Contemplating Convention

When I was seven years old, I attended my first Creation convention. My father coached me repeatedly before we got to the front of the line, ensuring that I said my birthday was in 1985, not 1984, because children six and under were free or at a substantially discounted price. I don’t remember how it went down because when you’re a kid and Klingons are walking around, you don’t pay attention to the ticket table. I walked away with a red Star Trek uniform with captain rank just like my fave, Jean-Luc Picard. I looked awesome.

star trek Ash

See? Awesome.

This was in the early 90s in Chicago, and I didn’t attend another convention until this past year, the first weekend of November 2015 in Denver, Colorado. My father told me I’d be fine despite my anxiety because, after all, I’d been to a convention before. But what he didn’t realize was that there’s a big difference between a child experiencing her favorite fandom with her geeky dad and a thirty-one year old mother of two attending a convention alone with over two hundred strangers. But I was reassured time and time again that with Supernatural fans, we’re more than a fandom – we’re a family.

After my experience at DenverCon, I questioned if I wanted to ever go to a convention again. It wasn’t that I had a negative experience, but having been there, done that, I had more personal impressions to reflect on when thinking about future conventions. Many con-goers are no stranger to Creation events or even plan to go to another convention as soon as their first is over; others are more hesitant. I realized that there are probably hundreds if not thousands of people who wonder if it would be worth it to attend a convention, and in an effort to provide as unbiased a position as possible, here I’m going to unpack the pros and cons of attending a Supernatural convention and explain the convention itself, including pre- and post-con experiences, as well as some of the other aspects of fandom that might be worthy of consideration.

To Con or not to Con?

Convention season is starting again, kicking off with JaxCon in Jacksonville, Florida the weekend of January 15-17th 2016. Deciding whether or not attending a Supernatural Convention is the right thing for you depends on a lot of factors. Some people find themselves interested in conventions because they want to satisfy the curiosity of what it’s like to be there in the room of panels that they’re seeing quoted on social media or gifs and videos of later. Others might feel as if this is a rite of passage for Supernatural fans, that they are missing out on something by not being a con veteran. A large part of why most people ultimately decide on attending a convention isn’t so much the actors themselves which is the obvious draw, but the family experience that we hear so much about – to finally meet up with people you’ve connected with online because of the show or to enjoy it with people you know in real life that have the same passion for the show as you. But what holds so many fans back is accessibility; the cost of going to a convention is pretty high. For most of Supernatural’s fans, the price tag of a convention is far out of their price range for one weekend of fun with not a lot of tangible mementos of the event.

Other than admission, which depending on what kind of ticket you decide to purchase and how many days you’ll be attending can be as low as $35 to upwards of $1000, you have to factor in additional travel costs, hotel, food, and any extras you would want to enhance your con experience. Photo ops and autographs, meet and greets, auctions, outfits for karaoke and the costume contest, and merchandise all feel as if they are sucking away every dollar from your wallet – but go big or go home, right?

There can be a lot of hesitation in determining whether or not the time and money are worth it, whether your experience with the cast would be as exhilarating as some people make it seem or ruin a perception you had of them, or if the “SPN Family” would turn out to be a farce. The worth of attending a con is more than simply weighing the good versus the bad and the monetary issue. An important question you’ll want to ask yourself is what you are hoping to get out of the convention, and tailor your experience to that. If you are attending with family or friends, you may have more fun at group activities like Friday Night Karaoke or with photo ops. If you’re going it alone, something like the Saturday Night Concert might be the event you enjoy most. Hesitation may come in the form of worrying about what your experience may be like with other fans. Finding like-minded individuals would be the likely outcome, but there’s still the tugging fear of encountering immature or inappropriate fans. Of course, getting along with everyone you come across is an impossibility, but it would certainly ease your mind if you had some people you knew going who saw eye-to-eye with you on the show and the fandom. I joked on my tumblr prior to attending DenverCon that I wished there was a match.com for finding friends going to the same convention as you – there are five people in your seating area that share the same ships and interest in fanfiction as you. Unfortunately, something that magical doesn’t exist.

You’ve Got Friends

So how, if you were going it alone, do you remove the lonesome feeling of attending such a large event without a friend to turn and squeal to when Jared walks by being actual human sunshine, to hold your bag while you’re in the bathroom, or to talk to in lines and lulls between panels?

Well, the internet. Where else?

Though I rarely use facebook as it has become a meme graveyard full of judgements and opinions you never needed to hear from family members that type in all caps on everything you post, something kind of beautiful happened when my con-veteran friend suggested I find the DenverCon facebook group. I stayed mostly quiet, but since I was going alone, the moment a meet up was suggested, I was game. A few people came out to the first one, and a few more to the second. I was so grateful to have friendly faces I could connect with at the convention. Even an “Oh, hey!” and a wave was enough to lift my anxiety. There was a kickoff at a restaurant for a few of us, quick walks to get lunch, someone to accompany you as you strolled through the vendor area, people reprimanding you when you started to panic about your appearance, a person to snag your photo op if you didn’t find it when you went through – there was a feeling of Instant Friend™. We had each other’s backs, held spots in line, and kept each other company. I don’t think there was any time that I was at the convention that I felt alone, except when I arrived late with a huge bag full of bagels Saturday morning. Even so, I wound up brightening the day of a couple vendors from a small corset company from the area and a Creation staff worker who had been really kind to me all weekend with free bagels.

If you are going to a convention, I fully suggest signing up for the facebook group to connect with others going. You may be able to get to know the person sitting next to you, find someone to give you a ride to the airport, or someone to share a hotel room with.

That Sneaking Suspicion

Another hesitation you may have is that you’re just being seen as another dollar. Creation boasts a very special kind of convention experience that you won’t get anywhere else, and in a way that’s extremely true. While other conventions are packed with actors, writers, and creators from across the genres with thousands of fans, Creation conventions are more intimate, catering to the fans of one show for an entire weekend. And yet, there are a few questions that arise to wonder if you’re truly getting the most out of the fan experience by attending a Supernatural convention.

A common complaint from con-goers are the shipping fees that accompany the tickets – tickets that aren’t actually shipped anywhere, but instead you have to print off yourself. And this is for all tickets, not just admission: photo ops, autographs, Saturday night concert. The major hit in the pocketbook comes from photo ops and autographs – opportunities that often sell out, especially for the two leads Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) and Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester). The good thing is that if you miss those opportunities, there are usually people selling ops on the facebook group for the convention, giving you another opportunity – though that can be an awkward and unsettling experience as well.

Taking a look at the cost of photo ops for the two leads – $149 each – in comparison to photo ops at other conventions makes you question if you’re getting ripped off. A friend pointed out recently that the photo ops with Mads Mikkelsen from Hannibal (NBC) at Indianapolis’ HorrorFest in 2014 at the height of the show’s popularity included a mock dinner table set up and only cost $50. While we love our actors, as well as the convention photographer Chris Schmelke (which is obvious by how everyone comes away from cons knowing his name), how are the prices justified? In further comparison, Salt Lake City Comic Con’s 2016 prices for photo ops lead with Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints, The Walking Dead) at $100. Admission prices for SLCC include a VIP option that is similar to a Copper Creation pass. This SLCC pass costs less and includes (as with every adult admission purchase) a 3-day general admission pass for two children eight and under. After being asked two days before DenverCon by my eight year old if he could come with me, that SLCC option seems extremely beneficial. Creation conventions require proof of age for children who are six and under (unless it was the early 90s when my cute mug couldn’t possibly tell a lie) and full price admission for anyone above six years old.

Another unfortunate reason some fans have lost faith in the conventions and see them as money-making ventures designed to maximize profits while exploiting the family feeling of the fandom is because of the SPN Fan Movie. Seeming like a good idea in concept and what seems like enthusiasm from the cast who love to do anything they can to show their love for the fans, there has been significant backlash against the project with arguments ranging from the kind of fans represented in the film to seeking free graphic work from the fans with the benefit of exposure, something emerging artists are warned about when unsure of how to be compensated for their work. The final straw for many came from a twitter guilt trip amounting to additional funds being sought from the creators (brothers Clif and Mitch Kosterman, the former the long-time bodyguard for Jensen and Jared) to help dig them out of debt, asking the fandom to contribute an additional $100,000. This triggered some fans who had already contributed to the crowdfunding campaign to request refunds. Meanwhile, a fan-made documentary about the fandom also debuted on Indiegogo seeking financing – Amanda Campbell, a writer/director from Toronto, Canada was looking to get $2,000 for Wayward, a documentary by fans for fans “rather than merely a project being sold to them”, with the benefit of it being streamed online for free. As of November 2015, her project raised just shy of $4,000.

Much to the surprise of fans who had lobbied Creation Entertainment for female cast members to be invited to Denver, a new person was added to the photo and auto op list – Clif. For $40 you could have a photo op with him and $20 for an autograph, the photo op being the same price as an SLCC op for John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings).

While the Kings of Con comedy series created by Supernatural’s Rob Benedict and Richard Speight, Jr. (a fictional account of their experiences being “super famous thirteen weekends a year”) that was in part filmed during conventions has been seen by fans as a positive representation of what can come from fan crowdfunding, conventions, and love of the fans, the SPN Fan Movie has fallen into a questionable area of are we being exploited?

Creation Staff, Volunteers, and Vendors

Beyond hoping that the convention you attend will be worth the money you’re spending, you also hope that the company and people in charge are reasonable and descent to those attending as well as the guests that will be on stage. Comments concerning Creation Entertainment’s business practices are conflicting as you’ll find with any company. While some of my experience with staff was hit or miss, I encountered absolutely nothing markedly negative, my experience with the volunteers was exceedingly positive as everyone I spoke with was polite and tried very hard to help when people needed assistance, even if there was confusion and changing of plans. It’s good to remember that many of the staff are volunteers who have done multiple conventions, so while they have a good grasp of what’s going on, they may need to double check to figure out when something suddenly changes and hasn’t been communicated to them – be patient, be kind. The volunteers I spoke with were pretty awesome people (there was even a volunteer that I did a photo op with). The vendors were friendly, and Savvy, Andie, and Andrew representing the Corseted by Generations of Art booth were absolutely wonderful. I watched a friend I’d made from the pre-con meetups get laced up into a corset, and not only were they knowledgeable about the wares, they were just as hungry and exhausted as we were behind their smiles and pleasant conversation. Hence the bagels.

Guests

The guests for Supernatural conventions depend heavily on schedules, but the amazing thing about these conventions in particular is that with so many a year, the headliners of the show are always there. Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins, as well as Mark Sheppard, Osric Chau, and of course Richard Speight, Jr. and Rob Benedict are nearly always in attendance. Mark Pellegrino, Matt Cohen, Tahmoh Penikett, Gil McKinney, Sebastian Roche, and other cast members are often in panels as well or participate in other aspects of the convention. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (John Winchester) seems to enjoy the conventions and interactions with the fans, and has implied he’d like to be invited to more in the future. A few things are evident across the board with all of the cast members attending conventions as guests – they love and appreciate the fans, and enjoy the positive interactions with their convention family.

But where are the ladies?

Of course scheduling can be difficult to nail down with so many guests, but many people feel disappointed when there aren’t any or hardly any female guests from the show. When requesting information as to why there were no female cast members for Denver, we were notified that we had amazing guests and essentially should be grateful for what we had. Another email that questioned why other conventions had female guests, PasCon was cited as being easier to book female guests because of the proximity to Los Angeles, even though New Jersey and Chicago conventions feature female guests. Briana Buckmaster (Donna Hanscum) retweeted Kim Rhodes (Jody Mills), who tagged many of the women who have appeared on Supernatural asking “uh…Hmmm. None? At all?” at the start of DenverCon, adding “How’s the sausage party?” These tweets and the responses from the other women from the show makes it seem as if they hadn’t been invited to join as guests.

One way con-goers seek out guests, female or otherwise, is through twitter to show their interest to Creation. Fans also use twitter to confirm rumors or clear up conflicting information between the Creation website and emails if a cast member will or will not be attending. When Samantha Ferris (Ellen Harvelle) was asked about her attendance at Denver, she responded that she doesn’t do Creation conventions because “they are douchey to their guests and attendees”.

The Convention Marathon

Nearly everyone’s favorite aspect of the convention experience are the panels. It’s the main reason we go to cons, and they make it worthwhile. But there’s a reason everyone is constantly looking at their schedules, whether the Creation schedule or a photo op/auto schedule printed out and folded to fit in the pocket of your lanyard if you have one.

sched

Someone posted this printout on our facebook group. I had this life-saving schedule folded up and stuffed behind my Copper pass hanging around my neck, and was continuously checking it.

The convention is a marathon. You’ll be exhausted, hungry, and probably dehydrated. Tumblr user scones-and-texting-and-murder attended BurCon as her first this year with her daughter and did a write-up breaking down some very handy convention tips like only a mom can, including a tip I would also pass on – drink water. The hotel had two water stations in the auditorium and one in the hallway where people lined up for photo ops and near the ticket tables, which was greatly appreciated.

Here is a quick rundown of my three-day experience:

Friday

Friday starts off with the ever amusing Richard Speight, Jr. (Gabriel/Trickster) presenting the rules, applauding the rule breakers, and kicking off the weekend’s opening ceremony with Louden Swain. Of course it may be the high of my first convention (and not a high from the drugs that we Coloradans were accused of having taken prior to attendance), but Rich had me hooked as a Friday Person from the get, because Dick loves Friday People and Friday People love Dick. Absolutely charming in every way, Rich kicks off the con in the best way possible, with Louden Swain getting the crowd pumped up. Rob Benedict (Chuck/God/Lead singer of Louden Swain) ran up and down the aisles, but ended each run mentioning that he may have forgotten about the whole altitude thing. Despite exaggerated post-run wheezing, his energy was contagious. Gil McKinney (Henry Winchester) took the stage and was inappropriately delightful, swooning over Jensen’s attractiveness and hoping that his character might return. Osric Chau (Kevin Tran) was sweet and innocently wonderful, as usual.

_MG_0340

Me as Ramona Flowers with Rob and Rich just before Friday Night Karaoke

Friday Night Karaoke is an absolute blast. In an informal survey I created on convention experiences, karaoke was the second-most thing people loved about the convention just behind the panels. It didn’t end until after midnight though, which if you’re old and driving home and still have to make it back in the morning, is a bit much and will leave you wanting to nap in between panels the next day.

Saturday

Probably the most exhausting day, Saturday started off with Sebastian Roche (Balthazar), Tahmoh Penikett (Ezekiel/Gadreel), and then Osric Chau and Gil McKinney together on stage. Tahmoh hooked us all on meditation in five minutes, with a lot of us signing up for the Zen4Minds challenge the week after the con. The latter duo feels like a strange combination since the two characters never met on the show, but Osric and Gil have an amazing dynamic that works. Creation took note of that, and Saturday certainly benefits from that panel. Rich, Matt, and Rob made the audience laugh and fall in love with Rob Benedict’s awkward and shy personality that conflicts with the energy and confidence he exudes while on stage with Louden Swain. Matt’s humor, energy, and love for the fans is non-stop, and Rich’s touching story about his experience on Band of Brothers brought many members of the audience to tears, nearly ruining eyeliner before photo ops.

After a big lull for stage reset, photo ops, meet and greets, costume contest, and auctions, Mark Sheppard (Crowley) started his panel. I’ve never seen so many grown adults petrified and thrilled at the same time. Walking up and down the aisles answering questions or dismissing them with “Next question”, he cooed at babies and sent a rigid fear through those he passed on the aisle seats, praying silently to themselves don’t pick on me. Of course it’s all in good fun, and Mark ended on a note concerning fandom. He expressed that he was grateful for everyone and loves the fans, and loves how passionate they are, words that balance out some of the uncomfortable associations anyone feels about being considered a fanatic or fangirl/boy and the social stigma that comes with it. Following Mark was Misha Collins (Jimmy Novak/Castiel), who is just as lovely and crass as you’d imagine. For Denver, Creation had begun to implement a lottery system for questions, so that if you wanted to ask questions of Jensen, Jared, or Misha, you could put your name and seat number in during registration and if you were chosen, your information would be projected onto the screen for you to line up at the microphone – a system that worked exceptionally well.

Autographs Saturday night became a fiasco. They started at just before 7pm and I didn’t get out until after 9pm. Winding lines, stand up and sit down commands, and changing where autographs were happening because they ran so late caused confusion and frustration on both the Creation staff and volunteer side of things and with the guests and patrons. With doors opening for the concert at 10pm, everyone was rushing because people had to eat, change, and get back. The Saturday Night Concert is a great event with Louden Swain on stage with Mark Sheppard stepping in with Swain’s Stephen Norton on drums. Rich Speight, Jr., Matt Cohen, Gil and Osric, Sebastian Roche, and Tahmoh Penikett sang on the stage, and photographer Chris Schmelke joined Mike Borja on bass. I’m not entirely sure, but I think Mark Pellegrino was there as well; he’s sneaky and you can never be sure when he’ll be standing right behind you. At some conventions, Jensen Ackles joins the band on stage to sing a song or two, and while he was not in attendance at Denver’s convert, the show was beyond expectation with everyone on stage ending the evening with “Seven Bridges Road”. After the concert, Louden Swain gave free autographs to those who had purchased merchandise, giving you the opportunity to say hello to Mike Borja, Billy Moran, Stephen Norton, and Rob Benedict if you hadn’t already high fived them in the halls or at photo ops.

Sunday

The last day of the convention you’re not sure you’re alive. Regretting your lack of hydration as much as you do after a night out drinking, Sunday feels like a haze as you drag yourself up to get ready. For Gold patrons, there is a panel with Jensen and Jared, but for us plebes, the day doesn’t have to start until 2pm, which is a godsend. Meeting up with my con buddies to refuel with food and try to wake up, the exhaustion was soon replaced by anxiety with the buzz of Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer) (who swore he hadn’t been contacted about coming back in Season 11, which of course turned out to be a very heartfelt and believable lie), Jensen and Jared’s panel, photo ops, Mark Sheppard again striking fear into the fans, Jared crashing the panel, and more photo op and autographs.

But suddenly everything comes crashing down. Post-con depression is certainly a thing. Sunday seems to go so fast the last hours. Vendors are closing up, people are disappearing, and others are waiting with huge sighs for their photos from earlier ops to come out so they can just go home or catch a plane. The go go go of the previous days leaves you coming down from your high at a ridiculous rate of speed because, whether you want it to be or not, this weekend you prepped months for…is over.

Post-Con

Back to the real world, you can’t wait to share your experience with everyone you know. Over the following weeks, stories and photo ops being shared on facebook, tumblr, and twitter, interspersed with inevitable complaints from people with legitimate grievances and those whose immature negativity becomes an all-consuming ball of wank. Reliving those couple exciting days in as many ways as you can helps soften the post-convention blues. Commiserating with others on how in-love you are with Rob Benedict after the convention is also cathartic. A friend of mine, tumblr user pecanpiedean, posted after incessant screaming from myself and others during/post DenverCon:

best part of cons: seeing all my friends and mutuals post “oh my god i’m in love with rob benedict” friday night…it happens to everyone. you can’t escape him.

Many people I surveyed were first time con-goers, and most of everyone who participated already had plans to attend another convention in the future.

 

So is it worth it?

With all this information to consider, you may still be torn on whether or not the convention weekend is something that you would want to subject yourself to, or maybe you’re just nodding along because you’ve been there, done that, bought the actual t-shirt. And mug. And photo op hug. Are there faults? Yes. Does it feel like you’re being nickel and dimed for every last thing? Yes. Could there be more consistency in inviting female cast members? Absolutely. The same could be said for writers of the show such as Robbie Thompson, Bob Berens, Andrew Dabb, and Jenny Klein, whose panels could definitely round out the empty moments during photo ops or autographs when most con-goers are left with nothing to do and nowhere to go, and could pull the focus specifically to the show we love rather than auctions for merchandise from other shows as well as the one we’re in attendance for.

The bottom line for most people will always be cost, and after having gone once, I’m not sure I can justify going again. My kids might need braces, and I can only sell so many Supernatural-themed keychains. But for some people, a couple car payments (and then some) is completely worth attending Supernatural conventions, not just for the guests but for the fun they have making connections with people they’ve met at other cons. I wish that Creation didn’t have a monopoly on the convention circuit, but for all the things that make me wince as a customer, they do offer something that the fans can’t get anywhere else, and because of that they know we’ll keep coming back.

The best aspect of the convention for me was the calm feeling of closeness you had within an hour of the convention starting. Of course it was exciting, sometimes overwhelmingly so, and at times anxiety was flaring – on Sunday I was panicking and taking a Klonopin in the restroom before my photo op with Jensen and Misha and reapplying lipstick when two women busted in through the door crying and squealing with laughter because they’d just had their photo op with Jared, and after they apologized and said I probably thought they were crazy (of course I assured them I understood), I thought “Wow, this sums up the emotions of the con.” Misha passes you in the hall and pats your shoulder. Rob high fives you. Mark Pellegrino stops to chat while walking through the auditorium before he goes to sign autographs. That’s when the family feeling kind of sinks in, and you do undeniably feel as if you’re a part of something much more intimate than a traditional convention.

There will always be the good, the bad, and the uncertainty to weigh whenever attending an event like this, and everyone’s experiences will differ. But if I ever won the lottery, I would immediately find a way to take all my fandom friends to a Supernatural convention with Gold passes, meet and greets, and photo ops/autographs for all. Because was it worth it? At least once.
And maybe once more.

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One comment

  1. This is such an interesting, entertaining, and educational read. I’ve only ever been to one con (SLCC ’14), and it was only for one day, but you touched on some points here that I felt the same about that experience. I’d love to go to a SPN con, but only if I knew I could spend that much money to have a “complete” con experience (photo ops, merch, etc.). Going to SLCC was fun and all, but I felt like I was missing out on so much because I purchased the cheapest ticket. Sam and I got a few photo ops (Stan Lee is the nicest, grandpa-like man ever!), but we mostly spent the day wandering and feeling a little left out. We didn’t know anyone there, we didn’t/couldn’t buy that much merchandise, we didn’t cosplay or anything. So that’s kind of one worry I have about going to another con, not feeling like I’m a big enough fan. I fangirl quite a bit on tumblr, but in real life I keep it very internalized. So I guess I’d feel like I wouldn’t be worthy (??) of being there, or like I wasn’t a “true” fan. That’s silly, I know, and probably would be very untrue were I ever to go to a con, but I wouldn’t want to risk feeling that way for a few hundred dollars. Conventions seem to rely heavily on a person’s or even a fandom’s sense of community. If you don’t have that (or think you do), the con is just something you can tell your coworkers on Monday to show you have some kind of a “life” hahah This is a very honest, yet fair, piece and has (clearly haha) got me thinking about conventions. 🙂

    Like

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