Disclaimer: I was a sponsor and paid guest for Awesome Con held last weekend in Washington, DC so considered this a sponsored post.
That said, as you know, I write a lot about comic cons, and I am not a spokesman for Awesome Con. These are my honest opinions and if you have any questions please put them in the comments and I’ll answer them as best I can.
Awesome Con is now in its fourth year; last year it was acquired by Leftfield Media, an event company run by Greg Topalian, founder of New York Comic-Con when he worked at Reed Exhibitions. I worked with Greg on the first NYCC and he wanted me involved as a consultant/sponsor for AwesomeCon, so I helped them out with some guest and programming suggestions and also put together three panels for the show.
There were a couple of reasons I wanted to be involved with awesome Con. #1, I think Greg and Peter Tatara, Leftfield’s Director of Content and Communities, are two of the smartest people in the pop culture event space and I want to be involved with smart people whenever it is possible.
#2, the Washington DC area is ripe for a large comics event, with a ton of wealthy wonks an hour’s drive away. I’d heard nothing but good things from friends who were guests at previous Awesome Cons about it being a very profitable show, so it seemed like a success on that front. I was intrigued with the idea of a summer show in the nation’s capital, especially one taking place during an election year. I’ve never really spent much time in DC so that was a lure for me as well.
I’ll try to channel Torsten with some observations:
Venue: According to the website:
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, an extraordinary 2.3 million-square-foot conventions and meetings facility, is equipped to handle events of all sizes, from small groups and break-out meetings to events for 500 to 42,000 attendees. One of the most energy-efficient buildings for its size, the Convention Center includes a range of mixed-use exhibit spaces, 198,000 square feet of flexible meeting space with a total of 77 break-out rooms and the largest ballroom in the region. Whatever the size of the event, the service of the Convention Center staff is unparalleled.
It is indeed a HUGE facility, one that’s a bit hard to navigate. It was fun for me to be in a brand new convention setting, and I literally got lost for the first two days. by day three I was a veteran giving other people directions though. The convention center has everything you need for a good sized show: mass transit, central location, food a few blocks away, huge meeting rooms, great AV. The show took up several large halls and there was plenty of breathing room but the show felt busy at most times.
Hotels: There are a ton of hotels across the street and a few blocks away, most were priced at under $150 a night for the show rate. I booked my hotel room very late but got a room at the Embassy Suites a block away for a great rate, which includes, as is the Embassy SuItes way, free breakfast and free “happy hour.” As the rooms themselves hold four people no problem, this would be a very very affordable option for groups.
Food: UGH! Washington DC is more expensive than NYC and I never thought I would say that! My daily grande cold brew coffee with coconut milk cost a dime more every day and sometimes they charged me an extra 50¢ for coconut milk. They also tried to charge me $3 for a small bag of potato chips in the convention center itself. I got even with this by buying a bag from a vending machine for $2 and getting TWO BAGS OF CHIPS. Oh yeah, karma is amazing.
That said there are a ton of excellent restaurants only a short walk away, including the whole Chinatown area. One night I ate at a very reasonable and charming bookstore-artisanal type place that pleased even the vegetarians in our party. On Sunday I lunched at an amazing soul food church cafeteria known only to locals. I’m sure I only scratched the surface of the eating and drinking possibilities.
The City: Hell, it’s the nation’s capital. Awesome Con put on a guest tour of the White House on Thursday morning, so I can see this becoming a larger draw for people. My schedule was tight but next time I plan to take an extra day and do some sight seeing. And of course, DC is a weird place all its own. On Saturday night a bunch of folks gathered in the Marriott Marquis where a parade of the most fashionably dressed and fit men and women paraded by, mingling with cosplayers for one of the most surreal barcons I’ve ever seen. I’m told these charity events take place every night in DC, so I’m not sure this is the kind of place I could live but it sure was amusing for a couple of nights.
The Show: Awesome Can had a huge nerdlebrity presence, including Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Karl Urban, Ron Perlman and many more. It was a strong list even in the face of some incredible competition: Wizard World Philadelphia, Fan Expo Dallas, the Phoenix Comic Con and even MeCAF were all the same weekend. Most of the attendees were at Awesome Con for the celebrity guests, but artist’s alley was always busy. I heard most people sold out of the wares they brought. The comics guest list included top people, but with all the competition on the weekend it was a modest list. For me this made it a better show as I got to spend a lot more time with friends than I normally do, but with better timing this could become a bigger show.
Where Awesome Con really shined was the extras. There were exhibits from NASA, the Dept. of Energy, AAAS and other sciencey types places that had all kinds of cool stuff. The show floor also included The Backlot, a kind of theme park/activities area with art displays, cars, clubs, kids activities, (radio controlled car racing, Legos) and other stuff to do. The show floor was large enough to allow this kind of display and it added a lot to the activities, especially for families.
There were only two publishers I could find, Valiant and Aftershock, so this is an area where the show could improve.
Programming: The best ever!
Seriously, all the panels I moderated had good attendance, even though nothing was packed, and the audiences were engaged. My favorite moment came at the X-Files panel with Joe Harris, Andrew Aydin and Matthew Dow Smith when I asked who the panels favorite ships were. A discussion of shirtless Skinner ensued and the wave of giggles from youthful female attendees every time shirtless Skinner was mentioned was one of the most adorable sounds I have ever heard at a convention.
Cons: Despite all the above good things, there were organization problems with the Doctor Who signing and apparently delays on some other signings. Sometimes getting too big too fast is a problem, and I’ll explore this more fully in another post. Show founder Ben Penrod issued an apology for the problems on FB.
Yesterday, we welcomed Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman – and while we anticipated a massive turnout, the volume of fans exceeded all our expectations.
From within the first hour of Sunday, we knew the plan we made going into the show wasn’t going to work, and I apologize for that. We were unprepared, and I own that mistake.
We issued line tickets because we didn’t want fans to wait eight hours and not meet Mr. Capaldi and Ms. Coleman. We changed times and locations for their panel and signing to accommodate as many fans as possible. We could have done a better job of communicating the changing plans to the fans, and I own that as well.
At the end of the day, Mr. Capaldi and Ms. Coleman met everyone who received autograph tickets and the VIPs who were able to stay. We know a lot of people stayed late, and we know a lot of people weren’t happy, and I apologize for that.
Conclusions: As we all know, the North American convention circuit is already wayyyyy too crowded, and we’re seeing more and more consolidation. That said, we can always use an entertaining, well run show in an underserved area. NYCC and SDCC are the two “super shows” of the circuit with Emerald City Comic Con and Fan Expo Canada tied for third. After that there’s a whole tier of shows vying for #5, including Wonder Con, Denver Comic Con, Salt Lake City, Mega Con, Phoenix Comic Con, and so on. Awesome Con could be a contender for inclusion in that group. (HeroesCon and Baltimore Comic Con are smaller, more personal and artisanal shows, if you will, and I think they are loved by pros for that very reason.) I heard turnstile attendance for the show was about 50,000 so it has a good start. But the main reason I think this show will continue to grow is that it’s a strong show for vendors: there are simply a lot of people in the Metro DC area with a lot of money to spend, as all the cotillons and charity events show.
Awesome Con was also one of the most diverse shows I’ve ever attended. Washington DC’s population is only 40% white, and there were a ton of people of color everywhere, including among exhibitors. At one point, I was chatting with Brandon Montclare about Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur and two African-American readers who came up really illustrated how the growing inclusivity of the comics industry is expanding the potential for sales. The first was a woman of thirty or so who had a son of 8 or so. She came up to buy a run of Moon Girls…but not for her kid, for her. I’m sure this mother will initiate her son into the ways of comics very soon.
The second reader was another women, maybe in her late 40s. She was also buying Moon Girl, but mentioned that she did not like buying trade paperback collections, but preferred to read her comics in periodical form. This attitude could be right from the Beat’s comment section, but it was coming from a reader who has never traditionally been thought of as the audience for comics. Well, guess what, these readers have been there all along, it’s wonderful that the industry is finally developing material with a wider appeal.
I’ll leave you with a few photos, and also a link to Michael Cavna’s drawings of the attendees. There was some spectacular cosplay at Awesome Con but I didn’t really have a chance to take photos; I was chatting and listening and enjoying myself.
The high rise booth race continues.
Only in DC: even the restroom icons are in business attire.
I ran into my old buddy C. Martin Croker who drew the Space Ghost Coast to Coast comic for me back in the day and voiced Zorak on the Space Ghost cartoon. This show is getting a lot of nostalgia as the precursor so so much of the Adult Swim indie cartoon vibe common today, and deservedly show. Put your pants on mama, now.
RM Rhodes was in Artist Alley and was dwarfed by one of the many high rise print vendors there. Some would say “Rip off print vendors.” This is whole huge issue with AAs right now, and once again deserves its own study.
An excellent Gamora who did not know how to cheat for the camera yet.
This was a photo op for an Iron Man themed car but Spidey had his own ideas, I think.
Night time DC, one of about 3848 such photo ops.
The Marriot Marquis is right next to the convention center, a newish hotel with one of the most incredible lobbys I’ve ever seen. it was like the inside of a spaceship or Gattaca, take your pick.
Two female Deadpools in a taco truck with a Tardis. They were blasting music also. This is our world and I love it.
My delicious church lunch with the vat of life-affirming banana pudding upper left.
Late Sunday in the autograph area. That huge line in the back is for the photo ops. This line was huge the whole time.
The lineup for my politics and comics panel, Christina Blanch, Tom King, Andrew Aydin, Michael Cavna and Fred van Lente.
Sunday afternoon panorama.
Brandon Montclaire poses with a dinosaur
As I was fond of saying, Washington DC is a government-themed city.
Even the Embassy Suites, normally a budget type hotel, sported impressive brass lions.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.