Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This weekend my wife and I attended the inaugural Awesome Con Indianapolis, the latest attempt to bring the geek convention life to our fair-sized city. [yadda yadda yadda] The important thing for now is, there were costumes! And photos of same!
Our Awesome Con experience wasn’t entirely about cosplay photos. Our day had its successes and disappointments.
We arrived at the Indiana Convention Center at 8:30 and were surprised to learn the registration area (including pre-registration pickup) didn’t open till 9 a.m. There was no line waiting to enter, so we helped start it. For the sake of comparison: we always arrive at cons at least 90-120 minutes early to ensure expedient entry. At C2E2 or Wizard World Chicago we can usually count on waiting behind a few dozen even earlier birds. At the underattended Indy PopCon, we were seventh and eighth in line. Here at Awesome Con, we were second and third. We had a suspicion where things would be going from there.
Registration opened a few minutes early. We picked up our disposable one-day wristbands (lanyards were for 3-day attendees only), walked over to the separate photo-op booth to buy one item, noted and appreciated the numerous “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs posted all around, and were among the first ten to join the official exhibit hall entrance line. Half an hour later, I counted all of forty people in line, including VIP ticketholders on the other side of the gate. Compared to the hundreds and hundreds that usually can’t wait to enter the major cons, this to me was an early indicator that the local media’s initial estimates of 30,000+ attendance were optimistic and off-base.
VIP ticketholders were allowed to enter the show floor at 9:30, a full half-hour ahead of the rest of us, to enjoy the privilege of visiting those few dealers and artists who showed up early for work. From our vantage point in the registration hall, I saw a lot of closed booths, tables with tarps draped over them, and in the distance a few autograph area booths unmanned. But those six or seven VIP ticketholders got to see all those closed booths first and up close. When the rest of us average Joes were ushered inside promptly at 10, I think our crowd finally numbered over a hundred or so.
We made a beeline for the autograph area on the far side of the show floor. First stop: Phil LaMarr.
If you know Hermes from Futurama, Green Lantern John Stewart from the animated Justice League, the titular hero of the appalingly undervalued Static Shock, or the early seasons of MADtv, you’ve heard Phil LaMarr at work. We were first at his booth and, with no one queuing up behind us, we three ended up chatting for 25 minutes. My wife and I didn’t aim to co-opt his time obliviously — he talked as much as we did, really. We discussed the rarity of animated series that address hot-button political issues, the perks of tossing out decades-old comics continuity in order to tell a worthwhile new story, and our mutual bet that the eventual Justice League live-action film will just have to include grim-‘n’-gritty extreme giant talking sea horses.
Then we wandered the Artists Alley and dealers’ aisles. This didn’t take long. There weren’t much of either. Awesome Con reserved roughly twice the square footage as Indiana Comic Con had in March (maybe a little less than Indy PopCon had in May), but recruited the same number of participants, maybe even fewer. Having plenty of elbow room and breathing space was nice, but it also meant walking farther to meet even fewer objectives.
But the comics people were a pleasant lot. Exhibit A: frequent Marvel/DC artist Jim Calafiore, whose work with Gail Simone on Secret Six was my favorite DC title before the New 52 relaunch necessitated its demise. I liked their teamwork so well that I even backed their Leaving Megalopolis Kickstarter project, back in the days before my current KS moratorium.
The following creators who attended in person also successfully parted me from some of my money:
* Comics/TV writer Jay Faerber, whose new creator-owned Image series, the sci-fi Western Copperhead, just launched last month with a great start.
* Jeremy Whitley, whose Action Labs Comics series Princeless is a rousing all-ages tale about a black fairy-tale princess who gets fed up with waiting around to be saved and decides to take rescuing into her own hands. If you’re all about diversity in comics, Princeless is a great opportunity for you to prove it with money.
* Steve Conley
* J. M. Dragunas
* Patrick “Doodles” Hanlon
* Jonathan D. Wilson of Cloudy Sky Comics
* Ricky Henry and Chad Schoettle, creators of MMSBC
I bought a few back issues, but wasn’t in the mood to overdo it. That’s just as well — I counted maybe four or five comics retailers, tops. As I mentioned in a previous entry, my local comic shop opted out of Awesome Con, and they apparently weren’t alone.
Then there was this guy who tried to spook us.
By 11:00 other autograph guests had begun to show up. We met Firefly‘s Jewel Staite, but we dutifully obeyed her prominent “NO PHOTOS” signs (not even a $20 booth selfie like the other actors were offering). Hence, no pic here. I noticed on her handler’s checklist that I was Jewel Staite autograph #21 for the day.
One last-minute addition to the roster was, to my wife’s delight, an official Star Wars guest: former child star Jake Lloyd, forever condemned by fandom for things that a world-famous, non-great director made him do when he was nine years old. I’m grateful every day that no one judges my life for my fourth-grade accomplishments. I’ll admit Jingle All the Way is my least favorite Christmas movie of all time, but his contributions as a seven-year-old weren’t among my reasons why.
We were first in his line. This pic was taken by the other Star Wars fan in line behind us. Lloyd seemed under the weather and rather apologetic for it. He confirmed he once lived in Indiana for several years, but not anymore. My wife’s a huge Star Wars fan and appreciated the opportunity and his persistence in the face of adversity.
Also appearing was Mark Sheppard, whom I’ve seen and liked in Firefly (yay Badger!) and Doctor Who two-parter, and probably more more more, though I understand he’s a pretty big deal to Supernatural fans. He was quite the consummate professional, offering us a bit of advice from an autograph-collecting perspective, and then he had to give photography tips to his handler, who seemed uncomfortable using a digital camera.
I’ll admit I’ve never seen an actor cheerfully providing such practical advice. Once we uploaded our pics later at home, I can see why he felt the need. His handler gave it two tries, and the paid results came out as follows:
We left the Convention Center at lunchtime because we’re not a fan of their overpriced concessions. We walked east on Maryland Street to Dick’s Last Resort, where sarcasm is literally part of the service, as are giant paper hats with hand-lettered insults written on them by the occasionally helpful waitstaff.
Our food earned an A and our waitress was suitably entertaining. Business was slow even though downtown Indianapolis was also hosting the Circle City Classic parade and high-profile college football game this same weekend.
How slow? This slow.
After lunch we returned to the convention and tried to find ways to kill time until our last mandatory event at 4:15. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for that, we would’ve been ready to head home after lunch. The afternoon panels were largely optional to us at best. Any actor I would’ve wanted to see speak onstage wasn’t doing so till Sunday. This wasn’t the kind of con that attracted a single large or even mid-size comics publisher. My past experience with fan panels has been a mixed bag. I’m thoroughly terrible at networking, so I didn’t have that as a fallback. Sitting against a blank wall for hours and watching for cosplayers isn’t as inspiring a pastime as you’d think. Sure, we like to see their works and capture their images for the ages, but when that’s all that’s left to do, that usually means something’s gone wrong.
We walked the show floor at least two more times, giving everybody second and third chances to lure me into shopping. The encores were fruitless and only served to sap more health points from us than cash.
As an unplanned rest break, we attended the Q&A for special guests Adam West and Burt Ward, who were as amusing as ever. Hundreds of listeners filled over half the seats in the Wabash Ballroom. Between them and the increasing population roaming the halls, the attendance figures may have crept into the four-figure rang at some point when we weren’t looking.
We even got really creative and tried something we’ve never done before: we went to the official gaming room and checked out a tabletop game. Our first choice was Settlers of Catan, because we’ve never played and we wanted to see why all the fuss and worldwide acclaim. We sat down, opened the box, sifted through the cards and hexagons and gewgaws and whatnot, only to realize the instructions were missing. Enclosed was a comprehensive Catan merchandise flyer inviting us to go Catan-crazy at home, but not a single document teaching newcomers how to play the blasted thing. Way to go, whoever borrowed this before us and didn’t put the rulebook back.
(I’m assuming Catan isn’t one of those elitist things that assumes everyone just magically knows how to play and therefore stopped printing rulebooks years ago, like Super Mario or Euchre. If it is, then I shall dedicate the rest of my life to insulting it as often as possible.)
So I tossed Catan back on the pile and picked up D-Day Dice instead.
My wife’s a history buff with an emphasis on WWII, so a Normandy invasion simulator sounded right up her alley. By this time we had half an hour to kill before we had to get in line for that 4:15 appointment. Ten of those minutes were wasted on not playing Catan. We spent the other twenty inventorying the contents of the D-Day Dice box, reading the first four or five pages of the thirty-page rulebook, practicing my narrator voice, punching out the remaining cardboard tokens that were still in their original packaging frame, and some light clowning around. We felt we were on our way to some interesting gameplay, but then our time ran out and we had to return it. Here’s hoping we get another chance some other day.
So then there was our 4:15 appointment: a photo-op with Adam West and Burt Ward.
That’s another item crossed off my wife’s modest bucket list. Adam West chuckled when he realized we were doing jazz hands.
We made Adam West chuckle.
This accomplishment, in our humble minds, helped redeem some of those hours of (figurative and literal) pacing back-‘n’-forth. Best of all, Awesome Con’s crack team of photo-printing specialists had our hard-copy results ready and in our hands in about three minutes flat. For us, a new convention world record. We also enjoyed the wait before the op, as other fans in line took turns recounting their memories of the Dynamic Duo’s previous visits to Indianapolis. My wife and I first met Burt Ward at least fifteen years when he did a signing at Half Price Books as a guest of the local golden-oldies radio station (now defunct). We’d never seen Adam West in Indy, but she’d met him in a previous year for ten seconds at Wizard World Chicago. Other fans had similar stories and relevant Bat-costumes confirming their reasons for being here.
Shortly after 4:30…that was it for us. The costume contest was at 6:15, but we’d used up our remaining energy killing time till the photo op. General convention enthusiasm and adrenalin had carried us for a while, but when we ran out of reasons to be enthusiastic, our energy bars dropped to zero and we called it a day.
We had no complaints with how the convention was run in general. Everything seemed organized. Prices were more affordable than their Wizard World Chicago equivalents. Lines ran smoothly during those brief occasions when there were lines for anything. The ticket booths were well staffed. Five announced guests canceled, but the showrunners kept us duly informed. They maintained a consistent, engaging presence on Twitter and Facebook. They pelted us locals with primetime TV commercials, morning-show interviews, and newspaper articles. I didn’t see much to nitpick from that perspective.
So where were the fans? I have only this brainstorming list of unfounded guesses:
* None of the guests were major, of-the-moment, popular-now shows or movies — no one from Game of Thrones or Marvel movies.
* The simultaneous Circle City Classic, a major established event in its own right, discouraged the local general population from coming downtown.
* Pumpkin season kept everyone busy.
* The scars carved in the city’s hearts by the mistakes of the Indiana Comic Con still haven’t healed.
* The Midwest convention burnout that I’d previously suspected.
As of this writing I’ve not yet read any reports as to whether Awesome Con Indianapolis 2014 was officially a success or a flop. Like Indy PopCon, they’ve not yet announced any 2015 dates. It felt too lightly attended to us, but I’d be curious to know what others thought, especially the dealers or creators. We enjoyed what we could and remain grateful for what we got out of it. Here’s hoping things went better than we think.
The End. See you next year?
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Other chapters in this special miniseries: