This is an article I should have written months ago…Rhode Island Comic Con, in Providence, RI took place in November. But various events got in my way (including a few medical issues), and just keeping caught up on the news was a challenge. But my wife mentioned who was coming to the con this year and booked us a room, I remembered – I never wrote anything! In fact, I thought I had at one point…To be honest, I’ve stayed out of the convention circuit for a long, long time. My original experiences were with the Creation conventions that came through every year back in the 80s. They’d have a few mid-level stars typically from Star Trek and Doctor Who (the best I remember was Jimmy Doohan, who came out and shook hands with everyone waiting in line in the morning, and Sarah Sutton who played Nyssa on Doctor Who, who was very gracious in signing something out of schedule for my sister due to a family emergency). Then I moved on the smaller and non-media focused cons for a while, and served on some panels – mostly revolving around Babylon 5, but then I stopped altogether. I was invited one year to moderate a panel on Babylon 5 at a major convention, but I actually couldn’t go…
Several years ago I had planned to go to San Diego ComicCon, but had to cancel. Now it just seems like it is too crazy to even think of attending. Last year we all planned a trip to New York ComicCon, and I even had my press credentials in hand, but had to cancel that as well.
When that fell through, I saw a tweet from Warehouse 13‘s Eddie McClintock that he and co-star Saul Rubinek would be at Rhode Island Comic Con. This was interesting because my entire family are Warehouse 13 fans, and while I was on set several years ago Eddie recorded a message for my family inviting them up to the set – well, of course, a year later there wouldn’t be a set to visit as the show ended, but they all still wanted to meet Eddie. So I checked into it…and not only would Eddie and Saul be there, but the entire surviving cast of the original Star Trek sans Leonard Nimoy, Star Wars‘ Peter Mayhew, Dollhouse star Eliza Dusku, Doctor Who‘s Colin Baker (I’d met several companions, but never a Doctor), Mark Sheppard from Supernatural, Warehouse 13 and Doctor Who, Rebecca Mader from Once Upon A Time and Lost (a family favorite), Scott Wilson and Michael Rooker from The Walking Dead (Rooker would have to cancel before the convention 🙁 ), Terry Carter from Battlestar Galactica – the list just went on and on…major and minor stars from decades of movies and television. Quite a few professional wrestlers as well like Road Warrior Animal. And this from a very young con. It was my entire fandom life under one roof…of course, we had to go. If nothing else, the family had to meet Eddie and Saul. Of course, at some level I was coming in as a convention press rookie. Press tours are one thing – the network parades their talent out to you, answers questions, interact, etc. Conventions are different – they are more for the fans. I’m split between worlds – a fan and a member of the press. I applied for and received press credentials at least…but I had to ask what that meant.
We got there a little late on Saturday, as we drove down that morning and had to check in to our hotel nearby (the one right at the convention center was fully booked). There was a very long line waiting to get in – and it was raining… 🙂 As it turns out, I could get in on my press credentials – but that would have left my family out there. We did get in, however, as they started to corral people inside.
I can say…convention == controlled chaos. Amazingly controlled, actually. The main room served as both a dealers room and meet and greets for the guests. There were a LOT of vendors of all sorts of things, filling about 2/3rds of the very large hall. Toys from my childhood, complete sets of trading cards I tried to collect as a kid (and my parents unfortunately got rid of), artists, and of course comics! And the vendors can be competitive…my daughter found some comics she wanted at one vendor, paid for them, walked away – and someone came up to her that apparently worked for another vendor and was scoping out the competition – and said she could get those same comics cheaper at their table…All of the guests each had a meet and greet booth. In rare cases, they might have ropes set up to manage lines if they lines warranted it, but mostly the crowds were manageable and even though there were a few cases of just “large crowd and no defined line”, everyone was just friendly and there were no problems. The Star Trek cast and a few other select few like Dushku were at the end of the hall on a raised stage, with corrals for the lines…I believe you also could only enter the line for a paid-for autograph or picture – no chatting like you could do with others on the floor. Scott Wilson, who was on the floor but commanded a HUGE line that wrapped around the area, got “promoted” to the stage on the Sunday using William Shatner’s spot, as Shatner was only there on Saturday.
In pretty much every case, a guest will charge for an autograph or a photo op, and may have additional things to sell. It is why they are there. You can, in most cases, wait in line just to meet them, but if you do I’d keep it brief. Even if you are paying, remember that there may be a lot of people behind you. If it’s not crowded AND the guest appears amenable, then I’d feel comfortable chatting longer. I chatted with Ghost Hunter Amy Bruni for a short time (it was during a lull and we had met before through Syfy) and wrestler Scott Garland (a.k.a. Scotty2Hotty), as we had some common friends.Unfortunately from a press perspective there were no specific press junkets or time available to interview the guests. It seems that there wasn’t a lot of press in general, perhaps not something they’ve needed to deal with to a great degree, but something that they were at least thinking about.
RICC is going through some growing pains. Perhaps in part due to their top-line guests, for a short time they actually exceeded the capacity of the venue (for the first time in the Rhode Island Convention Center’s history), and given that this was only the third year of the convention, they were unprepared with what to do, both in people tracking and then communication. But I have to give major kudos for what they did afterwards, admitting to their mistakes and offering refunds to all those affected, and promising to learn from their mistakes. I spoke with one of the organizers and they later confirmed in social media that they plan to expand into the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, the adjacent arena, as well for 2015.Unfortunately the capacity issues translated into an additional problem – lack of food. The small cafes had limited options and long, long waits. With no guarantee of re-entry, you couldn’t go outside to get food, and you couldn’t bring outside food in (my wife apparently had a large bag of Halloween candy for snacks and had to give it up when we entered that morning.) Additionally, the professional photo ops contractor ran out of photo paper…we ended up having to download the picture my daughter with Mark Sheppard. Panels took place in a pair of ballrooms, one very large one (where you’d see William Shatner, George Takei, etc.) and a smaller but still respectably sized room. There were also some smaller rooms around the area where movies were shown, the photo ops took place, and a few other random things including a “speed dating” group. For William Shatner and George Takei’s sessions, the grand ballroom was pretty much full – I can’t recall if there was a press seating area as I just hung to the sides to take pictures and listen in, but could leave if I needed to catch something else. Both were fascinating to listen to. Takei especially is pretty mesmerizing, and has a compelling story that he has since translated into a musical called “Allegiance” which opens on Broadway in November (with previews in October.) In the smaller ballroom I sat through the Ghost Hunters panel, and then later the Warehouse 13 panel with Eddie and Saul. I’ll have a more complete report on that panel later in another article as I have to re-transcribe the whole hour, which is something I am really not fast at…but it happened to co-incide with the Walking Dead panel in the grand ballroom, and you could hear cheering through the walls, so it became something of a challenge to cheer louder… 🙂
As you’d expect, there was no shortage of cosplayers out and about on the floor. Some were quite ingenious. And some I just can’t describe – I don’t even know what they were, and probably didn’t want to know…So will I be back? Absolutely. Already booked the hotel. Despite the issues, we all enjoyed the experience. My oldest is already planning her cosplay costume. My wife welcomed me one day with, “Hello, Sweetie…” to let me know Alex Kingston would be there. And the guest list is still expanding…check out just some of the names as of this writing:
Karen Gillian, Alex Kingston, Ron Perlman, Ming-Na Wen, Scott Wilson (returning, hopefully with a bigger planned line), Brent Spiner, John De Lancie, Jesse L. Martin, Dean Cain, Margot Kidder, Mitch Pileggi, Barbara Eden, voice actors Frank Welker (Scooby Doo! Megatron!) and Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime!)…and the list is growing regularly!
Check out the official site here, and maybe I’ll see you too in November…