Indianapolis hosted Star Wars Celebrations II and III in 2002 and 2005, which each attracted over 20,000 fans. Every year since 2003 we’ve hosted Gen Con, which keeps climbing in attendance and turned out 49,000 strong in 2013. We’ve hosted Super Bowl LXVI, the Big 10 college basketball conference, the Indianapolis 500, the Pan Am Games, and other large-scale sporting events. Indianapolis is centrally located in the Midwest and easily accessible from four different interstates in four different directions. The Indiana Convention Center is conveniently located in downtown Indianapolis, where visitors have easy access to countless restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions they can visit in their off-hours or when either hunger or alcoholism strike.
But no one’s ever thought we were worth blessing with a comic book convention to call our own. Apparently word on the streets was that we suck. Or something. When the Indiana Comic Con was announced, that was kind of a major deal. Finally someone scrimped together enough sense to realize Indianapolis might be ready for the kind of geek conference that Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Columbus, and other Midwest cities have had for years. Chicago even has two of them. This, we reasoned, might be our chance to join the big boys and show all of fandom that Indianapolis is, in fact, a real, live city.
When I went through our pre-planning this week and noticed the con only had two exhibit halls, I foresaw trouble a mile away. That’s why stopped in and picked up our tickets the day before, why we arrived today nearly an hour before open, and why we insisted on doing our rounds through the hall before everyone else showed up. When we finished and left for lunch at 12:30 the hall was already elbow-to-elbow. When we came back at 1:30, the line to hypothetically “get in” was one of the worst we’ve ever seen in all our years of convention-going. Around 3:00 it’s our understanding they officially, finally closed ticket sales and began confessing that all those thousands who didn’t already have tickets needed to go away.
The Indiana Convention Center recently expanded its space to over 749,000 square feet, but this weekend it was split three ways: (1) a librarian conference took up roughly half the entire center; (2) some insurance convention had three exhibit halls reserved in their name, even though they weren’t even there today; and (3) the Indiana Comic Con, which was left with two exhibit halls and a few meeting rooms.
Of those two halls, one was divided up between box office, the line to the box office, and actor autograph lines. Of the sole remaining hall, a big chunk was set aside as a theater for actor Q&As and the costume contest.
What was left over after all of those deductions…that is what they tried to cram thousands of attendees into. On Sunday morning the showrunners revealed their estimate that at least 15,000 were on the premises. I saw complaints from many, many people who were eventually turned away after driving for hours up to Indy, waiting for hours in line, and then finding out all their efforts and accommodations were a complete waste of time.
For those of us who arrived early and had no reason to stay late…sure, there was fun to be had. We made the most of it, though I regret giving up on the 4:30 costume contest. Longtime MCC readers know my wife and I love costume contests, but we didn’t want to be around when the scene got even uglier, and I wanted to escape before the oxygen ran out.
We won’t be attending Sunday, but we send our best wishes to anyone planning to be there, and strongly recommend you arrive no later than 8 a.m. to get in line. The Indiana Convention Center is surprisingly cool about, and used to, letting people hang around at weird hours.
These, then, were very nearly all the photos we took in our half-day experience — the costumes we saw, the talents I got to meet, and the happier sights to see during those moments when all was well and the experience felt pleasant. Enjoy!
Balloons also signal intermission as we digress for pics of three of the many comics professionals on hand:
And now, more Indiana Comic Con 2014 costume photos: the grand finale.
…and that’s what we saw of the first annual Indiana Comic Con. Not nearly as many as I’d envisioned us taking.
If the showrunners are allowed to leave town alive, perhaps we’ll see everyone again next year, maybe even attend a panel or buy an autograph if they bring in a guest from a show we watch. Frankly, after today’s wildly mishandled experience, I’d rather see Wizard World make them an offer and take over.
And to anyone who thought holding a comic book convention in our centralized metropolis was a money-losing proposition; to those who assumed Indianapolis would have no taste for comics in particular or pop culture in general; to those short-sighted coastal elitists who thought we weren’t worth the consideration or effort:
WE TOLD YOU SO.
[UPDATED 3/16/2014, 2:00 p.m. EDT: Corrected two figures that had been misstated above. The management regrets the errors.]
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We had a bit of a different experience at the comic con. We got there at around 11 AM and waited in a winding four row unmarked line for just under an hour before we got our tickets. We tried to walk through the exhibit hall at that point but it was a horrifying experience. The crowds were so dense we could hardly move. It took us an exceedingly long time just to get out of the hall after doing a half circuit of the floor.
We then left to try and find some lunch but there were no food trucks so even the few restaurants in the area were incredibly packed. We managed to grab some food and head back getting back to the con around 1:40 or so. It was still really crowded at that point and we saw a lot of unhappy glaring people mixed in among the usual happy con attendees, but we were determined not to let our $20 a piece go completely to waste.
Managing to push our way through the crowd we got to one of the side rooms where the panels were hosted and attended the XY Xeno Panel that started at 2 pm. About 5 to 10 minutes in we heard the announcement saying they were sold out but that they didn’t want to leave anyone empty handed so they would allow them to purchase tickets for Sunday. That announcement rang like a million times constantly interrupting the panel but otherwise the panel was not bad. Really only a tiny number of people made it in to the panel and I think most of them were there not out of any interest in the Xenogears franchise but more just to get out of the crowd.
AFTER the Panel though, around 3 pm, things had calmed down considerably. It seems many angry people had just left or decided to go hang out somewhere else so we were largely able to enjoy the rest of the con without any trouble. Walking around the exhibit hall checking out stalls was a piece of cake.
A lot of the problems were not just that they had too little space but how poorly they USED the space they had. There were no real pressure valves to prevent the chaos of congestion. The exhibit hall was a mess because there were too few entries and exits, too narrow corridors and everyone who purchased their tickets was being dumped into one place with nowhere to go but into the mouth of the beast and fight the overwhelming crowds.
They could have let people out after having purchased their tickets in more than one place rather than funneling them into a narrow corridor. Better yet they could have simply had the registration area in the hallway like Gencon does so they could have expanded the entire exhibit hall giving everyone a ton more room to walk around.
They also could have had more entrances and exits into the hall giving more people an out when the crowds got too tight. Probably half the time when stuck in the crowd you were fighting to make your way past people who themselves decided they didn’t want to be there anymore.
Though probably not their fault, just as bad was the absence of food tricks. They must have all decided that all weekend long Saint Patrick’s day events was more important than the con, so they couldn’t siphon people looking for food away from the food court or the nearby restaurants. And as the food court was right in front of the exhibit hall anyone trying to get food there just added to the congestion.
Had they had food trucks, had they put the registration booths in the hallway like in Gencon and had more entrances into the main Hall, had they sold more tickets online and charged a cheaper price for online tickets, it’s possibly things wouldn’t have been nearly so bad. It’s possible to do all that may have required more staffers then they had available or there were other logistical reasons preventing them from making some of these obvious changes..
All in all though I thought the con went quite well once it thinned out.and people started leaving. I just hope that if they do this again next year they are able to get more space and they learn from their mistakes. And I hope the bad experiences many had don’t sour them on the whole idea of an Indianapolis Comic Con so they come back again next year.
Thanks very much for sharing that. I’m glad the panels weren’t a problem, and seriously happy to hear that the day got a little easier for anyone who stuck it out into the late afternoon. Sunday’s live-tweeting across the #indianacomiccon tag seemed a lot less stressed out than Saturday’s was, too.
When we left for lunch, we actually walked over to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to see if maybe the food trucks were catering to their crowd instead of ours. One of them, Scratchtruck, had even tweeted Saturday morning that they’d be around the Fieldhouse for lunch. Tragically, when we got to the vicinity, we didn’t see a single truck anywhere around. Sometimes the trucks won’t come out when it’s really cold, but with SO many people downtown this weekend, IMHO all those truck owners weren’t thinking things through. We ended up walking further north and ate lunch near Monument Circle at Qdoba, which was a little distanced from both events and thankfully had a few open seats. But after spending 2½ hours of walking around the con, then walking a few blocks east to the Fieldhouse, and then some more blocks north for lunch, and then some blocks back to the con…all that extra walking was exhausting for us out-of-shape folks. Add in our reluctance to watch what looked like a gigantic public powderkeg in the making…and we just couldn’t justify sticking around any longer. I still really regret missing the costume contest, but we’ll have other cons this year to make up for it.
Your assessment of their errors is spot-on. The place needs many more exits (and presumably more workers to mind them), a complete rethinking of how the entrance space was used, a different pricing structure…so, SO many areas in dire need of improvement if they’re planning to return next year. It might be in their best interest to attend Gen Con and observe what a professionally orchestrated con looks like.
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