounding was how we were then asked to abandon the orderly queue and were shuffled forward into a giant unorganized mass in half of the hallway. I’ve never once experienced something like that at any convention and it still confuses me. I was also not a fan of the staggered panel time. Having a panel start every 15 minutes makes it hard for people to really put together a feasible schedule for themselves. I suggest that Awesome Con look to Dragon Con and its tracks and panel schedule as an example for next year.
The con crit is out of the way! On to the good things! And there really were a lot of good things to say.
Friday was the preview day for the convention. Doors opened at 3pm and stayed open until 8pm. It was a nice little bonus for both Kickstarter backers and for those who wanted every last moment of con experience they could get. Plus, the lines were certainly much shorter for badges on Friday so it was a win all around for those involved. Honestly, having the preview day was nothing but great. I also love that Awesome Con was willing to let TV crews set up interview and filming stations in the raised area at the back of the hall.
Saturday was definitely the busy day for the convention. Cosplayers were out in full force and people were eager to meet some of their favorite stars. Having a decent variety of food options inside the dealer hall (including smoothies!) was great and made it easier for con goers to avoid leaving the convention center.
One of the nicest things about Awesome Con is how wide they made their aisles. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling cramped and like you can’t stop to look at a table and the width here made it so that wasn’t even an issue. While occasionally you might have to weave your way through some crowds, it was never a problem. There was certainly some nice growth to both the Exhibitor Hall and the Artist Alley from last weekend. I particularly enjoyed getting to see some of the more unique creations of some of the artists. Of particular note was the booth with the amazing metal work characters and also the table with Christmas stockings themed after different characters. My hope is that even more unique artists will come into mix in future years.
I was given the opportunity to serve as a panelist. On Saturday afternoon, Tosche Station ended up unofficially hosting a Star Wars discussion panel on the State of the Galaxy. My fellow panelists were Timothy Zahn, John Morton (the actor who played Dak and Bespin Boba), and Rod and Leanne Hannah who write the parody web comic Blue Milk Special. As moderator, I was thrilled to have such a wide variety of voices chatting about what we loved about Star Wars, what we thought might happen in Episode VII and Rebels, and where we thought and wanted to see Star Wars go from there. I won’t presume to speak for the packed audience in the room but I think it’s safe to say that all five of us had a great time chatting and I would certainly relish the chance to do so again.
For me, my ‘must see’ panel was the Question and Answer session with The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira. While the line situation might have been a bit strange, the panel itself was an absolute delight. The moderator made it a point to ask Danai about other aspects of her career and her life at the start. The fact that she is an award-winning playwright makes her even more awesome and I now have nothing but the deepest respect for what her organization Almasi does to try and professionalize the dramatic arts in her home country of Zimbabwe. She was a joy to listen to as she discussed her work on The Walking Dead. This panel also had the distinction of having overwhelmingly good questions from the audience and little to no stereotypically irritating convention questions.
The number of attendees on Sunday was surprisingly good for it also being Easter. I have no official numbers but there were already a decent number of people lined up to get into the exhibit hall when I arrived around 9:35 that morning. Con-goers didn’t feel cheated though as they still had the opportunity to hit up plenty of big panels that day. My panel of choice for the day was a Question and Answer with Timothy Zahn moderated by Janine Spendlove. It was an incredibly fun hour as the two were able to play off each other and it felt like a fun conversation between both them and the audience. Janine’s unofficial theme of ‘Educate yourselves!’ when it came to seeing if members of the audience had read some of Zahn’s books certainly got a chuckle from lots of us. It was a really fun hour all together. I’m not saying you should try to get Zahn back next year AND get Mike Stackpole for panels together but I actually totally am.
One of the nice things I got to witness throughout the weekend was how Awesome Con made slight changes each day depending on what they’d seen and learned the day before. The best example I saw on Sunday was how they shifted George Perez’s booth from the middle to the side where his line could grow to its heart’s content without blocking the flow of traffic. Again, it was the little things that Awesome Con did that helped make up for issues earlier in the weekend.
Overall, Awesome Con 2014 was a very enjoyable convention that demonstrated that it was willing to learn from its mistakes to create an even better ever evolving show. I look forward to see how the show changes in 2015 as it shifts to a May weekend and a three full days.
As always, we’ll wrap this post up with some of the fun cosplay we saw over the weekend. Enjoy!