Last year we attended Rhode Island Comic Con – “The Biggest Show in the Smallest State”, and there were a number of issues relating to its explosion in size, but aside from capacity related issues it was still a fun time. This year they expanded to make use of space at the connected Dunkin’ Donuts Center (a hockey arena) to hopefully spread things out, which would also come with more entrances, more concessions – but above all, more space for celebrities (and the lines of fans), vendors, photo ops and more. But they are still learning how to deal with their own size. Nothing as serious as last year, but more things that hopefully will be addressed for next year.
RICC does boast a very large guest list…based on that, it certainly appears to be the largest comic/media convention in New England, and with so many guests crossing multiple fandoms – Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, nostalgic shows, cartoons, wrestling – there are bound to be lots and lots of fans, which led to issues last near – and they had their share of issues again this year. Line management remained a problem, which started Saturday morning (the convention opened Friday evening, but Saturday was the first full day) when the line to enter was a half mile long at 9:50am for a 10:00am opening. Then entrance via the Dunkin’ Donuts Center (run by facility staff, not convention staff) was exceedingly slow – it took 90 minutes for my wife and daughter (due to a prior commitment myself and younger daughter could not get there until the afternoon) to get in from the end of that line. I understand RICC staff had to go out to the line and find people who had photo ops scheduled to expedite them in.
Line management inside was also an issue, mainly in the main hall. Some guests would naturally command a larger line than others, but in some cases it seemed that many guests were placed too close together, and if one of them had a long line it prevented guests from getting to the surrounding guests, which I know made at least one guest unhappy earlier in the day but the situation did improve as some shifting around was done. But in other cases, even when a line was set up, they proved to be too small for the number of guests waiting to get in the line to wait for the guests to return from their breaks/photo ops/panels, etc. Things were exacerbated by the lack of space between some of the aisles with guests facing on each side, and little room for fans to meet on either side and a flow of people in between.
This seemed to be less of an issue in the Dunkin’, as the guests were within sizable rooms outside the main arena – but the problem there was knowing who was where – the only signage indicated that Michael Rooker was down in that area, but all the Walking Dead guests, Z Nation, and a number of others were located there as well. I asked in a couple areas for a map, which no one had. At the third location I asked, they mentioned that they had an app…but that wasn’t easy to read, and it would have required using a phone or tablet to access. Similarly, for the panels the only posted schedules where hanging from the balcony, where they could only be seen by people on the lower level with good eyesight. A smattering of schedules, maps, etc. could have been helpful.
Fortunately there did not appear to be any issues with capacity this year, and re-entry was possible for those who wanted to eat outside versus the limited and high priced offerings of the facilities (prices were not set by the con.)
The last problem was with schedule keeping. Staff seemed uncertain as to when guests would be at their respective booths for signing, etc. They tried not to let lines form, but the would form anyways. And for the professional photo ops, I don’t know if there were other cases of this, but we had a photo op scheduled for Alex Kingston, scheduled for 1:45-2:15pm. We went to the Dunkin’ where the photo ops were being held around 12:45pm to find out when we should get in line, as both Alex and Karen should have been finishing up a joint photo op then anyways, followed by Karen alone, then Alex. Except that Alex and Karen weren’t there…apparently they came down for the photo op, but left again before it started and none of the staff seemed to know when they’d be back. So they were already running an hour late, and both were scheduled to do a big panel at 2:45pm…and we needed to leave immediately after the panel, so we were in a panic – there are no refunds on photo ops unless the guest cancels their appearance at the con. After some dodging around to find the overflow line where they were pre-staging for the next photo op, fortunately for us, the pair showed up shortly after and they ran through the photo ops very fast, getting through the group and Karen quickly, and we were among the first for Alex and had plenty of time to get back to the exhibition hall for the panel. The professional photo ops are really rapid fire though – you don’t really get to chat much with the guest. But Alex was very gracious and gave my wife a “Hello, Sweetie…”, her favorite tag line.
The Doctor Who panel itself (the only one I ended up having time to attend) with Alex and Karen was great. They left it mainly to a Q&A with the fans, which had reasonable, intelligent questions and a few heartwarming stories. It was in the largest hall, which they switched up a bit from last year and did more wide than long which I think made it easier for all to see, and they were on a higher stage with comfortable chairs talk-show style vs. just at a table. It was very informative and lighthearted. I hope to have some excerpts from the panel soon.
And it concluded with a final question to Alex, asking about how the relationship between the Doctor and River would be addressed in the upcoming Christmas Special, to which Alex immediately replied, “SPOILERS!”
Because I got there late and had to leave early, I didn’t get to meet a number of people I had hoped, but I did get also meet David Prowse, the man behind Darth Vader’s mask. I met him briefly at Star Wars Weekends in 2009, where he told his story about being the Green Cross Code Man. After he told that story, it awakened memories of my childhood – I have family in England, and we used to visit every couple years when I was a kid. And I suddenly remembered they Green Cross Code Man TV spots – the GCC Man, played by Prowse, would transport to a spot where children were trying to cross the street and would teach them how to cross properly and safely. I still remember “Stop! Look! Listen! Live!”, and he seemed happy that an American would know about it. He also lamented about not being able to do the SWW events after a falling out with Lucas left him uninvited to official events (perhaps that can change now with Disney in charge? Alas, no more Star Wars Weekends, at least for the foreseeable future.) I also met Michael Dorn, who played Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he was the only member of the show that I ever managed to see. The whole family got to meet Jason Hawes and Steve Gonsalves of Ghost Hunters, who I met in Montreal a few years back, and Kent McCord of Adam-12 (as well as Farscape), a childhood hero of mine, and another highlight, Henry Winkler – Fonzie himself! He’s such a nice man in person. My oldest daughter mentioned watching him in Parks and Recreation, and he pointed to a picture of himself and two of his costars from the show, and said, “My kids!” He was obviously proud of everything, especially his children’s books that he writes now. My oldest daughter was also thrilled to meet Richard Harmon of The 100 and Continuum, who gave her a big hug.
Of course there was no shortage of excellent cosplayers (even my own daughter, dressed as Party Poison from Gerard Way’s The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys comic, was stopped a number of times for pictures), and of course members and friends of the 501st Legion New England Garrison were present and providing photo opportunities with a Millennium Falcon cockpit! And there was no shortage of 10th and 11th Doctors, and even a few Osgoods…
Although we had our share of frustration again this year, my wife and I concluded that nothing that happened would prevent us from coming again next year, hopefully without other things happening the same weekend. In fact, it was quite a fun time for all of us. All of the above mentioned problems are solvable – hopefully they learn from these issues and have a better plan in place next year. And I can’t wait to see who they have lined up…