ALL STAR COMIC CON: A First Year Con with a Second Year Feel
Until recently, the growth of Cons in the DC/MD/VA areas had seemed to bypass Northern Virginia completely. Though Creation had done a couple of shows in Crystal City, Virginia still seemed to lack what DC now has with Awesome Con, or what Maryland can now claim with Farpoint, Shoreleave, or RegenerationWho - a home grown Con all its own. However, that bucket list item can now be checked off with the emergence of All Star Comic Con, a first year Con that felt like it was already in its second year thanks to how well run it was.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Penrod (shout out to Ben at @AwesomestBen, the mastermind behind DC’s own AwesomeCon) to discuss what elements help to make a con successful. He succinctly said there are two things you need above all else: 1) financial backing and 2) someone running the show who cares. In recalling these statements, the latter comment rang particularly true for me, because if you don’t have an organizer at the top who cares, it will undoubtedly have a ripple effect across the entire Con. With that said, all throughout the Con, from the opening ceremony to the end, you could see how much Co-Founders Kevin Bednarz and Michael McNutt cared that everything at this Con went right. McNutt & Bednarz posted daily and nightly videos talking about what was going to happen each day as well as what was going on each evening. Both were seemingly everywhere during the Con hours. Even though this was the first year of All Star Comic Con, their effort made this feel (and run) again like a second year con.
Some of what they did that worked very well was:
Location of the Con. The Sheraton at Tysons was a central location. Not only was it an easy drive from DC and MD, it was also located close to a metro stop on the silver line. Furthermore, the hotel was located near a commercial area full of restaurants and had a sunny atrium in the middle of the lobby.
Communication with Attendees. They really did a nice job here. Even before the Con, they did not hide from the fact that Zazie Beetz (Domino from DEADPOOL) had cancelled. For most Cons, having your headliner cancel a month before the show can induce panic; however, this was not the case with All Star. Instead, the show runners took it in stride and put out a video letting people know about the situation. Even more impressive was their transparency regarding the cancellation of Summer Bishil (who had to cancel a week before the Con).
What could have turned All Star Con into ‘Almost Con (“we almost had…”) never happened because Michael & Kevin shared the news on their social media feeds, told people that they were working on replacements, and got them (Dichen Lacham was a superb guest). All in all, there was really outstanding communications about what was happening at all times.
Good Layout of the Con. They did not have a lot of space, but they made every inch work. Rather than putting all of the guests against the same wall in the vendor room, they had them on either side of the rectangular room. This meant people had to move in between the vendors, allowing maximum foot traffic for everyone. Not surprisingly, many of the vendors I spoke with said they had done well at the Con.
I also noticed that the Con took a page out of anime Cons like Otakon and separated the artists room from the main vendor room; as a result, this helped avoid the vendor room from feeling too small. They used the atrium for the Cosplay contest and the musical quartet, and on the other side of the atrium they had set up the rooms for photo-ops, board & video games, as well as talks. Having these rooms on the opposite side of the vendors and sigs meant that there was a constant flow of people with the atrium functioning as a central hub.
Signs and Volunteers everywhere. There were large, very visible, printed signs outside each main room indicating what was inside, and if needed, what the breakdown of programming was in each. In addition, volunteers were seemingly everywhere, able to answer any questions. Attendees always knew where to go and what was in each room.
Tried new things. All Star was not afraid to try new twists on programming. The string quartet on Sunday playing themes from movies and TV at the main atrium proved to be especially inspired when a couple dressed as Belle and the transformed Beast waltzed at noon to the main score of BEAUTY & THE BEAST. The Silent Auction, though small, was another attempt at shaking things up. Lastly, the All Star photo booth (set up as a mint action figure box - my pic further below) was another great touch to help spread the word on social media.