Silicon Valley Comic Con 2017: (Expo)nential Growth

Day Zero: There were a few things from last year’s event that made SVCC’s freshman voyage a little rocky. The convention organizers were quick studies and ratified a few notable issues already. The convention has expanded past much of it’s original space and has taken over the area outside of the exhibit hall, allowing vendors and activities to occupy walkway areas on all floors. With more space being taken up, the convention has widened its borders, theoretically relieving the congestion that was created previously. This however, also limits the areas in which people can enjoy public spaces, notably ghosts of the con.

Another change that has been made is the programming size. As they have expanded their convention use, they have also granted panelists larger platforms (literally). The main draws will be holding their panels at the civic auditorium across the way, but even us smaller fish have a bigger pond to swim in.

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They have also addressed the crowd issue that was created by onsite ticket purchases and pickups by using the building at the rear for wristband pick ups (it’s the thing that looks like a giant tarp). It was dead on day zero, as most people are likely picking it up Friday.

So far things are shaping up at the convention, let’s hope the function follows this new form.

Day 1: I wish I had more to say about the first day, but I didn’t arrive until close to 7pm Friday evening. The convention was pleasantly buzzing with activity, and with the new layout there was a great amount of space. Cosplay was noticeable and ranged from off the rack to custom work. My personal favorite for the evening was a Galaxy Quest couple that was pushing around a beryllium sphere. The exhibit hall spanned the entire area, as well as the expanded parts. We took a stop by the EndlessTees/ Color World Books, and their set up looked impressive, as well as their collaboration. The rest of my evening was spent running con related errands, catching up with friends and lending a helping hand.

Day 2: The area was far busier as parking in the area was filling up quickly. The convention area had a similar quality, but very notably the outside areas were seeing a great amount of activity. I spent my time moving between the convention and the auditorium, as I was on a panel as well as doing handling duties for a cosplay group.

The convention was consistent with expectations as a lot of attendees were roaming the hall seeking programming, merchandise and generally taking things in. The auditorium had their own queue lines, and the volunteers were fairly good about managing and directing people at the new home for their main attractions. Their main hall seats up to nearly 3,000 attendees, and while it never seemed that excessive, it definitely allowed for a nice flow, and helped to alleviate the traffic that was generated last year. Again, the multiple badge in points were great, and while most of the foot traffic entered from the front of the  convention, it helped to create a positive atmosphere where cosplayers and attendees got to enjoy an intermingling.

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The panel I participated on was BanthaSuprise‘s “Classroom Crossover Event: Using Comics in Secondary Education” (you can find a link to our slide show on his twitter or search #classroomcrossoverevent). The programming set up was much more spacious (and daunting) than the previous year and we had a large number of support staff come in to talk to us. It was great to come back to see some pleasant improvements in our room: better lighting, individual microphones, a better PA system and a freaking official backdrop! The number of attendees last year was larger, but the crowd was mostly comprised of fellow educators, so it was very nice to engage with them. I was personal impressed by the presentation of the group, and often found myself staring at the power point as they spoke. It may sound biased, but honestly, I enjoy hearing people talk about things passionately and that definitely happened. My mom attended my first panel, and we even had a nice familiar group pop in for just a moment. The panel went well (although I talked a bit too much), and at the end we even made a nice professional connection, which I look forward to talking about in more detail in the future.

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I got to talk to a few people after the panel, but rushed over to do my other duties as a cosplay handler/ fabricator for the costume contest (I did like 6-9% of the work, but if they asked questions, I wanted to be there to answer). The hallway was packed full of cosplayers or all shapes, sizes and skills. We saw a few familiar faces/masks/builds to both my excitement and chagrin. Prejudging was interesting as we had to discuss how to properly fill out the forms as a group. We were diverse in terms of competition and fabrication experience. The group was too large to do a single prejudging, so they split us into two, which worked well. We essentially had a heroes and villains group, and the people who worked on each were split that way as well. We had four judges assess the costumes for about 90 seconds per judge. They asked us to highlight what we were proud of, and what kind of work went into it. I did not have to talk, and Jnet pretty much had the speech down pat by judge 4. Afterwards we broke off, as a few people went to rest, and some stayed for photos. We reconvened later for the actual event.

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Being on handler duty is fun, but occasionally difficult. As we returned to the competition, obviously drew some attention. We were cutting it close, but with each person that wanted a picture, a little time got chipped away. Having to tell people we don’t have time for photos is tough, especially since capturing cosplay is part of any good convention experience. Sadly, we had time to keep, so I had to do my duties. It was pretty fun seeing these guys in action, as they walked in a straight line and looked menacing and bad ass on our way back to the auditorium.

Once we met back up, they put us in a queue and we had to wait to get back on stage. As handlers, we got escorted around the back, but being backstage was a very welcome experience. I don’t have the drive to compete, so I am glad I got to go along for the ride. It was cool to see how much goes into running the show, and they even had a small background to take pictures of all the contestants. Luckily, we were in the first half of the line, so we got to take in a lot more of the experience.

The competition was diverse and we kept a close eye on the groups to see if we were a good fit to win. Our answer came as we were asked to come back stage again, where we knew that we were now contenders. Our group has two people who have entered competitions and if we won, it would be a nice validation of skill, hard work and commitment. So as we waited and hoped, we chit chatted and took pictures. We stood next to BiserBuilds and I got to talk with him and his handler, and their experiences at conventions. It was definitely daunting to look at the work he put into that build and to consider what it takes to compete at that level.

I guess I can’t really say much more after that pictures won’t take care of. Needless to say, it was exciting to be there.

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All contestants also got to get a picture with Adam Savage, which most of us crafters and builders were pretty excited about. Video!

2 hours of sleep, a liquid diet, and a lot of running, but day 2 was excellent.

Day 3: Sunday was a far slower day, but we decided to put on some costumes, which was both good and bad; the exhaustion from the previous day wore me down pretty fast, but we ran into Heroic Imaging, and he was kind enough to create some great images with us.

We caught a little bit of the outside events and watched the dog cosplay contest, which was a nice treat, and the Woz even showed up to greet the winners.

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Reflection: Aside from personal experiences, the convention has definitely made leaps and bounds in making positive changes. The convention allowed for a nice crowd with a nice flow of traffic, improved staff and volunteers, larger convention borders, and a great set of programming with a strong science influence. I feel the convention tried to be a little too big, and as a result, the crowd seemed a little thin in some areas that would have welcomed a better crowd, and some space was used in ways that could have been utilized more effectively. Having NASA and the celebrity row literally front and center was a great idea, but it came at the cost of vendors whose paths were obscured. Some changes within the exhibition hall layout would improve the atmosphere. I feel they had pressure to deliver bigger and while they succeeded, I don’t think they needed to, and hopefully, whatever changes they make become the “just right”. The wristbands are still a bane of my existence, and I think the next step is to invest in RFID badges that can become a nice collectible. Silicon Valley Comic Con has become a far better convention this year, both subjectively and objectively, and I do look forward to some changes as they learn about who they are and hopefully this becomes a solid, competitive attraction in our area.

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