Sorry if the title of this article is harsh. It’s not meant to be. Washington DC’s Awesome Con really is “awesome,” but it was lacking this year in one significant area which can’t be discounted in today’s pop culture market, and that’s comics.
To recap: this year’s Awesome Con was kind of a big deal and probably one of its biggest efforts yet. They brought in several Doctor Who alumni including “Tenth Doctor” David Tenant, Khary Peyton of Walking Dead fame, and yeah, Stan Lee (who’s most definitely a comics guy, but I’ll get back to that). Past years have seen several others like Danai “Michonne” Guiria, Kevin Smith, Summer Glau, George Takei, Sean Astin… so yeah, they’ve had a good list of celebs in for photos and autographs. Awesome Con hasn’t quite hit the A-list with its celebs, but it’s getting there.
My difficulty with this year’s Con was that after the autographs (for which I did a lot of waiting), there wasn’t a lot to do. I’m less a TV and movies guy and more of a comics guy. The greater Washington D.C. area is home to a lot of amazing shops that bring in comics creators for meets and greets and autographs, and it’s considerably more accessible than dropping $50-$100 for a celebrity autograph or photo shoot. Most comics creators don’t charge large sums of money for an autograph–they may not be as big as the mass-media celebs, but the benefit is that this makes them a lot more accessible. So if you’re a comics fan, meeting a comic creator can be a great opportunity to have a much more extended conversation at a much lower cost.
It’s just that the comics aspect of Awesome Con still feels like it’s not sure what to do with itself. Yes, this year, Awesome Con had Stan Lee, and that’s huge. But Stan is so big that he’s become a separate category from traditional meet-and-greets. Meeting Stan for a simple autograph was pretty darn expensive, and he just wasn’t in the same league as the next biggest-name comics personalities at the show.
Awesome Con had some “name” comics celebrities this year and in years past. This year saw Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Tom King, three very big names in Batman right now. That’s a big deal…except that because they were so popular, their lines wrapped around a large chunk of the floor, and also, they had limited availability. If you were waiting to meet the Bat-creators, you risked giving up a good chunk of your Con time. Once you did meet them…well, as a comics fan, there wasn’t much left to do comics-wise unless you were a fan of one of the lesser-known comics people who appeared there.
(There’s nothing wrong with any of the other comics people who were at Awesome Con. Most of them just weren’t comparable in current prominence to King, Snyder, and Capullo.)
The comics portion of the floor was something of a hodgepodge compared to the celebrity section. There were creators, but they were wedged among a number of vendors in a very crowded space, and it was, frankly, easier to walk around the comics section and get over to the sales floor than it was to try to look around for an author one might recognize.
Unfortunately, Awesome Con typically has had much more of a focus on the celebs and much less of a focus on the comics. That’s OK–the con is only five years old and is still growing and learning what it wants to be. Awesome Con needs to find its own voice and figure out what makes it distinct from the other big area cons (Katsucon, Otakon, Baltimore Comic-Con, Bronycon, and many smaller events). The event’s big theme every year seems to be mid-level celebrities with autograph and photograph sessions, with the sales floor and the panels being bonus events. And that’s cool.
And yes, I also realize that Awesome Con is working in a limited space, even in an area as big as the Washington D.C. convention center. A certain amount of space has to be reserved for the celebrities and their snaking lines. Another amount has to be reserved for the photo shoots. A lot of space needs to be dedicated to the sales area. It’s just that this left a relatively smaller, tighter area for comics, which was shared with various vendors and artists in an area that didn’ t have a lot of thematic grouping. There wasn’t a lot of incentive to linger in the comics area unless you’re really, really into whatever creators they had along with Artist Alley. And to be fair, the convention center was tight, but not too tight. There did still manage to be unused areas of the floor which, maybe, could have held more comic guests.
There’s a lot to acquiesce to here, because I’m not the guy who manages Awesome Con. I’m sure the organizers have to carefully budget time, space, money, and the schedules of any guests they want to come. Awesome Con seems to be developing into the local “celebrity autograph con,” and that’s fine. However, there’s still a large demographic of fans in the area who are very much into the comic book industry, and there’s substantial crossover between mass-media fans and comic fans. The fact that a good chunk of the stores, panels, and cosplay at the con were devoted to comics illustrates just who’s coming to this show.
So, here’s three suggestions for making Awesome Con just a little bit better for comics fans:
- Move comics guests away from the vendors and artist alley. The section between the retailers and the media celebrities really was tight and hard to navigate, and the comics guests were scattered among them. A clean grouping of comics writers and artists would really help.
- Reconsider wasted space. The floor was packed, but there was still open space in the celebrity area. Maybe that’s intended for autograph line overflow, but it did seem a shame that the comics folk couldn’t occupy that area.
- Lastly and most obviously: bring more “name” comic guests. I’m sure this costs the con money and it may be awhile before this happens. However, this country is full of well-known comics writers and artists, and many of them live on the East Coast. Baltimore Comic-Con doesn’t get everybody, and not everybody can get to Baltimore Comic-Con. Awesome Con has an opportunity to be another comics autograph avenue for the many readers in the DC area.
As Awesome Con continues to grow, I hope that it doesn’t forget about the very large comics fandom out there that wants its voice heard at future shows as well. A post-Con complaint was that if you weren’t into autographs, there wasn’t much to do on the floor. Bringing in more comics guests and speakers to host panels is a way to fill that gap, and fans would probably welcome growth in that direction.