Louisville’s FandomFest: Con or Con?

FandomFest 2017!

An early version of this year’s FandomFest banner, which I have fixed for them at no charge, which is just as well because I suspect they wouldn’t respond to my invoice anyway. [Updated 7/28/2017 to reflect still more guest cancellations…]

Last year around this time, my wife Anne and I had been discussing the possibility of investigating geek conventions in other states beyond our own Indiana besides just fabled Chicago. In recent times we’ve since enjoyed successful outings to Ohio and Michigan, and continue keeping an open mind on future opportunities within reasonable driving distance, or within reasonable flying distance if someone wants to pay our way.

It’s in that spirit of out-of-state geek adventure that we bought Saturday advance tickets for this coming weekend’s FandomFest, the largest recurring comic/entertainment convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Before setting any of this entry into print, I asked my wife Anne whether she would prefer I refer to us as “idiots” or “suckers”. She suggested “hopeless optimists”. Whichever sounds right to you, here we are with weekend plans for which we are presently bracing ourselves for stress and failure. But the important thing is we’ll be miserable and angried up and disgustipated together.

FandomFest has been around at least since 2012, possibly longer but I wouldn’t know because no one’s bothered to create a Wikipedia entry for it yet. I first became aware of it when fans and actors alike attending the 2013 edition found themselves embedded in a state of bedlam which saw at least one Doctor Who actor forgotten in his hotel room for hours, one guest during his Q&A recommending that all fans present should ask for refunds because of so much flagrant mishandling, and more complaints than I can remember because that was four years ago and we didn’t expect to need to compile evidence in the future. Thankfully it’s all been chronicled elsewhere at length online in numerous places. For starters I suggest this comprehensive Storify compiled by a former local blogger, this Reddit complaint thread, and this shorter but no less frustrated recap by a friend of a good friend. For more recent thoughts here’s a newer Reddit thread with lessons for one and all.

So we knew of that year’s horror stories. We shared them with other people in real life to warn them that what we do sometimes can blow up in fans’ faces. Whenever something went wrong at Wizard World Chicago or wherever else, we took solace in the fact that hey, at least we weren’t at FandomFest. We assumed we’d never even think of coming within 500 meters of FandomFest and that was the end of that chapter. The End.

Sometimes when a mouse trap isn’t luring in enough pesky critters, the trick is to swap in bigger, better bait. And that’s exactly what FandomFest did when for 2017 they announced as one of their chief headliners the “Weird Al” Yankovic.

I’ve seen him live in concert here in Indianapolis (well, once so far), but I wasn’t within ten feet of him. Assuming it wasn’t a hoax, a dream, or an imaginary story, the chance to meet Weird Al in person and not just from afar promised to be a brain-detonating experience. I mean, he’s WEIRD AL. YES, THAT WEIRD AL. LIVE AND IN PERSON AND UP CLOSE if promises were kept.

So we overlooked the four-year-old evidence and testimonies and, without researching how 2014-2016 went for them, we conned ourselves into adding yet another con to our agenda. We know cons can improve. We watched it happen with our own Indiana Comic Con, which overcame a disastrous inaugural year and a chaotic sophomore effort to become, in year 3 and year 4, a normal geek festival conducted with competence and expedience for those of us who know to arrive early and get to the front of the lines hours before showtime. Indiana Comic Con showed us that showrunners can learn lessons and cons can get better and planted the seed of hope within our brains.

The weeds of doubt began creeping in when the earliest cancellations began. Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor, was likewise a headliner but was among the first to back out weeks ago when he signed up for a new BBC series. His Doctor Who companion Daphne Ashbrook was announced as well, and even had tickets available for a dual photo-op with McGann that was the first item to sell out online, but her name was removed shortly thereafter. A couple other guests likewise had to bow out for varying reasons of assorted depths.

Last week, less than two weeks before showtime, came the bombshell announcement that turned every geek head in the land: instead of the usual local convention center, this year’s FandomFest would be held at a shopping mall, inside the shell of what was once a two-story Macy’s, which shut down last April when the company downsized several dozen stores nationwide.

The showrunners were quick to tout the benefits of holding a comic con in a mall. Free parking, assuming they don’t run out of spaces for the thousands of rubes like us they’re expecting. Convenient food court, if you like scoops of meat on rice. Easy driving distance to local hotels, which is especially awesome for any fans who prepaid for their hotel reservations next door to the convention center six miles away from Jefferson Mall. And there’s a Toys R Us outside, so they have that going for the toy collectors if their shelves aren’t picked clean by Friday afternoon.

FandomFest news began a steady downhill roll as the guest cancellations began to rack up. This past Monday came the news we dreaded might come, but suspected might happen even before we bought the tickets: Weird Al’s people announced that he’d officially canceled his FandomFest appearance.

Fun trivia: FandomFest has a strict “no refunds” policy, period and dot, full stop, end of negotiations. If you prepaid for autograph or photo-op tickets for a guest that canceled, they’ll agreeably allow you to exchange it for tickets for another guest, or else credit your funds toward a future show held by the same company. If you paid with a credit card you might be able to convince your company to stop the charges, but that’s not an option on their site and isn’t a guaranteed cure. Stuck in a position where that’s not an option for us, that means we’ll have to settle for meeting Hollywood folks who are thoroughly not Weird Al instead, or else write the whole thing off as a loss, a waste, and a repeat of lessons already learned years ago.

More fun trivia: our exchange options are thinning by the hour. Yesterday and today the FandomFest updates achieved runaway-cart speeds and we’re now at a point where the cancellations literally outnumber the celebrities who are ostensibly attending. As of tonight, subject to change without notice, possibly up until the doors open Friday and well into Saturday, the following guests have not yet demonstrated intent to cancel and abandon us to the tender mercies of bitter, actor-less mall-walking:

Sean Gunn (we met him previously, 10/10)
Ross Marquand (Aaron from The Walking Dead)
Kyla Kenedy (li’l doomed Mika from The Walking Dead)
Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby-Doo, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants)
Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky from Starsky & Hutch)
Brenda Strong (Lillian Luthor from The CW’s Supergirl)
Sonny Chiba (kung fu legend)
Kenji Ohba (got me)
Keith Coogan (’80s sidekick-kid)
Brian Cummings (the voice of the stove from Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast)
Julie Dolan (Princess Leia’s voice in recent animated projects)
Peyton Wich (Troy the bully from Stranger Things)
Stephen McHattie (the original Nite-Owl from Watchmen, among hundreds of movie/TV pop-up roles)
Sam Jones (Flash Gordon, late addition to the guest list 7/27)
Brighton Sharbino (Lizzie of the flower-looking from The Walking Dead, never announced but there anyway)

…and on the non-actor side, there’s a local special girl with a rare condition who has her own YouTube channel, and a pair of local filmmakers.

Curiously, famed wrestler Sting is scheduled to drop by on Sunday only, but he’s also scheduled to appear at Florida Supercon the day before, so he might be a bit tired by the time he gets to Kentucky.

As of the moment I clicked “Publish” tonight, the following guests have canceled or will not be appearing because negotiations basically failed after their name was added to the site:

Paul McGann
Daphne Ashbrook (who was so super-canceled that her name isn’t even in their official cancellation list)
Chalet Brannan (ditto)
Spencer Wilding
John Paragon
Paul Kasey
Xander Berkeley
Chris Sullivan
Lisa Ryder
Michael Eklund
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Charlie Adler
Margaret Kerry
Paige O’Hara
Robby Benson
Richard White
Jesse Corti
Bradley Pierce
Nik Ranieri
Burt Ward
C. Andrew Nelson
Briana Venskus
Peter Shinkoda
Tori Spelling
Dean McDermott

Ian Ziering
Ingvild Deila
Jim Cornette (canceled mere hours after being added to the list 7/27)
Al Snow (also added 7/27, then taken right back down)
Skeet Ulrich

…along with cosplayers Karli Woods and Monster Kawaii Cosplay.

[Final list update 7/29/2017, 7:30 pm EDT. Special thanks to Melissa Chipman at Insider Louisville.]

Those last few haven’t even been updated on the official site as of late tonight, Expect that to change Wednesday morning, along with Lord knows what else. Please note these lists will be updated wherever possible, though not hourly because my schedule the rest of this week isn’t light.

So this is where things stand at the moment — steeling ourselves for the weekend ahead and looking for those silver linings among the already thundering storm clouds. We had to turn down an invitation to a family cookout to do this thing, so we’re missing out on grilled meats largely because, in the voice of Chris’ dad from Everybody Hates Chris: we just spent dozens of dollars on conventioning. Someone gonna go geek out up in that. And, to be honest, a minuscule part of me hasn’t seen a proper trainwreck in years and morbidly wants to see one up close even if it inflicts deep, regrettable wounds on my own psyche.

We’d rather not have to approach this like a sad MST3K flick writ large. We’d like to have a good time and our intent is to try our hardest insofar as those aspects we can control. Regarding the parts we can’t control…rest assured you’ll hear about them here on MCC on Saturday night when we get home. Louisville is only a two-hour drive from Indianapolis, so I expect to have plenty of energy and some form of enthusiasm at my disposal when it’s time to document our side of things.

Worst-case scenario: we’ll come away with nothing but complaining rights and fulfilled membership requirements for the closed Facebook group “Louisville’s FandomFest is a fiasco every year“. I presume the hazing ritual involves walking through a procession of dozens of FandomFest survivors shouting “TOLD YOU SO” in our ears. Can’t wait!

* * * * *

Postscript added 15 minutes later: I didn’t even address the “comic” guest list of this comic con. The short version of my thoughts: very few established, published artists are listed on the site, so I’m thinking our usual Artists Alley stroll won’t take long, though I’m sure we’ll be wondering to ourselves which Macy’s department used to occupy their space. Including amateurs and artists who only sell prints, the sum total artists promises to be less than the number of self-published/small-press novelists on the roster. Careful, longtime MCC readers know I do not take these math results as an encouraging omen.

Postscript II: The Scriptening — added 7/30/2017: The two-part coverage of our complete FandomFest experience is now posted! Check out Part One for the guests we met, showrunning observations from the scene, and the Macy’s fixtures still on display. Or skip to Part Two if you’re all about cosplay, cosplay, cosplay.

…I now solemnly swear I am done updating this entry forever.

14 responses

  1. This Con has been a scam for years now. I bought to special VIP ticket to see Stan Lee last year he was great but every thing else was a mess. All the special items that go with the ticket werent printed right according to the workers so they would be sent later if we wrote down our info, needless to say we are still waiting on that to happen. Was told at one point I had to buy a new ticket to get someone in on my photo opt so I tried to talk to a person in charge to make sure that was true before spending a few hundred more dollars and got re directed to over 5 employees before some one said oh no thats not true. Never could figure out were the VIP lounge was that my ticket was suppose to give me access to and no one knew what I was talking about when I asked. So im a graphic designer and was super excited about getting a lithograph so after a few months I started being persistent on were my stuff was and finally they actually blocked me on FB.


    • Wow, that sounds thoroughly maddening. At least you got to meet Stan, but what a price. Thanks for sharing your story, which I hope helps warn anyone else out there to think twice, or maybe five more times, before coming anywhere near this debacle.


  2. If the con sucks, just go enjoy Louisville. Take a ride on the Belle of Louisville. Enjoy some of our great restaurants (personal recommendations Mayan Cafe, Wild Eggs, Superchef’s, Chik’n & Mi, Hammerheads, Ditto’s). Enjoy some kitschy shopping in Nu Lu and the Highlands. Visit some of our great comic shops like Heroes, The Zone and The Great Escape. Catch a race at Churchill Downs. There’s a lot to do to make your trip not be a total loss.


  3. Last year was my first Fandom Fest and I’ve read all the negatives from past shows but I had a great time! I’m a huge Godzilla fan and all the suit actors attended last year and Stan Lee was icing on the cake! The show in all honesty was never too busy, heck, I purchased a VIP for Mr. Lee but it was not needed (he joked/serious that his wrist doesn’t start hurting till the 1,500 signature). Celebs cancel all the time (Hey, Mr. James Marsters, you’ve canceled Indiana shows 3 years in a row now, please show up in September with your co-stars at Horrorhound Indianapolis)!


    • (I know I replied to this the other day, but the software apparently ate it. Second try, then:)

      I confess I’m jealous Stan actually talked to you! When I met him a few years back at Wizard World Chicago, he seemed pressed for time and didn’t talk much. Congrats on that and on enjoying the show there…


  4. We stopped attending Fandomfest two years ago (after being loyal fans for 3 years). As a regular con attendee, we realize guests cancel at last minute for unforeseen circumstances, but have never seen cancellations in mass like with this Con. The last year we went (2015), we bought VIP passes and pre-paid for autographs because their site said “refunds will be given if a guest cancels”. I took a print screen of the page so it was easy to find if needed. On the day of the event, so many guests canceled they went in and changed their website to state no refunds would be given, only credits to their store. If they had done that for the next year, that would have been different, but doing it in the middle of Con showed they were cheating people. Also, one of the guests who ‘cancelled’ was at DragonCon a few weeks later. When we told him we were sorry he didn’t make Fandomfest, he was confused (and his agent was too) as to what we meant. Apparently he hadn’t been scheduled to attend.


    • Wow. I’d heard they changed their refund policy at some point, but I didn’t know it was in the middle of their ticket-selling phase. That sounds utterly horrid. And a guest who didn’t know they were a guest…somehow doesn’t surprise me, but saddens me even more. All the more reason why my wife and I won’t be back.


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