Friday, March 22, 2013

Con Review: Megacon

[Note: Many of the links in this post are to Photos from the convention that Brittany took and put on her Photography page.]

To properly set the tone for any convention review I think it's appropriate to include the tail end of the day proceeding the convention... You know, the time where you're supposed to be packing, prepping, practicing, doing last minute revisions on costumes, losing out on sleep, geeking out, and excitedly humming your favorite songs with a slightly optimistic gleam in your eye? Well, my Thursday evening was spent (as a complete surprise to me) at the Cirque ItaliaAquatic Spectacular watching talented contortionists, jugglers, feats of strength, some well-coordinated "bull-dogs", high wire acts, acrobats, and at one point I was pulled up onto the middle of the stage to spit a ping pong ball 10' into a 2'' hoop on the circus ringleader's head! It was a lot of fun and I recommend it for anyone who's looking for an enjoyable evening. It was only after Cirque Italia that I got an alarm on my phone that read "Megacon: Tomorrow" and realized what weekend it was. I packed three matching sets of clothes, a toothbrush, my trusty hat, accordion, and a phone charger and finally concluded it would be a good idea to go to sleep, circa 11:30pm.

Friday - Day 1

6:45am. It was a cold 42F degrees. I woke up and met with my assistant for the weekend, Brittany, who was still hurriedly putting together a Disney's Alice costume and her Rapunzel wig for Saturday. A mere 3 hour drive through traffic later we arrived at Kit's place and as we loaded my car up with the Random Encounter merch (a single giant mega-tote and two extra boxes of CD's) Kit gave us instructions on where everything was and how to properly log each sale. I must admit I was already kind of exhausted from the drive and really had to use the bathroom so I missed a great deal of what he had to say while pondering how cold the water in his sink would be... For when I washed my hands... "Just keep nodding," I told myself... The water was pretty cold, like I'd suspected, almost like they'd hooked it up to the ice-maker. Brittany and I left Kit behind, stopped at the Walmart, picked up enough junk food for the weekend and arrived at the convention at about 10:45am. We found our way to the loading dock, got permission to temporarily park and load our stuff, and then hit another problem: As we loaded our gear we were stopped by the OCCC (Orange County Convention Center) security because we were not allowed to load our gear until we got our Exhibitor Pass Badges. So, naturally I power-walked to the Special Badge line and discovered to my horror that it was HUGE. I didn't feel too bad being in that line because I noticed a artist Guest of Honor was also in line with us and he didn't seem too upset about it. I saw no reason to complain if he didn't. As the clock ticked by I started getting text messages from Brittany telling me that the OCCC was talking about ticketing my car for taking too long to load. To my horror (about halfway through the 45 minute line experience) I noticed that I had the keys. I kept texting back every time the line moved and perhaps 1 in 3 texts actually got through the dead-zone that is the OCCC (no cell phone reception in the OCCC for Sprint phones it seems) and as her responses switched from "the guy here is friendly and understanding" to "they're going to tow your car soon" I panicked and asked the people ahead of me if I could cut them, citing the text message. Five people thankfully allowed me to cut ahead and I promised ONE OF THEM that I would like his facebook page if he let me cut him.

I sped back to my car (to the amusing vocal commentary of people I passed, just like in Assassin's Creed) in time to avoid further threats and sped through the loading dock, only to encounter traffic in the parking lot. I listened to the Inspirational Introduction track on the Spoony Bards album again to keep myself collected, got a space in the lot furthest from the convention and ran until I got back to Brittany (who I forgot to give the pass to in my hurry and who still wouldn't be admitted without one). We loaded, prepped, and got our booth ready by 12:20, a full twenty minutes after the convention opened. Exhausted, battered, beaten from a beast of a morning we started our day.

The Cast of "Entity"
The first day at the booth was the most exhausting and enjoyable. Lots of great costumes including a 9 year old Tony Stark in a suit (complete with a goatee), Archer, a girl who resembled the Misty (Pokemon) from 4chan, and a few photo-perfect Disney princesses. There was also a Mortal Kombat Skorpion with a reversible mask/gee that allowed him to quickly transform into Sub-Zero, I got to meet the cast of the film Entity(The upcoming Slenderman film) and discuss how awful "Tall Man" was (Spoiler: A bait and switch movie you think is about Slenderman but is actually just about child abuse)! I saw Manny, an artist friend from Megacons past and also made a bunch of new friends like Teague, who I bought a poster from. As almost the entire day was literally spent behind the booth selling things I'll skip ahead to the part where I took an hour to walk around the entire dealership room. First the size... Megacon was bigger than the Graphics of The Americas Printing Expo I attended at the OCCC earlier this month (Aka, every printing company in the Americas putting on convention is smaller than Megacon!), and roughly half the size of the Plastics Convention of 2012 (Which took up a whopping TWO CONCOURSES of the OCCC). The DEALER's Room alone took up two GIANT halls and the sheer volume of attendees seemed to eclipse anything I've seen at a Florida geek convention. The flood of people were like the continuous tide of Persians that the Spartans from 300 faced, only without bloodshed. A literal sea of new faces (none of which I am capable of remembering due to my condition) every few seconds. It was even difficult to get a bite to eat during the day because every time I hurried for a single bite, 15 people walked by the booth without so much as a glance our way. 

Luckily some friends from Nerdy FM stopped by and left a friend (Tony: car salesman and talented artist) to stay behind with Brittany. So it was with great hesitation that I took a break from the booth and went exploring. I saw a great number of booths in a very short period of time (1 hour, 12 minutes). One of the two halls was almost exclusively a traditional vendor hall where you could buy anime, toys, posters, replicas, and the like. I'd estimate from memory that at least 70 of these booths were present in addition to comic publisher booths, and entire row of a dozen or so tattoo artists (drawing tattoos on people during the convention), dozens of lines for autographs, blood donations, a giant (25' x 25') lego city area, a star wars costume and photo-op area with 4 or 6 scenes from the film (including the trash compactor and bounty-hunters lined up on the Executioner), a back to the future photo-op area (featuring the Delorian), and another Star-Wars robot themed area (though it had walls that looked like they were props from the Rebel base on Hoth as opposed to a Jawa vending area) complete with remote controlled R2 units (I think they had all 8 variants), robot parts, and even a Dalek! 

Then there was an entirely other area for "just" artists. I got to briefly talk to the guy who does all the Zombie Super-Hero comic books (including a few Evil Dead comic covers like "The Long Road Home" and "Ash vs Freddie vs Jason"), and saw some other really creative artists. Things that stood out as different and impressive were: 
A Classic Fantasy Art booth I didn't get to talk with due to time restrictions but who seemed incredibly friendly and had their art featured on fantasy books they were selling,
A silly booth with art of Batman overlooking Gothom while holding a balloon, 
The ever eccentric and fantastic Mr. Tommy Castillo (Who I'm a huge fan of) with his 20 foot tall booth that towered over everything else and was completely covered in beautiful artwork,
The aforementioned Teague, who really impressed me with his use of color,
A fantastic oil Painter named Tom Flemming who was really down to Earth and talked to me about life as a fine artist (I bought an art book from him so I could learn more),
and the friends Newsha Ghasemi and Fernanda Suarez, who have great diversity and really clean style.
I don't claim to be an artist but these people are good.

I hurried back to my booth after picking up a copy of "Killing Pickman" (a Cthulu inspired detective comic book I rather enjoyed), and "Stuff of Legends" (a comic about a boy who is kidnapped by the monsters under his bed and rescued by his toys) and finished the day at the booth. Brittany and I packed and departed through the downtown Orlando traffic around 7:15pm, picked up some victory Taco Bell, and went to Moose's place. I fell asleep pretty quickly after looking up the music from "Phantom of The Asteroid" (a song recommendation) while Brittany worked more on her Rapunzel wig.

Saturday - Day 2

Saturday at the convention was similar to Friday, only with us arriving at 9:45am, avoiding all traffic, getting a pretty sweet parking space jammed between two trucks, and being set up by the convention's grand re-opening at 10am. An even larger flood of people and fantastic costumes (including a FANTASTIC Batman Villains group, a Protoman [specifically a 'Panther'], two men dressed as Bane [Traditional and Movie edition], an officer Jenny I knew, a hardcore Thor, Beast Boy, and others I can't recall) flooded by the booth. With the convention opened and the sales pitch proceeding exactly like the last day all seemed well... until I opened a box labeled "Unavenged" (our main CD and selling item) and found it instead filled with copies of "Self Titled" (the first album I recorded long long ago)! It was kind of terrifying because not only was I rapidly running out of our primary selling item (meaning our biggest day at the convention would be limited in its success), but it was even more terrifying because I've been selling Self Titled since Megacon '10, thought I was almost sold out (we're never printing them again, and initially printed them when I had no concept of how many a person could sell), and ONCE AGAIN it had multiplied as more copies emerged! This is like the 5th time that's happened, and I swear I'm not crazy because my other bandmates have also seen it happen with their own eyes and said the same thing! Okay, so panic aside I immediately texted Kit... about 7 or so times until my phone finally read "sent" and begged him to drop off more copies of Unavenged. Do you remember that part on Friday where I was talking to Kit at his house, nodding and smiling? Well that's the part where I agreed to stop by his house on Saturday morning specifically to pick up more merch, so he was less than amused to hear that I was already at the convention and almost sold out. He was even less amused to hear that more self-titled had appeared but that didn't matter because over the next 4 hours Kit got in his car, drove through 3 hours of traffic to the convention, abandoned his car on I-4, and walked a box of CD's the last two miles on foot! I can't explain to you how hardcore that is because it was at least 85F degrees outside on a Saturday (and I think he worked the night-shift before, keeping Orlando safe from werewolves or whatever it is he does) and he just left his car in the middle of the highway Falling Down style! Anyways, during the period of being out of Unavenged I asked 7 or 8 interested con-goers to come back once we'd restocked and I'm proud to say that every last one of them came back (some of them checked in multiple times during the wait), including someone dressed as the Dovakiin!

Barnibas Collins
The rest of the day was pleasantly uneventful by comparison. More fantastic costumes, interesting people, and impromptu accordion concerts. I saw a really good Saria (Zelda), Barnibas Collins who was a member of the League of Extraordinary Accordionists, and Dark Link. Brittany also left the booth for a few hours to work on her photography project. Sitting at a booth all day was far from boring as I got to meet and chat with a hundreds of people and perfect my silly little sales pitch. I estimate that I played over 330 songs over the course of the weekend on my accordion (1 song every 15 minutes with maybe 5 hours off the entire weekend and 3-5 songs per 15 minutes in a couple of instances), passed out almost ALL of our business cards to people who didn't just throw them in the trash (at least that I could see), gave away tons of stickers, and maybe a dozen CD's to children, and some more to would-be fans who were very interested but broke or shy a few dollars (or who promised to pay for the CD's next paycheck), and either to Brent Spinner (Star Trek: Next Generation [Lt. Commander Data]) or Jeremy Bulloch (Old School Boba Fett)... I'm faceblind but narrowed it down to one of those two who stopped by our booth and tried to give me money I wouldn't accept. I also got to chat with some active service Air Force guys who had the AA tattoo that looks just like our band logo. I was really neat connecting to people who've seen us, enjoyed us, and can't wait for our new album, or our next show. Going through the day-to-day life (or recording at home or practicing) it's hard to think that people are actually going to listen to what you're working on much less enjoy it or to claim that the song you wrote in your little one room apartment on a depressingly lonely night means something to them too.

Another thing that surprised me was that people seemed to like my sales pitch, or at least find it amusing. Even the vendor next to me, and random fans of the band seemed to know my speech and chipped in at the appropriate moments for added comedy. Sure I got a lot of "not interested" parties who walked by or politely declined but I did a good job about not bothering the same people twice or selling at children (I respect parents brave enough to go to conventions with their kids and won't bother them. Period). Beyond breaking even for the weekend I did really well on my secret goal too... For all my efforts I was able to get (and I tallied this) 17 people who walked by the booth with a frown, to perk up and walk away with a smile, without outright telling them to smile or referencing the fact that they were not smiling. I even got to be the first accordion performance a few people at the convention had ever seen. After the main room closed at 6PM I drove back to Mooses's through an hour of traffic, ate a Burrito Supreme, and fell asleep while Moose finished the DLC of Dark Souls and murdered players over Lv 450 who periodically invaded his world. I think he got the Platinum achievement for the game before I fell asleep.

Sunday - Day 3

Woke up early again and got to the convention before 9:30AM. Brittany was tired of wearing her 35lb wig as Rapunzel and had switched back to Super Alice-mode. By the time the doors opened it was already clear to us that the would be a lot less people than Saturday. A few hours later we were informed that all of our friends bought Team Rocket shirts from a cool vendor group called Sanshee (see my review from the Escapist Expo for more details). It was really strange seeing my buddies at Sanshee this far away from North Carolina, or DC, or someone else that isn't extremely far away from my home, so as a welcoming gift for them (to my town) I bought some Team Rocket shirts so I could match my friends. The rest of the day was filled with more great costumes, friendly faces, a FANTASTIC Demon Hunter (My favorite class in Diablo III and my vote for best detailed costume of the weekend) I geeked out at, and last minute sales. Awesome asides: I got to sing Ocean King with my friend Jeff's son, introduce the song Unavenged to some friendly older women who like folk music, and completely nailed (by fluke) a single performance of Decisive Battle (a song I haven't played in forever but that got requested). At 4:50pm, when the "10 more minutes" warning was given the party died abruptly and the happy weekend turned into solemn goodbyes. Brittany and I were probably a bit more exhausted than I'd realized, and as we packed up the (extremely light) totes to head back I snapped a goodbye picture before starting the 3 hour drive home.

Good times were had at Megacon 2013!

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