Can London handle two geek fests within a month of each other? This has been occupying my mind since attending both the London Comic Con (Sept. 25-27) and the Forest City Comicon (Oct. 18) this year.
The past two years, I have travelled to Toronto to take part in Fan Expo Canada held at Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This has been such an amazing experience, allowing me to embrace my inner-geekness and celebrate the end of the summer. I enjoy seeing and sitting in on celebrity panels, trying new video games, playing the latest board games, taking photos of the incredible cosplayers, and shopping in the vendor area and artist alley. There is always so much to see and do, we have had to change our one-day visit to a two-day weekend away. And the $50/day charge is definitely worth it. Unfortunately, I must admit that I do tend to compare it with smaller events, such as these held in London.
To be honest, my first local comic con adventure was not memorable. I attended the first ever London Comic Con in June 2014. It was a two-day event held in the basement of Centennial Hall. Walking down the stairs and into the large room, I found it quite dark and uninviting. Apparently, there were a couple notable celebrities, C. Thomas Howell and Eric Roberts, but were not in attendance the day I went. I did see a wrestling-ring area with costumed wrestlers walking around the vendor displays . . . yes, something that stuck in my head, even though I didn’t quite appreciate it. The ticket price of $25 seemed a bit steep, once I walked around the room and left — within half an hour.
Throughout the summer, I learned of another event being planned by local comic book/game businesses in October. The first Forest City Comicon was held at Centennial Hall as well, but took place over the entire building. A small vendor area, as well as a number of discussion panels were held in the basement; other vendors, video game companies and a costume contest had taken up residence on the main floor; and a card-playing tournament was held upstairs. Many local businesses and authors were in attendance. My favourite memory of this event was meeting and chatting with Mitch Markowitz of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Attendance that day surpassed the organizers’ expectations. It was a very enjoyable event.
One month later, Project Play was held at Western Fair Carousel Room. This got my attention, as I enjoy playing board and card games and my family are huge video gamers. It was fun to play an old favourite (Duck Hunt), learn a new game (GO) and walk around learning about new gaming companies in the city. It felt like a nice, family-friendly event, but I felt for the $10 admittance fee, I didn’t get $10 worth of entertainment. Seeing how Project Play was local, as was Forest City Comicon, I filled out an online survey suggesting the two groups get together and hold a joint event next year (I even suggested the London Convention Centre, due to the tourism aspect of the events).
This year, London Comic Con was held over three days at Western Fair District in September. The lead up to the fest was exciting! I found myself constantly watching for more details listed on their website and posted through social media. The list of celebrities had improved, in my opinion, including such names as Sons of Anarchy‘s Ron Perlman and Kim Coates, Aliens‘ Michael Biehn and Jeff Kober, seen recently on The Walking Dead. I bought tickets easily online, planning to attend the day Perlman was there. His panel at the main stage was worth the $30 alone and the more than 500 people with me, seemed to agree with me. Actually, having the main stage in the middle of the venue was a fantastic idea. Hundreds of people could sit and listen and others could stop and watch if they were interested, as they walked by. There was ample space for people wanting photographs or autographs from the various celebrities in attendance, as well as plenty of room between aisles in the vendors/artists alley areas. I think I was most impressed with the vendors. There were a few vendors from the region, but more from across the province, which was great. Walking around the vendors reminded me of one of the floors at Fan Expo Canada, offering a great variety of products that I wouldn’t normally find in London. The only vendor that struck me as odd, was the local pepperette stand, although they seemed to keep busy. And for the comic book fan, there were literally thousands and thousands of comic books available for sale. The many cosplayers were certainly impressive and giving away more than $1,500 in competitions is amazing. There were a few areas designated for children’s activities, where families could spend some down time. It truly felt like a family event. And did I mention I got my picture taken with K.I.T.T.?
Less than a month later, the Forest City Comicon held their second event. Teaming up with Project Play (great idea!), this was held at the London Convention Centre. Local community groups were set up in the halls outside of the main vendor area and Project Play was at the Hilton. In the main vendor area, you could find London businesses (L.A. Mood, Uber Cool Stuff, Heroes), along with local crafters and artists. A row of authors from the region was set up in the middle of the room. While it was great to see so many local people taking part, I just felt that everything I saw I could have found in their stores or on their websites. I missed the competition that the London Comic Con and Fan Expo offered. I missed the variety of products for sale and those geeky unique items you just can’t find in town. I just didn’t get that comic con feel I got at the other events. FCCC just felt like a local geek fest. Going over to the Hilton to check out Project Play, I was again disappointed with it. I love the idea of having video games available for people to try and love having the opportunity of playing a board game before actually purchasing it. But, I’ve been to the Cardboard Cafe in London and I can play free video games at home. Focusing on a board game every hour, teaching people how to play or having a mini-tournament, may have been of interest to attendees. The area was nice to have a break, but nothing else captured my attention. While most of the cosplayers at FCCC I had seen last month at London Comic Con, the costume contests seemed to be the biggest attraction. Still, for the $30 ticket price, including Project Play access, it just didn’t give me $30 of entertainment . . . for the hour I spent there. For future reference, panels running late and having a check mark placed on your hand with a Sharpie, to return if you leave the building, are unprofessional for an event like this.
Maybe these two London events cater to different audiences, but I believe those audiences overlap. Both events offer celebrities, panels, vendors and cosplay — the only real difference is the Forest City Comicon is local. I would encourage these two groups to come together and organize a comic con together — offering a three-day event with bigger celebrity names, a competitive variety of vendors, a bigger family gaming area (video, tabletop, industry) and maybe a floor dedicated to local businesses/companies, for those people who are travelling from outside of the city to learn more about us. London is definitely on the map for geeks in Southwestern Ontario, but it would be nice to someday compete with Fan Expo and hold the biggest geek event in Ontario in the fall.
My suggestions would be to continue offering kids free admission, free panels and screenings and hold the single day tickets to $25 ($50 for couple), which is comparable to Fan Expo, for what can be offered in London. Keep the vendors competition strong and bring in local guests as well as big-name celebrities. Look into using more buildings at Western Fair District as a venue, as free parking and being able to bring in snacks/water is a definite plus. Also, if your event is on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope), USE this during the event! Don’t wait until it’s over…people who are following you may see something that interests them and visit at that moment.
Celebrities, comics, cosplay, games and shopping — this is what people go to cons for. If you can’t offer everything, please don’t call yourself a con.