As the hours draw long, and the night stretches onward, I find myself doing my usual pre-convention routine. I’m charging batteries and checking equipment, as I make sure that my notes are collected and and accessible at a moment’s notice. Thoughts of how things will proceed, and worries of how the coverage will be begin to buzz through my head.
Will it be enough? Do I really have enough material to get through this?
For all intents, Rhode Island Comic Con should be a mere blip on the radar.
- It’s not anime-centric
- It’s a first-year, two-day con
- The days aren’t even full days, by anime con standards (doors close at 7PM Saturday, 5PM Sunday)
- The event’s expecting an upper attendance level of about 5,000 people.
And yet, I’m still as serious as a heart attack, as I scramble to get interview questions, and triple-check that I have enough AA batteries to keep my camera1 ready to go at a moment’s notice.
“But why? You just said it’s a tiny, first-year event in the middle of a dead zone.”
Well, dear reader, I’d like to begin discussing that with a story.
In the early days of my career, I was assigned to cover another first-year event as press. This one wasn’t much different – it was a small event held in a hotel in Boston, where attendance wasn’t expected to surpass a couple of thousand. However, by the middle of the first day, it became apparent that this was a bit too conservative. People flooded into the hotel by the dozen, to the point where fire marshalls threatened to shut the entire event down, if the attendance weren’t capped. It was hectic, it was crazy, and navigation through the event seemed nigh impossible at times. However, there was something in the air. It was this positive, hopeful atmosphere that could be sensed in the guests, the staff, and the attendees alike. As cramped, as downright hectic as things were, people were having fun. They wanted the event to succeed, grow, and thrive. In the years that followed, the con would swell in size, adding members by the thousand as it burst free of its hotel roots, and overtook the Hynes Convention Center. And yet, despite its size, this event never lost this feeling. People, be they staff, attendees, or press, will greet regulars with a smile and a handshake, or they’ll get together over dinner. Several people I first met in those hectic early days now contribute in their own way, whether they’re hosting panels, volunteering, or even just providing a set of eyes and ears to the world as reporters, or as amateur photographers and videographers. It’s lively, it’s busy, and even with 25,000 members, it still keeps that familiar, welcoming atmosphere.
“Yeah yeah, Anime Boston so amazing, blah blah blah… Enough nostalgia, already!”
Dear reader, in this case, nostalgia was used to set a mood. You just killed it. Good show.
Anyway, the point is that the first few years of a convention speak volumes on how everything will evolve as the convention grows. From the atmosphere, to even the clientele. Basically, an event that staffs good people, and maintains a welcoming atmosphere will typically retain that feeling, barring drastic changes to the presiding structure. Likewise, if an event staffs irritable or dismissive staff, and encourages little more than an extension of the basement nerd cave, then that’s what it’s fated to become.
Remember my talks about sneezers – about people who encourage others. The same type of thing works here. With a convention or ane vent, though – it’s not about attracting sneezers in general. After all, they’ll come if they’re interested. It’s about leaving a positive influence on the right kind of sneezers. That first impression will ultimately determine which sneezers will rush out and drag their friends along next time, and which ones will stay home.
In that sense, we could say that the first year is pure marketing, albeit in a less direct way.
With this in mind, it’s worth seeing how RI Comic Con fares in its inaugural year. Whether it sinks or floats, struggles or thrives, will depend on the clientele it attracts, as well as which people it retains. And, frankly, the best way to see just which audience they court is to attend on one’s own time. So, yes, it will be interesting to see how the event goes, who attends, and who leaves with the most positive impressions on Sunday.
1: I’ve always favored cameras where I can “pop and go” with batteries.