My Grand Rapids Comic Con Experience

While Grand Rapids is not known for its stellar conventions, I thought I would give this Grand Rapids Comic Con a try. My sister had never been, and it was right in my neighborhood at the Home School Building in Wyoming, MI. So why not? I was expecting one of two things upon my arrival: no one at all or crazy busy. It was the latter.

I arrived just as police were ticketing cars parked all over the grass in the surrounding neighborhood, but much to my surprise, I found plenty of parking once I got closer to the building. Those people either arrived during a rush, or just didn’t bother to look for a better spot. My timing was about 1pm, and there was a line around the building still. Being a veteran of conventions, I was cool with the wait, even though it was a strangely hot day for the season. My sister, while new to conventions, had her fair share of concerts, festivals, and other large events under her belt, so she was happy to wait as well. The line moved pretty swiftly, though it was still an hour before we made it to the front door to pay our $5 cover. While we waited, though, we had quite the show. Lots of costumes and an array of people just ripe for people-watching. After about 45 minutes, the convention volunteers started to pass out bottles of water and carted in a few more porta potties to accommodate the still-growing line of people waiting to get in. The promoters/staff did their best to keep us comfortable while we waited, even some vendors came out to try to sell some of their stuff to the waiting.

As we got closer to the ladies we had to pay to get our wristband, we heard all sorts of chatter among the staff on how to best handle all the people. They eventually decided that there would be no re-entry and as people left, their wristbands were to be cut off and kept by the staff. Understandable… they wanted to get as much money through the door, as well as individuals, even if it meant cutting off those who had already paid. Really, though, $5 to get in is pretty darn cheap. As we got up to pay, we made sure we had exact change to make the process as swift as possible. Once we had our wristbands, we headed into the dealer’s room to check things out.

It was  hot. SO HOT. Everyone, even vendors and artists just sitting behind their tables were sweating and miserable, not to mention the people who wore costumes. It was crowded, noisy, and sweaty. All things I hate, but all things I have grown accustomed to at conventions. My sister and I made our way around the room, doing our best to enjoy it all as fully as we could, despite the uncomfortable atmosphere. It was fun. We saw a lot of cool things, got some original sketches by some cool artists, and had some fun shopping around. After more than two hours there, though, we needed fresh air, water, and some personal space. So we left. We didn’t even make it to any panels or the other stuff happening, we just HAD to get out of there. As soon as we got in the car, the A/C was on full blast and we sucked down what water we had left.

It was a good time, but it was also a great time once it was over. The line had disbursed by then, and we heard people talking of how they had to turn so many away. I guess we got there just in time to be a part of it. I was glad to have gotten in and glad to have shown my sister her very first comic con.

Ok, so that is the overview. Now is the part where we discuss what could have been done better, because after attending so many conventions as a fan, press, and as helpers to vendors, I feel like I have some experience in how to do it better.I know I have never created or hosted my own convention, I know not everything can be thought of, but there are a lot of things that were just too obvious not to mention. I also understand that they did not expect as many people as they got, but no matter how many people you expect, be organized.

First off, the line. There was one set of doors for both the in and outward traffic. Bad. There needs to be a traffic flow. Plus, having this also be the re-entry entrance (before people were cut off), you couldn’t tell if someone was being rude and cutting through the line, or if they were just trying to get back inside. It caused some confusion, and further congested the entrance. The line also didn’t move as smoothly as it could have, if there had been some sort of preregistration or second line to pay in. Also, if there had been preregistration, they might have had a better understanding of just how much traffic they were going to have.  Plus, a cash-only line means you have no idea who is coming to your event. How can you tap into that audience again if you don’t have any record of who they were?

Next up, the heat and congestion once inside. There is no real cure for this. No one knew it was going to be so hot, and even if there had been some air conditioning they could crank up, buildings like that do not cool off quickly. This really could not have been avoided. Conventions get hot. They just do.

No bags. A lot of the vendors didn’t seem to have bags for purchases. This sucked. It was their fault, though, not the convention. Most larger conventions I have attended, though, give attendees a bag with some promotional fliers, maybe a comic, but most importantly: A BAG. This would have been awesome. I know, $5 admission, but really, I would have gladly paid $10 if I got a tote bag and some random postcards/promos or something. Most people would. I’m not talking an exclusive comic, a fancy lanyard, or some other potentially pricey swag, just advertiser fliers, and a convention guide. Plus, this kind of thing can easily be financially covered by getting sponsors. You slap their logo on the bag, and voila, one less thing for you to spend money on, yet one more thing to make your attendees happy.

The central hallway was a nightmare. It was congested and difficult to understand which events and panels were where. Plus the abundance of people in the entrance line, with traffic going in and out of the building, only made it worse.

A lot of the issues could have been eliminated with a larger building and more volunteers/staff filtering people. Or even more space just to linger and loiter. People love to loiter at conventions. I know they couldn’t have known just how many people they would get, but a presale would have done wonders.

Throughout the convention, rumors were furiously circulating of next year. Next year it will be in a bigger building. Next year it will be three days. Next year there will be more artists. Etcetera. I am excited to see what this convention could turn into. It would be awesome for Grand Rapids to have a comic con worth attending with actual celebrities, more artists, more writers, and more creators! More! Yay! Anyway, I hope they get a lot of their issues sorted out and figure out how to plan it all better. I just hope they are careful… because having this one-day event in a larger building would solve this year’s issue, but having it in a larger building for a three-day event could result in having too big a space. They have to know that there was such a density of attendees because of the limited time in which this convention was held. If you space that out over two or three days, it won’t at all be as crazy as it was, even if it was held in the same space. You could even have a breeder, er, family day, in which all strollers are welcome to clog as many aisles as they please, resulting in a better traffic flow the other days.

Overall, I had a good time and look forward to next year. I am always willing to give a show like this a couple years to iron out the kinks. I hope others do as well. It was easy for newbies to be turned off by what happened. Hopefully patience and understanding prevails and results in a more successful event in the years to follow.