2016 Year in Review Fall
September – October
These Year in Reviews are not, what I call, official “reviews”. Like last year, they will be a series of musings, learned lessons and stories of what I experienced through out the year. Of course, reviews are featured but they are blended in with everything. The theme of FIRSTS sum up the beginning, middle and end of my year, as you will see. Enjoy my year of 2016 in the Michigan Geek Scene.
Fall is my favorite season of the year. A little chill in the air to bring out comfortable hoodies. People go crazy for pumpkin spice in everything for some reason. The event season starts winding down before the really cold weather kicks in. People enjoy their last major hurrahs with con friends before being swallowed up by the holiday season. What did I encounter during my favorite season?
GrandCon started out as a gaming and comic book convention. The focus was 90% on gaming and 10% on comics. Initially I was extremely excited when I heard about it in 2013. The thought of video games and my love for them ran wild through my head. Who wouldn’t want to go to a convention about video games and comic books? After doing research, I found out that my idea of gaming was not the same as what was on tap for GrandCon. Table top, cards, miniatures and board games were the type of gaming held at this convention. Besides being vaguely familiar with Magic the Gathering and D&D, my experiences with board games were related to family board games such as Life, Monopoly and Operation. Never having the imagination or creativity for the role playing games, I couldn’t connect with that type of “gaming”. My interest in the convention dropped immediately and I skipped out on it.
In 2014, I decided to give the event a chance and attended GrandCon for the first time. Thus, GrandCon became my first convention besides JAFAX. MIGeekScene was still in the embryonic stage at this point. I was hoping to put out feelers to see what the reception would be for what I was hoping to accomplish. Mark McKenna and Pop Mhan were the comic guests of honor. I was excited to meet Pop because of his work on the Spy Boy comic. I met my early mentor, author extraordinaire Kasey Pierce. She took me under her wing shortly after. Her great advice and tips have helped me on my path of journalism. A huge thanks goes out to her. Check out her Pieces of Madness series. That was my first taste of a comic con type environment. It would be two years before I returned to GrandCon.
Fast forward to 2016, I returned for one day to check this event out. The gaming to comics ratio changed. Comics were placed on the back burner. The main comic guest was Nick Seluk of the Awkward Yeti. Talented Michigan staples Corinne Roberts and Scott Rosema were creating art and selling prints. No pun intended, but the name of the game was gaming. Plenty of people gathered to fill the main gaming area to the brim. I admire their passion and dedication to gaming.
Folks, I can now say I dipped my toes into the pool of gaming. While looking at the games donated from the GrandCon library (which featured over 700 games), my eyes gazed upon a game based on the Chew comic series. If you have not read this hilarious comic about food and detectives, you are missing out. I am a little slow at picking up board games. This is one of the reasons why I stick to video games since they are a little easier to follow. I was able to learn the game with monumental help from my beloved and patient girlfriend. Oddly enough, I ended up winning and I don’t how. I might venture back into gaming again in the future.
A special shoutout goes out to Andrew H for hooking me up with the sweetest lanyard I have ever seen. I am now a proud owner of a Big Trouble in Little China lanyard. It is now my lanyard of choice when I attend events. It would be impossible to describe the amount of excitement that poured out of me when I laid eyes upon this lanyard. My hands were trembling when I asked him where he got it. This awesome dude ended up giving it to me after he saw how much I was fanboying over it. I was willing to pay him for it but he gave it to me as a gift instead. Thankfully, he had two more at home. Andrew, you are beyond awesome for making my day at GrandCon.
Formerly known as MEGGACon, this pop culture convention is held in Jackson. In 2015, the event was for one day only. The turnout and enthusiasm was great for the first year event. Last year, the basement, 1st floor and 4th floor where utilized. That was quite a hike up the stairs. This year, the event expanded to a two day event. Expansion included five floors instead of three from last year. Gaming was located on the basement level while registration was on the first. The comic vendors were located on the second floor while the video game rooms were on the third floor. On the fourth floor, the artist alley, Pokemon room, kids area and the MEGGAXP guests awaited those who ventured to the top. I really enjoyed the layout of the event. However, the comic vendors on the second floor suffered from low foot traffic. It seemed like people were skipping the comic vendor room to venture on to other floors of the event. Maybe a slight setup tweak will fix that problem in 2017.
The guest list was a diverse mixture of people from pop culture. Comic artists Mark Bagley, of Ultimate Spiderman fame and Evan Shaner, of Future Quest fame, were on hand to provide commissions to attendees. Voice actresses Krystal LaPorte (Parasyte) and Arryn Zech (RWBY) were there for anime fans. In order to take a photo with Krystal Laporte, one had to look at her price chart. For the low sum of $Have fun at the Con, you could take a photo with Krystal. The super cool Effren Ramirez (Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) and Larry Thomas aka Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi were the celebrity guests. Larry sold autographed soup ladles. Go figure. I was impressed with the mix of guests invited out to MEGGAXP.
Effren Ramirez was the most interactive and immersed guest at the event. The man took about 3 to 5 minutes to engage in real conversations with each fan that approached him at his table. During the after party, he hung out with patrons at the bar. If you wanted a photo with him, he didn’t charge you for it. He treated people like human beings instead of potential monetary opportunities. Most guests leave a convention at least 3 to 6 hours before the event ends on the last day since they have to travel back home. He stayed until the very end of the event while hanging out with fans. He will go down as one of the coolest people I have met.
My favorite interview of the event goes to Krystal Laporte. She joins the exclusive club of voice actors who began my intro while surprising me in the process. We talked about horror manga master, Junji Ito. It was fun learning about her martial arts background too. We also went in depth about her noble choice of pursuing a career in family law. Krystal is cool in my book. I would gladly talk with her again.
I didn’t do any research on Effren Ramirez while heading into MEGGAXP. Initially, in my mind, I felt he would be out of my league as far as approaching about an interview. The man was an integral character in one of the most quotable and quirky movies of all time, Napoleon Dynamite. Honestly, I was expecting to be shot down by him or an agent. This is not suggesting that the man himself is unapproachable and a diva. He was quite the opposite, as I came to learn. During the after party, I learned that he was a DJ. I wanted to pick his brain about that. Throwing fears of rejection to the wind, I decided to ask him about an interview on Sunday about music. After he agreed, I drove back to Grand Rapids, dictating questions into my recorder. I managed to squeak out some decent questions for the upcoming interview. For not doing my usual 2 to 6 hours of research, I am happy with what I came up with. Come Sunday, he put off his lunch to do an interview with me. We shot the breeze about his musical background and touched upon Napoleon Dynamite too. The lesson of the story: It never hurts to ask.
The cosplay creativity of the folks from Jackson should be commended. The Starscream/Bullseye and Super Mario/Mad Max Fury Road mashups were very unique. The Colonial Captain America was a personal favorite. I applaud the efforts of everyone who put on a costume. The turnout for the cosplay contest was over capacity for the small room it was located in. Like last year, there was not enough room for the people who wanted to attend. People were left standing out in the hall while missing out on the show. I hope the contest moves to a bigger room to accommodate everyone in 2017.
The Cosplay Ball afterparty held on Saturday night was a great event. Trooper Bobalon, of Wesley and the Crushers, provided a geek centric set comprised of video game themes mixed in here and there. He incorporated Green Greens from the Kirby video game series. That is one of my favorite themes of all time. Initially, a few people were on the floor dancing while the majority sat down. It seemed like people were hesitant to go out and dance. A single dude was dancing by himself on the floor and he looked like he was having a blast. It seemed like he inspired more and more people to come out and pack the dance floor. During the night, Effren Ramirez performed as a guest DJ. I can now say that I have been to a convention where a celebrity guest performed dance music for the crowd.
Two years in a row, I have thoroughly enjoyed attending MEGGAXP. A big thanks goes out to the Seagraves family for all of their hard work. Jackson’s own pop culture con is something I will look forward to.
Monroe Comic Con
The convention was held in the Monroe Sports Complex. The astro turf was quite pleasant on the feet. I felt orthopedically supported while walking on the green goodness. It was a welcome reprieve from the hard concrete floors of the majority of comic cons I have attended. The artist alley and vendor setup was fairly spacious. Traversing the isles in each section was easy. The convention featured a unique setup with media guests and comic guests. All of them were located along the outside walls of the artist alley. Unlike numerous conventions, there was no need to hunt down a guest comic artist hidden amongst the many artists in the alley. I would like to see this type of setup more at other comic cons.
Earlier, I mentioned that the artist alley and vendor areas had a nice flow. However, there was one exception. I did not like the giant net that was utilized as a divider between the artist alley and the vendor area. Crowd flow was greatly hampered by the net that was fastened to the floor. Basically, the entrance and exit were the same thing and it created a bottleneck environment. Initially, the building had poor ventilation. At some points, I was feeling hot while standing still. There were no water fountains either. Thankfully, they staff opened the giant sliding garage type door to cool off the crowd. Parking for the complex was lacking spaces for the high turnout. I ended up parking on the grass. Finding parking spots at nearby locations was the alternative. From what I understand, the convention will be located at the MBT Expo Center in 2017.
Wonder Woman’s 75th anniversary was a special attraction for the convention. A Wonder Woman cosplay contest was held. Envy the Green Fairy Cosplay was the lucky winner of that contest. Various artists donated Wonder Woman themed art for a raffle. The proceeds from the raffle were donated to the Oaks Of Righteousness shelter. It looks like Wonder Woman is influencing good deeds.
Victor Dandridge’s interview exemplifies the fun conversations that I enjoy the most. Prior to the interview, we had only met once at the Cherry Capital Comic Con. The creator of Vantage: Inhouse Productions seemed like an interesting guy with a fun personality. I reached out to him and he was interested for a down the road opportunity. The stars aligned and that opportunity arrived at the Monroe Comic Con. After we got through the usual promotional spiel, the real fun began. We went total ham for this interview. We bonded over Mark Millar comics and Street Fighter II. It was interesting to learn that Death Proof is his favorite movie by Quentin Tarantino. This interview is in my top five favorite interviews of 2016.
I finally had the opportunity to meet the owner and creator of Urban Style Comics, Andre Batts in person. We talked about his comic and titular character, Dreadlocks. We also delved into anime and comics. He completely schooled me on Ninja Scrolls, by throwing out the original name for the movie. We also talked about the Motor City Black Age of Comics, which focused on black artists and writers in the comic industry. Fascinating interview with this gentleman.
I had a good time at the Monroe Comic Con. I can say for sure that the Monroe Comic Con was the first event that I attended that featured the Chicken Dance song in the background. Beetlejuice and the Kalamazoo Ghost Busters put aside their differences to dance together in that polka tune. If the opportunity arose, I would gladly return to this event. The Pillette family and staff did a good job.
Grand Valley Renaissance Festival
I was able to make good on the promise of reshooting an interview with Andrew aka Brami of the Norsemen of Michigan Living History society. We shot an interview earlier in the year at BlackRock Medieval Fest. The rising afternoon sun ended up blotting out our faces and I could not save the footage no matter what I tried. Sadly, it was scrapped. The lighting situation for the October interview was quite favorable along with the warm weather. Be on the lookout for that interview to appear this year. I figure it would be a nice way to highlight the group as 2017 draws closer to the Renaissance Faire season.
Speaking of interviews, I ended up conducting an impromptu interview with Kristie Good aka Karmada Cosplay. I remembered her from my visits to JAFAX on the GVSU campus years ago. I never had a conversation with her during those years. Only in 2016, did I actually have brief conversations with her at conventions. I certainly was not expecting to run into her at a Ren Faire. She told me that she was helping a friend run a booth. On said booth, was her very own book on creating costumes for cosplay titled Epic Cosplay Costumes. I was not aware that she was an author. We decided to do an interview to help promote the book. My usual extensive research process was not employed this time around. For an impromptu interview, it was not bad. After processing the video, I learned that she was an artist too. I certainly would have asked questions about the art background. Ah, what can you do?
Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. How could I not attend an event centered on Halloween? This event, held in Lansing, is a combination of part convention and part maker faire. There were a plethora of vendors who’s wares focused on the macabre. If you wanted to meet real life paranormal investigators, you had the opportunity to do so. The 20ft(ish) high giant inflatable T-Rex was a sight to see. I thought the pumpkins that lit up when you touched them where cool. If you like Halloween, this event will not steer you wrong.
This event marked the first time MIGeekScene was featured in a program booklet as a media presence. I have been on numerous media and press lists throughout my time with MIGeekScene. That is nothing new for me. However, to have my organization officially listed in the “media dungeon” section of the program was nice. I like that I’ve been recognized for all the work I’ve done these past years. It gives a nice validation to what I do.
Since my fall event coverage was massive, I had to split the year in review into two parts. I wouldn’t dare leave out the second half of October and November. See my thoughts on The Grand Rapids Comic Con, Youmacon and the Motor City Black Age of Comics. Fall part 2 will be the final installment of the 2016 Year in Review series. Look for it in September.