Convention Review: Cincinnati Comic Expo 2016

Fun Fact: I have never been to the same convention twice. Since 2013, I’ve attended San Diego Comic Con, Vid Con, Heroes Con in Charlotte, Indiana Comic Con, and last year I went to Cincinnati Comicon. So, to balance out, this year I decided to go to the original comic convention of the region, Cincinnati Comic Expo, for a comparison to see why Cincy has two conventions and which is better. I’m reviewing this solely on its own merit, but will address the dueling conventions at the end of the article.

VENUE

20160923_171059The Expo was once again held in Duke Energy Convention Center in Downtown Cincinnati, boasting a  fairly large 200,000 square feet of space to work with. There was one large room for the most popular panels and a few smaller ones for workshops and niche panels, while the expo floor felt massive, all things considered. There was plenty of space in hallways and common areas for attendees to take photos, relax between scheduled events, and enjoy some cool displays for the public, including the opportunity to “scale a building” like in the 1966 Batman TV show. The surrounding area had plenty of parking garages for ease of access, so long as you don’t mind paying jacked up rates. The overall layout and structure was great, with a nice mixture throughout the expo hall of things to do and people to see. Friday there was free wifi, which I loved, but the weekend was too crowded to for that to be possible. In fact, the expo floor was so full on Saturday, I wouldn’t have minded a larger venue for the sake of photography and elbow room. One big downside was being located near the football stadium on a game day, because that meant parking was impossible and the traffic was horrible.

ORGANIZATION/ STAFFING

This was by far the worst part of my experience this weekend. Granted, most of my issues all come back to one organizer in particular, Matt Bredestege, who I’m sure was very busy but was nothing but an inconvenience to this reviewer. 20160923_134104My wife and I arrived almost two hours early to ensure a speedy entry and we ended up waiting over 45 minutes for our badges because Matt had them on the other side of the building and couldn’t be bothered. They ended up sending runners-up and down stairs to get passes as need be. Then, once we had badges and had been waiting in line for a half hour, Matt strolls in and tells everyone to create a separate VIP line off to the side. This caused a nerd stampede to the front, creating a crowd of angry fans rather than a line. I missed a commission spot due to this, and was way upset. The next day, I was fourth in line, but once again, the almighty Matt had everyone shift to the other side. This was much smoother, however one guy who’d been standing near the front decided to just stand still as the line shifted, taking a place ahead of me! I called him out and neither Matt nor the disinterested volunteer did anything about it! I was pretty upset, but I got my commission so I couldn’t stay mad long. Both days, they opened the doors early, which I much prefer to doing so late. I will say that the announcements throughout the day were both informative and enthusiastic, so if nothing else, we knew what was going on. The volunteers were okay, overall, but many were not well-informed and had no real direction from higher authority.

GUESTS

The guest list for this was impressive, considering the rival convention two weeks prior and the relative age of the Expo. Star Wars was the big draw this year, boasting actors such as David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), and Ray Park (Darth Maul). Other celebrities included Lee Mariweather (Catwoman), John Barrowman (Torchwood), Teddy Sears (Zoom), and Karen Fukashima (Katana). Each had a personal panel and plenty of love from fans.

20160924_103133The best comic creator was Stan Lee though, who had several scheduled photo ops and signings throughout the weekend. Friday, September 23rd, 2016 was officially named Stan Lee Day in the city of Cincinnati and he had a massive panel that night, which I wasn’t able to attend due to health concerns. This was his last Midwest signing, so the this was a major draw. The other high-demand comic creator on celebrity row was Rob Liefeld, whose fame has skyrocketed since the Deadpool movie premiered in February. I wanted to get a couple of things signed, but I heard he was charging like $40 a signature, so I opted to be able to pay bills this month instead. Both these guys had package deals that quite a few attendees threw down serious dough to get one-on-one time with.

Other big names in comics were Neal Adams, Steve McNiven, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Bright, Larry Hama, Todd Nauck, and a load of others. A few had impressive lines for signings and commissions. What I loved was that several smaller publishers had entire blocks dedicated to them and their teams, notably Aspen, Devil’s Due, and Aw Yeah! Comics. There were a ton of independent comic creators that I spoke with that had some interesting material for offer. McNiven stated during our meeting that he actually prefers these conventions over larger media conventions because they tend to focus on fans and comics, rather than money and branding.

VENDORS

There so, so many venders! The official sponsor was Tom Chee, a local grilled cheese restaurant that was featured on Shark Tank. I waited in the long line for lunch and I must say, it was pretty good stuff. They had a whole Kid’s Zone with mini games, face painting, tabletop board games, and a panel stage offering activities for people just passing by like Iron Cosplayer contests and Pokémon Trivia. There were also areas dedicated to Star Wars displays and famous comic automobiles including Optimus Prime, “Baby” from Supernatural, and the Batmobile.

20160923_154007There was in incredible amount of stuff to buy, making me so disappointed that I can’t have all the things! There were splatter paint commissions, ocarinas, jewelry, clothes of all types, knick knacks, toys, wall art, books, memorabilia, and… COMICS! There were at least a dozen comic shops represented at the Expo, all sporting numerous boxes of comics and expensive, rare treasures! In fact, the only money I spent other than my AMAZING commission by Todd Nauck and food was on some comics I was needing for my collection. Had to search through many different shops worth of comics, but it was worth it. Most venders focused on comic culture with their merchandise, but many branched out to various other fandoms like Disney, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Lord of the Rings, and of course Star Wars.

PANELS

So, I was not too heavy on panels for this convention, but I was sure to go to a couple that interested me. I attended the Ray Park panel, where he actually threw out Topps tokens to the crowd and I caught one! He discussed his work as a martial artist, a sith lord, an evil mutant, and a G.I. Joe with humor and a UK accent. I also went to the costume contest, but showed up early enough to catch the last half of John Barrowman, who was absolutely hilarious. Seriously, the crowd was howling. img_1376The costume contest was run and judged by Bullseye, Raven, Red Sonja, and Cyclops, who had plenty of banter throughout. I’ll discuss the cosplay in the next section, but the organization of this fashion show was chaotic at times. First of all, it started nearly fifteen minutes behind schedule, despite no obvious reason why.The stage needed constant adjustment (and the cleaning of fake blood), there were contestant mix-ups in every category, and the lights flickered and dimmed during all panels (although it created a very funny impromptu Batman moment). It was still very fun to watch, but lacked a certain professionalism I come to expect. However, a proposal between a Joker and a Harley Quinn were enough to make all that not matter.

FANS/ATTENDANCE

While Friday wasn’t near as crowded as the weekend, the fans came out in full force in support of their favorite characters, comics, and creators. The only thing we all had in common were pride in our shared interests and a sense of community with like-minded people. Lines were everywhere and that just proves the dedication of these folks. As always, cosplayers had a large presence and while some had more impressive attempts that others, I commend everyone who came out and made an effort to be someone else for a day. There were many Suicide Squad, Deadpool, Star Wars, and Batman costumes, but all sorts of comics, cartoons, shows, and movies were represented. I was surprised by the number of Static Shocks running around. Is he getting a movie I don’t know about?

img_1599The cosplayers in the contest were judged in 5 categories: Youth, Props, Novice, Journeymen, and Master. There were several cute kids, but all received a gift bag. I noticed many impressive props were actually in other categories, when I think they stood a better chance in that category. All masters deserved that title, although many in lower tiers far exceeded their competition and others just didn’t measure up. They were all just so dedicated and impressive that I had too many favorites to name here. The photo gallery should say it all. (By the way, a very special thanks to my wife Brittany for her role as photographer during the convention, specifically this panel) I couldn’t attend the nightly activities (the Zombie Walk and the 8-Bit Geek Prom) but if the general fan experience held up, I’m sure those were a total blast.

VERDICT

Overall, this is one of the better conventions I’ve been to. Although the planning team seemed a bit over their head, which caused problems all weekend, that couldn’t put a damper on the incredible experience had by all. There was just so much to offer that I could have spent all my money and then some over a week’s time. So which is better, Cincy Comic Expo or Cincy Comicon? Well, to put it into perspective, this was the 7th Annual Expo and the 4th Annual Comicon was two weeks ago, so both are fairly new, in close proximity and scheduling and targeting the same fanbase. The Comicon was created by Tony Moore and others because they felt the Expo wasn’t focused enough on the comics and had some key differences in ideology. Judging from last year (and this year seemed very similar according to their site), it is true that it is much smaller than the expo with a heavy comics focus and must include a section dedicated to Legos in order to fill the hall. However, the Expo blows this outta the water! It brings out everyone to have a good time and enjoy themselves. Because this has more to offer, there was more comic material to go around than the other one, and I highly recommend this one over the Comicon. I’d only hop between the two to see a wider variety of creators.

I talked with Todd Nauck after his first time at this convention and he said the following:

“We had a fantastic time! It was our first time at the con and in Cincinnati. We stayed hopping the entire weekend and met a lot of great fans for the first time and saw a few we see at other cons. We hope to be back at Cincinnati Comic Expo in the future!”

So, if I were to rate my experience based on the talking points, it would be as follows:

Venue- 4 Stars
Organization/Staffing- 2 Stars
Guests- 5 Stars
Vendors- 5 Stars
Panels- 3 Stars
Attendance/Fans- 5 Stars

Overall- 24/30 Stars = 4 out of 5 Stars. WELL DONE!

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