It was a big weekend for people who wanted to have their photo taken with Gal Gadot or Henry Cavill. The two stars rarely show up at conventions for signings and photo ops – I believe it was Cavill’s first time as a signer – and the added presence of their fellow Justice League stars Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ciaran Hinds made the first ever Ace Comic Con a singular event.
Certainly that was the main reason I roused myself on a cold, snowy Saturday to head out to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. Well, that and because cons are my business. Ace Comic Cons make no bones about the fact that they are mostly about high level celebrity signings – the next event, in Glendale, AZ next month, features Chris Evans, Tom Holland, and Stan Lee – and the dealers room and artist alley are sort of “set dressings” for the main business.
As “comic cons” (trademark or no) have become of huge interest to the public, celebrity autographic and photo ops have become one of a trio of foundations of these events. Cosplay is another, and the comics business, with back issues, artists and panels about comics are the third. Various shows promote one of more of these elements, and Ace Comic Con, like Heroes & Villains and Wizard World, put the celebs as the primary focus.
ACC makes the celebrity appearances the primary element to the exclusion of almost everything else. This certainly isn’t why I like going to shows – I like all three elements in the mix – but I do understand that a lot of people are very exited to meet celebrities, even if its only for 10 seconds. People treasure the photos they get, little kids are excited, and it’s party of immersive experience of fan culture.
These experiences at ACC weren’t cheap – some group photos cost $500 or more – but people understand that celebrities are busy and command a lot of money to appear, so it seems to be a transaction that many want to make.
So how did it go?
To begin, Friday’s opening was a disaster, well documented on social media.
— PoiSin herself (@PoiSin) December 9, 2017
Some VIP Access @ACEcomiccon only took 2 1/2 hrs to get into the building now our glorious waiting continues for our VIP Autograph Session #CheapCon #Nonsense #AceComicCon #RIP not worth coming back another day pic.twitter.com/cJT7R8Rln9
— Andrew Ramallo (@TheRamJam83) December 9, 2017
— Adam (@dam_rasslin) December 8, 2017
OUCH. It seems that VIP bags had not been made in advance, so when VIPs arrived Friday their line moved much slower than the regular people’s line. Since VIPs had paid several hundred dollars each, this was not good.
ACC organizers made changes on Saturday, so people got to wait in line inside the venue, and lines moved much more smoothly. After that, there was still a LOT of complaining. When you live and die by celebs you also live and die by their schedule. Because of the bad weather, Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa’s flights were delayed, so everyone’s autograph times got delayed and everything ran behind. It was all kind of unavoidable, but people were not happy with the organization of the lines and wait times.
Just a few of dozens of comments that were easily found on the ACC FB page and convention review groups. There were also a lot of complaints that disabled fans were not accommodated and about rude personnel in general.
Certainly, plenty of people had a good time at Ace Comic Con, as you will find if you search the #acecomiccon hashtag on Twitter. That said, deleting negative comments is a no-no if that happened. I didn’t talk to fans on the floor for their experiences, although I overheard plenty of complaints. Also, as more than one person observed to me, “No one looks happy.”
Delays, rescheduled signings and photo ops, and people staying late was definitely a problem. I was told by several of the artists alley that they were asked to stay late on both Friday and Saturday to accommodate the extended signing times – a request that was not well received by all. There were also many angry VIPs who didn’t quite get the experience they thought they would get based on the money they spent. That absolutely needs to be worked out for future shows.
I would normally cut a first time show a bit of slack, especially one held in a weir dvenue like the Nassau Coliseum. Still, given the many years of showrunning the staff has, you’d think they woudl have had a better handle on logistics. So let’s give it a C+.
As for my own experience, this was just a goofy show. The Nassau Coliseum is kind of a dinosaur venue – once it housed a champion hockey team, now its just a minor league basketball team and even Long Island’s own Billy Joel plays more at the Garden. Approaching it in the first snow of the season was an eerie experience. It also made for a weird con set up. The artist alley – which was decent and included absolutely no crappy print vendors – was set up along the concourse so you could walk in a circle and see everyone. According to my steps I walked 3 miles so I circled several times!
Vendors were set up on the floor of the arena – it was a pretty small vendors area, to be honest, mostly Funko pops, tchatkes and the like. The main stage was also on the arena floor, but separated by a big curtain. The signings took place on the concourse on the second level inside the arena – and the area was patrolled by a lot of security to discourage lookieloos so unless you had a signing ticket you couldn’t get in and see anyone. (Although I did wander in the wrong door and accidentally see Jason Momoa, a happy accident.)
Photo ops and a kids activity area were in a different area in a big concrete exhibitor floor. A second stage for panels was set up in a VIP bar. Not your typical comic con venue at all. Also, there was no guide to show where anyone was, just a one page handout with a general diagram of the venue and a list of panels with no information other than time and title. That was a total fail.
I saw a lot of complaining that signings and photo ops were so far apart but really, it was just a short walk. I guess they are closer at other cons, but it wasn’t anything I’d think twice about.
The one thing that, surprisingly, worked very well was the live streaming of panels! The main stage events were streamed on the main “Jumbotron” and on monitors everywhere in the venue. Perhaps not everyone thinks it is cool to see Dan Jurgens talking about the Death of Superman everywhere you go, but I thought it made the panels seem like a bigger deal. Of course, the quality of programming is key for this to work, and another panel involved a fellow showing how to customize sneakers and at one point he noted “You are literally watching paint dry right now.”
All that said, there were no real celebrity panels the day I was there because of everything running so late. (Trade secret: celeb panels have to be held AFTER signings because people pay for those and if they run late it’s a disaster.)
So basically, if you just went to go to a comic con, like me, and didn’t buy the extras, you didn’t even experience what Ace Comic Con was about. You saw people staring at their pictures with Henry Cavill, but you never had any chance to see Henry Cavill, not even on stage.
Of course, I spent my day chatting with friends in Artist Alley, so there was stuff for me to do, but really only about half a days worth of chatting. Not too many other pals made it out to the show, so after a couple of times around the concourse, I was finished without the constant running into people that makes most comics event a delight. (The only people I did see were other show runners, from Reed, Leftfield and so on, who had come to check out the event, just like me.)
The lack of access to Henry Cavill was by design, of course. To get the whole Justice League to show up, along with Daredevil, the Undertaker and so on, was not cheap. The venue was not cheap. For fans the autograph and photo ops weren’t cheap either, but that’s how the show makes back its money on the massive (six figure) guarantees for the celebs. I doubt many vendors or artists made a lot of money at the show, but that was also by design. It’s a business model.
Is it a good business model? Magic 8ball says come back later. Stephen Shamus, who is the showrunner, has terrific contacts with the top nerdlebrities, and it is fair to say that Ace has access to stars no one else does. So as big mega autograph events, the Ace Comic Con model will work for some people. Ace Comic Con definitely needs to work out the snafus, however, including giving people who paid for VIP status a better experience.
That said, I don’t think the autograph shows will ever compete with more balanced events that offer many things to do besides stand in line waiting for an autograph.
A few more notes:
– I had a chance to chat briefly with Shamus and he said they plan no more than 4-6 shows in 2018.
– On that Dan Jurgens panel (which also included Brett Breeding) he noted that in 1994 when Superman died, most readers had no idea what was coming next so when four new Supermen showed up it was a surprise, something impossible to do in this news and media age. Today’s readers are missing out on being genuinely surprised by the plot lines in comics, but I guess being able to chat about it endlessly on social media makes up for it.
– Henry Cavill, you might want to rethink that plaid shirt look for photo ops.
– Nerd’s World has a write up of Friday’s problems.
– There were many scheduling problems and I was wondering if the planned Justice League panel would take place and it did, late but at the end of the show on Sunday. Unlike the other panels, this one isn’t archived at all, although it was live streamed. Newsday has a report.
“I’m fairly certain Wonder Woman and Superman would probably take 90 percent of them out,” Fisher said. “We’d be cheerleading on the sidelines.” Momoa shouted, “I’d like to get tossed around by the Hulk!” The question arose on whom the actors would like to use Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, which makes whoever it’s wrapped around tell the truth. Momoa, 38, wasted no time saying, “I’d throw that lasso around [President Donald] Trump!”
– Here’s one of the archived panel streams.
The entire Justice League (minus Affleck) photo ops did take place and that’s pretty spectacular.
Finally, I think this won the internet for the weekend.
And now my own bad photos and we’re out!
Random view from the vendor’s area.
There wasn’t a TON of cosplay at this eent, but there was some.
I’m not sure if this is the original photographer who dressed up ill and disabled children as the Justice League as encouragement, but who cares? It’s a great idea and they are so adorable.
Where it all happens! Waiting for Photo Ops. A little bit of a cattle pen vibe, alas.
With my iPhone’s battery hanging by a thread, waiting for my Lyft to the train station in this raw, damp weather was very stressful. But I made it home!
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.