- A first-time convention, from a new company. (A little research, and I discovered it was the company which builds and manages booths for various comic book publishers, as well as manages other consumer events.)
- A first-time convention, in a convention center.
- A convention in Atlantic City, which is a bit dogeared as tourist destinations go. (The casinos are struggling, the city has not invested the gaming revenue wisely.)
Yet… the show managed to bring in a lot of comics publishers (Boom, Valiant, Aspen, Zenescope, Marvel, Top Cow), placing it ahead of many older, regional shows.
They have a decent guest list. While I have been to Atlantic City to gamble and hang out on the boardwalk, I have never been to the convention center. Why not take a day trip to Atlantic City and check out the show? I woke up at 5 AM Saturday morning, caught the 8:15 Greyhound, and arrived at Bally’s casino at about 10:30 AM.
(Note: if travelling to Atlantic City by Greyhound, they might give you a gaming voucher with your bus ticket. Otherwise, ride the bus to the casino, not the bus station, show ID, and you’ll get a gaming voucher. Free money! And they’ll have geeky slots, like Lord of the Rings, Iron Man, Wizard of Oz… Then walk a few blocks to the convention center.)
I decided to experience the convention like a normal fan. Buy the ticket, hang out, see a few panels, no agenda. My only question to answer: How successful was the show?
Things which impressed me:
- The badge. The front had space to write your name! But even more impressive and “why wasn’t this done sooner?” mind boggling: the back had a matte finish, and a miniature blank comics page! Get autographs! Signatures! Take notes!
- Hall B was mostly empty. During the day, it hosted giant scenic backdrops for cosplay photos! The other half of the room was set up for a stage, and right after the show, from 8 PM – 2AM, hosted the Cosplay Ballroom Party.
- The middle aisle was divided into thirds (see map above). The middle row, it seems, was used for those with ADA needs. I didn’t see it used for that, but I wasn’t there when the show opened. Otherwise, that middle aisle was easy to navigate; few traffic jams. I had no problem moving around.
- One exhibitor was selling 3-D printer sculpts of cosplayers. The process took about two minutes on a turntable, and the initial scan looked great! Six weeks for processing and printing. The Jedi Knight I witnessed paid $100 for a six-inch model.
- Did you know that George Romero had planned to do a science fiction cyborg movie in 1984? Bob Layton explained the history to me.
- The Atlantic City Convention Center! There’s a big, 90-foot atrium when you enter, with lots of natural light! The exhibition halls are on the second floor, covering 486,000 sq.ft. Above that, on both sides of the Atrium, levels three and four offer meeting rooms and large event spaces. (No ballroom, although Hall A can be used as such.) (Flat daily rate for that entire exhibition space? $45,000) Walking the length of the atrium wasn’t bad…about two blocks long.
- There was a lot of space. Even artists alley, the booths were “small press” size, The rows were also short, perpendicular to the main aisle, so were more intimate than the typical AA layout which recedes into the vanishing point.
- I don’t know how they convinced the Convention Center, but there were a lot of food vendors on the show floor. Bulk candy, macaroons, pop corn, chocolate… Next year, they should get Pez or candy licensees for comics properties to show up!
- The auto row was a nice idea. Lots of Batmobiles, the Batcycle with sidecar, Dukes of Hazzard, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future… $10 a photo. The added bonus: the curtain wall hid the bathrooms and concessions behind it. Shorter lines!
- I wandered over to the convention hotel (the Sheraton) to scope out their event space. I discovered a small Miss America museum off the lobby! Did you know that Lee Meriwether AKA Catwoman, was also Miss America 1955? She was the first to wear the current tiara. There’s also a costume display of famous winners. (Wouldn’t it be awesome to have her appear next year?!)
- There was a lot of cosplay! Lego Avengers (no Black Widow, alas), Inside Out, and what might be the most comfortable outfit: The Goon.
- Did the earlier Wizard World Philly drain off some excitement? Is the local demographic one which shops at conventions, or just site-sees?
Things to improve next year:
- From the entrance to the exhibit hall, one had to walk about 100 yards past the box office to turn the corner and enter the show floor. That entrance wasn’t well laid out… it required a 90-degree right turn, so you were bumping into people who were exiting. Yes… that was the only entrance/exit. Once the mass of humanity was let in, they should have opened a secondary entrance at Hall C or B.
- There was a lot of empty space unused, especially in Hall D. While I understand the need for a big space to hold the early attendees before the show opens, Hall B, where the Cosplay Ballroom Party was held, could have been used instead. Or… line them up on the Third and Fourth floors, in the hallways outside the panel rooms. Run the line down the open stairwells to the Second Floor and the exhibit hall. Or, better yet… seat them in the film room, show ads while they wait, do some emceeing, then guide them downstairs in an orderly fashion.
- The floor layout was very confusing. I’m systematic when I hit shows, and I thought I had completed my first run in 90 minutes. After a panel, I took a second pass to do some shopping, and found even more booths I had missed. Then I deliberately did a third pass, and I still missed seeing the Aspen booth! There were strange placements, triangular booths (a nice idea on paper, but not in practice), a bit hard to orient oneself, even with the banners overhead. I don’t think the booth islands were arranged well. (The parent company does 3-D booth design. Perhaps they should use that software to better layout the next show.) If Marvel returns, their booth should run parallel with the outside walls. Place the entrance to the show floor where Aisle 1100 is, make it lead directly to Marvel so that’s the first thing attendees see, and then run the long aisle both ways. That would avoid the narrow 1000/1100 booths seen on the current map, and makes circulation less complicated.
- The Cosplay dance party… it’s a good idea, but with regional pop culture cons, there will be other events in competition with whatever the show plans. It’s best to co-sponsor an off-site after party event with a publisher, as Aspen did with a local retailer at Bally’s. It also saves money, not just with the sponsorship, but also in hall rental and convention center expenses such as security.
- The convention center has a permanent box office, on the first floor. It wasn’t used, instead, part of the show floor held the ticket booths. I described above how this created a big inconvenience for attendees. ACBC also needs to improve the Will Call process. It should be as simple as “scan printout barcode, hand attendee the badge”.
- There was good media coverage locally, but I heard and saw little here in the New York City area. I wonder if the same happened in Philadelphia?
The best cosplay? This:
I paid $35 for the Saturday ticket, $44 for the bus ticket, and $13 for lunch (hoagie and a bottle of OJ). I spent less than $150 on merchandise, at five vendors. I’m not a big spender at shows, unless I see original art that interests me. Also, I didn’t want to schlep something onto the bus and subway.
The scheduling of the show was good. While there might be a ConWar with Wizard World Philadelphia (which is scheduled next year for early June 2016), there aren’t many other regional shows on the calendar in mid-May. It’s a nice counter-balance to the New York Comic Con in October, although I don’t see ACBC getting that large.
A bigger problem, which I don’t know how to solve: hotel rooms. Unlike Las Vegas, Atlantic City doesn’t have much weekday business powered by conventions. Thus, weekend hotel rooms, unlike every other hotel in the country, are in high demand and expensive. (Unless you have a car and can stay at one of the cheaper hotels far from the Boardwalk.) ACBC did offer hotel deals, as many shows do, but they weren’t available when I checked on Friday. ACBC should partner with one of the hotel casinos, offering a shuttle bus service, and hosting after parties. Then, you’ve got a captive audience, both for gambling and nightlife. (Were I a hotel manager, I’d advertise a drag queen revue to the cosplayers!)
There was a lot of posting on social media Monday, and generally, people had a good time. I’ve heard that there will be another next year, so I hope it keeps improving and growing. The locale is good (between Philadelphia and New York City), the convention center can handle the growth (about the same size as Denver and Salt Lake City), there’s an audience hungry for this type of show, and enough retailers nearby to make this show work. Of course, if the numbers get big, then national retailers will jump on the bandwagon.
Will I attend next year? Sure, I’ll probably daytrip like I did this weekend. It had a good mix, and there was little stress.
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!