The Grand Rapids Comic Con returned to the DeVos Hall in downtown Grand Rapids. How did this year fair against last year? What events transpired in the 4th round of this annual convention? How did I feel about the biggest geek gathering in my hometown? Let’s find out.
The GR Comic Con utilized more of the DeVos Hall convention space this time around. The layout of the convention was a considerable improvement compared to last year. The artist alley was set up in straight rows instead of cubes and it felt like an artist alley. Last year, the convention was split between two separate giant conference rooms. One for the artist alley/dealer’s room and guests. The other room was for panels and events. This year, the celebrities and media guest were located at the back of the convention hall. In order to reach them, travel through the artist alley and dealer sections was necessary. From a potential business standpoint, this was an excellent idea that was beneficial to the artists and vendors. I talked with numerous returning vendors and artists about the setup and flow for this year. The overall opinion came off positively in comparison to last year’s event. Both rooms were combined to accommodate everything in one central area this year. Overall, the setup of dealer’s room/artist alley and guests were confined to one convention room. The other convention room was an area for kids to play and for people to rest at a table away from the main crowd. Plus, the local blood bank was on hand for people to donate. For the main events, a huge conference room was utilized. An ASL interpreter was onstage for the hearing impaired audience members too. On the second floor of the convention center, three gaming rooms, an anime screening area and more panel rooms were available to the public. Traversing the event and understanding what events were transpiring in each room was easy to due to proper signage. Each room had a schedule of events listed posted on the wall prior to entering said room.
The GR Comic Con had an impressive gaming area through out the weekend. One of the gaming rooms was hosted by GR8bit Live! This room featured retro gaming systems from the past up to the PS3. There were a nice variety of games including Contra III, Super Puzzle Fighters, Abe’s Oddworld, Twisted Metal and Mario Kart. I was amazed to see the obscure NES game Clash at Demonhead in action. GR8bit Live did an excellent job with the retro gaming room. In addition to the retro gaming room, a game room featuring modern day and arcade games was located right next door. Killer Instinct (Xbox One), Splatoon, Captain America and the Avengers, and Street Fighter V were free to play for everyone. To round out the gaming area, Mythric Studios hosted a Starship Horizons bridge simulator. In this futuristic space game, five command positions of captain, science, tactical, communication and help must work together to complete the missions. This game features a lot of in depth details including the communications team asking for permission to leave the space dock. A lot of comic con events in Michigan treat gaming as an after thought compared to the rest of the convention. Thankfully, GRCC did not take that approach. Good job.
There was a theme of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the comic con. One of the co-creators of the original comic series that this massive franchise spawned from, Kevin Eastman was present to sign autographs for eager fans. The line to meet him was longer than any of the other guests at the comic con and that is not hyperbole. I was fortunate enough to land an exclusive one on one interview with Kevin and he was a pleasure to interview because of his humble down to earth demeanor. Continuing with the theme of TMNT, three of the original live action actors (Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden and Josh Pais) from the first movie were present to meet the fans. Also, a TMNT themed wedding took place at the convention. Kevin Eastman, Bob Camp (of Ren and Stimpy fame), Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden and Josh Pais took part in the wedding of Shane and Emma. I don’t believe many people can say that the co-creator of the TMNT participate in their wedding at a comic con. If you were a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would have been ill advised to miss out on the convention for this year.
Speaking of down to earth guests, renowned voice actor Steve Blum visited the Grand Rapids Comic Con for the first time. Steve is known for his roles as Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop), Starscream (Transformers: Prime) and Zeb Orelious (Star Wars Rebels). I watched an interaction between Steve and local cosplayer/artist Kristie “Karmada” Good. She was hesitant to meet him because of her shyness. However, after some nudging, she went over to say hi and present him with her artistic rendition of Spike Spiegel. He gave her a hug and talked with her for a few minutes. Also, I sat in on a Q&A panel. Even though he was asked questions that I assumed he’s been asked numerous times, Steve took the time to answer each question without a hint of annoyance in his voice. During the weekend, I was able to land a dream interview with Steve and it was everything that I hoped for and more.
Another guest that I talked to at length, was voice actor Bryce Papenbrook of Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online fame. We talked numerous times throughout the weekend about martial arts, martial life styles and martial philosophies. Coming from a similar background, it was nice to pick his brain about his thoughts on martial arts. I hope to meet him again down the road.
Cool attractions were on display through out the weekend. Scooby was hanging out the window of the Mystery Machine. Special effects artist Rob Miller, created a Game of Thrones Iron Throne with a special twist upon closer inspection. The Geek of Thrones featured swords from Kingdom Hearts, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy VIII. The Hall of Heroes Museum exhibited the Ghost Rider movie motorcycle and a Captain America shield signed by the cast of the Avengers. Movie props from Planet of the Apes, The Blob and Forbidden Planet gave a glimpse into the movie magic of the past.
I can’t talk about a comic con without mentioning cosplay. At every event, I enjoy seeing the variety and creativity that everyone exhibits. Of course, superheroes and villains of all ages and fandoms roamed the convention. A few personal standouts for me were Darkwing Duck, Frog and Lucca (from Chrono Trigger), steampunk Star Trek and a very cool Samurai era Batman. Jack Burton took some time away from the Porkchop Express to visit the convention. My eyes laid witness to the tallest Count Chocula I have ever seen anywhere. Wayne and Garth even travelled from Aurora, Illinois to make it to this event. I was happy to see that Candy of Sweets4aSweet Cosplay and Knightmage returned as the cosplay judges this year along with the very talented Leah of Chaotic Neutral Cosplay. All in all, everyone did an excellent job of cosplaying.
On Friday evening, a suspicious bag was found attached to a pole outside of Devos Hall. The organizers were going to evacuate the building but fortunately a crisis was averted at the last moment before an announcement was made over the intercom. It turns out that the bag belonged to a patron who was tired of carrying his backpack and tied it to a pole to relieve some weight. As the bomb squad and police were monitoring the situation, the patron walks up to the pole and places his backpack back on as if nothing happened. Obviously, he was stopped, questioned and checked. Thankfully, it was not a bomb nor an attack. Looking back on the situation, it was a little funny to an extent. Let that be a lesson folks. Comic related goods can be heavy. If you don’t feel like carrying around your stuff, place your bag in your car and not on the pole of a building. Let’s all be safe and exercise some common sense.
For the first time, the Grand Rapids Comic Con hosted a concert on Saturday evening. The band lineup was Playing with Power (Grand Rapids video game music band), Insomniac Folklore (Dark Humored Neo-Vaudevillian Punk Rock) and Wesley and the Crushers (Positive Geek Embracing Music).Having seen both Playing with Power and Wesley and the Crushers before, I can say the vibe of their sets is fun and energetic. Sadly, I missed out on watching Playing with Power perform. Insomniac Folklore took the stage as I arrived. While talented, this band felt out of place at this concert. The energy level of their set was low and the crowd remained seated for the entire set. I don’t think songs with references to Hammer Smashed Face by Cannibal Corpse (which I appreciated) and not trusting the government give off a fun energetic vibe.
Wesley and the Crushers finished out the concert. This energetic band’s set comprised of original compositions, covers of tv show themes and sweet video game medleys. The Dr. Who, Star Wars and Game of Thrones renditions were enjoyable. Sonic the Hedgehog, Tetris, Final Fantasy and a roughly ten minute medley of Mega Man II had the audience out of their chairs and upfront at the stage. Wesley and the Crushers also played their five original songs as well. I would like to see more original tunes from Wesley and the Crushers in the future. Their video game medleys and tv shows covers are awesome and their original songs are very creative, inspiring and funny. As a band, they are talented at performing and writing music. I have a feeling that more original songs are on the way in the future and I can not wait to listen to them. On a side note, I was the first person to buy a copy of their album.
The downside of the concert was created by the sound technicians of DeVos Hall. Any event featuring music or a sound system, will require a union sound technician. When I attended GR8bit Live at DeVos Hall in 2015, the sound guys did an inadequate job all across the board for all of the bands. The same story applies to the concert at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. I could not hear the guitar or the drums for Wesley and the Crushers while sitting in the chairs in the audience. Bass was nowhere to be found. Only when I decided to go to the close of the stage next to the monitors, was I able to hear their instruments. One should be able to hear a guitar solo no matter what the distance whether close or far. Vocals were the only thing that cut through the bad sound production. It’s a shame that sound at DeVos Hall was inadequate. What would be the point of going to a concert if you can’t hear the band due to bad audio on the tech level?
The attendance level for the concert was on the low side of 30ish people. I feel that the scheduled time for the concert and the extra cost hurt the attendance. Sure, the concert was scheduled around 8pm at the comic con had concluded for Saturday but I don’t think the majority of the people attending the convention were interested in sticking around for a concert after a long day spent enjoying the convention. Those who stuck around for the concert had a decent show to enjoy. If the concert was scheduled earlier in the day, there would have been an opportunity for more attendees. The cost of an additional $10, while a fair price for three bands, might have drove people away considering they already paid for a ticket for the convention itself. I can see from the perspective of someone, who is not familiar with the bands, asking themselves if they should spend the $10 on a concert with unfamiliar bands or spending it at the convention. Had the concert been free, I believe the attendance level would have been higher. If another concert does not happen at the GR Comic Con, I would be disappointed since I think that is an idea that could be expanded on with a few tweaks.
Sundays are usually advertised as family day at comic conventions. While Friday is a preview of things to come and Saturday is the glitz and glamour of a convention, I enjoy Sundays because I can take a breather and enjoy the convention at a leisure pace. Sunday for the GR Comic Con was no different. One could have a conversation with an artist, vendor or guest without worrying about a plethora of people behind them waiting their respective turns. Sunday is also the best day for potential deals on goods depending on the vendor or artist as the convention is coming to an end. My only complaint with Sunday is that the event ends before you know it as all good things tend to do.
The Grand Rapids Comic Con improved from last year with a few tweaks for the better. After attending it for the last three years, I don’t see any reason why I would miss out on this hometown event for the foreseeable future. As cliche of statement that it is, there really is something for everyone (in the geek community) at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. I don’t know what events and which guests will be at the convention next year, but I am excited to find out.