Another Year, Another Con
Well, MegaCon 2018 has come and gone, and for the fifth year, I managed to survive. The older I get, the more of a triumph it is to type that sentence. However, you didn’t come here to read the lamentations of a rapidly aging nerd; you came to live vicariously through said nerd and learn if maybe you should take the time and spend the money to make the trek to Orlando next yet.
That, my fellow geeks and nerds, is what I will help you do.
Was It Worth It?
That’s probably the question that you’d like the answer to. It’s also the toughest to answer. When it comes to conventions, I try to heed the advice of Doc Brown in Back to the Future III. At the end of the movie, he tells Jennifer (Marty’s girlfriend), “The future is whatever you make it…so make it a good one!” Basically, that’s my advice about going to pop culture conventions of any sort. Conventions are whatever you make them, so make them good ones.
I can, however, provide you with information that will help you determine if you should even bother to make the trek. Conventions aren’t getting cheaper, and while I recap my weekend, I can also provide you with information that you can most likely apply to any convention. I’ve been to over a dozen conventions run by multiple different companies, and while some ancillary things are different, most are the same.
So, without further ado, let’s go back in time a few days and recap my MegaCon experience.
Day One: The Old Man Arrives
MegaCon began on Thursday, but it was only open for a few hours that day, so I opted to begin my MegaCon experience on Friday. I took my time getting to the Orange County Convention Center and arrived at around 11. While that’s an hour after the doors opened for the general public, I figured Friday wasn’t a very busy day in years past, so I was probably good to go. Well, that’s the first time I was wrong during the long weekend, and that’s where my first piece of advice comes in:
OG Con Tip #1
Spend some time preparing!
I could not believe how bad parking was going to be on a Friday at a convention. I also could not believe how badly the convention center handled the traffic. I won’t spend a lot of time complaining, but I do recommend spending some time on the convention’s website (which I did, but apparently not long enough) to learn about the venue and the parking situation. It also wouldn’t hurt to book your hotel far in advance at a hotel that will allow you to cancel your reservation if something should happen and you can’t attend. Remember that TripAdvisor is your friend; read reviews so you don’t make the same mistakes that previous travelers did. Also, when you’re booking your hotel, watch out for parking fees (that can be over $20) and resort fees (that can also be over $20). If you’re not careful, your $100 room can now be over $150. These fees are also crippling if your hotel isn’t near the venue; if you choose to drive, you’ll be paying to park AGAIN at the convention center. It’s almost cheaper to Uber, especially if you’re cosplaying as Chewbacca and it’s over 90 degrees outside.
Anyway, after realizing that the parking situation wasn’t good, we decided to park at the hotel (that had free parking) and walk the mile to the convention center. On the walk over, I was struck by my second revelation:
OG Con Tip #2
You know that time you spent preparing? Spend MORE time preparing!
I’ve never had a problem getting a backpack into a convention. You might want to check on that before you attend. If you can bring a backpack, make sure you have one and make sure you have some “con essentials” in it. I consider con essentials (at the very least) to be a change of shirt, a small towel, a snack of some sort, a bottle of water (or a container to fill with water), any paperwork you need (like photo op tickets), plastic sleeves for your photos (buy them once and reuse them each con after), and any pens you want to have people sign with (sometimes they only have one color). There are probably more things you’ll want to bring, but those are the most important.
Actually, there is one more important thing to bring: cash. Most celebrities only accept cash for autographs and photos at their tables, and I will tell you that the ATMs at a convention will run out of cash sometime on Saturday. Bring cash to avoid paying ridiculous fees at the venue ATMs.
Anyway, after a mile walk and a shirt change, I was finally at the convention. Within a few minutes of my entrance, I found a very solid Rogue cosplayer and asked to take a photo. Now, when it comes to my pictures at cons, I usually skew toward the goofy. I always want to do some corny pose versus just standing there with someone. When I suggested that she lean in for a kiss and I feign terror (because Rogue’s power has the downside of killing anyone she comes into physical contact with), she was hesitant. She said that in the past when she did it, guys took advantage. That sad statement leads to my third piece of advice.
OG Con Tip #3
Cosplay is NOT consent!
It’s posted everywhere, but apparently, some people still don’t get it. While some women and men choose to dress a little on the risqué side, that’s still not an invitation to get all gropey. After I assured Rogue I was an old married guy, she seemed a little more at ease, but I told her I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, so I went with a different pose:
She was super cool about it, and that’s what great about cons: nearly everyone you come in contact with, from the celebrities to the vendors to the artists to the cosplayers to the other attendees, are pretty damn cool. Cons aren’t like Disney World, where people will kill you with a stroller if you get in front of them; the con population is typically pretty chill and will treat you with kindness and respect if you do the same. This year’s MegaCon crowd was no different.
Since Thursday and Friday aren’t exactly hopping when it comes to celebrities, I decided to spend the day chatting up some of the vendors, artists, authors, and cosplayers that were in attendance.
My first stop was to author Russell James’s table. On the way, I snapped pictures with a few wondering cosplayers such as The Greatest American Hero, Nacho from Nacho Libre (complete with a bag of nachos), and Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon’s goody SNL character). I find that I’m more of a fan of simple costumes of more obscure characters than complicated costumes that anyone can pick out.
Anyway, at Russell James’s table, I picked up a copy of his latest novel, Monsters in the Clouds, a follow up to his novel Cavern of the Damned. The subjects of Mr. James’s novels cover quite the geek gamut, from magic and zombies to giant man-eating creatures. I’m especially fond of his novel Q Island. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, head to his site and check it out.
That wouldn’t be the only novel I would purchase on the day. From Mr. James’s table, I headed to the table of Maureen Catherine Orkwis and picked up her debut novel, Murder Con. The novel centers around a murder at a comic book convention and seemed like a pretty decent read. After talking with Ms. Orkwis for a bit, I was more than happy to support her debut effort. You can read more about the author and her novel right here.
After a few more photos and a little bit of lunch, it was on to my first photo op. For the uninitiated, at conventions, you can get autographs and (sometimes) selfies with celebrities and spend a few minutes chatting with them, or you can get a professional photo op. These typically cost a bit more ($40 to $120, depending on who the celebrity is), but are of a higher quality. The downside is that these things run like cattle calls; you get approximately 3.7 seconds to shake the person’s hand, profess your undying love for them, and pose for a picture. When I get photo ops, I choose celebrities that I not only like, but can think of something humorous to do in a picture. Considering I only have 3.7 seconds to set it up, it’s a crapshoot as to whether it’ll come out good. In this case, my photo op was with six-foot-eight-inch WWE superstar Braun Strowman. If you don’t know who that is, just Google him. Essentially, he’s a big scary giant that makes a living throwing other men around like ragdolls.
My goal going into the photo op was to try to get this giant, intimidating behemoth to do something he wouldn’t normally do. So, two bucks and two bottles of bubbles later, I think I got a pretty good photo.
After my photo op, I wandered over to the cosplayer booths and chatted a bit with cosplayers/models Brit Bliss and Danica Rockwood. Both ladies were funny, friendly, and amazingly talented. I hope to get some interview time with each of them for GNN in the near future. Each of them is all over social media platforms, and Brit Bliss also has a website that you can find here.
At this point, I was getting a little tired, but I wanted to take a stroll and look at some of the art that was available down Artists’ Alley. One artist that caught my eye was Peter Smith. I stopped by his booth and learned about his new comic novella Chronicles of Zelaria. For $10, I picked up a copy and chatted with him for a bit. I’m looking forward to reading the book. You can grab a copy at Peter’s Crimson Fable Studios website right here.
From talking to various vendors, authors, and artists, I learned something that I’d like to pass along to all of you…
OG Con Tip #4
There are some truly hard-working folks at conventions that really love what they do and are super cool. Take some time to chat with and learn about their work.
If you’re an aspiring artist, author, blogger, podcaster, cosplayer, model, gamer, or anything related to geek culture, MegaCon (or any con for that matter) is a time for you to spend some real quality face-to-face time with people who do what you want to do. I talked to about a dozen folks in booths at the convention and they couldn’t have been nicer. Don’t be shy; these people are at conventions because they’re passionate about what they do (and a lot of them are paying out of pocket to be there); they want you to talk to them about their work. While most people see conventions as only places to meet big-name celebrities and buy rare Funko Pop figures, there’s a lot more going on. Take some time to visit with the “other guys (and gals),” the authors, artists, cosplayers, and vendors that are offering up some pretty cool art, books, and other creations.
At that point, my companion and I had dinner reservations and tickets to see Deadpool 2, so we headed out. Here’s a bonus surprise within my MegaCon coverage…a mini-review of Deadpool 2!
OG Bonus Mini-Review of Deadpool 2
For some context, I’m not a huge Deadpool fan. I read some of the X-Force comics when I was a kid, but thought they were just okay. I really liked the first Deadpool movie, especially because of Colossus, who’s my favorite underused X-Man. The second movie, in my opinion, was far more entertaining. The story was a little unfocused at first (and never really got fully focused, even by the end), but the humor was top-notch and the takedowns of other Marvel properties (and some non-Marvel properties) were hysterically brutal. The surprise cameo was great, as was the entire X-Force storyline. As always, there are post-credit scenes, but (thankfully) they all happen pretty quickly. You don’t have to wait until the 45 minutes of credits roll by.
So, by the end of the day, my con companion let me know that we had walked around 7.5 miles that day. At that point, I felt it. We headed to the hotel to clean up, sleep, and start again in the morning.
Day Two: A Little More Variety
On Saturday, I was determined to do a little more than I had on Friday. I was expecting the con to be busy, but I certainly wasn’t expecting another parking debacle. Unfortunately, even though we left the hotel 55 minutes before the official start of the con (VIPs got in at 9:00, but the general public couldn’t get in until 10:00), we still couldn’t get a spot, so it was another walk from the hotel. At this point, I think it would be good to give you…
OG Con Tip #4
If you’re going to a convention and want to have a good time, try to go for at least two days.
In my opinion, you’re more likely to have a good time if you go Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday as opposed to just one day. Saturday is the best overall day to see and do everything, but it’s really crowded and hard to maneuver. Plus, if you’re there to see a headliner (like Norman Reedus, or especially Stan Lee back in the day), you’re pretty much going to spend half your day in line. If you’re looking to see two headliners and you’re only going on Saturday, you can kiss your day goodbye. Going on a second, less busy day, allows you to enjoy the con at your own pace and then do the big-ticket things on the other day. I know sometimes cost plays into it, but if you can do two days (or the entire weekend), it’s worth it to maintain some shred of sanity.
I got into the convention venue around 10:15 or so and walked around a bit. At 11, I decided that I was going to attend my first panel: an interview with character and voice actor extraordinaire Wallace Shawn. If you don’t know the name, you’ve probably seen or heard him in something over the years. He’s best known as the voice of Rex in the Toy Story movies and the Sicilian bad guy in The Princess Bride (“Inconceivable!”). My favorite role of his was the mischievous blackjack dealer Marty in Vegas Vacation. While Mr. Shawn’s panel was funny, it was a bit of a disappointment that they didn’t allow audience questions. The interviewer seemed more interested in showing that he knew obscure stuff than in asking questions about Mr. Shawn’s more mainstream work.
From that panel, we walked to a screening room where they were showing short horror films. At last year’s MegaCon, I sat through four films that varied in quality from below average to pretty good. This year, I could only manage two bad short films before I had to leave. However, if you’re an amateur filmmaker, this is a great chance to sit in on short films and chat with the folks who make and star in them. They weren’t my cup of tea, but what do I know?
Next, I decided I was going to go to the John Cena Q&A. I’ve watched wrestling since I was about 12 years old and I’m still a very casual fan. I watch a couple PPVs a year and watch the weekly shows from time to time. I was, however, curious as to how the crowd would treat Cena and how he, in turn, would respond. The line for his panel was about the length of a football field, folded down a narrow corridor. I decided to wait it out and I actually got pretty good seats.
I’m going to admit, after 90 minutes of listening to Cena answer questions for kids who clearly admired him, I have a new respect for John Cena. He took every kid’s (and two or three adults’) questions seriously, even those that were repetitive. Even though the session was scheduled for 60 minutes, Cena brushed off the moderator and said he’d skip lunch to keep answering questions. He really was a cool speaker…I enjoyed the session far more than I imagined.
After the Cena Q&A, it was on to another fantastic lunch. I will say one thing about the Orange County Convention Center; their food options are pretty high quality and nicely varied. While I was eating, I thought of another thing I wanted to pass on.
OG Con Tip #5
Take care of yourself!
While you’re at a con, it’s pretty easy to skip meals and water breaks to wait in line for your favorite celeb. If you do that, you’re in for a rude awakening at some point. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and bring snacks if you don’t want to spend the money or the time eating. At every con I’ve attended, on-site food offerings have been good, and off-site (but close by) dining options have been plentiful. Buy a bottle of water (or bring a refillable bottle) and refill it throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially if you’re going to cosplay as Master Chief or a Wookie.
After lunch, I decided to spend more time walking the con floor before my next photo op. During my travels, I got to see more funny cosplays, including Garth Vader, Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, and Chell from Portal. (Apparently, the cake ISN’T a lie!)
Around 4:30, it was time for my Wallace Shawn photo op. One of my guilty pleasure movies is Vegas Vacation, and Wallace Shawn steals the show as Marty the blackjack dealer. When I pitched my idea for a photo with him, he laughed and said that would be funny. The photo turned out great.
My final photo op, and last agenda item for the day (because I’m old and get tired easily) was a photo op with Cary Elwes. I struck up a conversation with a couple of lovely women in line, one of whom stated (with all seriousness) that Robin Hood: Men in Tights was her favorite movie. That made me feel a little better about me mocking up a severed foot to try to pull off another funny photo op. During the conversation, I realized I could provide another good tip for all of you.
OG Con Tip #6
Con people are really cool! Strike up a conversation! Meet new people! Make new friends!
Okay, that’s really like three or four tips, but they all apply. You’re going to be spending at least 10% (and sometimes as much as 80%) of your time will be spent online. Another good percentage of your time will be spent waiting on panels and Q&As to begin. During that time, start a conversation with someone. You have to figure that if you’re waiting on line to meet someone or take a photo with a celebrity, you have one thing in common with the other people online: you’re all fans of the same person! I’ve never tried to strike up a conversation and have been shot down. Now, I’m married, so I’m usually just trying to strike up a conversation for the sake of passing the time. For those of you that might be trying to meet someone, not only is a con a good place to meet people with similar interests, but MegaCon had “geek speed dating” sessions (hetero and LGBTQ). Not only can you make new friends, but conventions are great places to meet people who can be even more. Honestly, as long as you’re cool and friendly, the very least you’ll get out of a con is some cool conversations that have the added bonus of helping pass the time.
Anyway, I was a little disappointed with my Cary Elwes photo op. He was wearing sunglasses (perhaps he had partaken in a little too much of the sacramental wine Friday evening), which was kind of off-putting. Again, the pace of the photo ops typically doesn’t allow for much conversation, and this time it kinda’ ruined my photo op. I’m a huge Saw fan and wanted to do something fun with that. I don’t think it came out all that well, but I’ll let you folks be the judges.
Anyway, that wrapped up my evening. I was too tired to walk to a separate restaurant, so I grabbed a pizza at a food cart and headed back to my hotel.
While I was chilling in my hotel room, I was reviewing the MegaCon site and I read that Norman Reedus was cutting his weekend short and leaving Saturday evening. That being the case, I came up with another piece of advice for any of you who are thinking of attending a convention.
OG Con Tip #7
Temper your expectations when attending a con!
When people ask me about attending a con, I tell them to have at least three reasons for going. Some people on con Facebook pages angrily complain when their favorite celeb cancels his or her appearance at the show. First of all, it’s mentioned on every con site that celebrities, artists, or anyone else attending the convention may cancel for a multitude of reasons (weather, health, other obligations). Some celebrities are busier and cancel more frequently than others (Norman Reedus and Jon Bernthal are two common cancellers). So, if you’re going to only get an autograph from one person, you need to realize that these folks might cancel. There’s so much to do and see at MegaCon; try to review the con’s website to find other things, such as panels, Q&A sessions, comedy shows, costume contests, artists, or vendors, that might interest you. If you have three goals for your con, you’re more likely to leave happy. If one thing is canceled, you still have two things left to see/do. If two things are canceled, you still have something left. If all three of the things you want to do or people you want to see are canceled, you have really bad luck and might want to stay indoors! There’s so much to see and do at a con. If you’re really don’t care about any of that stuff and you’re only going for one autograph or photo op, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best, but don’t bash the con if they cancel!
Unfortunately, my oldness caused me to miss the costume contest on Saturday evening. From the pictures I saw, the competition was quite good. This year, MegaCon upped the ante by having a Master of Cosplay Grand Prix, a new cosplay competition created by Fan Expo HQ in 2018. Guests competed in the Southeast Qualifier in Orlando for a chance to win prizes and advance to compete for the title of Master of Cosplay Champion in an international finale to be held in Toronto as part of Fan Expo Canada on Labor Day weekend. The winners included:
- Novice Division – Anthony Acosta and Anne Rosato (Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen)
- Journeyman Division – Lindsay Premo (World of Warcraft)
- Masters Division – Bryan Doell (Ronan the Accuser, Marvel Comics)
- Runner-Up – Josh Morris (The Gate, Hex Mortis)
- Best-In-Show – Dovah Design (Snow White Knight)
Next year, I have to make it a point to pace myself better and attend the cosplay competition; it always seems like a great show.
Day Three: The Old Man is Pooping Out
By Sunday, I had walked over 10 miles and had spent around 12 hours at MegaCon. By Sunday, I was really only going to walk around a bit, look at some more vendors and artists, get a good lunch, and call it a weekend. I invited a friend of mine to attend and he met me at my hotel. On the way to the con from the hotel, I was reminded of another good tip.
OG Con Tip #8
The more the merrier!
It’s always great to go to a con with a friend or a group of friends. Not only can you share a great experience with other people, it’s good to have friends that will help you take pictures, hold your stuff while you go to the bathroom, or tell you if your Belle cosplay is ripping in the back. When waiting in line or resting in the food court, friends can help raise your spirits and get you going again. It also helps if you’re spending the weekend because friends can help split the cost of food and lodgings. It’s great to attend a con, but it’s even better to attend with friends.
The last day was pretty short. I talked to an author I knew, chatted up a couple of artists, visited the vintage video game room (which was near as “vintage” as years past; the oldest system in the room was an XBOX I believe), and snapped a few more pics. The cosplay of the day went to two sweet sets of power armor from Fallout, complete with John Henry Eden playing on the radio. Awesome.
That was about it for me. I lasted about three hours before it was time for me to grab some lunch and make the drive home.
All in all, I enjoyed MegaCon yet again. I think next year I’ll make it a point to attend some of the after parties and MegaCon-related events, but this year I met some cool people, took some great pictures, had some really good food, and got to hang out with my fellow geeks and nerds for a few days. I’m getting a little older and it’s not as easy to do all the stuff I used to do, but as long as I’m still vertical, I’ll be making the pilgrimage to Orlando every Memorial Day weekend to get my geek on at MegaCon!