For me, going to conventions is a lot like going to an amusement park. I have a great fondness for both, habitually go once a year, and am often left wanting more. On Friday, this writer went to the opening night of the Rhode Island Comic Con and like my trip to Six flags this summer, my time was filled with great anticipation, long lines, and a less than stellar pay off.
Long Line and Frustrated Fans
Although I had a press pass, the individual accompanying me did not, so I decided to wait in line with him. The Friday line is nothing compared to that of Saturday, but we waiting for just over 45 minutes outside in below freezing temperatures before getting inside to—you guessed it—wait in yet another line. After being directed by staff to the incorrect will call line (costing us 10 minutes), we waiting at will call for about half an hour. The whole entrance process including a will call booth being staffed by just two people, was totally disorganized. There seem to be a disconnect between RICC volunteer staff and Dunkin Donuts Center staff, which was to the detriment of those trying gain entrance.
Aside from my personal experience, I talked to one man who was told to go to will call to pick up an autograph package ticket he had purchased online. After waiting in will call for 30 minutes he was told he had to pick up his tickets elsewhere. Suffice to say, the gentleman was upset.
In addition to the annoyances of waiting in line, other convention-goers were annoyed/dismayed with the fact that their favorite celebrities had cancelled. Unfortunately for Walking Dead fans, AMC decided to do reshoots on the current season and prohibited cast members, including Norman Reedus, from attending the RICC. Sadly, I saw three different "Darryl’s" hanging their heads and lowering their crossbows after hearing the news.
Aside from the Walking Dead cancellation, Bruce Banner himself Mark Ruffalo, perhaps the event's biggest celebrity, also cancelled just hours before show time. In total, nearly 30 celebrities canceled in the days and weeks prior to this weekend, including big names like Elizabeth Olson, Richard Dreyfuss, and Val Kilmer.
Was it worth the wait?
After about an hour and fifteen minutes of waiting in various lines, I finally entered the convention portion of the Dunkin Donuts Center. First, I traversed the countless vendors, which were located in the concession areas of the Dunk. Like most conventions, there were comic, toy and collectible vendors. The highlight for me was a table selling reproductions of famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta. Interestingly, Frazetta's granddaughter was behind the table.
Once I got a look at the vendors in attendance, I made my way downstairs to the celebrity room. The experience was slightly underwhelming because you could not get a good look at any of the celebrities unless you waited in line to meet them. Each celeb had long metal guardrails in front of them separating the lines. Although not favorable for individuals not paying to meet celebrities like myself, the set up made sense considering that these were the event’s most popular celebrities and that there were many people in line to meet them.
It was roughly 6pm at this point and more than half of the celebrities scheduled to be in this room were absent. It's with noting that a lot of celebrities were not scheduled to appear on Friday. Several stars were there, however, including Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Goonies) and Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future).
After leaving the celebrity room at the Dunk, I made my way over to the Convention Center. The main ballroom area included both vendors and celebrities, which you could get a close look at. This area featured Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Bret Hart (former wrestling superstar), Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride), Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG) and several original Power Rangers.
At the risk of being to tangential, I'd like to touch on the celebrities that really don’t all belong at a “comic con.” As is true with most fan conventions nowadays, the RICC’s guest list included countless celebrities who have no affiliation with the comic, sci-fi or fantasy genres. I’ve all but accepted that professional wrestlers will be at every comic con, but should they be? I've been to wrestling conventions and they don’t include science fiction actors or comic book artists. The notion of “comic con celebrity appropriateness” was at the forefront of mind on Friday when I saw a less than happy George Wendt (Cheers) sitting behind a table with no fans awaiting to meet him.
Paying Rent vs. Buying Autographs
Since I did not have hundreds of dollars at my disposal, I opted not to pay to meet any of the talent in attendance. If you think I'm exaggerating, it cost $500 to get a photo and an autograph of Paul Bettany and Sebastian Stan of the Avengers. I am someone who is willing to pay for experiences like concerts or for travel, but I am never able to wrap my head around paying hundreds of dollars to briefly meet a celebrity in a convention setting.
My problem with the RICC is not specific to the RICC, but more of a general complaint. When I first starting going to conventions 15 or so years ago an autograph from a convention's top draw might have run you $50, while others may have cost roughly $20—all of which I thought were reasonable. As the years have gone on, fan conventions have become more and more commoditized.
Conventions used to be something I could go to with a few extra bucks and still enjoy myself, and now, I would need to save several hundred dollars for the price of admission and a few autographs.
That being said, some folks are perfectly happy throwing down a couple weeks pay to meet their big screen idol and more power to them. For me personally, fan conventions on the scale of the RICC have lost their luster, but judging by the massive number of attendees and the smile on their faces, I may be in the minority here.
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