In five years of covering fan conventions for L.A. Weekly, I've seen a lot of changes. Locally, there are a lot more conventions now, both general pop culture events like Stan Lee's Comikaze and specialized ones like LGBT event Bent-Con and retro sci-fi and fantasy event BlasterCON. The audience has grown too, with some events bringing in huge numbers and sell out crowds.
This year, conventions went even more mainstream than they already are. They became part of the premise for two SyFy reality series, Fangasm (which featured folks from Stan Lee's Comikaze) and Heroes of Cosplay. Maybe that means that the active convention scenes across the U.S. will continue to grow. Maybe it means that the popularity of conventions has already hit its peak. We'll have to wait it out through next year to know for sure.
In the meantime, here are ten things that I would like to see happen at conventions in 2014, with a focus on Southern California events.
10. The return of BlasterCON.
BlasterCON, a convention dedicated to retro sci-fi and fantasy, debuted in 2013 with little hoopla. Not a lot of people turned out for the event held inside a San Fernando Valley Hotel, but it was a convention that showed a lot of promise.
BlasterCON filled in a void in the L.A. convention scene, creating a home for fans of sci-fi and fantasy films made in the 1970s and '80s. There's a wealth of properties that can be explored here, far beyond the obvious touchstones like Star Wars and Jim Henson's work. For those of us who were heavily influenced by the wild worlds that unfolded on big screens in the '80s, this is a very special event.
After the inaugural event, BlasterCON did announce that it would return this year. However, no dates have been announced yet. I did contact the convention's head, Todd Whitesel, who indicated that he's currently working on a date and location either for late 2014 or early 2015. In the meantime, you can keep up with BlasterCON on Twitter or Facebook.
9. Let's bring together the music geeks and the comic book geeks.
At WonderCon 2013, writer Patrick Reed brought together a mix of music and comic book people for the panel “Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining.” It was the kind of panel that I love to see at cons, a good, long talk on the intersection between two seemingly disparate forces in pop culture. It's also the kind of conversation that sometimes seems lacking inside conventions.
Dig deep into a lot of music subcultures and you'll find some sort of connection to comic books. There are the comics that inspired musicians and the comics that emerged from various different music scenes. However, unless there happens to be a rock star promoting a project at a convention, talk about the way these two forms of media influence and impact each other is often absent.
Let's take this one step further. Entertainment industries, on the whole, have been in a tumultuous state for years, leaving a lot of creators to release work on their own. Can musicians learn something from the indie-minded artists and writers in the comics world? Do bands have a thing or two to teach comics creators?
8. Studios, can you save some of the big stuff for events that aren't San Diego Comic-Con?
There are a lot of conventions happening across the U.S. right now, but San Diego Comic-Con is still home to the big news and events in the pop culture world. While that's part of the attraction to the mid-summer event, it also poses a bit of a problem. If you're a fan, it's become increasingly difficult to get to SDCC. Tickets sell out. Hotel rooms are expensive and hard to snag. Even if you can get a Comic-Con badge and a room, you simply won't be able to do everything you want to do at the convention. Panel lines can take up most of your day. Lines for exclusive merchandise and special events are also a huge time suck.
Of course, the other cons aren't completely left in the dust. Exclusives pop up here and there at all sorts of events, though without as much clamor as in San Diego. Announcements and trailer debuts can happen at the smaller conventions too. Again, however, it's not as much of a focus as at SDCC.
Maybe it's time that studios give a little more attention to other conventions. That might not be the most logical decision for a studio. SDCC is now so big and so crowded that it almost guarantees a crowd. Plus, it attracts national, even international, press in a way that other conventions don't. Those elaborate booths in the exhibit hall will get more attention in San Diego than they will anywhere else. The spectacles inside the panel rooms will certainly pop up on YouTube and infiltrate Facebook and Twitter well before the convention ends. That's not the same as actually being in the room, though, and that experience can mean a lot to fans. If you want to reach more fans than press, maybe some of those SDCC shows should hit the road and make a connection with people who can't get to San Diego.
7. More anime at anime conventions.
I started out going to anime conventions and, over the past five years, those events have played a huge part in the con coverage I've done for L.A. Weekly. At one point, maybe two or three years ago, the crowd at anime cons became a little less focused on Japanese animation. It's good to see one facet of the convention world become open to so many other fandoms. However, it also raises a question. If the anime con crowd is gushing over Homestuck or Doctor Who or Marvel comics, does that mean that they've lost interest in anime?
If that was the case, it was part of a phase that came and went quickly. This year, open displays of anime fanaticism once again dominated Anime Expo. A lot of that has to do with one series, Attack on Titan. Marc Perez, CEO and president of Society for Promotion of Japanese Animation, the entity behind AX, noted that Attack on Titan was reaching people who weren't anime die-hards, thus bringing new people to the convention. The show's success in the U.S. isn't the only sign of renewed interest in anime. Toonami, which airs on Saturday night's on Adult Swim, is bringing newer series to cable. In January, they will debut Space Dandy, from director/writer Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo), as part of a “simulcast” with the Japanese run of the show. Perhaps another rise in the popularity of anime is on the way.
6. More attention on comics.
For as many conventions as there are in Southern California, relatively few place the emphasis on comic books. If you're looking for reading material, the place to go is Long Beach Comics and Horror Con. In five years, this event has blossomed as an excellent resource for comic books. It's not just a place where vendors set up a temporary shop to sell back issues. LBCHC's exhibit hall is packed with artists and writers, both up-and-comers and established talent, selling their work.
It's taken LBCHC some time to cultivate its crowd. I was there its inaugural year and, back then, the convention lacked the strong sense of identity that it has now. Since then, though, they've brought in enough creators and fans to prove that people still do care about comic books. In an era marked by events that have seemingly lost their original focus (see just about every snarky comment made about San Diego Comic-Con in recent years), that's a big deal.
Whether or not others will pick up on what LBCHC is doing remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, though, it would be great to see more comic creators infiltrate exhibit halls and get the crowds to sustain what they do.
5. Better scheduling amongst conventions
Convention-goers know what it's like to spot two or more panels they want to see listed on the schedule at the same time, at opposite sides of the convention center. Now, imagine what it's like to find out that two or more conventions you want to attend are being held on the same weekend in different parts of the L.A. metropolitan area. While it's certainly possible to hit up all three events in one day — I did — it's not ideal if you want to experience everything the convention has to offer.
This year, DesignerCon, Bent-Con and Pacific Media Expo all took place on the same weekend. DesignerCon is more of an art/toy shopping event, so the crowd for that is quite different from what you would see at the other events. With Bent-Con and PMX, though, there is overlap. Both deal with a cross-section of media, from comics to television to film. While their mission statements differ, they are essentially drawing a crowd from a similar community. Certainly, there are fans who are as interested in LGBT pop culture as they are in pan-Asian pop culture. Plus, there are enough open weekends in L.A. where cool conventions don't have to go head-to-head.
As much as some of us might want the two cons to take different weekends next year, that doesn't appear to be the case. Based on recent Facebook event pages, both cons appear to be taking place on the weekend of November 7. We might have to wait for this one.
See also: Three Conventions, One Day
4. The general public understand that there's more to fan conventions than cosplay
Cosplay is a big part of fan conventions, more so now than it was even a few years ago. Cosplayers are the fans whose images are captured and shared so widely that they have essentially become the faces of the convention world. However, conventions aren't solely about cosplay and, if you have stepped inside one of these events, you know that there are plenty of people who don't dress up for the occasion. I've gone to more conventions than I can count and have never shown up in costume.
As the spotlight continues to shine on the major fan gatherings, hopefully, people will be able to see that there is so much more to conventions than costumes. There are artist alleys filled with people pursing their creative passions and panel halls where people learn valuable skills. Depending on the convention, there may be screening rooms and karaoke lounges and dance parties. Conventions are eclectic events with a little something for everyone, even if you prefer to wear jeans and a t-shirt.
3. Con-goers embrace the hordes of new people at events
Fan conventions are getting popular, really popular, and the big crowds extend far beyond San Diego Comic-Con. This year, in L.A., Gallifrey One, a Doctor Who convention that has been going on for almost 25 years, sold out. Anime Expo, the long-running convention that has always drawn well, brought in 61,000 people.
You can see this as, more or less, evidence of the mainstreaming of the geek scene. You might not think of that as a good thing. You might see a bunch of folks come into your scene, not because they care about it, but because it's the popular things to do. That could be a valid perspective. It's something that music fans have dealt with a lot once their scenes of choice became popular. However, this isn't always the most productive stance to take. Getting upset because your way of life suddenly became popular doesn't accomplish much, unless you consider rising levels of bitterness an accomplishment. I can say that from experience, as someone who identified as a goth before and after Marilyn Manson mania.
A lot of people can benefit from the current popularity of fan conventions. Up-and-coming creators now have a bigger pool of people from which they can draw an audience. Studios can see that even niche series and films can develop a large and devoted following. Anyone involved in this world now has the power to help people understand that you're not a stereotype, that you're a well-rounded person who is more than your outward interests. We need to use that to our advantage.
2. An end to harassment problems
Harassment at conventions is a problem. This is not an issue that's up for debate. Over the past few years, a number of convention attendees have reported that incidents that include inappropriate, unwanted interactions that were sexual in nature. Many conventions — including local events like Anime Los Angeles, Pacific Media Expo and Anime Expo — have responded by enacting harassment policies that are published on websites and in convention guide books. Yet, harassment of con-goers still exists.
Last summer, at Anime Expo, a group called EMC Monkeys filmed a video with a strategically placed GoPro camera documenting the camera person hugging various attendees. As various comments on Facebook indicated, some of the shots gave an inappropriate glance at the bodies of costumed females. (Please note that I didn't see the video, as it was removed from YouTube fairly quickly.) Marc Perez of Anime Expo responded with a statement that the organization had opened a case with the police department to handle the situation. AX officials also responded to thoughtfully to commenters who questioned the seriousness of the situation.
AX's fast, stern and compassionate response is what many want to see from conventions in a situation like this. However, this shouldn't have to happen. People should know better than to run around conventions harassing other people.
Sure, wishing for an end to convention harassment is akin to asking for world peace. Deep down, you know that there will always be someone ready to ruin the rest of the crowd's progress. Still, you hope for it because everyone deserves the freedom to walk around without fear of lewd comments or inappropriate touching or filming. Every con-goer can pitch in to make the convention halls a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Let's work towards that.
1. Con-goers hanging on to their sense of community
There's a sense of community at conventions that's hard to understand unless you go them repeatedly. I saw it in action on a street corner in San Diego last summer during Comic-Con, when convention-goers countered religious protestors. It's a bond between people that exists because we are all at the same place for the same reason. We have a love for conventions that surpasses the annoyances of standing in line for hours. It's similar to what you'll see at concerts and clubs, when people bond over specific bands or styles of music. If you were ever a punk, goth, mod or whatever, then you know the feeling. When someone insults your scene, you take a stand.
After the convention is over and we're back in our cubicles scrolling through our Twitter feeds, it's easy to forget that we're part of a community. We're in the real world, looking into a virtual world where something as simple as a Twitter spat can turn into news in a matter of minutes. When that happens, we have to remember that connection we had back at the conventions. There's something that exists here that's bigger than the line for SDCC's infamous Hall H. That's the community, something that existed far before the convention craze and something that will exist long after attendance numbers dwindle and people start hating nerds again.
See also: Why Comic-Con Is Really About Community