When I try to think of where to start to recap last weekend’s Fandom Fest in Louisville, I get lost in a mountain of information I gathered over those three days. How does one, who had never been to a convention of this sort, break down into any organizational sense something so all over the place in terms of subject matter. For example, Friday night alone I had the pleasure of talking to Ric Flair then Jeremy London and then local author Tony Acree. I checked out a lot of the exhibition hall, took in a Q & A session, and just wandered around trying to organize the chaos. Then Saturday came along with the bulk of the cosplayers, the Star Wars fans, the Whovians, and every slacker in the world for the Kevin Smith podcast taping/Mallrats screening. Needless to say, Friday night seemed tame by comparison. Rather than try to pigeon-hole all of this into some sort of narrative structure I am going to provide you with a list of things I learned from my weekend at Fandom Fest.
1. Conventions are fun
Here are the highlights of who attended Fandom Fest: Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Carrie Fisher, Arthur Darvill, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Josh McDermott, Ric Flair, and many others. The point of this list was to showcase the diversity of the appeal at Fandom Fest. I had heard from others that in the past this convention had been somewhat notorious for having no-shows or overbooking events. While some big name guests did not appear as scheduled (Billie Piper, Karen Gillian, Peter Mayhew, and Billy Dee Williams were the most notable), that did not diminish the quality of guests they had. Doctor Who fans probably got slighted the most because two of their most recognizable guests did not show and the Doctor Who special event for Saturday night was cancelled, but there was still plenty to see and do.
In addition to celebrity guests, local merchants were set up all throughout the exhibition hall. Book sellers, special effects companies, filmmakers, artists, and more gathered together in a bazaar style setting where everywhere you looked you saw something different. There were plenty of things there I wasn’t interested in, but there were just as many things I was. Most of the workers at these booths were extremely friendly and nice and didn’t try to push a product; rather, they just wanted to talk to people who had similar interests to them, which brings me to my next lesson.
2. Convention-goers are also fun
Coming into this event I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the crowd. I have read about and followed Comic Con for years and even followed other smaller and local conventions, but only for the news that comes out of them. Not having experienced it for myself, I didn’t know what to expect from the various groups of fans, such as the cosplayers or Star Wars fans (more on these two groups in a bit). Would the crowd splinter in individual groups like this or would it all be one maddening mass of humanity? As it turns out, there were a lot of weird people there and everybody just kind of went along with it. At one point, I saw one person in regular clothes walking a person on a leash dressed as a zombie who was pretending to bite people. That would have seemed odd to me at first, but I had just seen a fat guy dressed as Princess Leia in the slave outfit. You can’t unsee stuff like that, but it does eventually become normal and funny. The best part is that everybody is in on the fun. Whether you were dressed up as something or were just sporting your geeky t-shirt of choice (I went with an Arrested Development t-shirt myself), it was an all-inclusive atmosphere. The celebrities were also quick to point out costumes and shirts they liked, I even overheard one Carrie Fisher fan gush through tears about how Carrie had bought her book. Everybody at the convention came because they wanted to connect with something they love, and it was a cool experience to be a part of that.
3. The celebrity guests really do seem like they are there for the fans (for the most part)
When I got to the convention Friday night the exhibition hall (which also housed the area for autographs and photo ops) wasn’t too horribly crowded. There were pockets of fans around some guests, but for the most part there was pretty easy access to everyone. Even during the busier times on Saturday, you could usually steal a few minutes with a celebrity here and there when their lines were down. I got to interact with several of these guests, most of them graciously allowing me to
interview ramble on and ask questions. The ones I spoke with not only gave thoughtful answers, but actually took time to ask me questions and get to know more about me.
Some guests were less accessible, and for good reason. On Saturday and Sunday, when Carrie Fisher was scheduled to do autographs, the lines were constantly at capacity level. It came as no surprise when I found out she was not accepting interview requests, and I don’t blame her one bit. One thing that should also be noted is that the celebrity guests aren’t exactly doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. There was a lot of money to be made, with fans having to pay for any autographs or pictures. Again, I don’t blame them one bit. In all honesty, having a conversation with them is significantly more memorable than having a signature or picture. Having said that, I wasn’t above sneaking a blurry pic of Ric Flair.
4. Speaking of Carrie Fisher, Star Wars fans are crazy
I consider myself a Star Wars fan. I regularly watch all six movies, am fairly knowledgeable of non-movie storylines and am a consumer of many Star Wars-related things. I am not on this level of fandom though. The first big Q&A of the weekend was for Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who. The line for his session 15 minutes prior to its start was incredibly long, for a second I thought I was at Best Buy just before Black Friday started. Later that day, about thirty minutes before Carrie Fisher’s session, the line was probably close to double that. Like UK basketball fans, true Star Wars fans are committed to their cause and will do what they can to get involved in that world.
As I mentioned earlier, lines for Carrie Fisher’s autograph booth were incredibly long. At one point, the line had to be cut off because the amount of people was beginning to reach an unsafe level. When met with this, many fans were not accepting of their fate and some threw fits (grown ups that is). Eventually, the crowd succumbed to the fire marshal’s orders and the line stayed at an acceptable length. (Shout out to crew member Karen for maintaining order during this harrowing time.)
Aside from some minor incidents, the Star Wars fans were a joy to watch and be around.
5. Cosplay is for real
Coming into this weekend I though cosplay was just people dressing up as characters. I didn’t realize that 95% of those who do this are not only dressing up as a character, they come to the show in character. For example, on Sunday I saw a guy dressed as Ozzy Osbourne bumbling and mumbling around as if he was the real deal. One lady was terrifyingly good as Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. The best part, and perhaps the most entertaining thing of the entire weekend, was the cosplay costume contest. Broken up into categories of Juniors, Novice, Journeymen, and Master, the costume contest was a parade of cosplayers from each division coming up on stage to show off their costumes and perform in character. There were characters of all manner included, too many to give a good list here, but between the awkward delivery of monologues and the seriousness of the event, I was very amused and impressed. Perhaps the most impressive thing I saw wasn’t even from a contestant. When cosplayers Link and Zelda were coming up to the stage, an elf from the crowd began playing a tune on her ocarina. To all the cosplayers out there, keep doing you.
6. Sports culture and comic book culture are closer than a lot of people probably think
In this age of sports where advanced metrics and analysis are now the norm, this lesson isn’t surprising. There are probably many out there though who believe that, aside from the Nate Silvers and Howie Schwabs of the world, a schism still exists between sports fandom and nerd fandom. First off, and this is no surprise being in Louisville, there was a ton of UK gear in the place. In addition to that, most of the guests I spoke with were huge sports fans. I am going to detail those conversations a little more in-depth in a future post (including a piece on KSR fan and local author Tony Acree next week), but suffice it to say, when you’re talking with former wrestler Kevin Nash, trash talking Tennessee is a little bit more difficult.
Overall, I had an overwhelmingly positive experience at Fandom Fest. My understanding of these events is that they are meant to allow fans to connect to the things they are passionate about. For some that meant getting an autograph of one of their favorite actors or wrestlers, or maybe it was being able to honk the horn of the General Lee with the Duke boys standing there. I went with the intention of covering the event and it became evident that I was going to have a few geek out moments. I did just that, perhaps no moment better than fist bumping Jason Mewes. I hope other conventions I go to will have the same level of access that Fandom Fest had. I definitely plan on going back next year.
If you went to Fandom Fest fire off with what you liked and disliked in the comments below!