For the past 5 years I haven’t missed a Megacon Convention in Orlando. There are several reasons why I never miss it. First, it’s close to me (this IS Florida Geek Scene). Secondly, there have been some great names in comics that attend the con, and the amount of talent has been impressive. The expo floor has one of the best collection of vendors I’ve seen. Some guests I had attend the con this year from other parts of the country remarked that Megacon could be a shopper’s convention.
Orlando’s Megacon has been growing every year. The con attendance has been swelling, more exhibitors are attending, and the publishers seem to have a good presence at the con. What was once a hobby that was reviled and laughed at is now in vogue, and more people are coming to Orlando for a Saturday or Sunday to attend panels, look at costumes, shop for hard to get items, and meet their favorite starts of film and TV.
Megacon’s attendance had surpassed this year’s San Diego Comicon in pre-ticket sales, and by noon on Saturday, Megacon staff had to turn folks away from the ticket windows, having reached max capacity at the South Concourse of the Orange County Convention Center.
Different from 2013
In past years, Megacon was held in The West concourse of the convention center. The expo floor had continuously grown and until in 2013 it had taken the entire length of the back room. Attendees would be parked in the lots outside of the South and North concourses, and have to take shuttles, or walk 2 miles to the convention center. Every year, we would pass through the air-conditioned and spacious halls of the South concourse, and wonder why we were sharing space with the Mary Kay Convention and Cheerleading competition in the West concourse. This year, the entire con was in the South concourse, and it was the differentiator for 2014.
The normal Bataan Death March through the parking lot was now shorter, the hall was brighter, and we had the place to ourselves. No more bewildered sales women in pink, and no more over-protective cheer moms who need their concentration to continue to control their young they are living vicariously through. The expo floor was on the lower level, past the security guards, and down the escalator to the entire basement level where the ticketing area, food court, and the menagerie of exhibitors were waiting to sell what they had brought. The teaming masses would be able to stretch out, the aisles would be broad and the traffic should flow freely.
The middle floor was reserved for gaming and administration, and the top floor had all the various panels, which relieved the noise from the loud teaming masses of people who would congregate outside. On paper it’s idyllic. In practice it was difficult.
Best Laid Plans
The lay out from the previous years was missed. None of the veterans of the con could guide their friends through the new hallways, to the strangely numbered conference rooms, or though the new map of the Expo floor. The old landmarks to meet up at or eat at were gone. It was a whole new world, and after the building swelled to max capacity, to became a zoo.
The new floor plan was spacious and bright, but were never designed for the teaming masses that populated the convention. The pathways up and down levels had choke points that were occluded with traffic. When the large main panels were released, crowds waiting for the next panel blocked the way out. Saturday Afternoon the top floor panels were congested beyond movement. In the basement was no better. The two entry points were dependant on escalator rides up and down, and the Expo floors were flooded.
Mike Groves of Poopbird Comics stated “I’m glad we packed lunch Saturday. We didn’t dare leave the safety barrier of our tables.” The spacious isles were jammed with folks, and small groups of tired con goers stopped in the halls and sat in groups blocking main pathways on all floors. The hidden alcoves, hallways, and deserted floors of the old West concourse were no longer available, and the various groups of anime kids, superhero s and Sci-Fi fans all staked out their claims on the packed con floors. Overflow parking outside was ironically moved to the West Concourse, so con goers had another march to the con without the benefit of rickshaw rides or shuttles.
I’m painting a congested nightmare of a picture, but this year’s con was a rousing success. The little con in the south packed in more folks than San Diego ComiCon. No one was seriously injured. The staff and volunteers were friendly, and the escalators and elevators were able to shuttle the throngs of fans up and down all the stairs. “Been the best year yet” said a worker at Arsenal Models. The various outdoor stairways were perfect for cosplay pictures and group photos. The rickshaw staff and shuttle busses were friendly and out in force. And there were some great moments in the con.
While some panels were a bit of a let down, such as the Old School Battle Star Galactica panel. Entertainment panels are usually hit or miss. The creators of Robot chicken are close to the average attendee’s age, and give a lot of energy and talk about what they can. Other panels that feature entertainers are usually disappointing due to NDAs or foggy memories. After the mystique of meeting a celebrity wears off, you realize you are in a room with people who don’t share much more than what they already stated on a commentary track. I was flustered by the Walking Dead folks who couldn’t say much on where the show was going, and were reclusive about filming the show.
My favorite entertainment (film & TV) panel was the Torchwood panel starring John Barrowman, David Lloyd and Eve Miles. John Barrowman had already given a great panel on Friday, and by Saturday afternoon he and his cohorts were warmed up. We were able to hear stories off the set, get insights on their method, and learn how the BBC operates. What most fans want to extract from a celebrity at a con.
Comic panels can be frustrating as well. The same hurdles apply to veteran comic creators who are usually tightlipped or don’t remember the old days. It’s a small professional world, so the slightest misstep in PR at any convention can ruin a relationship that took years to build. However, there are some good panels that most folks wouldn’t normally go to. My favorite comic related panel this year was Break-In Stories. Talent from Dark Horse, DC, Marvel and Image all shared how they broke into the business, what their ah-ha moments were, and gave advice on how to join them as published creators.
If Megacon returns to the South Concourse of the Orange County Convention Center next year, I have the following suggestions for con goers:
Arrive early – I found myself stuck in mid-afternoon traffic Saturday and it took quite a while to get to a parking space. Either stay in a hotel within walking distance (always optimal) or get up early.
Budget for lunch – My cohorts and I had lunch at a sparsely populated café in the Rosen Saturday. Damn thebprice. We needed AC, quiet, and no crowds. We ventured across the street and had a great lunch. So budget a bit more. Either way, con food isn’t cheap.
Cosplay for the weather – Remember that Megacon is in Florida, and it isn’t cool here. Highs this weekend were in the 80s but it is the humidity that turns you into a puddle of sweat. While Matt Smith’s tweed suite jacket may finish the costume, by 2pm you will want to give it away. The Florida Garrison has my respect for staying in costume all day.
Explore on Friday – I can’t tell you how happy I was that I took off work on Friday and went to Orlando to check out the con. With the new floor plan, I spent most of the time between panels making mental markers and mapping out the probability of what I was going to do the next two days. With this year’s huge changes, it was the best move I made all weekend.
Set Low Expectations for Saturday – Friday and Sunday are quieter days at the con, but Saturday has always been a jam-packed mad house. If you think you are going to get more than 3 things accomplished you are sadly mistaken.
Shop on Sunday – Megacon’s expo floor is a colossal treasure chest of goodies. But don’t just buy stuff impulsively. There’s nothing worse than lugging your treasures all over the con the rest of the day. If you can stand it, wait until Sunday. It’s less crowded, and most vendors discount their stuff they don’t want to take home.
Put it on your calendar for next year. Orlando is a fun town, and the folks organizing it always attract top-shelf talents in all the various aspects of fandom. With the capacious amount of exhibitors and artists, Megacon will keep growing, and has always been an annual can’t-miss event.