Con Review: MystiCon 2014

mysticonby KT Pinto


MystiCon 2014
February 21–23, 2014
Roanoke, Virginia

When I heard who the GoH was this year (first Marina Sirtis, then John DeLancie, both from Star Trek: The Next Generation), I was a little worried about MystiCon. Could a medium-sized convention take on the responsibilities that go along with a crowd-drawing star?

I had no reason for concern. MystiCon had amazing security, crowd control (even with the con being at capacity), and time management. They also made sure not to forget all their other guests, which is something that happens when a con is not used to a mainstream media guest. Their Author GoH, Todd McCaffrey, was a good draw as well, and was extremely outgoing and personable.

Pre-programming was a simple process and there was a huge variety of choices. The layout of the hotel is simple and the rooms are easy to find. One concern of mine was that the readings seemed like they were being held on a separate floor from the rest of the programming, but MystiCon had it on the floor with the con suite, and had planned other programming around it, so it wasn’t in no-man’s land, and it was possible to pull in passers-by.

The one problem I did notice with the convention was something I’m starting to see at other conventions as well: poor moderation on panels. Some moderators I experienced were amazing—like on the Delphic Oracle and the ghost panels—but some moderators were so ineffective, other panelists took over the reins. I’m not sure if it was because of inexperience or just personality issues (like for example, I know I am not moderator material), but no matter what the reason, a bad moderator makes the experience not as much fun for the panel or the audience.

All in all, MystiCon was great! Some concern was mentioned about how they will survive without a mega-media guest, but I have gone to this convention in the past, and I don’t think they will have any problems in 2015.


Con Review: Lunacon 2014

 Lunacon2014by KT Pinto


Lunacon 2014
March 14–16, 2014
Rye Brook, New York

I usually don’t like going to Lunacon because of the layout of the hotel. Jokingly called the Escher hotel because of the confusing and inconvenient design, the convention has not seemed to create a rhythm to its programming that is conducive to a fun experience for the attendees.

This year was no exception, and even worse. The hotel was doing construction on two floors in the convention wing, so most people’s rooms were far away from the activities. To start off the weekend of issues, the convention had problems with registration, so they just let people into convention areas, which made me seriously question their security set up.

The programming staff tried their best to have new, exciting events throughout the weekend, but the vibe of the con was tired annoyance as they tried to get around the maze of a hotel (and the two inconvenient fire alarms didn’t help), and many programming events were under attended. It wasn’t all bad though, there were some upsides: the parties were well attended, the programming head was readily available and tried her best to make sure things ran well, and the dealer’s room had a great selection of vendors.

One really big bummer: no chocolate fountain at the meet and greet this year.


Con Review: RavenCon 9

RavenCon2014by KT Pinto


RavenCon 9
April 25–27, 2014
Richmond, Virginia

Just in case the staff at RavenCon hadn’t proven in the past that they go above and beyond to make a memorable and fun con for their attendees and participants, fate threw a couple of hurdles in their way to prove themselves this year.

RavenCon did not disappoint.

The weekend started with a three-fold situation: the fire alarm went off at the same time as it was rumored that lightning struck the hotel. As the hotel staff worked with the con staff to get attendees out of the hotel and (unfortunately) into a torrential downpour, they were given word that there was a tornado warning for right where the hotel was located. People could not stay outside.

In this type of insane situation, most people would panic and add to the problems. The RavenCon staff was calm, organized, informative and all accessible. The fire alarm was false, and the con staff helped get the attendees out of the weather (and the glass-ceilinged lobby) and all into interior rooms, where security (obviously present and organized) kept people from leaving until they were given the “all clear”.

If nothing else, this situation alone would show the professional nature of the staff. But they weren’t done. On top of this occurrence, one of a more personal nature happened during the weekend that needed delicate handling on the part of the staff. They fixed the situation for all involved with what seemed like no embarrassment to or gossip from any attendees.

This year’s guests of honor were Elizabeth Bear (author) and Ed Beard (artist).

A few downsides:

The con suite. I think it was a hotel decision and not the con’s, but the con suite used to be in the middle of the programming floor, where it was easy to grab a snack on the way to the next panel. But this year it was on the top floor of the hotel; rather inconvenient with the slow elevators. The food was good though…

The signing table was in the middle of the lobby. Possibly a logistics problem with no solution except this, but authors sometimes get better sales from passers-by. No one passed accidentally by the table in the lobby in its out of the way location.

Programming. Planning and scheduling of programming seemed a little unorganized. There were three or four adult/late-night (themed, not time-scheduled) panels but they were all single-presenter panels so I had no opportunity to sign up for adult programming.

Moderators. RavenCon, like other conventions, was also the victim of bad moderators all weekend. Not being able to move conversation along when there was a lull, not giving others on the panel a chance to talk… even one where they let a member of the audience basically take over the panel first from her seat, and then by joining the panel, much to the insult of the other panelists. I’m not sure what could be done about this issue, but it seems to be a growing problem on the convention circuit.

These were minor problems in the grand scheme of the weekend. As usual, RavenCon was a great convention and a fun weekend, tornado warning and all!


Con Review: Corflu 31

Corflu31by Michael D. Pederson


Corflu 31
May 2–4, 2014
Richmond, Virginia

After many years of people suggesting that I attend a Corflu, it landed in my hometown. So I went.

For those not in the know, Corflu is an annual science fiction fanzine convention (Corflu is slang for correction fluid, a useful item when mimeographing fanzines). I had several expectations going into the convention—some were met, some weren’t. I knew that eventually someone would tell me that Nth Degree isn’t a real fanzine, that took less than an hour before it happened. I was warmly welcomed at the convention though.

I also expected to be trading fanzines with everyone there. Apart from my own, I didn’t see a single zine all weekend. Why? Because the fifty or so people that were there all knew each other, they already had each other’s fanzines. Which—although it made for a very friendly and relaxing weekend—made me a little sad. I love fanzines and I want our fannish culture to continue long after I stop publishing and if the members of Corflu didn’t expect to see anyone new attending the convention how is this going to happen?

Aside from some mild disappointment on my part, the convention was a fun weekend. I attended about half of the panels and was able to contribute to a couple of them. Having just finished running RavenCon three days before Corflu I kept myself to a fairly relaxed schedule for most of the weekend. Most importantly, I got to see some old friends and made a few new ones, and can you really ask for a better weekend than that?


Con Review: Balticon 48

Balticon48by Rob Balder


Balticon 48
May 23–26, 2014
Hunt Valley, Maryland

Balticon has long been a mainstay convention of East Coast fandom. As fandom has changed, some traditional literary SF cons such as this one have had to adjust—diversifying and expanding their programming. In recent years, Balticon may have seen a disappointing attendance figure or two, and heard some grumbling from attendees. But this year felt like a clear uptick.

The heart and soul of Balticon is still the printed word, but the guests and programming again included extensive media and new media tracks, a big art show, film, music, and costuming tracks. Panel topics in all tracks were fresh, interesting, and contemporary. There were events for all ages, such as the Lego challenge in the con suite, so attendance was not only strong, but included lots of families and the full spectrum of ages.

And hey, our con bags included a massive softcover copy of The Way of Kings, by Author Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson was a big draw, and this was a really nice bonus.

So we had as much of a blast at Balticon 48 as ever, and we can’t wait for 49. Long live Balticon!


Con Review: A-Kon 25

a-kon25by Rob Balder


A-Kon 25
June 6–8, 2014
Dallas, Texas

Big, loud, hot, and amazing. Dallas’ huge Hilton Anatole plays host to one of the ten largest anime cons on the continent, and the match-up between convention and venue is about perfect. This event ranks up there with DragonCon for the overwhelming spectacle of cosplay, but unlike DC you can actually get an elevator.

That’s partly because of the hotel’s sprawling design, in which almost everywhere you want to go is on the ground floor or accessible by a flight or two of stairs. But the combined great management of the con staff and hotel staff have a lot to do with it as well. A-Kon truly has their act together in terms of scheduling, instructions, volunteers and management, and they really should be commended because it’s hard to handle a crowd that size at all, let alone as well as this.

Our only complaint this year was that the hotel kept out the food trucks until after 9 pm, and tried to cash in on the crowds with a concession monopoly of overpriced hot dogs and crappy barbecue (by Texas standards). When the food trucks finally rolled in, they were so swarmed it took an hour’s wait to get anything at all. Not cool, Hilton Anatole. 😛

The programming has something for everyone, and the size of this con attracts some top talent in voice acting, game design, art, and writing. They also had two full J-pop bands (Ra:IN and GEEKS) performing. You could go there and never leave the massive gaming rooms. The dealers, artists, and exhibitors rooms alone would be worth making the trip. But A-Kon is just fun all around. If you can brave Texas in June and 25,000 screaming otaku, this con is definitely worth the trip.


Con Review: RKO Con

RKOby KT Pinto


August 22–25, 2013
Providence, Rhode Island

I have been to many conventions over the past fifteen years: science fiction, fantasy, gaming, horror, literature, steampunk, geek-centric, media… but even the most interesting, the most original, have gotten… routine. So I decided to do something new.

I had never been to a Rocky Horror convention before. I had been in a shadowcast (before it was called shadowcasting) in Staten Island back in the 90s, and I had always had a soft spot for the really bad cult movie and its fans. Rocky Horror was the start of an art form that has become almost a living thing, encompassing movies such as Shock Treatment, Xanadu, Ghostbusters, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. There are costumes, rehearsals, auditions, props, audience participation… This underground sensation has become a world-wide phenomenon, and I just had to go to a convention.

RKO Con, the 38th Annual National Rocky Convention, took place on August 22–25, in Providence, Rhode Island in various locations around town, with “home base” being the gorgeous Omni Hotel. I was able to look at this convention from various perspectives, which may be why this review is longer than most. I knew no one at this convention, save for one vendor. I had no friends there, no connections, was not a participant in any way, and was unfamiliar with the town and the venues. I also have years of con experience on concomms, on security, as a panelist, as a promoter, and as an attendee. I also have experience working behind the scenes on a shadowcast, and as a professional event planner. With all of this background and knowledge, I knew I would not be easy to please.

The schedule for RKO Con was both jam-packed and well organized, with an afternoon start time and a break for dinner each day. Signing up for the convention was a simple procedure, and the hotel liaison was helpful and knowledgeable. The concomm set up groups on Facebook for questions about the convention and for socializing with each other before the con started. The committee was hard working and very professional, but also had their fun, quirky side that was welcoming to everyone involved. Registration was open in a hotel room hours before the convention started so that people could stop by and pick up their registration packets with ease. Those that got there later could register at Dave & Buster’s, which was the first venue of the con on Thursday night.

It was there that I got my program, which was 40 pages, 8.5×11 and full color, with schedules, cast lists and vendor information. The ads (I purchased a half-page) had been easy to order, and were professionally placed throughout the program. There was also a listing in the program describing each event—which was very helpful to those who were new to either the Rocky convention circuit or to shadowcasting in general—along with a complete history of the host cast, RKO Army. What struck me the most was the other thing in the program: the thank yous. In the front was a letter from Roy Rossi, the “convention chair” (I don’t know if they used the same titles as other concomms), thanking not only his staff, but the attendees of both the con and their show; in the back was one from “the soldiers” of RKO Army, thanking everyone involved with the convention.

The Dave & Buster’s site was set up as a wedding reception for Ralph and Betty’s wedding reception (from RHPS) where BtVS: Once More with Feeling and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog were performed by RKO Army followed by karaoke and a party back at the Omni.

Friday’s events started at noon at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which is a club used often by Tight Crew, an event production company who worked with RKO Army on the convention. There they had panels, vendors, and an all-star performance of Shock Treatment (“all-star” meaning not just members of RKO Army, but cast members from all over, including Canada and Israel), a rave, and then a party back at the hotel.

Saturday’s events were at the Columbus theater (which, appropriately, was once a XXX theater) starting at noon. The con had arranged for buses to take attendees and cast members back and forth from theater to hotel throughout the day. I never left the theater that day except to grab some food during scheduled breaks, because the day was packed with panels, shows, contests, raffles (with the one and only Sal Piro of RHPS fan fame), video pre-shows, an all-star performance of Repo! The Genetic Opera, then a dinner break before two hours of live pre-shows from various casts, and then the crown jewel: the all-star cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then there was a wrap-up party at the hotel which lasted until 6:00 in the morning.

Sunday was an informal brunch at a restaurant called Fire & Ice. Approximately 150 people showed up for the brunch; no one seemed to want it to end.

Some things I noted at this con:

  • Security: they were everywhere, but unobtrusive. They checked badges, stood in hallways, guarded stage entrances, and herded people in and out of venues.
  • Video streaming: RKO Army had live streaming of the convention events, starting with the pre-con events on Wednesday evening.
  • Con staff: The staff/cast of RKO Army was easily visible in bright yellow shirts, and were friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming.
  • Food: While there was food at the reception on the first night, the town didn’t seem prepared for the flood of conventioneers that descended upon them (Necronomicon was also that weekend). The Dunkin’ Donuts next to Lupo’s actually ran out of food before noon, and the local deli closed the whole weekend. Fire & Ice wasn’t prepared for so many of us at all. Luckily the pizzeria across from the Columbus was able to take us on, but it seemed to be the only establishment able to do so.
  • RKO Army: What makes this convention committee the most impressive is that this was their first con ever! A cast member told me that on the RHPS circuit—unlike on the sci-fi/fantasy circuit, where established cons bid for hosting privileges—established casts talk to the “powers that be” and simply ask to host a con. Although RKO Army helped other casts with their cons, this was the Army’s first. This con had almost 400 attendees (20% higher than originally expected), plus an extra 100 guests at the Saturday night event, making RKO Con one of the largest of its type in the last several years.

To say I was impressed doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Con Review: Philcon 2013

philcon2013by KT Pinto


Philcon 2013
November 8–10, 2013
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

This is a review of one of my favorite conventions: Philcon, which took place this year (its 77th anniversary) at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Philcon has always been a highly intellectual convention which manages to create an equal balance of serious and playful events covering a variety of genres and interests. They are also a small enough con where finding staff and/or friendly faces as well as all the different activities is a very easy thing, even for a newcomer.

This is why I felt a little let down this year.

Philcon has fallen victim to a trap like many cons their size do: they tried to please everyone at the expense of their veteran participants’ fun.

I’ve noticed throughout the convention circuit over recent years a rash of overly-sensitive fen complaining about anti-female, over-sexualized and/or dangerous situations at smaller conventions. Now while cases of this are true—I myself have been both stalked and harassed at a couple of conventions and we’ve all seen the all-too-true reports online of these events—many of the situations are benign ones that occur when you have a bunch of socially-challenged (and I include myself in this description) fen and beautiful men and women (yes, the groups completely overlap) in one location.

The circuit’s answer to this has been to host flirting and socializing panels during the con that are aimed at educating people so that these incidents become less common. I have been a participant on many of these panels at various conventions. The audience during these panels is always filled to capacity (at Philcon it’s held in one of the large ballrooms, and last year there was not one empty seat), and I have yet to be on or at one where the panelists didn’t take the subject matter seriously. Although this is perceived as a fun panel, panelists always went over the importance of body language, saying no, inappropriate touching, personal hygiene, “flirting with intent,” and so on.

This year, things changed. It’s a change I’ve seen happen at other cons, and never for the better. From what I understand, because of complaints and concerns of some people, the flirting panel was changed into a flirting and harassment panel. I went to the panel mainly because my friends Dr. James Prego and Dr. Tobias Cabral were participants. The audience was sparse, and—although Dr. Cabral tried to keep people on point—the comments from the panelists ranged from how women are weak victims to comparing con-life to the movie Titanic (I know, I couldn’t follow that either). I think my least favorite moment of this panel was when one of the female panelists stated that women are raised to acquiesce and men are raised to demand and so females are targets for harassment.

There was another panel added to the schedule called “Codes of Conduct at a Convention.” By its description, it was yet another panel about how to interact with people and how not to harass others. I didn’t go to it because, not only was it at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but I found it rather insulting that people saw it necessary for Philcon to beat full-grown adults over the head with rules for playing nice. In short, they took a panel that was fun and actually addressed the problem of harassment and turned it into a series of lectures that talked down to its audience and attracted a smaller turnout. Bad move.

I say this not only as an experienced con-goer and panel participant, but also as someone who has been a member of convention security teams and has owned a gaming company that ran LARPS ranging in size from 20–500 people. Philcon has regularly been a safe place to enjoy a weekend, and these panels seemed like overkill.

On top of all this, the rest of the con became muted out of concern for accusations. The parties—which were at first to be fun adult events like a BLT (bathing suit, lingerie, toga) party—became low-key, taciturn events which were a disappointment (more so because I actually remembered my bathing suit this time). And there was no lobbycon, which is a Philcon staple… I know because I sat in the lobby for many hours waiting for it.

I know this may all be a coincidence, but it seemed like Philcon was missing the fun.

Moral of the story: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Philcon didn’t need fixing. Like every other living organism (for that’s what a good convention is) it needs to grow and expand, not contract and chip away. Hopefully Philcon will be able to reboot and tweak itself, and get back to being the fun, safe convention it has always been.


Con Review: MystiCon 2013

Mysticon2013by James Fulbright


MystiCon 2013
February 22–24, 2013
Roanoke, Virginia

Today I’m going to start my 2013 convention review series. First up this year is MystiCon… MystiCon was held February 22–24 in Roanoke, VA at the Holiday Inn–Tanglewood. Guests included Orson Scott Card, Larry Elmore and Peter Davison.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately, MystiCon was a fun convention. If you take a quick look below, you might notice that I have more negatives than positives. I highly suggest you not read anything into this fact. The convention is well run, professional and fun. Most of the issues they experienced came from some very astounding growth rates between 2012 and 2013. When you add about 450 people to an 850 person convention, bad things have a tendency to happen. The positive here is that most of those issues are fairly easy to solve prior to 2014.

The Good
• The programming was very well run; panel topics were interesting, and the panels were well attended.
• The guests that I dealt with were all personable and engaging. I never got the feeling I could not approach any of the guests.
• The staff were very friendly and professional. It seemed like they truly wanted to see people having a good time.
• The convention used the mobile app LiveCon to display their schedule. I know other cons have used this app, but I hadn’t had a chance to really use it myself. As a guest, I like it a lot. I didn’t have to carry a paper copy of my schedule around with me all weekend, which is a big plus.
• The Dealer’s Room was a decent size, with a nice selection of dealers and plenty of walking space (but see below).
• The hotel appeared to be extremely flexible in working with the convention. Check-in was very quick. And, while I had a few maintenance issues with my room, once I arrived the hotel resolved those immediately. Additionally, the hotel sold reasonably priced (not hotel-priced) concessions during all meal times.

Possible Areas of Improvement (The Bad)
• Pet peeve time: Name badges. Please, if you are a con organizer, make the names large enough on the badges so that they can easily be read from a distance of about six feet. I had at least ten people ask me my name, and then apologize for asking, stating they couldn’t read my badge. Additionally, I highly suggest MystiCon drop the watermark from behind the names. That just makes it even harder to read the badges.
• It is really not a good idea to have panel discussions going on in rooms that are next to concerts. The panelists should not have to shout at the audience, and vice versa. I experienced this at a couple of panels during the convention.
• The next one is really just a minor irritant, but someone took most of the paragraph breaks out of my bio when it was placed in the program book. I felt it made me seem like I didn’t understand basic grammar, which is bad because I was listed as a blogger on the guest list.
• There was a major bottleneck in the main hallway. The convention either needs to limit its attendance to about 900–1000 people, or find a way to get rid of the tables in that hallway (or possibly some of both). It also might be a good idea for Security to take a proactive role in organizing any long lines before they happen.
• I had a situation where one of my scheduled events was cancelled, but I was not informed. If the schedule changes during the con, it is mandatory that all guests involved be contacted. Also, the con might find it useful to request contact information from each guest, so they can be reached during the con.
• The Dealers’ Room was nice, but I do have one question: Where were the costume dealers? There was a good-sized Masquerade at this convention. It would have been nice to have a costume dealer or two.
• The stage in the main programing room was outright dangerous. The convention needs to either push the hotel to buy a new stage or rent one that meets basic safety standards.

Okay, that’s it. Like I said earlier, the con is very good, even with all my areas of improvement. MystiCon is definitely going on my list of cons to go back to next year. MystiCon 2014 will be held February 21–23, 2014.

Con Review: RavenCon 2013

RavenCon2013by KT Pinto


RavenCon 2013
April 5–7, 2013
Richmond, Virginia

It took me a while to do a review of RavenCon, but one of the reasons was that I was trying to figure out a way to review the convention without sounding like a huge fangirl.

The problem is… I can’t do it! I absolutely love this convention.

I usually describe this convention as follows: The con is run by a bunch of geek-frat brothers (the cool, fun ones; not the ones I went to school with) who got together one day and decided to create an intellectual party-con.

And they succeeded.

There are a handful of people who are the main core of the concomm but—unlike many other cons—there is no clique feel.

The programming was intelligent, varied, and a lot of fun! What made it even better was that the process to choose panels and events to be a part of was a breeze and scheduling was done well in advance.

Guests of Honor this year were Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Jennie Breeden, and Bella Morte.

The parties and concerts were excellent, although the parties ended earlier than expected. But then we all met in the lobby, and the hotel staff wasn’t scared by geeks in the lobby (like a lot of hotels are).

My only complaint: it ended too quickly! Yes, it was the standard three days that a convention is, but we were all so sad to see it end! I hope to be invited back next year!

RavenCon will be held again on April 25–27, 2014.