These past three days I attended Salt Lake Comic Con, one of the biggest conventions of its type that you've never heard of. It was a nice experience and I had a great time, but I also feel the need to give an attendee's perspective on the convention as it stands.
I showed up right after the end of my classes on Thursday, around 12:50, to the convention center. The convention was supposed to kick off with the Gold and VIP members getting early entry to the building. For the record, I had a Gold pass and had preregistered (thus I had my wristband and lanyard).
My mindset at this point is blank. There was little information on what exactly would happen once we actually got here, so I was winging it. I took the city's light rail system to the station directly adjacent to the center, figuring that I'd understand if I started there.
This graphic I whipped up shows what amounted to my journey after that point. Starting on the north side, I followed a bunch of other Gold members to one entrance to the center a block away. It became clear that no one understood what was happening. We came upon a line that stretched all the way around the corner from us.
I made the decision, like several other golds, to just get in the line. After about ten minutes we learned that the line we were standing in was probably (emphasis very intentional) the registration line. In actuality the line we supposedly wanted was closer to the entrance.
I jumped out of the line and made for this prophesied second line. It turned out to be about half-a-block from where I was.
I must stress that none of this information was given to me by a SL Comic Con staff member. It was, quite literally, only hearsay. Anyway, I stacked up with my fellow golds and we entered the convention hall around 1:40 PM.
The first day went very well. I got my bearings pretty quickly and had a blast meeting some of the people around the con. I even picked up a few pieces of swag early on that I figured wouldn't last long when the real crowds descended on the center. I had some bad luck with my chosen panels on Thursday, which stemmed from a common problem with many panels.
Here's what I wasn't mad about:
The Long Lines
Honestly, these are guaranteed to happen. It sounded like the general admission folks got stiffed pretty badly on Thursday. Apparently a large portion of the 70,000 people didn't even make it into the convention and left early because of the lines. (Edit: This originally exaggerated the stat in a way that was incorrect. Still, there were a ton of people that didn't make it in.)
The Clear Perks I Had With My Gold Pass
Hey, that gold pass got me into the center within forty minutes. I can't complain at all.
Here's what I was mad about:
An Utter Lack of Leadership
You'll hear this from just about everyone who went. If there was one thing our Comic Con needed, it was people in the volunteer corps that could corral and control a crowd. It wasn't until the last hundred-or-so feet when we were in line on Thursday that any of us saw a volunteer giving instructions.
This became pervasive during the convention. In two of the panels I was going to attend, there were incredible screw-ups in the lining-up phase. In one, there were no signs or instructions being given, so I lined up 45 minutes before in the line that had formed next to the door.
Somewhere along the line, someone had indeed given different directions and started sending all the Golds and General Admissions to a line on the opposite side. By the time I received this information the line was already huge. I gave up at that point.
Similarly, the voice-acting panel I attended just today had line issues. At first, the attendees seemed to set up a line on our own, but without any instruction, this slowly devolved into a mob. When the doors actually opened, it was a matter of pushing your way to the front. I just barely managed to make it into the back row (despite getting there when roughly only ~50 people were there an hour beforehand).
The Class System
There are three different types of tickets to purchase at SL Comic Con (not including Press and other specials).
The first one is VIP. As this name makes it sound, it is expensive, but it also gets you priority access to... everything. You can skip to the front at photo shoots, panels, and even some celebrity booths. Some have mentioned that they feel like the VIP perks weren't up to snuff, welcome to the club guys.
The second is
peasant... Gold. We get in an hour early, get a free T-Shirt and... that's actually it. Huh. We did get in pretty fast though, that's a plus.
The third is
filthy serf... General Admission. You are the lowest of the low. You probably won't get into the convention center in a reasonable amount of time. Salt Lake Comic Con-senpai isn't going to notice you. Sorry.
It felt like Gold was the real SL Comic Con experience. In reality it was just the ease of entry that made the extra ~$30 worth it. Even so, it feels like Golds and General Admissions are widely sidelined by VIPs. I'm mostly saying this because without leadership like I said above, being a VIP was the only way to guarantee you'd get to do anything. As a Gold/General, you have to fight your way across the floor and through mobs to get to things. The VIPs got first class "just go in the door" directions every time.
Every panel I managed to attend was missing someone. Granted, I didn't end up attending many, but hey. In one panel, Colin Baker was missing. In another, Johnny Yong Bosch ended up being about thirty minutes late (it was a fifty minute panel).
I'm fine with them being late. It just became a question of why. Was it because the floor was so absolutely congested with people that they couldn't get through? Did they not feel like it?
Unfortunately we'll never know. If it was the former, they need to reexamine how they get celebrities from one side of the floor to the side where the panel rooms are (hey, that might be a problem right there).
Where was the Niche?
This is picking less at the Con itself and more at the vendors. Honestly, there was a horrible selection of niche items for the anime sect. For every interesting little figurine that caught my eye, there was 30 others for one of the following:
- Sword Art Online
- Attack on Titan (Oh god so damn much)
I'm willing to bet that 50% of the merch in anime was one of these things. That's fine, but the curious thing is that this probably ended up shooting the vendors in the foot. There is such a thing as over-saturation and, trust me, I don't think all the damn Mikasa figurines managed to sell. The model kits scene was particularly abysmal. I only saw Gundam. There are more giant robot shows than Gundam in Japan goddamn it!.
Branch out a bit, or at least stock a Muv-Luv Model Kit or figurine so I can have some faith in humanity restored. My inner fanboy for Spice and Wolf and Muv-Luv was really disappointed here.
To put it lightly, Salt Lake Comic Con still has a long ways to go if it wants to actually deserve the title of "biggest comic con in America". I haven't been to many conventions of this size, but I'm sure that they all manage to do a marginally better job than this. The volunteers need more training that involves dealing with crowds and way more enthusiasm while doing it. I'm not sure what it was, but most staff members seemed pretty uninterested with the whole situation.
I had a good time, but I only had a good time because I was alone. If I were with a friend or my family, I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much. It's easy to navigate crowds and deal with chaos alone, but adding another person would have made that impossible.
There needed to be more interfacing between the convention stuff and the convention goers. It needed a "human touch", like I said at the top. It felt pretty mechanical at the end of the day; a poor machine that doesn't really work all that well.
I'm hoping that this improves with next year's attempt.
You can find all my posts on Dex's Corner.