Many of you will know that I regularly attend pop culture conventions around Australia — Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, etc.. This weekend past I attended the 2014 Sydney Supanova convention. In Sydney — in case you hadn’t figured that part out yet.

This is the second Supanova in Sydney which I have attended.

Firstly, let me say one thing which most Australians will already know: Sydney is super expensive.

Most things there were twice as much as I would expect in Melbourne. Public transport was costly. I managed to get away without spending too much, but the Melbourne system I find more practical, and affordable.

That said, the trains appeared to be nicer looking, mostly free of graffiti, and ran more regularly. Maybe that increased cost reflects this.

However, there was also a charge to simply exit the damned airport and use the public transport. Which I thought was bogus.

Anyway, I went to Sydney for a handful of reasons:

  1. Katie Cassidy
  2. Manu Bennett
  3. John Barrowman
  4. Stan Lee

The con was great. It’s in a great location — Olympic Park — which, while hardly centralised, is very spacious and really offers a lot for convention attendees. Having attended most of my conventions at the Showgrounds in Melbourne, I can really say that Olympic Park is the superior venue.

There are two great rooms which back on to one another — a round room which housed most of the store fronts and booths, and a rectangular room which housed the token booth, primary stages, artist alley, photograph and signature lines.

 

Supanova2013_SydneySMALL
Click for larger image

 

The booths were spaced out really well. It was an easy place to navigate, and provided plenty of spaces to sit (on the floor) around the fringes of the convention. There were a lot of great store selling t-shirts, toys, DVDs, food and candy, corsets (not proper corsets), tights and swimsuits (ie. Black Milk), books, comics, as well as a whole bounty of nerdy collectibles. And there were artists — both professional and entrepreneurial — selling prints, sketches, commissions, badges, crafts, etc..

John Barrowman’s panel on Sunday was a delight! The man is incredibly entertaining, extremely candid, and all-round fantastic. I don’t really know how else I can try to describe him. One of the truly impressive things he did, however, was thank us, the audience, as he finished the panel. Not just to thank us for attending, or thank us for liking his work, but thank us for providing him for the life he lives. The acknowledged that, if not for the fans, that in all likelihood he wouldn’t be living the live that he is now. And for that he was truly grateful. I thought was was fantastic, and truly showed how much be respects and appreciates his fans.

Dude was awesome.

Manu Bennett shook my hand. For too long. He signed the slip for my Arrow blu-ray, looked up and offered his hand, said thanks, and then didn’t let go. It was awkward.

Artist Alley was great. It’s a part which I always enjoy (partially because I secretly hope to be part of it one day) but while there was some great stuff to look at, I didn’t really feel compelled to buy anything.

In all honesty I was trawling the stores hoping to find a plush torchic and charmander, as I recently purchased a plush fennekin on a whim, and I wanted to complete the set of my favourite starter Pokémon. Unfortunately, there weren’t any. I did find a tepig, but I decided against it. The only way I could like that Pokémon was to make a joke out of it by nicknaming mine ‘Crackling.’ I also found a push of Happy from Fairy Tail which was very tempting.

It was a great turn out. But it did have some flaws.

For the uninitiated, conventions are busy places — especially if you’re looking to get photos or signatures. If you looking for either of these you first need to line up in the token queue, buy a signature and/or photo token, and then line up in the respective queues for these shineys.

We arrived on Friday, bought our tokens for signatures that night, and returned two hours before opening the next morning. After the line was re-arranged, moved, moved again, and then rearranged a final time — an unfortunate fact of pop culture conventions — we were permitted to enter the con at 10 am.

We went straight to the Stan Lee line. We knew he was popular, we knew he would be busy, so we went to him first so we could get that done as soon as possible. When we lined up at 10am I was number 4 in the queue. I got my signature at 5.30pm.

We were general admission. As well as general admission the convention also sold ‘True Believer’ Stan Lee priority tickets. This meant that our queue — the general admission queue — was held off to the side while Stan Lee signed for all the people who had ‘True Believer’ passes. All four-hundred of them. Many of which didn’t want one signature, but had paid for two or more.

Let me break it down:

8:00am: Arrive at convention, line up in queue and wait for entry
10:00am: Enter convention hall and go straight to general admission line for Stan Lee
10:00am-12:30pm: Stan Lee signs for ‘True Believer’ passes — no-one from general admission moves an inch, and the ‘True Believer’ line grows
12:30pm: Stan Lee breaks for lunch, photos, and a panel. General admission attendees get their passes numbered with their position within the queue, and told to return at 4:20pm
4:20pm: Return to Stan Lee line, and slotted into position behind the 50 or so remaining ‘True Believer’ passes
5:30pm: Get my signature from Stan Lee
6:00pm: Convention closes

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed by the wait. I’m glad the convention numbered our tickets so we could go enjoy the rest of the convention, but having to stand in the one spot for 2.5 hours before they did was very frustrating.

Of course, I expect that Stan Lee will be popular. I expect that there will be a lot of people hoping to get his signature, or a photograph from him. But then, that’s why I bought my token the night before and lined up outside two hours before the event started — to get my signature as quick as possible. If the crowd hadn’t been ready to turn, and convention staff hadn’t numbered our passes, I would have been standing in queues for 9.5 hours in order to get that signature. That’s pretty nuts.

I was also a little disappointed for the convention staff. I always feel bad for them. They’re mostly volunteers — so they’re giving up their time in order to do this — and they cop all of the flack from angry attendees. But the scripted responses of “Well, Stan Lee is very popular, so you have to expect to wait a while” and “They have priority, so they have to go first”, wasn’t really good enough. In short, I felt the ‘True Believer’ passes were an error on the part of the convention.

I’ve attended other conventions with high-tier guests. One which I was very impresses by was Oz Comic-Con 2013 in Melbourne when William Shatner attended. For that convention there were also a large number of people who had priority. And they too had a separate queue to line in for their tokens and signatures. However, instead of letting each one of them through first and making all of the general admission attendees wait, they followed a different system.

Priority pass holders were taken into the signature line in groups of 4-6
For each of these groups, 1-2 general admission holders were also inserted into the queue

I feel this is a better system, as priority pass holders still advance much, much quicker than general admission, but it keeps both lines moving, and rewards people who arrived early.

It’s incredibly frustrating to be waiting in a line for 2 hours — especially after getting up ridiculously early to be able to secure a good position — and then watch someone waltz down, having just arrived, and step right in front of you.

I try very hard not to begrudge these people. After all, they paid for that right. They paid a lot for that right. But it is frustrating.

That’s why I prefer that other system. I think it rewards people fairly, which would have been very useful for the Stan Lee line.

Another factor was limits — there were none. In theory, a single person could have purchased tokens for 20 signatures, and the next person in the line would have to wait for each one of those 20 signatures to be completed.

When paired with the ‘True Believer’ pass, this was excruciating. Considering that these people had forked out a sizeable wad of cash to have priority tickets, many weren’t satisfied with one or two signatures.

Being as there were more tokens for signatures sold than could be accommodated by the 6pm closing time, Stan Lee generously offered to stay after closing to get them all done. Which was great, and led to another of the hated scripted responses from the staff: “Stan has very generously offered to stay to ensure you’ll all get your signature.”

That’s great, but the reality is that he shouldn’t be put in that position. There shouldn’t be so many signature tokens sold that they can’t be honoured within the 10am-6pm opening hours. And what of people who couldn’t stay after hours to wait for that signature? What of families, or others who had commitments during those times, which they had made with the expectation that they would be finished by 6pm, which they now had to — or couldn’t — break?

It was very generous of Stan, but I don’t think it was right.

-TM

 

EDIT:

Looking back at over this post now, I see that I spent around 60-70% of the post talking about the Stan Lee line. Which makes me feel as though I’m being unfair.

After considering that, however, I don’t think it is. That experience really did colour my view of the convention. It also had a direct impact on my enjoyment of the expo. So I feel it’s a valid view.