Over the weekend, my brother and I had the opportunity to attend for the first time, Grand Rapids Comic Con in Grand Rapids, MI. I figured, since I’ve got a few cons under my belt now, and I have a good amount of experiences to relate to, I would start reviewing the cons that I go to. I’m going to be honest and I hope to list several pros and cons of each convention I go to, so that those of you who may not have attended the same ones before (or any cons at all for that matter), can judge for yourself. In no way should you take my opinion to be the end-all-be-all. I just want to share with you my experiences. 🙂
First, let me tell you a little bit about the con itself. Just-A-Nerdy-Brother (the clever name I came up with for my one and only little bro) and I only went on Sunday. The con boasted some pretty awesome guests, including Veronica Taylor (the voice of Ash Ketchum from back when Pokemon was GOOD), Peter Shinkoba (Supernatural, Falling Skies, etc.), Maile Flanagan (Naruto), and others. Guests like that are pretty cool to have here in the Midwest since we’re not really considered a big pop culture area. That’s reserved for both coasts of the country, but not really the “fly-over” areas like Indiana and Michigan. On Sunday, Nerdy Bro and I were planning on attending a panel that my friend Allen Stewart from the Hall of Heroes was hosting. After that, we didn’t have much planned other than walk around and enjoy Artist’s Alley and the Vendor Room.
Unfortunately, we were not able to make it to the panel that I wanted to reach for a few reasons, which will be listed below. The main complaint I have regarding this issue is that Google Maps is super duper WRONG in regards to Grand Rapids. I was planning on a two hour and fifteen minute trip to get there from where I lived (which is how long Google Maps told me it would take), which would have put us there with about twenty minutes to spare before the panel, giving us plenty of time to get in since we had already bought our tickets and were already in our cosplays – he went as Gambit and I went as Jubilee. However, it did not take two hours and fifteen minutes. It took us THREE AND A HALF hours. Yup. We missed our panel. And no, it wasn’t a fluke, because on our way back home, it took just as long, despite the fact that Google Maps STILL told us it would only be 2.25 hours.
Although we were not able to make it to the first panel that I had wanted to attend, we were able to make it to a panel later on in the day that Allen hosted. The guest of that panel was Allen Belman, one of the original artists for Captain America in the golden age of comics. So that was cool!
All right, here’s my list of pros and cons for GRCC, and my “professional” opinion:
1. The list of guests for such an obscure, kind of low-key con was impressive. There were names that I recognized (though I, personally, wasn’t particularly interested in), and the floor plan made them very accessible. There weren’t a lot of super long lines, and I got to shake hands with Veronica Taylor and Allen Belman both! I even held a conversation with Veronica for a while before we moved on, and Nerdy Bro got his picture taken with Peter Shinkoba and got to talk to him for a while too.
2. The cosplayers were really cool! Everyone there was extremely friendly, and Nerdy Bro and I were asked to jump in on a few X-Men photo shoots with people we didn’t even know. Everyone was excited to take photos for, with, and of us. If you’re a shy cosplayer or photographer and if you’re a little timid to ask people for photos on a regular basis, you would feel perfectly comfortable with the people at GRCC.
3. It was pretty easy to find everything once we kind of got our bearings. The DeltaPlex (the building that the con is held in) isn’t actually that big. I typically wear glasses, though I rarely wear them while I’m cosplaying, so it is important for me to be able to tell where I’m at without having my glasses on so I don’t get completely turned around. (I’m also very directionally-challenged, so this is a problem I deal with quite a lot.) It was easy to navigate from one room to another without getting lost or drifting off into some part of the DeltaPlex that we weren’t supposed to.
4. The food prices were decent. As most con-goers know, you bring your own lunch and snacks because con-food is outrageously priced. However, we did not deal with that at all at GRCC. Neither of us actually ate anything there (because I had been preparing for outrageous prices and had brought our lunch), but I did look at all the food prices. Large drinks were only about $3.00, and I didn’t see any food items being sold for more than $5.00. Basically, if you’re okay with movie theater prices, you should be more than okay with the food and drink prices there.
5. While I’m on the topic of prices, the vendors’ prices were great too. I got three really awesome prints for $30 (buy two, get one free deal). There were some seriously cool costume pieces being sold by fantastic artists, and I got to see my good friend Scott Rosema – an artist who has previously worked with Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. shows like Space Ghost and Looney Tunes.
6. Parking was reasonable. There was really only one place to park – in the parking lot of the DeltaPlex itself, but it was only $5.00, AND even though we showed up late, we got a pretty close spot. Since I was in shorts and the weather was freezing rain, that was important to me, ha ha.
1. NO COMMUNICATION. This is extremely important to me considering, like I said, it took three and a half hours to get there. I could NOT get a hold of anyone before we arrived at the con. I tried the contact link on GRCC’s website, I tried calling the coordinator (who didn’t even have a voicemail set up), I even tried calling the DeltaPlex on multiple occasions. I was having trouble finding a location to print our tickets out and all I needed to know was if they could just view them on my phone. Just one question and I could not find ANYONE to answer it.
2. The tickets were not the price that was advertised. I went onto the GRCC website on the Thursday before the con (the con started on Friday). For their Sunday-only tickets, it was going to cost $15.00 each, which I thought was a pretty good price. But when I went to buy them, the DeltaPlex website hiked up the price $5.00 for each ticket, claiming that it was the “day of” price, even though it was THREE days BEFORE the day we were going to be there. As I stated in the point above, I could not contact *anyone* to fix this or even to talk to me about this, which was very frustrating. But, since the tickets were still decently priced, I decided to suck it up and pay for them anyway. However, when I went to do that, the DeltaPlex charged me another $6.50 each for “convenience fees”! I had never been charged a convenience fee on any con ticket before, so that was a very, VERY unwelcome surprise. What should have cost me $30.00 for two tickets ended up costing me $53.00. I was very upset, but the tickets were already purchased, so there was little I could do about it. However, when I attempted to call the DeltaPlex again that Sunday, it told me over the phone that adult tickets were only $12.00. GRCC, you really need to get on the same page about ticket prices. I would not have gone had I known I was going to be charged over fifty bucks for one day, especially when 3-day tickets for one person were only $35.00.
3. It was extremely crowded. I’m talking shoulder-to-shoulder. I have claustrophobia when it comes to crowds and I was freaking out every time I went to the Vendor’s Room and Artist’s Alley. It smelled like body odor and the temperature rose about ten degrees in the areas where there was no room to move. I got stepped on, pushed, and bumped into constantly. I am not that tall of a girl (I stand at about 5’ 5”), and there were times where I was nearly trampled.
4. Kind of piggy-backing off of the last point, the venue was extremely small. This is a happy problem, however. It means that the con is growing! However Nerdy Bro and I felt like sardines squished into a can! There needs to be a lot more space next year.
5. There were no “goodies”. For those of you whom have attended a con before, you know that cons usually give you at least a silly little plastic bag, but inside you get things like your con schedule, advertisements, coupons, and maybe an “exclusive” item like a badge or silicone bracelet. GRCC gave you, literally, nothing. We even had to go in search of our own schedule/map! Other than the prints that I purchased and the autograph that Nerdy Bro received, we have nothing to remember GRCC by.
In my opinion, it seemed like Grand Rapids Comic Con was more concerned with getting big names to advertise in order to up their attendance than they were with making the attendee feel comfortable. Small walkways, tight aisles between tables, terrible communication, and funky ticket prices made our journey extremely frustrating. While the guests were awesome, the panels were interesting, and the cosplayers were amazingly fun, this Nerdy Girl feels that the cons extremely outweighed the pros, especially for someone who lives so far away from Grand Rapids. It was great to see my friends there and I loved meeting some of my childhood idols, but I feel the frustrations that I went through will forever color my view of the convention.
Suggestions: In my “professional” opinion, this con definitely has potential! Change the focus: think about quality, not quantity. Make the con-goer’s experience hassle-free and comfortable and it could grow to be huge. To make this happen, GRCC should expand their physical location. Provide the con-goer with bigger hallways, wider aisles, and a more open floor plan. GRCC should also get their stories straight as far as their ticket prices go and fix any technological problems that could cause this frustration to occur with anyone else. GRCC NEEDS to work on their communication. I cannot express this enough. I don’t mean give me the phone number of someone specific, but it would have been nice to have been able to get a hold of at least *someone* in the ticket office. I wanted to talk to a real person, not just listen to automatic recordings.
Conclusion: I don’t think I will attend this con again unless someone else pays for my ticket and I’m in the area. The frustrations with trying to get there, the hassle-filled process to get tickets, the very overpriced tickets, the lack of communication, and the crowded rooms make me wary of ever attending the con again. I did have fun while I was there, which was for three and a half hours, but considering I spent double that amount of time in the car and dealing with hassles related to the con, it just wouldn’t be worth it to me to return.
Would I recommend this con to anyone else?: If you’re already in the area and need something to do on a weekend, sure. Go for it! But for anyone outside the area, new con-goers, people with claustrophobia, or anyone expecting a high-quality con, unfortunately, I would not recommend it.