Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thoughts On The Great Philadelphia Comic Con 2015 (Saturday, The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, Oaks, PA)

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I had first heard about The Great Philadelphia Comic Con after my girlfriend and I started looking for more local conventions to attend. While New York Comic Con and other larger events are great, it's sometimes nice to relax at the smaller venues and breathe once in a while too! While a bit far from where I live, The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center is still a pretty straightforward drive and easy to get to from my town in New Jersey. The website looked to be pretty well-made, along with a surprising amount of big guests (such as George Takei, Nicehelle Nichols, Austin St. John, Jim Steranko, Seth Gilliam, and many others). My friend and I also still had a bitter taste in our mouths after the experience we had with Walker Stalker Con last winter, so we kind of crossed our fingers in the hopes this one would be better. So how did it do?

I'll start by saying that things went surprisingly well overall. The setup is about what you would expect from any type of convention (including a dealers section, artist alley, rooms for panels, autographing tables, a photo op booth, etc.), and even included a kid's corner for the little ones to get in the fun. Unlike Walker Stalker Con, space wasn't an issue either. Everywhere my friend and I walked, we never felt claustrophobic or like we were being pushed around at all. We were also greeted by a very friendly staff, who was happy to answer any questions we had.

While there were not a large amount of cosplays (as this was not a large convention in that sense), the ones my friend and I saw were quite good, ranging from Spider-Man to Lemongrab from Adventure Time. When you come to a smaller venue like this one, you get to see pretty much everyone and everything, so it's immediately more personable. Bigger conventions like New York and San Diego Comic Con have so much to do, it's almost impossible to cover all grounds, even over the course of the entire weekend. Here, you can pretty much experience everything in the same day and still have time to talk about it afterwards. But that's OKAY. You don't have to have a million things to try to plan in order to have fun. Instead, it's nice to take in the little things once in a while.

One of the first things we did was head over by the photo op booth to get some details before I took my picture with George Takei. Just as we were standing there, who else but Jonathan Frakes (of Star Trek Next Generation, and directing fame) walks right past us and shouts "I need to escort this woman out, because she's about to deliver a baby!" We couldn't stop laughing over the fact that A. Jonathan Frakes just walked right past us, and B. He sounded completely "Number 1" as he said it. Good way to start things off.

The photo op results were a bit mixed, but this was due to the actual photo op people; not the convention or Mr. Takei himself. It also didn't help that the actual handing out of our photos was so unorganized and not timely in the slightest bit. This is the second time this particular photo op group has irked me in this regard, and I don't think I intend to put up with it a third time if they don't get their act together. But enough about that. I got to meet George Takei and he was every bit of a gentleman as one would expect! When I asked him if we could do the "Vulcan" pose with our hands, he said "Oh yes, absolutely!" and told me to "Live long and prosper!" with complete sincerity. That already made my day, and we were just getting started!

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There was a pretty generous amount of convention hall space devoted to dealers and artists, and that's a great thing. Some of the more popular Comic Con's (especially New York and San Diego) focus on all aspects of pop culture and media. While this is also a great thing, one may get caught up in that fold and forget it was originally all about the comics! In the artist alley area, my friend and I met Scott Hanna of both Marvel and DC fame. If you have ever read any comics from Marvel and DC in the last 28 years, you have likely seen work of his. I personally could not remember what particular work of his I had loved in the past, until he went over a few titles with me. Then I remembered he was the inker during JM Straczynski's original run on Amazing Spider-Man, with John Romita Jr. on the pencils. This was literally the arc that got me back into comic books in general, and it was killing me that I didn't have my signed issue #34 (Vol. 2) to bring to him. He also agreed that it's nicer to have local conventions like this for really sitting down and talking with people.

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Outside of walking around the dealers and artist sections, we decided to give some panels a try. Despite the setup being overall very simple (3 panel rooms and set times for each), there seemed to be some major scheduling conflicts with this. We ended up missing the Power Rangers panel because it went on at 3:00 instead of 5:00 like it said on the pamphlets. There were no posts on the wall or anything stating that the time (and room) changed, so this really bothered me. With that said, the two panels we did attend were very fun and entertaining. The first one my friend and I went to was The Walking Dead, with Seth Gilliam (who plays Father Gabriel), talking about his role on the show, as well as what he envisions for Father Gabriel's character in the show at this point. Probably the best thing about the panel was Seth Gilliam is actually very nice and hilarious. When asked if he had seen the show before getting the part of Gabriel, Seth talked about he originally auditioned for the part of Morgan when the show was just starting, and how his initial reaction to not getting picked was "Well, f#$k this show then!" Once he did begin binge-watching it, he said he couldn't get enough, and cursed Netflix for not having season 4 posted at the time he was viewing. He also expressed his own disdain for the actions of his character in the show, making things even more hilarious in that regard.

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The second (and last) panel my friend and I attended was Star Trek: The Next Generation with Jonathan Frakes. What made this panel so interesting is the fact that Frakes (for those who don't know) is also a director, just as much as an actor. This puts a very different perspective on the film industry, and gave us a point of view we didn't really have before. Most people will say that they were either an actor or a director in their career; not usually both. Questions ranged from thoughts on the cartoon Gargoyles (of which he voiced the character Xanatos), all the way to what it's like to film a love scene with an actress when you're already married. The crowd for this panel ranged from people my age, to people my dad's age. I thought that was perfect since I feel it was both my and his generations that really appreciated Star Trek: The Next Generation most of all.

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After this panel, and by about 5:00, my friend and I realized we had more or less done everything there was to do at this convention. That's the thing though. We were completely okay with that. Unlike the overwhelming giant conventions, where it's impossible to do everything you want, this one actually felt just right. While we couldn't see ourselves going for another day to do anything else, we came out very satisfied. Even with the panel scheduling issues and the mixed photo op results, things turned out pretty nicely. I could definitely see myself attending this again next year, and am very glad that we took the chance to drive out and give it a shot. Easily one of the better local conventions I've visited.

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