I’ve been covering comic conventions in Houston for years, and just got done investigating the complete and utter breakdown of Space City Comic Con this past weekend. Sometimes things go terribly wrong, and that sucks for fans because these events are not cheap. Believe me, if I couldn’t score press passes, I would not be there since your average three-day con can easily be half a month’s rent, and that’s even if you don’t have to fly and stay in a hotel.
Sadly, there’s not a whole lot you can do to see in advance if a con is going to implode, but there are some signs that are better than others at warning it’s going to be a disorganized turd. A few are things you may see only when you get there, and if you take my advice, when you see them, get a refund and find something else fun to do in the city.
5. A String of Big-Name Cancellations
Actors cancel con appearances at the last minute all the time because their schedules are not their own. If anyone associated with, say, Star Wars, cancels, it’s probably not a big sign of anything since we’re in the middle of the series’ revival.
What you want to look for is a string of cancellations a week or two before the con, especially if the guests don’t have a show in common or anything. If a bunch of big-name talent is jumping ship, it means that the con is low on cash and can’t make its guarantees. Some of the skeavier cons actually do this on purpose, knowing that by the time they cancel, most people will have invested in the trip to the point it would be a waste not to go.
4. A New Convention (Or Under New Management)
New conventions always, Always, ALWAYS are at best a good time amidst controlled chaos, and at worst complete insanity. The same is true for when a more established con gets new owners or managers. Everything gets topsy-turvy.
That’s not to say these will necessarily be disasters. I personally find new cons to be fun and loose. You want to go in prepared for things to go wrong, though. Be flexible, and you can have a good time.
3. No Con App or a Bad Con App
It seems silly, but the state of a convention’s mobile app is a great indicator of how well the ship is being steered. For instance, the Space City Comic Con app was still showing appearances by Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, who attended last year and were not returning. Letting basic things like app maintenance go is a very bad sign.
Oh, by the way, this doesn’t count for how well the app actually works when you’re on the floor. With so much going on in the wi-fi all around you, some failures and letdowns are virtually assured.
2. Things That Are Too Good to Be True
The story goes that once upon a time, a Houston convention managed to gather the entire cast of Star Trek II and was going to have them do scenes in the Summit. It was called the Ultimate Fan Experience, but its nickname here is the Con of Wrath for how bad a disaster it was. It wrecked Houston as a convention city for years.
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You can see the same sort of thing with the Sons of Anarchy cast reunion at Space City Comic Con. It was a tall order, especially for a smaller con, and it became quite clear early on the organizers had bitten off more than they could chew. Fingers crossed Comicpalooza’s massive Alien/Aliens reunion doesn’t have the same baggage, though Comicpalooza is quite a bit bigger and has pulled off these sorts of things before. Even so, if the convention announced next year that it would have the entire cast of Firefly or something, I would probably be worried.
1. No Walkie-Talkies
If you walk into a convention and you see that the staff has few or no walkie-talkies, turn around and walk out immediately. There is simply no point in continuing. Get your refund.
No one is going to have a clue what’s going on. Panels will be late or get canceled. Celebrities will not be herded properly. Problems will not be addressed. As with any army, communications is the most important thing, and a con that neglects that, thinking it can make do with smart phones, has not thought this through.
Comic conventions continue to become larger and more unwieldy, with even good promoters struggling to keep up with the enormous amounts of money and complexity that go into the endeavors. That’s no balm to a fan stung by disorganization and unethical practice, but hopefully you can use these tips to avoid that.