From November 11 to 13, TheYoungFolks.com’s music editor Ryan Gibbs and contributing photographer Megan Phelps attended the Rhode Island Comic Con in Providence, Rhode Island. The following is our in-depth overview of that event.
Now in its fifth year, the Rhode Island Comic Con is easily the largest event of its type in the Ocean State and one of the largest in New England. Last year, The Young Folks attended the convention for the first time. Despite a few hiccups, we found it to be a relatively positive experience.
For 2016, convention organizers Altered Reality made some alterations to the event’s layout and invited several big-name guests such as Stan Lee, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Millie Bobby Brown and Alice Cooper. All told, it seemed to be a bigger-scale event while remaining in the same two buildings.
As for The Young Folks, we upped our coverage of the event, as I went all three days and contributing photographer Megan Phelps joined me Saturday and Sunday. Her photos are included throughout of this piece and more are included in our convention photo gallery.
For the remainder of this article we will be giving you our thoughts on the entire weekend, how the show was run, the merchandise selection and much more, including the best cosplay at the event.
When we came into the Saturday show last year, we saw a line into the convention that stretched over half a mile and into the Federal Hill neighborhood. While the line into the show was sizable this year, it was nowhere near being that crazy at any point in the day. By the middle of the day, the length had considerably cooled down and there was almost none by 1 p.m. both days. Instead, the complaints we heard were about the parking situation. One of our friends reported to us that they waited nearly 70 minutes to get into the parking garage.
Inside, the convention felt very crowded on Saturday – living up to being a sold-out event – but Friday and Sunday felt a lot more mellow and considerably more navigable. Certainly, both of those days felt like they would be a better experience for families or younger attendees.
There were a lot more people in the Rhode Island Convention Center at all times compared to the much larger Dunkin Donuts Center, even on the sold-out Saturday. Part of this has to do with two specific alterations the convention’s organizers made.
Firstly, the skybridge between the two buildings was made into a one-way route. If you wanted to go from the convention center to the Dunk, you had to go outside and enter through a re-entry door (exceptions were made for disabled individuals, vendors and press). This fixes a fire-safety problem that Megan and I pointed out in our logistics overview of last year’s show. This decision was ultimately for the best, and made walking on that skybridge safer than last year and much less of a crowded nightmare.
Secondly, the arena floor of the Dunk – the largest arena in the state – was devoted entirely to autograph lines for six or seven individuals, with Stan Lee’s line taking up over a quarter of that space. Last year, there were a few lines for big-ticket celebrities inside the Dunk, but much of that floor was taken up by merch. There were some things to see in the Dunk, including a few neatly spaced out merchandise tables on both lobby floors, but in general it felt like the less interesting of the two buildings this year. Indeed, If you weren’t interested in autographs for anyone – part of the lower lobby was to purchase tickets for autographs and photos for celebrities in both buildings – you were better off staying in the convention center entirely this year.
Fans were concerned this year after several high profile cancellations, including Kate Beckensale and Billie Piper. The convention explained that Beckensale dropped out do to filming obligations and it’s expected for any convention to have a couple guest cancellations each year (last year, Carrie Fisher dropped out). The lines, particularly for Morgan and Lee, were very long and the popularity of both Beckensale and Piper would have likely placed their lines into the Dunk as well and I have no clue how they would have made room.
Lastly, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention the biggest complaint on the convention’s Facebook: The lines for celebrity autographs, particularly with those big names inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. One con-goer anecdotally claimed that they waited nearly seven hours for a photo-op with with Walking Dead star Jeffery Dean Morgan. Others who had paid extra for the VIP ticket for Stan Lee noted that their swag bag was missing items and that line moved too slowly.
II. Celebrities and Panels
The handful of stars in the Dunk aside, most of the celebrity signing tables this year were – like last year – in the Rhode Island Convention Center’s exhibit hall, where the floor was split between merch space and guest booths (the latter largely in the hall’s “A” section).
There seem to be a good mixture of guest there, and a good mix of big names and cult celebrities this year, with draws like Summer Glau, Ric Flair, Arthur Darvill, Jason David Frank and Michael Cudlitz sharing space with Doug Walker, Sean Pertwee, John Ratzenberger and plenty of comic book artists. Unlike the Dunk lines, every line in the RICC seemed to move quickly and smoothly. Some of the booths had a more casual, relaxed feeling to them, and fans seemed to be able to chat with a guest longer than would be afforded elsewhere in the event.
There were a few individuals, mostly comic book artists, who were not in this specific celebrity wing of the hall, but instead dispersed into its B quadrant alongside vendors and other artists. The most prominent of these being Rob Leifeld, who had his booth on a corner of a corridor, which resulted in a medium sized line snaking through an aisle. Despite his controversial reputation in the comic book world, we heard nothing but positive remarks about Leifeld.
Just like the guest selection, the panels spanned a wide swath of fandoms and continue to be the best part of this convention. The two that we attended – featuring Alice Cooper and Christian Slater – were well moderated and organized. Both Cooper and Slater had plenty of time for fan questions and both events felt well paced. As with last year, Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress Clare Kramer impressed us as a moderator by keeping the fans engaged, asking solid introductory questions and having a wide breadth of knowledge about the panel subjects. We were unable to attend other panels, including those featuring actors from The Walking Dead, True Blood and Power Rangers, so I’m unable to say how those were run.
One panel we didn’t get into was arguably the main event of the panel schedule: a Q&A with Stan Lee. Any event that had to do with the Marvel legend had a huge turnout at this convention, and that panel was no exception. 45 minutes before the panel even started, the line for it was exceptionally large and so was the expedited VIP access line. When we returned to wait for Christian Slater’s panel, we were informed that Lee’s panel had reached the maximum capacity of the convention center’s Ballroom A and they were not allowing anyone else in, even press. The stories that came out of Lee’s panel imply that it was one to remember.
On the next page, check out our thoughts on the merchandise and other sights at this year’s convention!
III. Merch, Swag and More
As with last year, we kept tabs on unusual, interesting or popular merchandise and displays at the convention. The properties that struck as being the most popular were about what you’d expect them to be. DC and Marvel were standbys, with Suicide Squad being the biggest showing for DC and Deadpool for Marvel. There was also plenty of stuff from Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, Pokemon, Undertale, Fallout, Ghostbusters and Supernatural. Interestingly it seemed as if Doctor Who was much less represented that it was last year, in both merch and cosplay. Perhaps this can chalked to the show taking 2016 off, but it’s still a bit of a surprise. Additionally, it seemed as if properties such as Adventure Time, Rick & Morty and The X-Files were less popular with both vendors and fans this year.
Another trend that continued from last year was the near omnipresence of Funko Pop vinyl figurines. It seemed like every other vendor had at least a shelf of the things. Because of the sheer amount of them at this convention, if you wanted a specific figure, there were very high chances you’d be coming home with it.
There were only a few vendors who sold retro video games and consoles but the variety those folks had was rather solid and the prices were fair. There are alot of speculators that have gotten involved in retro gaming that have driven the prices of relatively common things up more than they’re worth, so it was good to see some vendors selling things at a good price.
There were also plenty of truly unique items for sale. For instance, Great American Gothic of Tyngsboro, Mass. sells stainless steel drinking flasks emblazoned with the logos of various media properties. They told us their best sellers were Fallout related.
Outside of the merch, celebrities and the panels, there was still quite a lot to do at the Rhode Island Comic Con. As with last year, there were a handful of replica vehicles from various television shows and films – Dean’s Impala from Supernatural, a Delorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future, a 1960s Batmobile and so on. There were also plenty of board game, video game and trading card events on the upper levels of the convention center, including a very popular Super Smash Brothers tournament.
Next page: Read our final thoughts on this year’s convention
V. What did the fans think of the show?
As with last year, I got hold one of my friends who attended this year’s convention to ask them what they thought of their experience. Julia Coelho often attends conventions, including past editions of the Rhode Island Comic Con. She is an avid cosplayer, and in addition to her opinion of the show, I asked her a few questions about her hobby.
TYF: What got you into cosplay?
Julia Coelho: When I was 16 years old two friends were headed to Anime Boston. I had never gone to a convention before and asked to tag along. When we got there it was a magical experience! There were so many of “my people” — just all these fans coming together and celebrating what they love. I had noticed many were dressed up, each person looked awesome and seemed to be in their element, I wanted to emulate that. The next year, I decide to buy a costume and give it a try!
TYF: Do you have any tips for those who want to get into cosplay?
Coelho: There are some people who believe they need to look a certain way or be perfect, truth is you just need to be you. I have bell’s palsy, a bone condition that left one arm dwarfed and my legs uneven, but I make the most of it and don’t let anything stop me from dressing up. If you love the character, dress up as them. Buy or make the costume. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t give into negative criticism. It doesn’t matter if you don’t look exactly like the character, what matters is that you are having fun!
TYF: Any tips for photographers?
Coelho: If there is a cosplayer you want a picture of, just politely ask them! There are a bunch of guides one can follow via the internet to improve! I’m not a photographer, but I have met many wonderful ones while on my adventures!
TYF: You went as Rogue this year. Why did you pick her?
Coelho: Because I am mutant and proud! Just kidding, I had always adored the character since watching the show as a kid, I decided to give it a whirl, and try it out!
TYF: How was this year’s con compared to previous editions of the Rhode Island Comic Con?
Coelho: With conventions it can be tricky. It has definitely improved, but there is always room to make changes, and strive for a better show with each passing year! Rhode Island is such a small state and so many people came for a chance to meet celebrities, dress up, and congregate. 8
TYF: Was there a specific character or property you saw more of in terms of cosplay this year?
Coelho: I did notice a lot of Walking Dead cosplay groups, characters from Overwatch, and Harley Quinn. It is always interesting to see how guests and themes influence people’s cosplay choices. I was excited to see other X-Men cosplayers! It made my day when another Rogue noticed me!
TYF: Did you see any panels, buy any merch or get any autographs?
Coelho: Sadly I wasn’t able to attend most of the panels I wanted to go to due to my own poor planning. I had a lot of wonderful friends hosting panels, I am proud of each and every one of them! Shout out to Raymond Ramos and The AngryGeeks Show! I did however make sure to spend some time with the people behind Autism Speaks, they were working so hard and raised lots of money towards their cause. It is nice to see contentions have tables for organizations.
TYF: What did you think of the logistics this year?
Coelho: So I think with each passing year the convention itself is improving. It can be tough to facilitate all these people. It does get crowded with most conventions. There are lots of lines. I however managed to move around pretty well. I think it was also due to the fact that I didn’t want autographs, I came for the convention atmosphere, to make friends, tell a few jokes, look at all the wonderful merchandise (which I didn’t end up buying), and of course to take lots of selfies!
TYF: What was the crowd control and traffic like for you this year?
Coelho: I think crowd control was good, there were lines, but it was to be expected. Conventions used to be seen as small, but with pop culture and the media, conventions have expanded into so much more! 1
TYF: Overall, what was your experience like this year, as both a fan and a cosplayer?
Coelho: I got to say, it was worth it! I am happy I got to spend time with friends and loved ones, rock a brand new costume, and pet some cute service dogs (with the owner’s permission of course!) I hope all those who attend managed to have fun as well!
VI. Final thoughts
Overall, this year’s Rhode Island Comic Con was probably a lot of different things to different people. Attendees that we personally talked to had a blast, but I can definitely understand that some fans who were there for autographs were upset by the lines in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center . The convention’s Facebook page has a wide range of feedback and comments from attendees from positive to negative.
In general, the vendors, props, artists and booths were all well spaced, with plenty of room to move between them. Even though a majority of the stuff to do at this con took place in the main exhibition hall, that room never once seemed overcrowded and felt well managed. Comparatively, the most crowded spots in the convention center were the various lobbies and walkways as fans went on their way to the next panel, vendor or other destination, which is to be expected. Although those areas felt very crowded on Saturday, they were a breeze to walk through on Friday and Sunday.
One writer, Marise Lessing from the University of Connecticut’s Daily Campus newspaper, complained about the prices inside of the show for food, autographs and photos. Lessing reports that an autograph with Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot cost $125, and a photo would run $300. Compare this with the prices we saw for autographs with Christian Slater ($50), Millie Bobby Brown (also $50) and top draw Jeffrey Dean Morgan ($85). Reports on the con’s Facebook complain of an expensive or confusing process to purchase photos and autographs. We saw a line for fans to pay for photos in various “zones” – A line to stand in another larger line, if you will.
I’m not sure what can be fixed to alleviate Lessing’s concerns. Putting big-ticket names like Morgan, Lee, Cooper and Gadot into a specific, giant space entirely devoted for lines to see them seems like a good idea in concept. Unfortunately, it apparently didn’t work in execution for many con-goers. It’s understandable that the long wait times disappointed convention goers who felt they were missing on panels or other parts of the show and left to vent their frustrations on social media.
Ultimately, this year’s Rhode Island Comic Con was a solid, well-intentioned event with a handful of logistics issues involving autograph lines and Saturday’s overwhelming crowd. Some of the changes from last year worked, while others need further tweaking. It will be interesting to see what improvements that convention organizers Altered Reality make to the show next year, and whether the complaints about logistics from attendees this year will have any effect on the floor plan. Only time will tell.
Did you attend the Rhode Island Comic Con this year? Let us know your thoughts on the show in the comments.