Rhode Island Comic Con took place this past weekend in Providence. After a debacle last year involving oversold tickets and locked-out attendees, many were ready to write off “The Biggest Show in the Smallest State.” Even in my dedication to covering the con, I had a few reservations. I’m happy to report that Altered Reality Entertainment pulled off a more successful convention this year, but there is definite room for improvement. Miscommunication and layout issues were the root of much frustration, but the celebrity guests made it worthwhile.
Last year was the first time any event had filled the RI Convention Center to capacity. Fire marshals prevented people from re-entering, which left many attendees unhappy. Steve Perry, the president and CEO of Altered Reality Entertainment, promised change for 2015. RICC expanded this year to include the Dunkin Donuts Center and became a three-day con instead of two. Badges contained barcodes that security scanned upon entry and exit to keep track of convention capacity, the same process used at New York Comic Con. These were a pretty great success, but new problems arose. This seems completely natural to me for a growing convention. Other con-goers, it seems, do not share my perspective. The bitter aftertaste of last year made 2015’s hang-ups harder to swallow.
Maps and immediate updates (like when Saturday’s day passes sold out) could only be found on the convention’s app. You could also bookmark specific events, read the FAQ, and see a list of all the celebrities with autograph prices and their location. These were all helpful things….to a point. The floor maps featured the Dunkin Donuts Center as well as the Convention one. But the connection point between the two centers was vaguely indicated on the maps, and that’s only if you had a decent enough internet connection to look at the full version. After using the press entrance, I walked the DD Concourse level in circles, trying to meet up with a friend. Eventually I figured out the large crowd at what looked like an exit was actually slowly filtering into the RI Convention Center.
The biggest issues were really communication and layout/logistics. Celebrities were divided between the two centers: Jason Momoa, Scott Wilson, Alona Tal, and Michael Rooker were among the several celebrity guests relegated to the DD floor. Many more such as Alex Kingston, Ming Na Wen, Will Friedle, and Bill Fagerbakke were in RICC Hall D. While the split probably prevented overcrowding, I saw several people who couldn’t meet Jason Momoa or Ron Perlman simply because they couldn’t find them. The app never updated their locations.
Will Friedle’s popularity was vastly underestimated; the line for him went out of the exhibition hall door and blocked the lines for other guests like Tom Kenny, and Trini Nishimura. For the professional photo ops in the DD arena floor, the lines were so big that staff had to put attendees in an overflow area upstairs, which required getting through the crowd on the concourse level. And while the volunteers I personally encountered were friendly and wanted to help, they rarely had the info that con-goers needed.
But you know what? I would absolutely go back next year. Celebrity guests are not only the big draw for RICC, they’re what makes it unique. It wasn’t until this convention that I ever had a real conversation with someone I looked up to as much as Alex Kingston. Will Friedle made a point to greet and chat with every person who waited in line on Saturday, past the cut-off time his handler had requested. “They’ve been waiting all day,” was his simple and sound reasoning.
He wasn’t the only one being considerate of con-goers. Jim Beaver and E.G. Daily refused to charge for photographs, and Chris Claremont–a GIANT in the world of Marvel comics–had the cheapest autograph fee I’ve ever seen. In one of the last panels of the con, Alex Kingston and Karen Gillan answered questions from fans. Many they recognized from previous photo or autograph opportunities over the weekend, which added a personal touch to the packed ballroom of 1300 people.
It is easy to overlook that RICC succeeded in correcting last year’s flaws. No, it was not a seamlessly smooth con. I have yet to encounter one that is. But give the folks behind the event a little credit. They make a point to listen to all the complaints, and as we saw last year, they admit when they’ve screwed up. As long as they maintain that attitude and willingness to improve, there’s no reason RICC can’t become one of the great cons alongside its New York and San Diego brethren.