Space City Comic Con
I am a seasoned con veteran, the number I have attended is easily in triple digits. I have basked in the glory of the best, and I've sweated in crowded hallways at the worst. Space City Comic Con was a very troubled production this year, it is not going to be remembered as a good convention unfortunately. The convention had multiple issues, and despite the flurried actions of several convention staff trying to put out the fires, many left angry and demanding refunds. In the end the head of the convention had been removed by a no confidence vote, a large portion of the ticket holders were demanding refunds and guests had stormed off for lack of payment.
The convention had signs there would be trouble early. The media relations email had stopped working weeks in advance, preventing me from submitting the list of guests to be interviewed. When I arrived Saturday night the media relations supervisor was shocked that he was never told about Red Pub despite us putting together a media piece for them. While this was happening a single member of the Sons of Anarchy cast began to loudly bang on the operations door, extremely upset about an issue involving money. He demanded to speak to a man that he only referred to in vulgar slurs, and was finally confronted by a policeman that was stationed nearby. At this point I was ushered out by convention center personnel.
Arriving the next day and the staff was in emergency mode. The Sons of Anarchy group had refused to do autographs because lack of payment. The VIP guests that had paid hundreds in advance were told they needed to shell out more money for autographs. The one poor woman at the info/complaint desk was for lack of better word under siege by numerous angry attendees. People were being sent to her with just vague descriptions of who they needed to talk to, many times being referred to booths or tables that didn't exist. Johnny, the head of media relations, finally found enough time to breathe and took me to my first set of interviews before disappearing to try and quell the growing discontent.
After interviewing the first group I went back to check on the info booth staff to see if she was okay. She was crushing a stress ball into oblivion, and informed me that half the volunteers either had either snuck away or never showed up. The convention was seriously understaffed for the size of the crowd present. Already the audio visual group that was supposed to set up refused because of a lack of payment, and then the staff discovered it didn't matter because Harris County Sports Authority didn't provide them with enough microphones anyways. On top of that, the public announcement system was unavailable for almost the entire convention. Disaster struck when the main event, the Sons of Anarchy panel, was canceled because the stars of the show refused to perform the panel because of lack of payment. According to staff the people lined up outside for the panel numbered well into the thousands, but the majority of the Sons of Anarchy cast did not come out to meet with their fans. Eventually Ron Perlman and three others did attend, but it was a fraction of who was expected.
Several guests were open about their dissatisfaction with the convention. The staff admitted that actress Virginia Hey was accidentally forgotten at her hotel, and they had to scramble to get her Saturday morning. I was supposed to have access to the Sons of Anarchy cast but Red Pub was not put on their list of available media so I was unable to even approach the actors for their side of the story. While there was speculation regarding William Shatner's attendance from the crowd, he showed for Sunday's events. Several other Star Trek stars did not attend the panel, though no reason was given.
Of the things that went right, Marian and Johnny on the SCCC staff did their best to accommodate me showing up without either of them receiving any notification who I was. The VIP booth volunteer Billy escorted me so I would not be confused with a regular attendee, and stuck by me as the angry guest violently tried to break down the door to Operations. She was able to get me in contact with Johnny who promised to make things right. He did make good on his promise the next day, though I was not able to get access to Ron Perlman, one of the agreements I made in exchange for some promotional work months in advance. He personally went to many of the guests and told them I was with the convention and I was cleared to interview them. After that I never saw him again as he was putting out the multiple fires everywhere. Marion took over from him as guests were becoming less and less inclined to do interviews. She managed to talk Rene Auberjonois into a short interview, for which I am eternally grateful. All this time Marion was beset from all sides trying direct her undersized staff, and dealing at the same time with shortages of equipment on behalf of Harris County Sports Authority. In the space of a minute I watched her handle half a dozen problems from random people running up or calling her on the radio. The woman running the info/complaint booth was the target of more ire than anyone should ever have to face. Despite not having full access to all levels of staff, she was able to placate most of the people that singled her out as the only outlet for their frustration.
As far as the people trying to save Space City Con, it was the worst nightmare scenario possible. The board of directors removed the chairman with a no confidence vote in the first day of the con. The head of the convention was gone right at the beginning of the show. The volunteers either disappeared with their free ticket, or received no training at all. That caused the convention to be severely understaffed and those that did their jobs had little to no idea how to handle the angry crowds. The people left running convention operations were left with no guidance from above and insufficient help from below. The guests were partially compensated using ticket proceeds as the fans arrived, but too late for many that suddenly were turned away despite guarantees to extra access to the stars.
Will there be another Space City Comic Con? I don't know. Social media is abuzz with rumors of lawsuits from guests and VIP ticket holders. Guests were not happy about not getting paid moneys promised. The Marriott hotel where many of the celebrities stayed lost power and water, and while not the con's fault it did little to help the situation. The people that shelled out hundreds of dollars for autographs and photo opportunities walked away with neither. They are in need of new management, and will have to address the poor job their volunteer coordinator did keeping the volunteers in line and properly trained. The fact the convention was able to last the entire weekend despite the numerous problems plaguing was a credit to the people handling the day to day operations on the floor. A comic convention without guests cannot survive, and it remains to be seen if the events of this weekend will be a mortal blow.