Fan Conventions: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

With the conclusion of New York Comic-Con, the final major Con of 2011, it’s as good a time as any to reflect back on fan conventions.

Creative costumes and panels dedicated to beloved television shows, movies and comic books create the ultimate geek out fest, but what kind of interaction do we fans really get to have with the celebrities that we idolize? Depending on the convention, it can be a surprising amount.

With Dragon*Con it’s not uncommon to be walking through the hotel lobbies and find celebrities grabbing a drink at the bar. Attendees can be so distracted with the incredibly detailed costumes and photo opportunities with fellow con-goers that they might not even realize that it’s Felicia Day or Aaron Douglas a few feet away. However at Comic Con, if a celebrity gets recognized on the floor, they have to quickly vacate before getting trampled by a rush of fans.

It may actually surprise fans to learn that celebrities love these conventions just as much as we do. They get the opportunity to hear feedback about their acting, writing or artwork directly from the source – the fans. I spoke with Sam Witwer from Syfy’s “Being Human” last month at Dragon*Con about the amount and quality of fan interaction he gets to have at conventions, and he admits that he loves it.

“You go to conventions and people are happy to see you, but when ‘Being Human’ happened that’s when you couldn’t walk through a convention anymore. We tried to walk the Comic Con floor, and we couldn’t go anywhere,” he said. “A lot of fans have been coming up [at Dragon*Con] and offering that they like the show. It’s really cool, because that’s who we do it for,” Witwer said. “It makes you feel good.”

That seemed to be the general consensus from all the fans I spoke to at Dragon*Con as well. Everyone was having a good experience. In fact, a lot of fans were already talking about next year! Dragon*Con volunteer and attendee Alexandra Pauley was one of them. “That’s one of the best things about DragonCon,” Pauley said. “No matter how awesome this year is, there is always tremendous anticipation for next year.”

Fan conventions aren’t all great experiences for fans though. In fact, earlier this year fans took to the web after a less than desirable experience at the first convention for the hit TV series ‘The Vampire Diaries’ put together by EyeCon.

Ruthie Heard runs one of the largest fan sites for the show called The Vampire Diaries Online. She posted her thoughts on her website, and didn’t hold back.

“The pricing for everything was outrageous and things that were promised during several events did not happen the way it was supposed to or how we imagined it would,” Heard posted. “Another complaint I kept hearing about, were the autograph sessions. The lines were very rushed and some people didn’t even get a chance to speak to the actor signing their item.”

Many people posted replies to Heard’s thoughts on the convention, and that wasn’t the only place fans were talking. Other fan sites and Twitter were on fire with talk of the convention. Caroline McCormic, a Vampire Diaries fan from Birmingham, Alabama, agreed with the comments being left online. “There were a lot of issues,” McCormic explained. “Fans were unhappy with the organization and deceptive advertising of the convention experience.”

Despite repeated attempts to obtain a comment from EyeCon about the convention and what went down earlier this year, they ignored all inquiries from FanBolt (as well as CNN – which is who I originally contacted them under). We’ve since learned that future official ‘Vampire Diaries’ conventions will be hosted by Creation Entertainment after this month.

Controversy and management issues aside, it’s not all bad either. Caroline McCormic’s experience with Dragon*Con was completely different. “Dragon*Con feels more fan-orientated while the Vampire Diaries convention felt like it was just to make money with no real desire to give the fans a good experience,” she said. “Dragon*Con is run by actual fans while the other was put on by a convention company.”

Smaller conventions that focus on one television series or movie generally allow fans to have a more intimate experience. It’s a whole convention focused on the franchise they love as compared to just one panel or autograph signing at a bigger convention.

The downside is they usually come with a larger price tag for admission. They have to charge more in order to pay for the talent to attend. It’s not uncommon for fans to spend over $1,000 attending a small convention, between travel, lodging, and tickets for the actual events. It ends up costing just as much as it would to attend the larger conventions such as Comic Con. With such a hefty price tag for a smaller event, fans do have high expectations for the experience that awaits them.

Creation Entertainment has tickets as low as $20 a day for general admission for their fan conventions. Though weekend packages, that include night functions, autographs, reserved seating, and other benefits can run up to several hundred dollars.

“We like to give all fans a chance to come to the conventions so we offer several different price levels.” Amy Murphy, marketing assistant for Creation Entertainment, explained.

The format has worked well for Creation Entertainment who has hosted a number of conventions across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain for shows such as Stargate, Star Trek, and Supernatural just to name a few. The company has been around since 1971, and has had well over 1,500 celebrity appearances. Yearly, they host between 20 and 25 conventions.

Misha Collins, who is best known as Castiel on Supernatural, fondly remembers his most interesting fan interaction at one convention.

“I was in Australia at a convention, and we had a meet-and-greet. There were 10 tables and maybe 10 people at each table, and I had to move quickly from one table to another. I had sat down and I had some water, and I spilled a little on myself. I went like this,” Collins pauses to wipe his mouth with a napkin. “And as I got up, someone took the napkin that I had wiped the water off my mouth with, and that was pretty memorable.”

Moments like this just can’t be had at larger conventions. Fans aren’t going to be able to sneak off with a napkin used by their favorite celebrity who just engaged in a conversation with them.

Collins’ appearances at these conventions have won over fans too. They love his authenticity and the fact that he genuinely cares about his fanbase. That’s something that fans wouldn’t be able to witness in person if it wasn’t for these conventions. Just ask Supernatural fan Erica Dodd.

“I was amazed how Misha interacts with each fan on an individual, unique level. He was so sincere and genuine,” Dodd said. “Each person he talked to got a different comment or compliment and I found it extremely impressive! ”

Dodd wasn’t alone. Marilyn Soper Case felt the same way as she reminisced about her experience at the Supernatural Boston convention a few months back.

“Meeting Jared and Misha was just overwhelming,” Case said. “I want to go live in con land forever!!”

Con season is the highlight of the year for many of us. I referenced Comic Con as my fangirl’s dream not too long ago. You get to meet new friends, see old ones, and meet a handful of celebrities while having experiences that you’ll reminiscent about for years to come. All the good and bad things aside, that seems to be the one thing that fans can always agree on when it comes to these conventions. The best experience is just meeting the other fans.

For most fans, when a convention comes to a close, they’re only thinking one thing. That they can’t wait for the next one.

Article By: Emma Loggins


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  1. Actually, Creation cons are notorious for disappointing fans. They oversell autographs and photos, make fans feel like cattle who often don’t get to say more than (or even) ‘hi’ to celebs when getting autographs for fear of being told off by staff for holding up lines. (I’ve had friends this has happened to, leading to tears and ruined con experiences). Currently at their SPN cons it is normal for individual photos to be over 70 dollars for the biggest stars, duos up to 150. They are neither intimate, nor priced better. May fans would happily pay more for a better experience, unfortunately with Creation one pays more and still gets made to feel like they’re doing you a favour for paying them money. (I say this having done both, paid for gold tickets and normal admission ones)

    (Also, the Misha quote talking about the Australia con was run by The Hub productions – Creation don’t run cons in Australia. Mind you, The Hub do about as good a job as Creation does (read: not at all) so they might as well. Their VIP tickets run into the thousands of dollars, their “entrance only” tickets in the hundreds).

    Cons can be done well, believe it or not, I’ve been to some amazing ones. But where the emphasis is on the organisers making money and the fans are treated like cash-cows, they rarely are. What’s sad is often the celebs themselves seem to know it and get frustrated by it (but hey, at least they get paid to put up with that, unlike the fans).

  2. Hey Annie: I just attended the Creation Supernatural Convention in Toronto and had an awesome time as did all my friends. Everyone who attended got a seat in the theatre, no overcrowding or chance you wouldn’t get into something you wanted to see (unlike what happened to me at both San Diego Comicon and the Disney Expo.
    J&J fan

  3. Thanks guys for your comments! I think this is a very debatable topic. Most of the larger conventions such as San Diego Comic Con don’t really provide much fan access to celebs, and if you do get an autographic or picture – you’re going to have to wait literally hours for it. The smaller conventions though – I feel like you get more access to the cast members of the series the convention is representing. Though, yes, it’s very expensive. But I think you pay for the level of access you get. I have attended the smaller conventions in a press capacity – and the larger ones in a fan and press capacity, and I think it’s very easy for fans to have negative experiences with both, but it’s also possible for a fan to be in complete heaven with blinders on 🙂 AKA me the first time I saw the Supernatural cast in person. haha 🙂 I’ve heard other fans say what Annie has before – that they would pay more for a better experience. I’m wondering what that better experience would be for the fans – and how much would you guys be willing to pay for it?

  4. For me, Comic Con is the ultimate dream. I think speaking from someone who has never been to a convention before [besides local ones around the beach supporting other causes or entertainment outlets], I can safely say that I would spend a lot to go to Comic Con, However, I saw the whole Eyecon Vampire Diaries convention and the comments about it by fans who went [as I wanted to attend that], and it seemed everyone was really unhappy. So I’m torn, I would pay loads for Comic Con, and not too much for smaller conventions. I actually would rather attend a Vampire Diaries Party such as the ones you host. Not too big of a gathering, but from the photos of the convention, the goodies that were available and the setting [including the food], I’d rather pay more to attend an event such as that than the one Eyecon threw. It’s all about the fans, and so I guess it all comes down to what the creators of the event are after: to please the people, or to please their bank accounts. To be honest, setting ticket prices higher actually hurts them more in my opinion, as the loss of many fans who may not be able to afford to go could be huge. Now…the Twilight convention…I would give an arm and a leg for! Conventions are something that just isn’t possible in my present world right now what with travel and daily living [kids, work] being a priority. But conventions are on my 25-30 wishlist [I’m 23 now], and on the top includes Comic Con, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and a trip to the Fanbolt offices!