Arrival and Forgetting
May 25-28, MegaCon was hosted in Orlando, Florida in the Orange County Convention Center. It’s the state’s largest annual convention, covering comics, scifi/fantasy, horror, animation, and video games. Despite the main focus of this year on the guest appearances of Tim Curry and many other cast members of Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), there was a strong presence of the comics due to the attendance of industry superstars like Tom King, Jason Aaron, Skottie Young, Dan Slott, Amanda Conner, Gail Simone, etc. Also, the sponsorship of the Eisner-nominated Love is Love, an anthology in honor of the victims of the anti-LGBT shooting at the Pulse nightclub. For me, a comics journalist, this seemed like an opportunity to go check out. The adventure was interesting with a mixture of highs and lows, and most of all learning from quite a few mistakes I made.
It all started Thursday, May 25th. My good friends Sean Mckenzie, Matt Oldham, and Jeff Gwinnup (a writer for The Outhousers, a site I have written about MegaCon previously) joined me on this journey.
With all our stuff packed and snacks at the ready, we drove off to Orlando. Jeff and Matt were in one car, Sean and I in another. All things considered, it was a pleasant trip that only got tricky when we made it to our destination. See, I had booked two rooms at the Rosen hotel where we stayed at last time. However, I made a mistake. There are two Rosen hotels. The one closest to the Orange County Convention Center, literally just a walk across a skyline to, was the Plaza. I booked us at the Center, at least a 15 minute walk or so from our destination. Not all bad, given there were free shuttles, but I still felt like an idiot not booking the right hotel. This proved a bit of a hassle when Sean and I arrived at the Center and had to wait for Jeff and Matt who ended up at the Plaza. This was my first mistake, and the lesson I learned from it was to make sure that the hotel you check into is EXACTLY the correct one you’re supposed to be at.
We checked into the hotel only to discover that the two rooms booked would be more expensive than everyone in the party could afford, so we bumped down to one, forcing Sean and I to share a bed while Matt and Jeff shared another. Mistake #2 and the lesson learned: Be exact with the price of the rooms and make sure it’s affordable for all parties. When we set up in our room, I discovered that my obsession of bringing the right comic books to get signed led to forgetting toothpaste, dental floss, and, more importantly, multiple pairs of underwear. Yep, that’s right I attended all four days of Megacon with only one pair of drawers. I washed it in the sink, but still. Bad on me to fall into the stereotype of a geek that can’t maintain proper hygiene. Mistake #3 and lesson learned: Make sure you have necessities packed correctly before the superficial crap.
The walk to the Orange County Convention Center wasn’t so bad, although in the summer heat, we sweated quite a bit. The convention center itself is a wonderful piece of architecture. While the interior was typical of convention centers I’ve been to, the exterior had some spectacular design to it.
I like how the windows are large and sea shell-shaped. The interior, for all it’s blandness, is large and has plenty of space to move around in. Actually, this photo is just part of the entire center. There are many more sections, so huge it took up almost the entire chunk of land that we were on. I won’t bother to try and give you measurements. Take my word for how huge this place is.
We didn’t get to the center as a group. Jeff and I searched for the area to receive our press passes. Sean and Matt went their individual ways to get a scope of the convention. Jeff and I struggled to find our destination due to conflicting information from staff. I remember in the email I got from MegaCon that we were supposed to go to a room and pick up our passes. That’s how it worked when I attended last year, but this time we headed to the vast space where people lined up to pick up tickets. Imagine it like a Home Depot, made of gray concrete, big enough to contain a football stadium, and that’s pretty much what we were dealing with. It meant us walking a good distance to the booth, picking up our press passes, and trudging to the entrance. In total, it half an hour or so. I didn’t mind the walking, but confusion from the staff was bothersome. I will say that the booth attendants were friendly and helpful. They even gave us cookies.
The con floor consisted of sections separated by red and yellow curtains. One section dedicated to the media guests (anime, movies, animation, etc.) with a photo op next door. Beyond that was the main floor that squished retailers and artist alley together, and half a square for comic guests separating artist alley from the food court. I found this layout good but flawed. I appreciate that separation of areas were so heavily focused on. It forced a certain amount of crowd control, meaning that people had to funnel through openings into lanes designed for them. Most of the the time, it worked. However, for the alley containing artist’s alley, comic guests, and retailers, there were issues. Walkways for artist alley booths were narrow, making movement tricky. Another issue is that it became hard to find an artist’s booth you wanted to see because both the crowding and sensory overload of the experience made missing one easy, even if you walked right past them. Mind you, this is a large convention. No matter what you do, traffic is going to be difficult. Still, artist alley could have used more breathing room.
This day for me was all about scoping the area and pre-planning. I walked around the con, making sure I knew exactly where each creator I wanted to see would be and vendors selling cool stuff I wanted. I managed to meet familiar faces, including Sorah Suhng, Larry E. Watts, Walter Oslie, Roland Mann, Deonna Herrold, Caleb King, Carla Wyzgala, Gail Simone, and Rick Shea of Famous Faces and Funnies. It was fantastic seeing them again and catching up. I also got to meet new people, most notably Steve Horton and Tee Franklin, both of whom I only knew online at that point. I also got autographs from creators I wanted to meet. In fact, I believe that blind-sided me from other opportunities I could’ve taken at the con. Mistake #4 and lesson: Autographs aren’t everything. Diversify your experience.
Me with Tee Franklin
There honestly wasn’t much else done or accomplished that day. Books were bought from the amazing people I mentioned above, but no panels or special events I wanted to attend. That is until my buddy Jeff informed me of a Q&A with Stan Lee. I remembered seeing him at a panel last year and how much fun it was. Given this would be Stan’s last MegaCon (allegedly), I sure as hell was going to be there.
Just like last year, Stan Lee’s Q&A was full of cheer and goodwill. The difference this time is that he ran late for 15 minutes. I would learn later from staff that Stan got lost for a bit, apparently misdirected to where he had to go. Well, that and he’s actually something of a troublemaker. Apparently, he likes to get away when he can and mess around on those wheel things you stand on and drive, whatever they’re called. Honestly, that made me smile because I can see why he would do it. Stan Lee is 90-something. He probably thinks “Screw it. I’m gonna have fun before I kick the bucket.”
When the Q&A finally started, it took off with a blast. Stan Lee’s personality boomed with joy and appreciation of his fans. He answered questions eagerly and honestly. The only issue was his hearing and each question had to be asked to him multiple times, mostly his handler Max repeating in closer range. Lee seemed particularly feisty this year, sometimes taking good-hearted jabs at fans. With asking questions, he asked them to keep it simple. If you can’t ask it in one sentence, make it simpler. There were times where I felt Stan Lee was a little too mean, but overall he kept it friendly.
Stan Lee’s handler brought up a story that was hilarious. Apparently, before going to the con, Stan really wanted to visit the Marvel section of Universal Studios. Mike made the call that he would be visiting, and everyone at the Marvel area freaked out, rushing to get things ready and keep it on the down low who was visiting. They arrived before the park opened, and a kid working inside where the comics are got a surprise.
Kid: “Oh my god! You’re–”
After walking around and greeting everyone, Stan said he wanted to go on a ride.
Mike: “Which one?”
Stan: “The Hulk.”
Mike: “Stan, are you crazy?! You’re too old.”
Stan: “I want to!”
I don’t remember the rest of the story, but watching Stan and Mike exchange back and forth showed me that they had quite the camaraderie. Another anecdote I liked was Stan Lee’s talk of Jack Kirby’s art prowess, how he was the kind of artist that when working on a page, he didn’t need to do an outline. Just sat down, drew an image once then immediately inked it without a second thought. And it would always come out perfect.
The panel was running late and had to be wrapped up. Before leaving, Stan Lee thanked everyone for coming and stated earnestly how much he enjoyed being at the con, blown away that Marvel has become a cultural icon like he never dreamed of and had the fans to thank for that.
One last question was asked:
“Is this your last Megacon?”
Stan: “Oh, hell no.”
One can hope.
Sorry about the fuzziness. Had to shoot a photo of a projection screen.