Rhode Island Comic Con. By guest contributor Jackie Kamlot.
It’s starting to feel like “you’re nobody if you don’t host a Comic Con.” This month, Rhode Island threw its hat into the ring and held its first two day Comic Con. Writing for Comic Buzz, Jackie Kamlot (Boston, MA, area) and Leslie Fasulo (New Haven, CT, area) met in the middle to check it out.
Living up to its slogan, The Biggest Show in the Smallest State, RICC wowed us with dozens of celebrity guests. Not San Diego Comic Con caliber guests (think Ryan Reynolds, Twilight, Big Bang Theory), but a more nostalgic, collectors’ show group of guests. Most were classic sci-fi, horror and wrestling celebrities, including original Battlestar Galactica cast members, Power Rangers, Nicolas Brandon from Buffy, John DeLancie, Peter Mayhew and “legendary voice actor” Billy West. Then a dozen or so wrestlers and the women who love them. And because it is billed as a comic convention, some celebrity artists such as Paul Ryan, Bob McCleod and Walt Simonson.
The show was held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. Easily accessible to the Providence Place Mall (for a better variety and cheaper food). Tickets were $25/day or $35 for the weekend. There were also $100+ VIP level tickets, but we found that to be a little too ambitious their first time out. $25 was reasonable for a day pass. Not sure that either of us would have found enough diversity in the programming to justify another $10 for the weekend pass, but for the true locals wanting to hang out with like-minded people $35 for the weekend would have been a deal.
The registration lines were long early in the day, but moved at a decent pace. It was strange that you bought your ticket at an indoor ticket window then proceeded outside to hand off your ticket in exchange for a wrist band. With a little more planning that could have been accomplished in the indoor area.
The con took place on two levels. In the lobby of the ground floor space there were movie cars set up, including a Star Wars land speeder, the Batmobile and the Delorean from Back to the Future. This area drew a good crowd as people shuffled around trying to take pictures. There was also a vendor room with five aisles of dealers with toys, posters, dvds, and other collectibles as well as a vendor set right up front with live snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies. Most noticeable was the lack of comics. I overheard someone mention that there were only 5 comic dealers at the show with mostly dollar boxes. The room was set up with the dealers taking up the front half, celebrity guests signing in the back in the right corner, and artists in the back left corner. The second level included another open gathering space and the panel/activity rooms. Mid-day there was a live band called High Adventure which is a Fan-Rock band based out of Connecticut that played in that open space. It was a nice touch, but as they played with amplifiers it made conversation difficult at times. Perhaps a nice acoustic set next year?
While we are not big comic book fans, we try to support the local shows. Our main interests were the cosplay and some of the celebrity Q&A panels. The show was hosting a costume contest so the cosplay was quite respectable. Being Doctor Who fans, we were impressed with the number of DW costumes and tables selling DW merchandise. The guest panel scheduling, however, is where this show displayed its infancy. There were schedules posted in advance on their website, but they did not include room locations and were never updated to include room locations. It was by word of mouth that we discovered the panels were taking place on the second level. When we arrived, there was nothing to indicate which rooms the activities were taking place in. People were randomly opening room doors until two staffers arrived to put a stop to this and direct people to their rooms. The rooms themselves ended up being too small and people were left standing around the room and in the doorways. They were obviously more popular than anticipated. And hopefully next year they will devote larger space to these panels.
We did not bring any children with us to the show, but they did have some decent children’s programming, including a kids costume contest and a Jedi training class. Attendance was estimated at around 15,000 for the weekend according to their Facebook page. Obviously a success for them as they announced Saturday afternoon that they would be back next year.Despite the initial confusion with the panel rooms, everyone looked like they were having a great time. The only real complaint I heard was the lack of comics in the vendor room. It would seem that not all shows labeled “comic con” are going to be as comic-focused as others. Having recently attended the Baltimore Comic Con, if memory serves, there were no non-comic book related guests. Conventions are going to do what they can to be successful in their designated market. While this may not truly have been a comic book convention, we have to accept that the popularity of the San Diego Comic Con, with its television and movie celebrity guests, is going to influence the direction some of these shows are taking. But being practically in our own back yards made it a nice addition to our usual con-going routine. We’ll definitely be back next year.