Whenever I first started attending science fiction conventions a few years ago, my favorite part of attending them was sitting in on panels on everything from celebrity Q&A sessions to a look at the cultish following of some science fiction programs to Steampunk 101.
After only attending conventions for a year, I was approached to join a convention board and help produce it for the next year. When I accepted the offer, my world was opened up to a number of conventions that I wouldn't normally be able to go to as I was given free memberships and other perks (including a chance to do my own panels and hanging out with celebrities outside of the convention) to attend the cons as a representative of the con I worked with.
Earlier this year I walked away from my position (vice-president) at the convention I was with due to a number of reasons. This put me back in the position of being just a "fan" and not a convention "board member" or "promoter." I was no longer burdened with having to hawk a convention that I was no longer interested in working with, and this gave me time to visit with other fans as an equal and not as someone trying to push a specific convention on them. I also had the chance to return to my first love of sitting in on panels.
When I saw that Space City Con in Houston, TX was coming up in August, I jumped at the chance to go to my first convention as nothing more than a "fan" in a long time. This was the convention's first year and as a former con board member, I looked at this convention in a slightly different light than I would have before I gained my own board member knowledge.
Right off the bat I saw where there was a bit of chaos about the convention's location. It was held in the Westin Galleria Hotel, a very nice hotel that is a part of the massive Galleria Mall of Houston. For out-of-towners such as myself who weren't completely familiar with the Galleria, it was a bit of a task to both get there and then wind my way to the hotel. Of course, once I pinned down the location, I was free to roam about with little difficulty. However, many people in this age of GPS and iPhones scoff at the use of a map or directory, and I noticed a number of con-goers bumbling about looking for the convention. I was actually stopped by a few people and asked where the convention was, which was somewhat funny since I was myself quite lost only moments before.
The convention hall was on two floors of the hotel and registration was in a separate room from the rest of the convention. The first floor was where all of the fan groups and panels were located as well as some of the gaming. The second floor featured vendors, more gaming, artists, and celebrities as well as a few more fan groups. Signage was minimal in regards to the location of the registration, and I pitied the poor volunteers at the entrance to the con who had to repeatedly tell people to register across the hall.
The hall itself was nice. There was a large room with a bandstand for the bigger panels and a couple of smaller rooms for other panels. I attempted to sit in on panels in these smaller rooms on three occasions, but no one ever showed up, so I gave up on seeing any panels in those rooms for the rest of my visit. In the main panel room, I sat in on four panels. One was for "After Twilight," a comic book series about a theocracy taking over the state of Texas. I was already a bit familiar with this book series before, but gained new insight on a short film and potential motion picture based on the books that was coming in the near future. I met the creator of the story as well as one of the artists from the comic. The other panels I sat in on were Q&A sessions with Bonnie Piesse (Aunt Beru from the Star Wars prequels), Joseph Gatt (portrayed the Frost Giant Grundroth in Thor and is the body of Kratos in the God of War games), and Jason David Frank (Tommy the Green Ranger from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers).
All three celebs were fun and interesting to listen to, especially Jason David Frank. He was bluntly honest with the fans about what went down behind the scenes on Power Rangers and also talked about his family, his MMA career, and his multiple gyms across the United States. He was a very down to earth guy and repeatedly took photos, joked, and generally had fun with the fans. He embraces the fact that he was on a cheesy TV series and that people love him for it. In fact, during his Q&A, he mentioned that people pick on him for being in a cheesy television program. His response is that he asks the hecklers what children love the most. Cheese. Mac n' cheese, cheese fries, Cheetos. He said all he did was offer up a heapin' bowl of Mighty Morphin' and the kids ate it up.
I had the opportunity to talk directly to all three of these celebrities, and they were all very cordial and friendly. Jason David Frank was definitely the highligt of the show. Nichelle Nichols (Uhura of Star Trek) was also in attendance, but she didn't arrive until after I left. I do wish I could have met her.
The vendor area was nice and very organized. Comic artists and craftworkers were on one side of the room and comic sellers/collectors and general merchandise vendors (as well as a few authors) could be found on the other side of the room for the most part. The celebrities were in another room connected to the vendor area, and there was also tabletop gaming and the convention charity located in this area.
As far as freebies go, I grabbed a Texas Renaissance Festival bead, a Houston Harry Potter Fan Club button, and a few fliers (including one for Jason David Frank's gyms located in the Houston area). I met up with a friend of mine at the convention, Vo Nguyen, who is an artist that has worked with both DC and Marvel. I purchased two prints from him (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn) and visited with him for quite some time. I also got photos and autographed pictures of Joseph Gatt, Jason David Frank, and Bonnie Piesse. I even snapped a photo with the wenches representing Texas Renaissance Festival.
Overall, the convention was a success in my opinion. The no show panels were a let down, but I have personal knowledge about panel presenters skipping out on their duties. Also, there weren't as many cosplayers around as I've seen at other conventions of a similar size. Of course, many of them apparently showed up after I left, since the costume contest was later in the evening.
I hope that there is a second year for Space City Con, and hopefully I'll be able to spend the entire weekend there, as I missed out on a few hotel parties and other festivities as well.