Grand Rapids ComicCon!
Posted November 28, 2014on:
My first Comic Con!
Tickets were quite affordable, Nichelle Nichols was a special guest, the drive was only 45 minutes, and a few of my friends were already planning on going. Heading up to Grand Rapids Michigan on Nov 22nd for the Grand Rapids ComicCon was a no brainer. I’d never been to an actual ComicCon before, so I had no idea what to expect. According to their website, the media guests (including Nichelle Nichols, Alaina Huffman, Justin Kohn, Chad Rood, Peter Shinkoda and Maile Flanagan) would be doing presentations on the main stage, and would have autograph areas. There would be a costume contest, a gaming room, a violin concert, there would be food stands everywhere, there would be a huge dealer room, there would be a car show, the famous Star Wars 501st group, a few Tardis models, a huge Lego display, and of course tons of comics and superhero artwork. Designed to be a very family friendly event, strollers were welcome, and there was a family quiet room for a quiet space for nursing mothers and/or overexcited kids who needed a break.
The Lego/Robotics area was my favorite section of the convention. Designed to be an area attractive to children and adults, much of the space was given over to a car show of famous Batmobiles. The rest of the space included a massive Lego city (complete with trains!), a robotics area that had a singing tesla coil, a TARDIS, the actual shield Captain America used in the movie, an animatronic dinosaur, a guy in a massive transformer suit, a beautiful art gallery, representatives of the 501st, and a few local fandom and science clubs. This was where all the fun was! I was all about the Legos and the Transformer guy. I got to watch him climb into the suit, and once he got the helmet on you couldn’t tell if there was a person in there or if it was remote control. He scared the poop out of a lady who didn’t realize there was a guy in there!
Most of the media guests were TV stars, and since I don’t watch much network TV, I wasn’t familiar with most of them. But everyone knows who Nichelle Nichols is! On Saturday afternoon she took to the main stage along with a local media celebrity who guided the conversation and took questions from the audience. I always knew Nichelle Nichols was incredible, I just didn’t realize how incredible. She talked of her childhood, of growing up in a community outside Chicago that was founded by her grandfather for the purpose of being welcoming to mixed-race families, she talked about her early love for singing andperforming on stage, and she proved that she’s still got an amazing vocal range She told a beautiful and touching story about being star struck meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learning he was a fan of her work on Star Trek. When asked about that famous kiss between her and William Shatner, she said a kiss between a black person and a white person wasn’t anything usual to her, as she’d seen her grandparents kiss each other all the time. When asked if there were any unexpected consequences of the famous midriff baring “Mirror Mirror” costume, she said they got so much fanmail about it that her costume was changed to show off her belly button. When asked what the defining moment of her career was, she said it was when she got involved with NASA to help recruit women and minorities for the space shuttle program. She recruited Sally Ride. During the Q&A time she was incredibly gracious with fans who were invited to line up at the microphone and ask questions until we ran out of time.
My day at ComicCon was not without its frustrations, but they were all worth it to be in the same room with Nichelle Nichols.
Someone joked online (on the facebook page? twitter? i don’t remember) that this convention could have been called Grand Rapids Cosplay. Tons of people were dressed up, with Doctor Who and assorted companions being the most popular choice.
There were about a hundred Homestuck teens, lots of Star Wars, DC Comics characters, Teen Titans, Avengers characters, tons of people in Star Trek uniforms, characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, and a few Disney princesses and villains. I also saw a Skeletor, The Rocketeer, a Na’vi, lots of steampunk outfits, Mario and Luigi (and Wario!), Waldo, and Harry Dresden among others.
it was great to see such a variety cosplayers – all ages, new characters, older characters, popular, obscure, purchased outfits, completely home made outfits. It was great to see so many fans of all ages so passionate about their fandom.
Not unusual for a ComicCon, there were a lot of activities that cost extra, such as getting your photo taken with a media guest, getting autographs, getting up close to the Batmobiles, professional cosplay photography, etc, but I stuck to the free stuff. This wasn’t the type of convention to have a consuite with free snacks, but as advertised there were concession stands all over the place with standard arena food (soda, burgers, fries, etc), and the prices were very reasonable.
The never-ending vendor room and artist alley featured mostly local artists and vendors, with everything from action figures to art for sale, to t-shirts, custom made puppets, steampunk jewerly, media-tie in novels, plushies, and of course comics and collectibles. I even got chatting with a local author and the Grand Rapids Science Fiction book club!
And now we come to the challenges this burgeoning ComicCon is facing, challenges the organizers will need to come up with solutions for in the upcoming years. When the Grand Rapids ComicCon facebook page suggested that people buy tickets ahead of time because they expected to sell out on Saturday, they were not kidding. By 3pm on Saturday the building was at capacity, and people planning to buy tickets at the door were turned away for a few hours until some people had left. I can tell you from personal experience that “at capacity” means the front of the building was wall to wall people, you could barely move from the front hallway area to the other areas of the building. The traffic jam was made even worse by a group of homestuck teens claiming a portion of the hallway for their improve activity, and everyone crushing to one side or the other to let wheelchairs and stroller pushing parents through. The crush of humanity lasted well into the dealer room. It’s hard to describe how big of an issue this was for what I suspect was a large portion of attendees. I’ll say it again: This was the only way to get from the entrance to the dealer room, and the only way to get from the dealer room to the main stage area, and it was not designed for that quantity of people. If there was another route, the staff needed to encourage people to use it.
Although the program came with a map, the signage in the building could have been much better – it was hard to tell what areas were off limits, how far you had to walk to a concession stand or restroom, or where the autograph and photography areas were. Better signs and more signs on the walls and doorways might not have helped the people crush issue, but it would have helped people know where to go for what. This crush of people was my biggest issue with the convention, and I look forward to the convention getting a larger location.
Crowding issues aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for my first ComicCon.
The rest of this post is photos!