Guest Column – Three Days at the Pittsburgh Comic Con by Ben Taylor

Pittsburgh Comic Con CoverWelcome to the Alt-World Guest Column, if you’ve got something you want to say, want somewhere to say it and it is related to the activities that Alt-World then contact us and you can find yourself here. This weeks Alt-World Guest Column is brought to you by fellow Brit Ex-Pat and Convention Attendee Ben Taylor.

Hello Everyone,  my name is Ben Taylor and I’m here to write a guest column to clear my head of some of the thoughts that have been running through it since attending the recent Pittsburgh Comicon, which took place in Monroeville, PA September 27th-29th 2013.

Now, for the record, this is not the first time I have attended this show, I actually have attended this show every year for the last 5 years or so. It’s just the first time that I have felt like I needed to get a few things off my chest about it. This is going to sound, or rather read, as a very negative column unless you read all of each point, as not only will I be outlining issues with the show, but after I have placed an issue out there I will suggest something that can help fix it. And no I will not be talking about the history of the show or the drama surrounding Nate Stemen, you can learn more about that here.

First and foremost, please understand that while I attend this show as a fan, I have tabled at many other shows and not only traveled to the show with, but am very good friends with many of the folks that were set up in Artists Alley/Small Press tables, so when I speak about the show from that aspect I’m not just blowing smoke, it’s all from conversations with a great deal of people. And allow me to say that Pittsburgh Comicon was a helluva lot of fun, not necessarily because of the show, but because of the people, and that sentiment was something that was echoed by a lot of people.

Another thing to consider is that much like the current situation with Southern Maryland/Annapolis/Awesomecon DC, Pittsburgh Comicon is taking place in a market that is close to, if not completely, over-saturated with shows. Between it, Steel City, and now PiX as well, the room for maneuver is…slim.

Now onto the show. I think I’m going to break down my points into various sub-categories. So let’s get to it.One Step Behind
Probably the biggest issue for the show from an attendee standpoint, as opposed to an artist view is the fact that the show seemed to be living in the past. This flowed over into several areas, from the free swag table to the programming, it was another thing that just hurt the show.

The free swag table is often a first stop for many upon entering the show and the one at this con was a shining example of the idea that the show is a few steps behind the curve. It over-flowed with posters for X-men 2 (yes, the one with Nightcrawler going all ninja in the White House) Scooby Doo movie pins, and other things from that felt like a decade ago. In the future they need to reach out to more people for more current swag; invite the exhibitors and artists to put their own swag on the table etc., etc..

Show Structure
The dates. This is the first year in which the show has been held in September, and honestly I think it really hurt the show in the long run. I’m sure that there are people who would usually be set up at this show that didn’t this year. Why? Because unlike its usual spot right at the beginning of the convention season, which allows artist to be a little more carefree with their time, this year the show fell between two of the biggest cons on the east coast: Baltimore Comicon (a pure comics show, well loved by all, which pulls in tens of thousands of attendees) and New York (The Javitts center show is the east coast equivalent of San Diego at this point). This not only drains the time and money of the attendees, but your exhibitors and artists too. Oh, and another thing to consider in September? FOOTBALL. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Steelers have a huge fan base, which is going to pull away from your attendance. The dates for next year have already been announced and it remains a 3-day show, in September. I really hope they consider moving back to the original time of year. It felt right there and allowed more artists to take a splash on the show.

There is absolutely no need for this to be a 3-day show. None. Fridays are desolate. Every year there are vendors who don’t show up until Saturday morning. It’s almost as if they had the space for set up and just decided to open early. But they always have the showroom on Thursdays too. Admittedly the show on a Friday only starts at 1pm, so it’s not an all-day thing, but it’s still something the show needs to look at. Either find a way to bring people in on a Friday, or don’t open until Saturday. Please don’t get me wrong, as someone who was there on Friday, I managed to get my whole agenda (which admittedly was really small) for the entire weekend out-of-the-way, but then again, I wasn’t paying for a hotel room as many of the artists were. A small thing such as having to pay for a hotel room for one less night may not make or break an artist’s weekend, but it sure as hell can give them a boost. I hope they consider a drop to 2 days to alleviate some of the down time. And it would aid in some of the other issues too, which I will point out when I come to them.

The Floorplan
The Monroeville Convention Center, which hosts the show, is split up into the bigger show floor and a smaller side room that has space, but leads to the conventions’ panel rooms. The main room is the home to vendors, guests of the con and the small press booths. The smaller side room is the home of artist alley tables and some of the smaller media guests. Just by reading this I’m sure that you can see the first of the issues with this set up: foot traffic, other than moving into the room to get to the panel rooms (and honestly, you don’t need to even get anywhere near the artist alley tables to get to the panel rooms), there is no reason for some people to even go into the other smaller room. If they were to place some of the larger names, this year for example Jim Steranko and Jim Balent, in the smaller room, there would have so much more foot traffic and so many more people would get eyes on the artists’ products. This could have been done easily too, as half of the smaller room was cordoned off. The other issue was a much bigger room: the lay out in the artist alley room was not the same as in the program. The tables were not in the same place, things had been moved around so even if people in artist alley did have people coming to see them, the visitors would have been confused and lost. The table positioning is a very minor thing, but it still stood out to me.

The Website
Check out; it’s a jumbled, hard to navigate mess. The fix is simple; make it easier to navigate and find information.

Overall the panels and programming at the show felt lackluster. They felt like an afterthought. Bear in mind, this show features my favorite series of panels I’ve seen at any show: the Charity Quick Sketch. It’s such a fun, liberating idea that involves people getting lots of cool art and sketches and making lots of money for charity. However the quick sketch is the undoubted highlight. This year the programming was questionable.

First of all, in a year where the show (and it has been this way for the last few years) is crawling with Doctor Who fans, be it the vast amount of t-shirts, all of the cosplayers (seriously there were like, TONS of them), all of the art and the like being bought; in a year where not only is there Daphne Ashbrook (the only on screen companion for the 8th Doctor) but Jeremy Bulloch (who is best known as Boba Fett, has appeared as two different characters in three episodes with the First Doctor and one four-episode serial with the 3rd), and in a year that is the Doctor’s 50th anniversary, in a year with all of that…how was there no Who specific panel? Yes, Ms. Ashbrook had her own panel, but how was there no “50 years of the Doctor” panel? I have run five such panels this year at different kinds of shows, and all of them have been unerringly popular. Are you genuinely telling me they could find no-one to chair a Doctor Who panel?

Second, while I am a massive fan of Joss Whedon’s work, how do you have 2 hours of programming dedicated on Sunday to Doctor Horrible? Not to mention an hour-long panel on “Let’s get this man to name his space ship Serentiy,” how is there no “Let’s brainstorm and talk about Agents of SHIELD” panel, or if we have to stick to the Firefly universe, given who was running the panels (the Pitt arm of Can’t stop the Serenity) how about a panel about getting people prepared for the Dark Horse comic series? Again I love Whedon’s work, it just could have been presented better.

Third, as much as I love my good and dear friend Jim Dietz of the Legion of Dudes podcast, and as much as I admire that he stepped up to take the helm of the trivia contest when Comic Geek Speak stepped down, The 12-1pm timeslot on a Saturday afternoon is PRIMETIME when it comes to paneling, and the trivia contest is not exactly prime time material. It drew perhaps 15 people. Then again, this could well be fixed if there were more people involved, but in order for more people to be involved, the contest would need more prize support and aid from the con itself to make it worth winning.

And finally, technical issues. And I’m not talking about lights blowing or wardrobe malfunctions. I’m talking about the fact that there isn’t even someone checking the panel rooms at the beginning of each panel to make sure microphones are working, or hell, that microphones are even present. When the main panel room is big enough for 150ish people, the people speaking on stage need a mic to reach the back row. If they don’t have it, the panel is going to be affected badly.

Overall the programming just needs to be tightened up; run fewer panel rooms (and if the show were to drop to 2 days, there would be more competition for panel spots), have panels that are more appealing to a wider audience, and give better support to the panels that exist. The exclusives booth is right outside the main panel room; there should be someone available to run in there at the top of each hour.

The Convention Program
There were a few small issues other than that, but the final major issue I really wanted to talk about was the program book itself. Before we go any further please take a look at the wraparound cover for the booklet.

Pittsburgh Comic Con Progrm Cover by Jim Balant

The cover was produced by Jim Balent (one of the reasons I mentioned he would have driven foot traffic into the other room), Jim heavily used cosplayers for the models for the image. Now, when I first looked at the image the first thing that struck me was, well, boobs. Not because I’m a man, but because they take up like most of the paper in the wrap around cover. Seriously there are a LOT of boobs. And I like boobs as much as the next man, but, well, this show has a “Kids Day,” and this is the program book that families will be getting? Next let’s talk about the fact that even though apparently all of the females in the image are based on different cosplayers (though both batgirl and catwoman are based on the same person) THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. And they all have that self-same look like someone is violating them with a pool ball. Especially Zatana and Donna Troy, who look like Lady Gaga on a bad acid trip while trying to fight crime. Their eyes are spaced-out and thier faces, lifeless. Speaking of eyes, every single person in that image has blue eyes. ALL OF THEM (apart from Batman, whose eyes are in shadow and Green Lantern who has his eyes covered in a green, glowy mask thing). There’s a creepy, children of the corn thing going on.

There was little to none done. I know people who I met at the show that were massive comic fans, and they had no idea the show was going on. Unless you knew of the show, or were randomly driving around Monroeville, it just didn’t seem to be out there. Anywhere. This can really make or break a show.

All of the above being said
Most of my friends, artists and attendees alike, had a lot of fun. And I did too. It’s a weird thing though; there were moments of the brightest entertainment, such as Caroll Spinney’s panel (Caroll is the voice of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird on Sesame Street, and has been for 40+ years), and moments of complete WTF-titude, like those mentioned above.

The show is fun. The people, the fans, the artists, even the staff make it a fun time, but it could be so much more with a few changes, tightening of the screws, and a re-evaluations here and there. So please, do not take from this column that the Pittsburgh Comicon is a bad show. It just needs a tune-up.

Thank you all for reading, and please let us know if you want to read more of my stuff by letting the Guest Column Host know.

And Remember –

Be Excellent to each other…

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About Nick

Just an Englishman lost in the USA who happens to write now and again... Anyone got a cup of tea?

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