Every year I cover Comicpalooza, Houston’s massive celebration of all things geek that now spans four days and takes over the entire George R. Brown Convention Center. It’s an exhausting ordeal that leaves me drained and sore, so when the various incarnations of Space City Con happen a little later in the summer, I usually skip them with the excuse that I’m all conned out.
This year, though, I wanted to check out at least one day of Space City Comic Con purely for the fact that Karen Gillan from Doctor Who was going to be there. Amy Pond is my daughter’s favorite character outside of The Doctor himself, and this is really the first year that she’s old enough to get the concept of meeting an actor on your favorite show. So put a fez on her and went, and I got a glimpse of the differences between a huge convention and a more compact one.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Comicpalooza for all that it wears me out. That said, a lot of the things that I applaud about the experience are also the things that I found I missed the least when I was on the floor of SCCC. For instance, you cannot be bored at Comicpalooza because the programming alone fills more time than it's humanly possible to attend. There are at least half a dozen panels, screenings, Q&As, contests, gaming sessions, meet and greets, and workshops going on at any given moment.
You have endless options, but on the other hand, you feel a little cheated of experiences. Add in the fact that the bigger crowds mean you have to queue well before events to get in and it cuts out even more chances to see other things. The variety is phenomenal, but it’s something that you’re going to have to assume the quality of since 80 percent of it you’ll never be a part of.
Smaller cons like SCCC are more organic and less hectic. Fewer big events mean less filler, and things you’re not interested in free up time to explore the main floor or get autographs. Instead of a sense of everyone rushing everywhere to try and make something before the doors close, the atmosphere is more laid-back, cordial, and less competitive.
Granted, this can backfire. I have little interest in the Power Rangers or Star Trek, so the fact that SCCC having huge amounts of attention on those things means I’m less invested as a whole. If I want to do nothing but Doctor Who stuff at Comicpalooza, I can tailor a schedule to do exactly that, even if the only person who is going to be there is just a Sontaran (sorry, Dan, love ya, though!).
On the other hand, I can definitely say that the smaller cons are friendlier affairs to attend. A smaller venue breeds a more knowledgeable staff of volunteers able to point you in the right direction. Fewer guests means better customer service, and I had more people ask me if they could help me in a single hour of SCCC than I have in four years of Comicpalooza. And they could help me, too! I never got lost once.
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There also seem to be more gatherings of like-minded friends, and new friendships spring up more easily. It’s no secret that big cons mean big money to the vendors and guests who attend. The owners of 8th Dimension Comics have told me many times that Comicpalooza makes up a pretty significant amount of their yearly revenue. Not that they couldn’t do without it as such, but that sort of thing places a lot of stress on people and takes out a little of the fun.
At SCCC, the authors we met were happy to talk and rarely crowded by people vying for their attention. There wasn’t a crush of people as at Comicpalooza, and so everyone was less irritable and more apt to ask for cosplay pictures or just let kids run around and wave sonic screwdrivers at each other. It’s the difference between going to a busy mall and going to that same mall on Black Friday.
And the guests feel it, too. Gillan was the only significant line I saw for autographs, and even hers was barely 20 people deep on Sunday. Not having to appease a vast crowd of hopefuls meant that interactions were longer and warmer. She was delighted to sign my daughter’s copy of Goodnight Pond, and both she and Arthur Darvill squealed with delight at the homemade Tardis pictures my daughter presented them with to keep. I mean, $55 for a signature is still nuts, but that moment where my little girl got to touch and speak with one of her greatest heroes? That’s hard to put a price on.
I have to admit I got bored and left SCCC much sooner than I ever have Comicpalooza. I’ve gotten used to just showing up and expecting an endless nerd buffet. With smaller cons, if you want to maximize what you get out of them, you have to plan a bit more. (Side note: The SCCC app is WAY better than Comicpalooza’s and a thousand times more helpful.) There may not be that sheer amount of content that our more massive gathering showcases, but SCCC made me feel a lot more at home and like I was in a gathering of people who were all having a low-key but exceptional time. It’s a different experience, but smaller doesn’t necessarily mean lesser.