[Review] - Ottawa Comiccon 2013

All photos by the author...'s photographer
The second annual Ottawa Comicon has come and gone, and it's motto may well have been "learning from past mistakes, and making all new ones." Over all, there were improvements to last year's inaugural event, and the guest list certainly was an impressive collection of genre stars. However, there were several areas where the organisers faltered, which is good, as it gives them something to work towards next year. We wouldn't want everything to run smooth, would we?

Hit the jump for the review. Keep in mind, since I am not a regular con-goer, I am not reviewing this con in relation to other such events, but as a self contained entity in and of itself (and to last year).

The event was held, as it was last year, at the CE Centre, newly christened the Ernest & Young Centre, next to the Ottawa Airport. The venue was a point of concern for me last year, and again this, for entirely different reasons. The parking issue (1800 on site) was resolved nicely in partnership with the neighbouring Ministry of Defence, using their empty field (though Saturday's drizzle threatened to turn the field into a fair ground in the early hours). This elevated much concern and congestion. Last year, I noted that the full space available was not appropriately utilised, with huge chunks of floor space left empty and sad looking. This year, the opposite was true. The arrangement for the event was much improved, with artists localised at one end of the floor rather then fit in wherever they could be. Large scale exhibits, along with the games area and the "cafeteria" were pushed into what was last year the entrance area, the largest wasted space. Happily, the space was put to better use, and allowed for more retail space within the main floor. Perhaps too many retailers, as during the peak hours on Saturday, between the shuffling crowds and the congestion caused by shoppers, moving between retailers was practically impossible.

The major improvement was the waiting area, for both morning admission and for the panel events in the main hall. Last year, apparently unaware that people would be interested in attending such things, no precautions were taken for aiding attendees. And the completely absent amount of room within the venue itself meant that fans were waiting outside, in the elements, snaked around the building, for an hour, waiting for seating to begin. This year, a section of the parking lot was tented off and well corralled, keeping the sun (or, more likely, the wind and rain) off the now easily organised crowds. And despite the intimidating size of the lines for certain panels, the main hall contained a staggering number of seats, generating at least one overheard "it's bigger on the inside" quip from an audience member.

A gap in security was exposed through this tented waiting area, however. It and the main entrance shared an entry point, but past the morning opening, there were not permanent ticket scanners at this entrance (in fact, past morning opening, ticket scanners seemed to all but disappear). Therefore, one could walk through the main entrance, stand in line for a panel, get inside, and then exit directly into the retail floor without ever having to produce their ticket or show identification. Even the examination of hand stamps at the panel entrances was apathetic and ineffective. And because the area to buy tickets on the day was at the farthest, obscured end from main entrance and the least intuitive thing about the layout (judging from the sheer number of times I was asked where it was while I waited with my own tickets in hand), it is entirely possible that some people in attendance were able to enter and partake without ever having paid for entrance.

This, Steven Moffat, is how you
would make the Daleks awesome again.
Inside the retail floor, once you were able to navigate the impressively costumed crowds (cosplayers have had, and always will have, my utmost respect. Except for pregnant Supergirls: there is something downright unseemly about that), and managed to get the attention of a seller, good luck paying for it. You would think, with a hundred or so retailers in attendance, all desperate to sell their merchandise, and much of it costing more then a normal individual carries around on their person in cash, that the organisers might try to find a way to make it so that you could pay for your purchase. Despite most booths claiming to accept debit and credit cards, many of the sellers I talked to said their machines spent most of the time rejecting the payments. This resulted in a bizarre image from a distance, of dozens of makeshift poles raising the credit machines higher into the air, in an attempt to find a signal (which, considering that the venue sits in a dead zone, sandwiched between a military instillation and an international airport, is not that likely). I left many purchases behind after payment after payment attempt was rejected, including quite sadly, the lone Nick Fury Hot Toys figure at the event, which I had intended on buying to pair with my forthcoming Coulson. I was out the figure, the seller was out the sizable asking price, and I suspect the same was true for the line up of people, cards in hand, waiting with bitten bottom lip behind me in line. The ATM's had longer lineups then some of the autograph lines.

As for the promoted events, the organisers put together a stellar lineup, and smartly planned early, releasing the first batch of confirmed stars in January. That several of the stars announced at that time didn't actually make it was sad, but they made up for it as best they could. The booking of Nathon Fillion was very popular, undercut somewhat by the disappointing news on Friday that Summer Glau, long booked, would not be attending. In a lovely and contrite apology video she made and had played during the Firefly panel, she explained that she had lost her passport, something that Fillion and Jewel Staite proceeded to mock her for during her additional Skype appearance during the panel (which was very kind of her, considering that it would have been 8 in the morning for her). A cry in unison of "Summer" pleased the crowd, and we all seemed to forgive her.

Right then, he was talking about John Barrowman's penis
Timing and organisation was not a strength on display from the coordinators. The Firefly panel started late (and MC'd by a host that, it should be said, did not know the participant's name), and was cut short accordingly, to the disappointment of the crowd and the guests, because no buffer for overflow has been left between panels. No panel, as far as I could see, started on time, but the Firefly one was the most jarring, and easily the most attended (save perhaps for Fillion's lone Q&A on Sunday). Because so many guests had been booked, it allowed for little or no flexibility when issues like this arose. So too with the autograph and photo ops, when the schedules changed there was no communication between the organisers and the employees. Standing in line for a 10:30 session that didn't begin until 11:45, and that the only response anyone else in line could get from the volunteers or actual managing staff was "I don't know" did not inspire the greatest confidence. Considering that half the staff were wandering around with walkie-talkies, there seemed to be very little communication occurring, especially when things went wrong.

I haven't been able to find early attendance numbers anywhere, but informally I think the event exceeded last year's response, bolstered no doubt by the last minute appearance of the extremely likable (and crowd favourite) Fillion. Next year, I hope that they are able to learn from the failures of this year, perhaps scale the event down just a touch in all regards (after having scaled it up a bit too quickly), and make an event that is fun, accessible, and does not inspire occational fury. At the end of the day, Nathan Fillion told me I had very soft hands, and I'm not entirely certain how I'm meant to react to that.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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