If you were at Awesome Con in Washington, DC, this past weekend (or if you attended last year), you’d be forgiven for assuming that it’s an established convention with years of experience to its name. You’d be forgiven for thinking this since it’s an enormous show that boasts an impressive guest lineup and more or less runs as smooth as silk (from an attendee’s perspective, at least). You’d be forgiven for thinking this…but you’d be wrong.
This year marks only the fourth Awesome Con in DC, which began as a labor of love among a few fans who simply couldn’t believe that our nation’s capital didn’t have its own comic con. I’ve been to all four Awesome Cons, and watching its explosion in size, popularity, and guest list has been nothing short of remarkable. The first Awesome Con was held in 2013 in a single room. In fact, it’s the room that housed the open board gaming space at this year’s show.
Almost immediately following that inaugural show, Ben Penrod–the show’s founder–took to Kickstarter to raise funds so the show could continue for a second year. The Kickstarter was a success; the second Awesome Con was more than twice as big but still relatively modest. In 2015, the show exploded by an order of magnitude and officially arrived on the East Coast convention scene as a force to be reckoned with.
Despite a few changes, an unfortunate schedule conflict, and a meteoric rise in ticket prices, this year’s show certainly didn’t disappoint. Awesome Con may be unofficial “rivals” with nearby Baltimore Comic-Con (traditionally held in the fall), and even though we’re fortunate to have both so close, they are two distinctly different shows. Whereas Baltimore is one of the few comic cons that is still primarily about comics and comic book creators, Awesome Con has embraced the “celebrity guest” approach to conventions. And they’ve certainly made it work for them.
This year, Kevin Smith, Peter Capaldi, John Barrowman, Karl Urban, Bill Nye, Adam West, Ron Perlman, Brett Dalton, Elizabeth Henstridge, Jenna Coleman, and Summer Glau (among many others) were all in attendance, doing the whole signing and photo ops thing. Most also had at least one panel or Q&A session during the weekend. If that’s your thing, then there was certainly a nice variety of guests.
The show made a few changes this year, which made the entire weekend feel a little…different. Not “good different” or “bad different”–just different.
The scheduling conflict I mentioned earlier was Wizard World, who set up camp two hours north in Philadelphia on the same weekend. The two shows had never been on the same weekend before, and I’m afraid that Awesome Con drew the short straw on this front. Fans, dealers, and artists (not to mention celebrity guests) were forced to choose one or the other. Wizard World boasted an incredible guest lineup, which may have been the tipping point for many. More fans opted to see the Marvel stars, which meant bigger crowds, which meant dealers and artists chose Philly just for potential sales and exposure.
Artists’ Alley at Awesome Con was great, but it felt almost dominated by crafters and Makers. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, since most of them had some amazing stuff for sale. It was just different from what you might normally expect from a comic con. I can only imagine how–ahem–awesome the show floor would’ve been if half the potential exhibitors and artists weren’t up in Philly.
Perhaps inspired by the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which was held in the same space a couple months ago (and drew a staggering 365,000 visitors), Awesome Con devoted an entire section of the exhibitors’ floor to a “Science Fair” with tables manned by representatives from organizations such as NASA, Discovery, The Planetary Society, and the U.S. Department of Energy. All provided great content, programming, and kids’ activities.
Also new were large areas of floor space given to BrickFair, who ran several LEGO tables and rally races for the kids, and Baltimore’s Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which displayed an amazing exhibit with some true gems from their collection.
Awesome Con continues to grow, and I appreciate that they’re choosing to expand in some unique ways. So my hat is off to them for becoming more kid- and Maker-friendly.
My only real complaint is financial. Ticket prices continue to go up–to the point where single-day tickets are becoming prohibitive. On top of that, the “An Evening with Kevin Smith” and “StarTalk Live (with Bill Nye)” events were separately ticketed events, for an additional $15 on top of your con admission. Honestly, I do not like the precedent this sets. Panels hosted by the con, during con hours, and open only to con attendees should be free. That is all.
Still, despite that, I’ve already got Awesome Con 2017 on my calendar. Can’t wait!