I went into this past weekend’s ACE Comic Con Seattle with pretty low expectations. The show had been heavily promoted as being a prime place to meet celebrities, particularly from the Marvel films and various CW shows, which is not something that I’ve ever been very interested in. Sure, I met Adam West and Burt Ward at a con a few years ago and it was a wonderful experience, but in general that’s just not my thing. There were a handful of comic creators at the show that I was interested in meeting, but far fewer than had been at Emerald City Comic Con just a few months earlier. And the vendor selection, aside from a few local shops that I frequent (and, full disclosure, one where I work part-time), was also relatively small compared to other shows I’ve attended in the past. Still, I was looking forward to shopping and maybe adding some sketches to my Flash sketchbook, so I rolled in on Friday afternoon with a spring in my step and cash in my pocket.
It was initially hard for me not to compare ACE to ECCC, but having now experienced both I realize that it’s an unfair comparison. Where ECCC is primarily focused on comic books and graphic novels, ACE’s focus seems more all-encompassing of fandom and geek culture. This was most evident to me in the vendor area on the con floor, where the comic dealers made up roughly 40% of the vendors, with the remaining 60% comprised of dealers selling plushies, vintage toys, t-shirts, cosplay gear, a preponderance of Funko Pops, and even on-site tattooing. For the hardcore comic fan who was looking for long boxes of quarter or dollar books to dig through, that was probably a disappointment. The non-comics fan who was drawn in by the movies and the chance to meet a celebrity, though, found a great variety of things to purchase, from items they’re likely already familiar with to things they might not know exist.
All of this is not to say that there wasn’t anything there for hardcore comic fans. In addition to the celebrity panels on the main stage, there was a 2nd stage in the vendor/artists alley area that featured more comic-specific panels like live-drawing sessions from artists like Humberto Ramos, Kim Jung Gi, and Will Sliney, as well as live podcast recordings and discussions of superhero history. Artist Alley, often relegated to the back of a con space, was front and center at ACE, and was packed with creators both established and up-and-coming. And the comic vendors were high-quality – sure, there were no quarter boxes, and maybe not as much Bronze and Copper Age stuff as I would have liked, but there were plenty of dollar boxes, graphic novels, and dealers with some nice Golden and Silver Age books for sale.
There came a point on Saturday, by far the busiest day of the show, when I looked around the crowded con floor and noticed something about the crowd: it was predominantly young, as in mid-20s or less, and largely female. The celebrity panels were packed with young women – I did not realize that Grant Gustin was a heartthrob before his panel on Saturday – and for the (albeit brief) time I spent helping out at my comic shop’s booth so the owner could take a bathroom break, a majority of the customers were women as well. I don’t know if these are people who were picking up a comic book for the first time because they were at the show or if they’ve been reading comics their whole lives; either way, it was heartening for the future of the industry to see such a large number of younger fans, and a large number of female fans, out enjoying the show.
From reading reactions on social media, though, it sounds like not everyone had a rosy time at the convention. More than a few people who purchased expensive VIP packages to meet celebrities have commented on ACE Comic Con’s social media pages about a lack of organization that resulted in photo ops, autographs, and panels being missed, and a lack of empathy on the part of those working the con to help correct those situations. I know that the Grant Gustin panel on Saturday started 35 minutes late, and the Civil War panel with Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie started late as well, which leads me to wonder if ultimately the con just plain sold too many photo ops and autograph spots, perhaps as a way to make up for the very late cancellation from Chris Hemsworth. The Civil War panel in particular was rough, as Sebastian Stan was first to arrive, thirty minutes ahead of his co-stars. After Stan had started answering crowd questions, Mackie and Holland arrived, their introductions effectively curtailing the Q&A and leaving long lines of fans with questions for Sebastian Stan to stand around and wait. The panel then ran very long, and when the Q&A did start up again, the annoyance on the part of those fans was fairly evident and translated into some tension between the panelists and the audience. It was clear that everyone, fans and celebs alike, was tired; Sebastian Stan in particular looked completely exhausted during the latter portion of the panel. Not how you want one of your centerpiece panels to go, and likely a reason that they didn’t allow any fan questions during the next day’s final panel with Tom Hiddleston and surprise guest Tom Holland.
Here are a few highlights from panels I attended and from conversations with creators on the show floor:
- Actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany described the day they found out how Avengers: Infinity War was going to end. The scripts they had been given previously had fake endings in them, and the day they were going to start shooting the ending the cast were ushered into a van by the directors and told how the film would end.
- MCU costume designer Andy Park was asked during audience Q&A how he would design a screen costume for Wolverine, a question Park said he couldn’t answer before making an offhand remark about Comcast, implying that work has already begun on bringing the X-Men into the MCU should a deal between Disney and Fox go through.
- The Flash’s Grant Gustin begins work on season 5 of the series next week. While he did not share any major details about the upcoming season, he did speculate in response to a fan’s question that, given that Barry and Iris’s grown daughter from the future showed up at the end of the last season, it’s likely that the couple will have a baby at some point on the show.
- Staying within the Flash Family, artist Humberto Ramos confirmed that he is drawing a new cover for the upcoming Impulse omnibus. Despite Marvel having him under an exclusive contract, the publisher allowed him special dispensation to complete the cover for DC Comics given how important Impulse was to establishing Ramos’s career. The cover is a recreation of the original cover to Impulse #1.
- During the aforementioned Civil War panel, actor Tom Holland, notoriously bad at keeping secrets, confirmed the title of the next Spider-Man movie as Spider-Man: Far From Home, something he had accidentally leaked via an Instagram post earlier in the day. Whether this is the real title or a false one that Marvel fed to him knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep from spoiling it remains to be seen.
- Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker acknowledged criticisms about the length of the Marvel Netflix seasons, saying that, while he can’t speak for the other showrunners, he considers each season of Luke Cage to be “a double-album.” He described how some people like early Beatles albums while others like The White Album or Abbey Road, and said that he considers Luke Cage to be more like the latter than the former.
- Artist Dan Parent had pages from his upcoming, Jeff Parker-written Archie Meets Batman ‘66 miniseries on display at his table. The pages depicted familiar Gotham villains like The Joker and Catwoman, plus ‘66 villains like The Siren, interacting with the residents of Riverdale, as well as the Dynamic Duo themselves rendered in the classic Archie style.
- Speaking of Archie, Riverdale actress Camila Mendes answered a fan question about a potential crossover with the upcoming Sabrina series by saying it seemed more likely that the Riverdale characters would go to Greendale and not vice-versa, as introducing magic to Riverdale would essentially make the show even crazier than it already is.
- Agent Carter actress Hayley Atwell said that she’s not interested in returning to serialized American TV, and that she prefers limited series or one-off projects like Howards End or Black Mirror as knowing the full story gives her a more complete sense of the character she’s portraying. She also mentioned a reluctance to return to the role of Peggy Carter unless she can be convinced that the story needs to be told or is relevant.
Despite its issues, I still appreciate a show like ACE for what is hopefully the net result of such a con: expanding the reach of comics and nerd stuff, and bringing new people into the fold. By casting a wider net and drawing people in with big name genre celebrities like
Chris Evans Chris Hemsworth Toms Holland and Hiddleston, ACE is able to create an environment where people who wouldn’t otherwise go to a comic convention, or even set foot in a comic book store, are exposed to – and ideally get hooked on – the different facets of comic book and fan culture. Hopefully in the future ACE Universe is able to get a better handle on managing their cons and they can avoid some of the scheduling issues and attendee frustration that they experienced at this show.
Joe Grunenwald is a writer and editor living in the Pacific Northwest. He’s taller than a lot of people but not as tall as some people.