[Review] - Ottawa Comiccon, Summer 2014

Via the Doctor Who Society of Canada, from the OCC Twitter. Because I couldn't be bothered
 The subtitle of Ottawa's annual geek-and-nerd event should be "swings and roundabouts." Every year (or rather, with every event) they make a definite move forward towards improving things, but for every crease they iron out, another pops up along the way. In many ways, the worst things about the event are just products of their own success. In three years, and four events, they've transformed themselves from a wobbly fawn still covered in sick into a proud, striding buck which occasionally stumbles on some moss.

Still and all, some of the shine has come off it for me personally. This was the first year I've walked away from the event feeling less than whole. Certainly, I purchased some kit that I didn't necessarily need (and spent more money that I should have). And I got some autographs of people I admired, and took in some of the special events. For the first time in my life, I even cosplayed (the only evidence of my fantastic Krieger costume exists only on stranger's phones - which, to the Cheryl cosplayer I rather rudely rebuffed, that was my bad; I thought you were simply a crazy person).

Hit the jump for some analysis of the good, the bad, and the furry (seriously, there was just someone wandering the hall in a full fox costume, sucking a raspberry slushie through a straw - it was weird).

The biggest improvement this year came in the form of layout. I've bemoaned the organization of this event from the start, and this year they finally figured out a structure that, on paper, works best. Now the boffins have to while away the hours between now and the next event figuring out how to make it work in the real world. The EY Centre, the host location since inception, has traditionally been divided into three areas: two halls at either end of the facility, and a large open area in between. "Hall 4" has been the main stage, used for Q&As and the costume contest, while the main floor has been used for the exhibition and commercial area. Use of the third smaller space has been inconsistent and ever changing (it has alternatively been used for admission lineups, cafeteria space and larger exhibitions, such as guest vehicles). This year, the underutilized "Hall 1" became the home for the autograph area and for Artist's Alley, the apparent eternal afterthought of the organizers, who slot it into whatever space happens to be left available.

While this seemed like a logical choice, and on the event map it was a spectacular idea, in execution, it floundered. The lineups for the autographs, which were organized and enforced with the clarity and authority of a wet biscuit, invaded the space, resulting in several lines being unceremoniously cut off at seemingly randoms places, much to the chagrin of those that had been waiting patiently and were now being asked to toddle off. Artist's Alley booths, previously having trapped between the rock of the commercial booths and the hard place of the corrugated facility walls, were jammed together so tightly that grid lock occurred if opposing currents of visitors attempted to venture into the same corridor. While I have no proof of this, I might suspect that the artist's saw a drop in their returns this year, based entirely on the fact that there wasn't enough room for a person to stand and test the wares of the fine artists, while leaving enough room for others to pass you by. I found I had to make repeated passes of booths, conducting my surveys of merch on the fly.

Crowds are to be expected at these things, and lines are a fact of the beast. But the gridlock was in fine for this year. Which, honestly, I was not expecting. Last year's summer event was bolstered considerably by the involvement of Nathon Fillion, and frankly, this year lacked any one guest of his caliber (or rather, his modern popularity). Christopher Lloyd and Bruce Campbell are geek royalty, but are less universally appealing. But what they lacked in "big name" they made up for in sheer star power. The guest list was the largest they've arranged (and only one announced guest failed to show): Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge, Sean Astin, Karl Urban, Charisma Carpenter, Edward James Almos, Robert Englund, and Summer Glau were just some of the stars in attendance. And it was an effective draw, as it appears that fans came out in droves, shutting down traffic in the area. Navigation within the facility, on the exhibitor floor and in the special event lines, was at it's most tolerable. The moving of the cafeteria into the exhibitor space, someone counter intuitively, managed to alleviated a lot of congestion. I found movement in this area to be the easiest it has ever been, allowing for ease of browsing and accommodation of the crowds. 

If I might make my suggestion to the organizers, you're on the right track. Keep the autographs and photos in Hall 1, but move the large scale exhibits, like the Daleks and the 501st, into there along with them. Move Artist's Alley to the perimeter of the main space, thus opening up room for extended and better defined lines in the autographs, and allowing more space for the artist's materials to actually be seen. As for the line up procedures for the Hall 4 events, you've finally nailed that one down. The tents, the snaking, the entering via the side were all spot on. You do have to improve your signage though, or at least make certain that all of your employees and volunteers are working off the same information, because I was directed into entirely the wrong place on multiple occasions.

The "special events" were much improved this year, at least widening the range of workshops available. Along with the usual "How To Build A Dalek," several other prominent area cosplayers hosted how-to sessions, including one hosted by Del Rona Creations called "Henson Style Costume Building for Mere Mortals." The growing issues of "Cosplay ≠ Consent" had a dominate presence at this con, both at daily sessions and on the floor. And for the first time, the single geeks had a chance to make a connection at the "Lightspeed Dating," offered for both sexual orientations (though space was extremely limited in both the Friday and Saturday sessions, resulting in the majority of willing participants being turned away).

The Q&As were a mixed bag, as always. Scheduling issues (and the traffic problems out in the real world) resulted in delays, and a odd undercurrent of dickishness among some of the crowds. The actual events ranged from rousing to embarrassing, insightful to ponderous. As always, it becomes very clear very quickly which guests really embrace this aspect of the culture, and which are just putting in time. Bruce Campbell get my vote for best of the event though, for managing to avoid the repetitiveness (and cringe-worthiness) of the questions he'd usually be asked by making his Q&A both interactive and a chance to trade good natured insults with some of the stranger of the attendees. 

And through it all, I felt a disconnectedness that I haven't felt in the previous years. I suspect this was more on me than it was on the event, though it is fair to say that I didn't get everything I wanted out of the weekend and some of that was down to certain failures of the event. I made the best of the time I could, but the success of the event and the intent of the attendees made it a deeper bog to wade through than usual. And there seemed to be less cosplayers too, at least to my eye. No pregnant Supergirls this year though, so that's a plus at least.
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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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