I always look forward to Emerald City Comic Con, proud of our home-grown event. It’s great to be able to drive a handful of miles and find yourself surrounded by a ridiculous number of geeks, including (if you’ve chosen wisely) many of your friends, all indulging in their favorite hobbies. It’s just a good time all-round.
The hubby and I go every year. He takes pics of the cosplayers (for careful culling and posting online), gets autographs from the media guests for his dad, and hangs out at the video game industry booths getting his game-designing groove on. I troll the artists’ tables for gorgeous things, check in with my favorite small presses, and go to interesting-sounding panels in search of fascinating analyses of all things geek.
We hit about four cons a year (San Diego Comic Con, Wondercon, and PAX round out our year) doing such things, and with Wondercon a scant two weeks before ECCC, it was hard not to compare the two. And Wondercon definitely suffered by comparison; hardly surprising considering it was temporarily displaced from San Francisco to Anaheim this year. San Francisco, like San Diego, barely notices the annual visit of superheroes, cartoon characters, and furries. Anaheim, on the other hand, was not ready for the parade of geeks into the Convention Center, and the Convention Center itself was ill-prepared to house such an event. Sharing the Center with some very confused high school volleyball players who were participating in a tournament, the floor was strangely laid out (and had few right angles), panels were far-flung, and the staff was nearly non-existent. They did have great tacos though.
Logistically speaking, this year’s ECCC was one of the best cons I’ve attended in a long time. The badge-buying and distribution were well thought out, the show floor was well-organized (with what felt like wider aisles this year), the autograph area was well-managed, the disabled access was amazing, and the staff (or “minions,” as their shirts read) were numerous, well-informed, polite, and helpful in the extreme. And the creation of an ECCC backdrop for cosplayers to pose in front of on the skybridge (which has become where those of us with a penchant for it lay in wait to snap pics of the best costumes) was a stroke of genius.
The media guests were nicely balanced this year. Every year, I end up feeling sorry for the guests with no one in their lines. Generally there are three or more suffering with smiles painted on their faces. This year, there was only one (Lea Thompson—not exactly a geek draw) and the selection offered something for everyone. For me, the big get was Edward James Olmos (who charged accordingly—more than Carrie Fisher when I saw her last), but it was totally worth it (my copy of Blade Runner is now inscribed with the words, “It's too bad she won't live… But then again, who does?” put there by Gaff himself). But the lines for George Takei, the Phelps brothers, Laurie Holden, Jason Momoa, Summer Glau, the wonderfully ubiquitous Wil Wheaton, and the rest were constant.
Unfortunately, the planning wasn’t as great in other areas. One of the most confusing decisions was to move gaming downstairs and away from the show floor, and with it the video games. Seattle is at the epicenter of video game creation, and so the absence of the big names on the floor (usually with the largest, most visible displays), was downright disappointing. More disappointing was that neither I nor my hubby nor anyone we talked to about the video gaming absence learned that the video game companies had been relegated to the same space as the tabletop gaming, on a completely different floor. And while I respect both, the two have very different core audiences (for the most part); shoving them together was counter-intuitive and meant many of us who seek out the video games thought they’d been left out entirely, rather than simply miscataloged. A tip to the con planners: “Gaming” tends to refer to the table-top variety of game. It’s not as universal a term as you might think.
And I have to admit, I didn’t attend a single panel this year. The lines were too long and too confused, and nothing on offer was exciting enough for me to join them. The fact that the more academic stuff (my niche) seemed mostly confined to Friday afternoon (when many of us are at work) meant I couldn’t get to the ones I thought would be worth the lines. Who doesn’t wanna see a panel on “Wonder Woman in Bondage?” Never mind, don’t answer that.
My sense of meh extended to much of the floor. Sure, I’m jaded, but there were no real surprises, and I actually missed much of the confused jostling I usually encounter there. There’s something about the energy of people trying to see, hear, get, and experience too many things at once. There were a few treats—local Seattle artists selling their wares, the presence of Bill Sienkiewicz (the reason I got interested in comic books to begin with), and running into my fave Erika Moen, who announced that her latest project, Bucko, had just been picked up by Dark Horse. But on the whole, I spent more time talking to people I already knew than I did getting to know the up-and-comers or the established artists I generally troll cons for.
Thus, as a result, ECCC seemed a triumph of form over content. Don’t get me wrong: that’s not a bad thing. It’s a great place to grow from. The behemoth that is San Diego Comic-Con could learn a few things from those who ran ECCC. I spent an hour last year in San Diego trying to get anyone in official con garb to tell me where the line for a single event was. I still don’t know, and I doubt they do either. The staff at ECCC could handle anything I saw anyone throw at them, and did it with an obvious understanding and skill that comes from good training and a clear process for handling issues.
That’s the hard part. The easy part is adding the fun. ECCC seemed a little low on that this year, but if they keep the same organization, move the video games back to the floor, and make sure that any similar moves off the floor are clearly communicated, I have no doubt that next year’s con will be a grand slam. All they need to do is add this guy–the unicycle-riding, bagpipe-playing Darth Vader—to their team to clinch it.
Because, let’s face it, this guy obviously knows a little bit about bringing the fun.