It’s been a while since we rounded up the latest on the con circuit and…hoo boy. It’s a world of trash fires out there.
First and foremost is the woes of Walker Stalker/FanFest. As tweeted by Walking Dead star Khary Payton, the cast will no longer appear at the Walker Stalker shows.
I’m not coming.
Norman’s not coming.
Melissa’s not coming.
Danai’s not coming.
Cooper’s not coming.
Time to shut this shit down. #sickofit #WSC@bigbaldhead @mcbridemelissa @DanaiGurira @smugo https://t.co/P1PVM6HwkY
— Khary Payton (@kharypayton) October 28, 2019
“Shutting this shit down” comes following a year of complaints about the Walker Stalker/FanFest slate of shows engaging in all kinds of fiscal misdeed including: failing to pay celebrity guests, not refunding vendors for table costs for cancelled shows and not refunding attendees for cancelled appearances and events.
The situation got so bad that the Better Business Bureau gave WS/FF ‘as “F” rating and labeled the organization a “scam.”
Indeed, its gotten to the point that Payton retweeted advice on how to get your money back from your credit card issuer:
This is good advise. If @WalkrStalkrCon had the means to pay these debts, I believe they would have done so by now. Good luck, everyone. I’m sorry you were taken advantage of. We all were. https://t.co/40WydVnQeX
— Khary Payton (@kharypayton) October 28, 2019
At the center of the storm is owner James Frazier, a controversial figure who some have accused of a Ponzi scheme like practice of announcing shows, taking money from vendors and attendees, then cancelling the event…and not giving refunds. In August, a Nashville event was cancelled just two weeks before the show. This followed a very disappointing show in London in March, which many cast member cancelled, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose non appearance was announced at the last minute despite him having tweeted a month before that he probably wouldn’t go.
Venders and fans alike had a hard time getting any refund for these shows.
The most recent Walker Stalker event was held in Atlanta October 19-21, and was marred by a very ugly incident involving TWD cast member Angel Theory. Theory, who is deaf, was “verbally assaulted” by a security guard over her support dog, as recounted in detail by her fellow cast member Nadine Marissa, as reported at comicbook.com:
“So Angel’s playing around with Nova, the security guard begins to scream at her to ‘Stop, pick up the dog,’ in a very demeaning manner. Enough that he caused a commotion,” Marissa says. “Now, all of this could have been avoided if the security guard walked up to tap her, to ask her to pick Nova up. And it would have been over. That’s not what happened. The security guard started yelling at her in a demeaning tone, to get the dog. ‘Stop, stop, stop!’”
When a booking agent stepped in, telling the security guard Theory could not hear him, the security guard accused Theory of “ignoring” him, Marissa says.
Theory was not provided with an ASL interpreter by the show, nor were other deaf attendees.
Amid all this controversy (and this is just a very rough outline) Frazier announced he was stepping down as showrunner, with Michael DeVault taking over as interim CEO of Fan Fest Events.
Frazier remains the owner of Walker Stalker LLC, however, but with the cast of the show the event is named after publicly repudiating the event, it may be a little harder to run.
The Tale of Walker Stalker Woes
It’s a big come down for a suite of events that set the standard for the “Nerdlebrity Autograph” era of show expansion, as detailed in this Hollywood Reporter article from 2016 which described “garbage bags full of money” changing hands. Arrow himself, Stephen Amell was at the time an investor in the events, headlining the Heroes and Villains brand, which specialized in actors from the Arrowverse. Heroes and Villains later rebranded as Fan Fest, and both brands expanded to a dozen events a year at one point.
The entire Walker Stalker/FanFest saga (up until this summer) is laid out in a very long detailed and excellent post by William Gatevackes called The Short Rise And Long Fall Of WALKER STALKER/FAN FEST, including Amell’s own gradual distancing himself from the shows, which became official last year when his scheduled appearance at the London event was cancelled and he ditched FanFest for a rival event the same weekend!
The vagueness of this tweet caused his fans to be concerned that the Code 8 premiere and a Fuck Cancer charity party set for that Friday would be cancelled. They needn’t have worried. He was still coming to London and those events would still happen. He just wasn’t going to HVFF.
Instead, he was going to a rival convention, MCM London, that was being put on on the exact same dates as HVFF London, May 25th & 26th. The announcement that Amell was joining MCM London hit in late April. Less than a week and a half later, FanFest postponed its 2019 London convention, less than a month before it was to be put on.
Gatevackes’ story also details high prices for VIP photos and autographs, a lack of organization and much else that went wrong. Of course, some people go and have a great time at even the worst run shows (well, not Dash Con). But as the comments on Gatevackes’ post shows, volunteers were reportedly not treated well, and the whole enterprise just has a sinking feeling.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has another long, long article on the various disasters at the Atlanta show, with tons of quotes and a breakdown of the financials, including debts and tax liens. Part of the problem is that The Walking Dead itself isn’t as popular as it once was: Frazier himself says the attendance at the 2019 was 25,000 – down from the peak of 70,000 in 2016.
Long time readers will know how I feel about autograph shows. Walker Stalker/Fan Fest was noted for having a lot of celebrity opportunities but very few vendors and no real artist alley, and as I’ve pointed out many time, these kinds of events seem to lack staying power. Even Informa/Fan Expo events which are heavy into celebrities also have large show floors and a lot of artists and comics related content. Ace Comic Con, which makes no bones about being a celebrity show, also has a curated artist alley. These alleys full of artists may be a kind of “window dressing” for the part of the shows that make a lot of money, but it’s a key element of the experience.
As mentioned, this is just the outline of the Walker Stalker saga. I have 20 tabs open from researching this story alone – and emails from sad and angry attendees who couldn’t get refunds. Whether Frazier’s stepping down will improve things remains to be seen.
But as mentioned, this is only PART of the latest con-flagration! There’s also….
TOO MANY CONS IN TEXAS
This is another story we’ve been tracking for a while, but it seems to have hit some kind of critical mass in the last two months. I’ve never been to Texas, but my understanding is that things there are quite large – but not large enough for the dozens and dozens of shows that take places there every year. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio see a multitude of event every year, and Austin and El Paso also have multiple cons. According to Rostercon there were seven events in October alone.
There are so many stories flying around about the Texas con situation that I may not be able to get to it all in one post. So here’s a brief overview.
• Fandemic Houston (which I reported on here) was held October 18-20, and while it wasn’t busting at the seems, it wasn’t a disaster from all accounts, and a lot of people came out to see Sebastian Stan.
• Then there’s Celebrity Fan Fest, whose business model is right there in the title. This show burst on the scene last year with a debut show in San Antonio that included mega stars Ben Affleck and Jason Momoa. Adding to the burst: show runner Bob Wills who is most kindly described as a brash personality who delights in taunting other shows on message boards. Anyway, talking to Wills about the debut show, it seems that the event is put on by an agency as a kind of proof of concept, and by all reports they are well run and everyone gets paid.
After this debut, they followed up with an even bigger show in June that went smoothly. And then they threw a very unusual event just the past weekend, October 26-27: Preview Con. The concept was daring. Only headliners Zachary Levi and Brendan Frazier (only his second con appearance) would charge for autographs and photos. But for the price of only $40 a day you could get free selfies and autographs from other guests including Brandon Routh, Lindsey Wagner and more. The idea was to get people to sign up for the next BIG CFF in spring 2020.
However, according to reports, there were just not many people there. I’m told that the con staff was very surprised by the underwhelming turnout. And indeed, this sounds like a good deal. So why the low attendance? Probably just because of all the cons in Texas and general autograph burnout. Which brings us to…
• Alamo City Comic Con, a show which has had many troubles and turf wars in the past. This show is also located in San Antonio and the next event will be held this weekend, November 1-3. However the city of San Antonio may not be too happy about that as the organizers owe the city $170,000 from the last two shows, according to a local news report.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg, as apparently ACCC is locked in a turf war with other local cons! I’m too exhausted to con into details so here’s a quote:
These days, the city is also home to Celebrity Fan Fest and Big Texas Comicon, not to mention smaller events such as Traders Village ComiCon, Monster-Con and Sci-Fest — plus San Japan, a long-running con for fans of Japanese anime and manga.
But at what cost?The surge of competition comes with baggage. For the second time in three years, former ACCC staff members have severed ties with the group to start their own event — a move that they said stems from ACCC breaking their employment contracts. What’s more, ACCC’s been forced to find a new home this year, due to tens of thousands in unpaid debts to the City of San Antonio.
Infighting between the bigger cons also isn’t helping business, especially for people like Laurie Gonzales, who runs six of the smaller events in San Antonio, including Monster-Con and Sci-Fest. She doesn’t see things ending well if the shows continue cannibalizing each other’s attendance.
Indeed, a show called Big Texas Con was held at the end of September in San Antonio and organized by former ACCC staffers…a throwback to the now defunct Rockula, which was also put on by former ACC staffers and ran on the same weekend a few years back.
These things don’t end well.
And if a big con is too big for you, you can always go to Traders Village ComiCon a smaller, FREE to attend event being held in San Antonion the very same weekend ast ACCC…and with only $4 for parking.
The San Antonio brou ha ha may just be heating up so look for some updates later in the week.
At any rate, it seems that the con glut is a very real thing, especially in Texas. And yet with all these streaming TV shows, new nerdlebrities are being spawned every minute…and with every new nerdlebrity comes the desire for a photograph of that nerdlebrity. It is a never ending story.
Have you attended any of the shows named above? Did you have a good time? Let us know in the comments…and happy comic con!