Alamo City Comic Con Experience 2016
Story by: David A. De La Rosa
Photographs by: Joseph Martinez
Alamo City Comic Con Experience 2016
It seems during the fall, in recent years, there is one event that I impatiently look forward to attending, and that is the Alamo City Comic Con (Oct 28th – 30th at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center). Throughout the rest of the year I miss the spectacle, and festival like atmosphere of our local celebration of pop culture. This year’s addition, the fourth year of this pop culture festival had many highlights, but also a few disappointing aspects, which will be discussed at the end of this article.
Everything that a person has come to expect from a comicon was present at this event. Attendees are openly encouraged to dress up in costume as their favorite superhero or villainess. Anyone attending can go up to a person in their costumes to pose for pictures; these picture opportunities are hardly ever refused if asked politely. This year the most worn costume was a tossup between Dr. Who and Harley Quinn. Surprisingly not that many Deadpool’s at this year’s con.
There are also professional cosplay artists, who dress up in fine costumes, and makeup to take pictures with the convention going public for a small fee. There is also a small contingent of fan clubs represented there (ex. Star Wars, Ghostbusters) that are in full costume that raise money for charity or for their fan clubs by charging a fee posing for pictures. An example of such a fan club was the Star Wars Society of San Antonio (www.facebook.com/SWSofSA/), which raised $2257 for childhood cancer research, benefiting St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Alan’s Hero Fund. On a side note there was a good representation of the Star Wars universe at the con Mr. Billie Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) was there all three days of the convention.
As in past comicons any attendee has an opportunity to meet with their favorite film or television stars. An attendee can purchase a VIP pass (which includes admission) to attain autographs and photo-op sessions, with their favorite celebrities. For those who cannot afford these passes they can simply stand in line and purchase an autograph. Many people go this route and some celebrities even allow attendees to take selfie pics with them.
Many people as well myself enjoy attending the Q&A panels of these celebrity special guests, which are free to every attendee. This year’s featured panels of popular television series included, Dr. Who, Gotham, Stranger Things, Daredevil. I’m glad that this year the featured panels made use of the Lila Cockrell Theatre, last year that facility was only used for the Alamo City Film Festival. I sat in on five panels all of which were very interesting (i.e. Peter Weller) and entertaining.
There were vendors there with all kinds of merchandise from all over the country selling simple inexpensive stickers to very limited edition silkscreen print posters. I also met some vendors selling high quality home crafted clothing and accessories. One such vendor was Amber Johnson who has a small home business from Tyler, Texas (www.facebook.com/galaxygear.outofthisworld). This was her and husbands first year exhibiting at this event, and they didn’t know what expect. I spoken to them on Saturday and they said they were at breakeven point and still had another day to sell their merchandise. I was glad to hear that they were having a very positive experience at this event.
I enjoy experiencing all the aspects of attending one of these large pop culture events. I think that most attendees love watching people wearing weird homemade costumes, shopping for obscure collectible merchandise, or viewing limited edition artwork. As for myself I like attending the Q&A panels of the celebrity special guests. I like to get to know a little more about these people. Anyone attending these panels has an opportunity to ask these special guests, about their life and their work on TV and film. I went to five panels The Karate Kid, Stranger Things, Dr. Who, Daredevil/Punisher, and Peter Weller (Robocop).
I really enjoyed all of the panels, but the two that stuck out to me the most were the ones dealing with films that impacted me in my youth (The Karate Kid, and Robocop). The other panels were very informative, and entertaining. Millie Bobby Brown was one the stars of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. Her personality was very engaging and sweet, I knew of this series before hand, after the panel I wanted to binge watch the show.
The Dr. Who panel with Billie Piper was a no brainer for me I loved the character she portrayed on the show as well as other shows she’s been in (Penny Dreadful). She was very lovely and her accent was to die for. The panel for the Netflix hit series Daredevil (Charlie Cox/Daredevil, Jon Bernthal/The Punisher, & Elden Henson/Foggy Nelson) was great and insightful as each actor spoke about trying to be true to the comic book characters. This panel in my opinion had the most fun interacting with the panel audience. I also wanted to binge watch this Netflix series, in large part because of these actors, and this panel experience.
I went to The Karate Kid panel on Friday; it was the first panel I attended of this year’s comic con. I was in luck because it was late in the afternoon, and it took place in a large conference room, not many people attended. The panel guests were Ralph Macchio/the karate kid and William Zabka/the villain. Both of these actors couldn’t have been more charming and answered all questions put them about this film or other projects they had worked on. The limited martial arts training both actors received for this film was interesting, hardly any at all. The audience asked Mr. Macchio about working with the late great Pat Morita. He had nothing but praise for Mr. Morita’s professionalism and guidance making this film.
This panel was very enlightening and entertaining. As a side note late Sunday, the last day of the con my cousin and I went up to Mr. Macchio’s booth. He couldn’t have been a nicer gentleman; quite a few people went up to speak to him. A few took selfies with him with no money changing hands, a class act. He made our day just talking to us exchanging pleasantries.
The last panel I attended was the Peter Weller/Robocop panel. I got there to be early for a children’s costume contest. I sat there halfway through the panel; Mr. Weller blew me away, with the board variety of topics the audience and he touched on. He spoke about his ties with San Antonio; he attended high school (Alamo Heights High School) here. He spoke about politics, books, films, art, and his work in front of and behind the camera. This gentleman was very candid speaking out about his drug problems and failed relationship; Mr. Weller came off very genuine. This whole panel was a highly intellectual discussion on many subjects, after all this man does have a PhD. In Italian Renaissance Art History, he kept everyone in the audience thinking about topics that were being discussed. I would love to sit in on one of this gentleman’s lectures on art; I think it would be fascinating. Last year Edward James Olmos’ panel blew me away, this year it was Peter Weller.
My observations on this event were very favorable for the most part, this event is a premier pop culture convention, but I did see some problems. These problems had to do mostly with logistics in grouping people in lines. The first of these lines was the one to get into the convention center which was long and time consuming. A few family members that attended this event on Saturday, said they got there early in line and waited for almost an hour and half outside to receive their passes. I know that the entrance was in the new expansion area of the convention center, I think that some rope lines would have helped be more orderly and make the line flow quickly.
I saw that there was a line problem for the photo op area, it seemed very disorganized. More than a few people complained about this issue and have posted their displeasure on the Alamo City Comic Con Facebook page. I think there needed to be more convention space allocated to alleviate this problem. I also spoke to a few people that had issues with lining up for the panels that utilized the Lila Cockrell Theatre; they observed it was very disorganized with people trying to cut into various lines. Again more convention space and rope lines probably would have done the trick to fix this problem.
Another issue that I saw was that it seemed like the convention space used for this event was a third the size of past conventions. On the heaviest day of Saturday the foot traffic going thru the convention space made me feel like I was being herded like cattle. I haven’t had that herd sensation since the first comic con. Again I think this event needed to utilize to two largest exposition halls like in the past. I understand the reasoning behind using the space available. I believe that major remodeling/construction work on the convention center as well as another convention already using those exposition halls, had everything to do with the space limitations.
Another issue I saw was one of limited resources. If you have less convention area then the price to exhibit there goes up, a simple economic principle of supply and demand. I noticed right away that this year’s convention had very few artists. I asked an artist exhibiting there what he thought about the small turnout of artists selling their art at the show. The artist said that the cost to exhibit there had grown substantially since the con started three years prior. I asked that artist if he thought that the increased cost had frozen out a lot of local artists, and that individual believed that was the case. I like art and I think that we need to support our local artists, there needs to be some sort of freeze on the cost to exhibit at the convention, to bring back these artists.
There were a lot of positives with this year’s convention it wasn’t all gloom and doom. This convention had its own free app that gave everyone with a smart phone, the ability to know the panel schedules or any changes. That was great for convention goers to keep track of time for each panel.
Another bright spot was the periodic deals given on admission passes. My cousin got in on one of these deals, it was last year’s Black Friday Sale for a three day pass for $50 (normal price $85). Throughout the year the Alamo City Comic Con, does a good thing in offering special promotions and contests to give out discount passes.
Another positive was the convention preview. My cousin was entitled to pick up her pass at the convention center and go thru the convention preview the Thursday before the convention started. I had never gone to that event before, but it was cool. I would say about 90% of the vendors and artists exhibiting there had their booths set up ready to sell their merchandise, for a few hours for attendees with VIP and three day passes. If anyone purchases a three day pass or VIP pass go to the preview you won’t be disappointed, there is no hassle or crowds, you can look at clothes, comic books, and artwork in peace.
One great thing for this convention was the return of the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Last year this venue was only used by the Alamo City Film Festival. People enjoy the theatre to be used for premium Q&A panels, using a large conference room didn’t do justice to someone of the stature of Stan Lee. Last year I wrote about the fact that maybe the film festival could be an all week event, and leave the theatre to be used for the premium Q&A panels on the weekend. Well the film festival did move to start earlier in the week to leave the theatre for the panels.
This convention is now a premier cultural event in this country. The people that run this event know when they make a mistake because they hear about it from attendees on their Facebook page. The organizers take the criticism, and always adopt, adapt, and improve. All the problems in past conventions were always addressed, and improved upon in the next convention. I know that this self examination is a positive trait, and will keep this event’s quality high and make people want to come back to this pop culture convention for years to come.