Autograph Hound's Blah Blah Blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dallas ComicCon - a recap - the good, bad, and the ugly

A few weeks ago, Dallas ComicCon occurred.  I’ve been surprised by the reaction from some of the crowd. So I’m throwing my 2 cents into the internet’s ether.
While I’ve only attended these shows for the last couple of years, I‘ve seen the quality of guests and the size of the crowds increase.  I hang out on the message board that the show maintains and read through the responses from the fans about past and future shows.  I talk to fellow attendees and fellow collectors too.   I know my thoughts aren’t that isolated.  
In the short time I’ve been aware of these shows; I have found that the promoters (Mark and Ben) do respond to many of the posts from the boards. They seem to take the time to respond courteously and give explanations on why some things do or do not occur.
One of the topics on the board is ‘request a guest’.  It’s a nice way to get feedback on what the attendees want and to judge excitement and overall appeal of bringing someone to the show. If you read through the request list, you’ll see a lot of those guests have been brought in over the years.
This last Dallas ComicCon has generated some interesting chatter on the boards and even in the press.
To preface, I was somewhat surprised by the crowd for this recent convention.  I was also somewhat frustrated with the crowds.  Somewhat is a relative term.  The crowds caused me to spend more time than I expected/hoped getting what I wanted to get done. This is admittedly a selfish reaction as I had other plans for the day and was hoping to get in and out quickly.
We all perceive the world in many different ways.  Our perceptions are formed on our education, experiences, and expectations.

 The Good –
I thought the guest list was stellar.  The guest list makes or breaks a show.  A convention with only one big name might not tempt me out of the house on a Saturday morning.
Personally, the biggest name was Patrick Stewart.  Even though I prefer Kirk over Picard, this is an important person in the Trek world.  To add to this importance is the rarity of his appearances. 
Stan Lee was also in town for this show. While he is appearing in a multitude of conventions across the country, he is an extremely popular guest and his name brings the geeks and nerds out in droves. 
Other big name quests were Summer Glau, James Marsters, George Perez, Adam West, and Burt Ward.  There was a nice cast of supporting guests too, both media guests and artists.
The location of the show is good for me.  It’s a drive but taking the Tollway, I can get there in about 30 minutes.  I’m willing to drive a 3 or 4 hours for a show; so this is within my comfort zone.
 A lot of people participate in cosplay at these shows. While it isn’t something I partake in, it’s something I appreciate and I enjoy the diversion it presents.  I enjoy people watching and watching people in costumes is far more exciting than people dressed to go the mall. 
The cost of the show is affordable.  I know this is also a relative term and the message board has a lot of discussion on this point. From my experience with others shows (WorldCon, SDCC, and NSCC), this is a bargain. Parking is another bargain at $5, although the people parking in the empty fields aren’t happy about that; I’m often paying $10 or more to park.  The costs of the autographs are in line with other shows and cheaper for the big names than it would be at SDCC.  Also I’m more likely to get a few seconds of time with the celeb at Dallas ComicCon than SDCC.
The Bad –
I don’t like the new venue. The Irving Convention center is big. Okay, it’s bigger than the previous locations. While it’s bigger than the previous locations, it’s not user friendly.
One of the things to look for when you buy a house is square feet versus livable/useable footage.  Sometimes the garage is counted in the square footage; while that adds to the size of the house, it’s not space you live in. Or the house has several long hallways. That also adds to the numbers but its wasted space. It’s not very useable when guests come over.  The Irving convention center is like a house with lots of hallways and a crawl space in the attic that is counted as part of square footage.
The Irving Convention Center has several floors and while that makes it great to have several events occurring at the same time, it’s not the ideal for a convention that has several thousand people moving from floor to floor.
The crowds was a bigger than I imagined and obviously bigger than the promoters expected.  I needed to be flexible and change some of my expectations and plan of attack.  I ended up waiting in lines longer than I hoped but not longer than I expected.  I picked off autographs that were lower priority as I waited for another line to shrink.  Getting the low hanging fruit can be useful at times.
The layout of the convention seems to add to burden the escalators by making people change floors.  I can’t admit to having studied the floor plan, I glance at it enough to figure out what I need, but there should be a way to decrease the traffic.
I don’t interact with the volunteers much either, as with most volunteers throughout the world, they don’t know much.  Volunteers are a poor lot and get no respect.  Often they are either BOBs (Beasts of Burdens – toting stuff) or Mushrooms (kept in the dark and feed crap).  I find they are only good for finding the end of a line. I’ll still confirm with the other attendees as I walk past them that I’m still in the right line.
I have noticed (this is systemic for all of these shows, not just the most recent one) the volunteers seem more useless than normal.  Either they are cranky and authoritarian or they fade out and lose track of what they are supposed to.  An example is a volunteer holding a sign stating ‘this is the end of the line’ but the line has stretched past them 50 or more feet.  I have seen the volunteers yell in frustration about being sent more people to stand in line. Maybe more training or more supervision or more volunteers and more breaks.

The Ugly –
I think the attendee reactions have been very interesting.  I must admit to not feeling very sympathetic to my fellow convention goers.  I think a lot of the issues stem from a mismatch of expectations, lack of preparedness, and lack of flexibility.
Granted this show grew in size unexpectedly.  Many of the attendees expected the ‘same old same old’; which after years of attending the same convention is a somewhat valid expectation except that the guest list was much improved.
There seems to be a lot of frustration with the concession stands.  Complaints range on the long lines and slow delivery and expensive junk food.  This seems so odd for a show that opens at 11AM.
It’s barely an hour before lunch and people are standing in line for food as the door open.  Could you not hit McDonalds before coming to the show?  Has Pavlov trained you so well that that you must eat at the stroke of noon?   And what concession stand do you know of that is inexpensive and serves healthy food?  Have you ever eaten at the Ballpark?
While you are not supposed to bring food or beverage into the show, a protein bar or a bag of peanut is not a capital offense.  There are water fountains in the convention center and I’ve yet seen a line at one let alone anyone using them.  And again, a bottle of water will not be a felony.  But if the compunction is that appalling, then bring a cooler and keep it in your car. The time you waste in the concession line could be used to walk back to your car (even if it’s parked in the middle of the field) and have a picnic and save yourself money and aggravation.
Besides, if you are ready to go off on a concession stand worker, then it’s time for a break.
A saw a lot of complains about ‘coming up empty’.  I responded to a few of these as I wondered what their agenda and plan of attack was. I saw responses that they did create a plan but I didn’t see any details.  To me that is time management and an expectations issue.
First a plan is only good until it is tested in battle. You should expect issues and you should expect that the original plan will fail.  A good plan will have contingencies and fall back plans.  Admittedly it’s harder with kids but it’s impossible to adapt when the adult is acting childish.
My plan for the day was to get Patrick Stewart first. He was my highest priority. Well, only VIPs were allowed in line. My well thought out plan failed within 10 minutes.  My backup plan was Summer Glau. Then I found out she wasn’t signing yet.  So I went with plan C and got some signatures from the people that were lower on my priority list.  I then went back to Stewart and was told to come back. I toured the expo floor and watched the concession line grow and then made my way back upstairs and finally was allowed in line for Stewart, who was on break.  I was already productive and it seemed a good time to wait. I ate my protein bar and drink some water and got to meet some new people that made the time pass quickly.
VIPs complained they didn’t get to line jump.  That was announced months before the show and I know they felt betrayed because they didn’t know about it. I’ll admit it is frustrating when you think you know something and find out you’re wrong. But you roll with it at the time and move on.
Another complaint was not being able to get everything done on your list. That really is the bitterest pill to swallow. I feel for them but I also know you need to adapt like I did and look over your priorities. 
Maybe I’m callous from years of national shows where there is just too much to do even if no one else attended.  SDCC and WorldCon have program tracks with 10 to 20 things happening at the same time.  I always find 2 or 3 or 4 things I want to do at the same time.  You have to make decisions.

Recap –
While my plan failed, I still got everyone I wanted and a few more.
The crowds frustrated me but only because I was hoping to get out of there in a couple of hours.  I had other plans and wanted a chance freshen up before heading out that night.  While I waited in line longer than I wanted, I still got home in time to enjoy the evening.
I’ll be planning differently from now on.  I have a lesson‘s learned list for this show.  I’ll revisit it before the next show.  In all honesty, I expect other hiccups and issues in the future. Hopefully I’ll be prepared for the ones that happened last time and take the new ones in stride.
Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.


1 comment:

  1. Nice write up as always man, I agree with most everything you said.

    Parking though, it’s not the cost of paying $5, I’m the same person who pays $100 + for a parking pass at Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium, but paying to park in a field is a tad much. Especially when the field has no use and could have easily been converted into a large parking lot when the convention center was built, still can’t figure out why the secondary parking lots are close to a mile away.

    That kind idiocy about the Irving Convention Center is really what bugs me, just a silly layout for this kind of thing; think you covered that fairly well.

    The line skip thing is another thing though, they’d announced it wouldn’t be a line skip but then changed it. Saw this happen as they were sorting attendees on Sunday for our line, only thing I’d ask for is some uniformity. Pick one way or another and don’t change mid stream.

    We’ve both been to much larger shows so we know what it’s like a really really big events, most of those people complaining were really taken by surprise but could have still adjusted like you did.