By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Changes are in store for both Emerald City Comicon (ECCC) and Fan Expo Vancouver (FEV), two of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest pop culture conventions. They are now respectively owned by ReedPOP and Informa Canada. While Hobby Star Marketing still manages the Fan Expo brand, they now report to a larger company that operates out of 43 countries that deal with a variety of exhibits than just focussing on geekdom whereas ReedPOP is more about the popular culture scene.
In what I’ve experienced from both of this year’s shows, a few of these modifications are not all that visible. Some include courier expressing show passes to fans so they have them in time for the show (ECCC) and others mean hiring additional security / staff for traffic control (FEV). The check-in of fake weapons is another and these are honestly needed for the safety for everyone. These changes are perhaps the most noticeable for this year’s two shows. As for what will happen in 2016, fine-tuning is required to manage the crazy lineups I saw when big name stars appear on the show floor.
For instance, I like the fact that Epic Photo Ops is in charge of handling all those celebrity moments for show attendees wanting a memento from the show. If someone blinks or that hat is hiding a face, the staff from this company will find that individual waiting in line to retrieve the photo and ask to come back to get the image retaken. A few have even-handed out pictures if they can find the person in the back of the line. They will also warn others if they are out of line with the Hollywood star. Despite the hiccups in the front end of queuing up people for the lineup (i.e. lack of floor space), that is due to the fact that some folks showing up early were simply lounging around. The adage from the Photo Ops people (ECCC Minions, the convention helpers, included) is to keep on moving, and I want to officially pitch to ReedPOP my desire to make a music video of what goes on using King Julian’s song in Madagascar showing just how important that to move it, move it — to keep congestion to a minimum. I suggested that to a staff member and she had laughed, loving the idea.
Although some folks like to show up an hour early before any autograph or photo-event, they can’t bottleneck the line when there’s no waiting area. Thankfully the hallway can hold maybe two dozen folks, but that can’t be done inside the official area.
Elsewhere, the show floor, where the exhibitors lay still needs a little more people power to maintain a thoroughfare that will keep on moving. Congestion is inevitable in both shows. As to how to best handle that requires indicating that certain paths on the maps published in the convention guides must be like a major road artery which has to keep flowing instead of stagnating into lounge areas.
With new management companies in charge, hopefully they have urban engineers to help fine tune these routes. At ECCC, there were two routes (one being two sets of escalators going up and down in one area, and another set located nearby) that people could take to get to the exhibit floor than one and for FEV, technically there was only the one escalator that was packed throughout the day. Going up and down is not tough, but attendees have to give six or so minutes time to allow bouncing up and down.
Overall, these shows are about the experiences. The panels provide insight into particular industries, and while it is tough to plan for being at some without waiting in line, hopefully some system can be figured out so a week later after the show, most of them are posted online so that they can be viewed.
That can help when fun stories emerge about an incident at a Q&A with a media guest. At ECCC, Alex Kingston really entertained the crowds when she emerged from the curtains and had a little fun with John Barrowman during his panel. At FEV, I heard that there was a Carrie Fisher and William Shatner moment. To the fortunate few that were present at the show floor, Barrowman regaled fans with the Alpaca dance when a person had two cute stuffed dolls of these animals that he had to play with. Fortunately, that was recorded and posted online on Barrowman’s Facebook page. It’s really these random moments that make attending any convention worthwhile. Those can never get recreated. Each show is unique in that regard.
When cancellations occur, the fans should not cry foul. I’ve read too much of that on the event’s social media page. They are working people and they have deadlines or contractual commitments to fulfill first than to appear at a show, where the agreements made between their agents and the management company are very different. Many folks complained about the huge number of last-minute cancellations at ECCC. Karen Allen, Levar Burton, Jenna Coleman are just a few examples. Brandon Routh and Dante Basco made a video expressing their regret, and that helps.
It should be noted that some media guests do try very hard to make it, like Karen Gillan, but even medical issues can make traveling tough. Although she did appear in the Pacific Northwest at ECCC first, it’s only those folks who did not attend that show or make the trip across the border who have missed out. Interestingly enough, although she was scheduled for Fan Expo Vancouver this year, an illness prevented her from appearing. It should be noted that the powers that be for the Toronto Comicon show made every effort to bring her across the pond to that event when work scheduling did not permit her to show up for one day.
Anyone monitoring multiple events from around North America will note that Gillan is headed to other shows though. Although the distance is further away, if meeting that favourite performer is a must, the desire must outweigh the travelling expense.
Local shows are better to attend since they are easier on the wallet. But to get the most out of both FEV and ECCC, all folks have to remember is that just because that favourite artist or media guest is not here this year, chances are they will return in the future. Thankfully, FEV is now scheduled for November 11-13, 2016 to give breathing room for those who can’t handle two conventions in a row in successive weekends. These convention management companies must meet on some regular basis to talk about which Hollywood celebrity can return to a region if they can not appear at one show, but can at another.