On May 29-31, 2015, Fan Expo Dallas was held at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas, TX. This was the second year for the event at the new location, but this year was not shared with a simultaneous convention – the entire venue was just for the comic con. This made an enormous difference over last year, with many previous complaints being alleviated by the increased amount of space. Fan Expo seems to have listened. There was more space between vendor tables, a friendlier layout, larger space for specialized vendors and booths, and a very clear separation between vendors and celebrity guests. This year, the celebrity guests were all on the far side of the center, which meant attendees had to first field the vendor room before reaching them. Last year, many vendors complained of low sales, which was in part due to a layout that favored the celebrities over the artist tables. This seems to have improved this time around. That said, it was still difficult to find individual booths in such a massive space, and there seems to be little rhyme or reason to the actual positioning of booths (industry artists mixed with craft vendors, etc.). Still, I sensed an improvement, and that means our hosts are listening.
In attendance were publishers like Zenescope and FUNimation, big vendors like GameStop and Half-Price Books, indie fiction publishers, web comic artists, local sellers like Dallas Vintage Toys and Collected Comics, fan groups like the Austin Browncoats, and advertisers like Medieval Times and a horror house presented by INSIDIOUS.
Rows and rows of booths sold everything from decorative flasks to themed bathrobes to a massive collection of graphic novels and trade paperbacks (all half off, by the way). You could also find puppets, t-shirts, toys, merchandise from nearly any fandom, costumes, comics, books, vintage figures, new figures, POP figures, indie art, industry art, buttons, stickers, hair bows, leather crafts, jewelry, video games, board games, plushies, swords, lightsabers, keyblades, posters, and so much more. Whatever you wanted, you could probably find it, with a lot of time and some luck.
Industry guests were mixed in with the indie artists, but the official guests lined the outside edge of the vendor area. These guests included some regular Dallas attendees, along with some new faces, including Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Chard Hardin, Neal Adams, Greg Pak, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Erwin, Greg Horn, Kaare Andrews, Alex Maleev, and many more.
Celebrity guests, one of the convention’s main draws, included some top talent: Dean Cain (Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman), Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Carrie Fisher, Gillian Anderson, Billie Piper (Dr. Who), Ming-na Wen (Agents of SHIELD), Ksenia Solo (Lost Girl), Adam West and Burt Ward, and many more. Along with those guests were popular voice over artists like Tara Strong, Cherami Leigh, Chris Sabat, and Kevin Conroy. Between all the comic industry, TV/film, and voice over guests, there was really something for just about everyone.
Unfortunately, some of the bigger name guests cancelled (or never confirmed to begin with; a PR ploy that works great for ticket sales, but bad for fans). To their credit, Fan Expo offered ticket refunds for the limited time between Matt Smith’s announcement and his cancellation, which was a big move that I’m sure went a long way for fans of Smith (and Lily James, who was also announced and cancelled within the same time frame). The person I was most looking forward to meeting, Cary Elwes, was also a cancellation.
One of my largest complaints about this set of conventions is that there isn’t anything to do other than stand in line and buy things. Not so this time. There were panels, co-sponsored movie events (with Alamo Drafthouse), an actual arcade (which, I believe, was entirely free, and held tournaments throughout the weekend), plus the now-regular Saturday Night Shindig at Gilley’s Dallas. The panels were mostly makeup and costume crafting related, though there were also some on writing and fandoms. Celebrity Q&As, sketch duels, guest panels, and Saturday night’s cosplay contest (plus Sunday’s kids’ costume contest) rounded off a packed weekend. There was also a Kids Lounge, where parents could take their children for some down time, though not having kids myself, I’m not sure how this went over.
And, of course, cosplay. The cosplay just keeps getting better and better, as new talent comes in, and old talent keeps improving. Everywhere you look, someone’s in costume. The 501st, Rebel Legion, and Mandalorian Mercs had a presence, as usual, with a booth much larger than typical, thanks to the added space on the floor. There was a handful of official cosplay guests with booth and panel presence. On Saturday, the bulk of cosplayers could be found showing of their work on the Red Carpet, followed that evening by the big costume contest. For the cosplayers themselves, one of the most important things was the return of the Cosplay Hideaway. Not only did it return to the venue, it had a much larger space, and was in an excellent location – out of the way, and near the restrooms. The Cosplay Hideaway provides cosplayers with a place to sit down, relax, and recharge (figuratively and literally). There are also supplies for emergency repairs, like hot glue guns, bobby pins, duct tape, spirit gum, makeup remover, and so on. This is a no photographer zone, and many cosplayers come to shed off hot/heavy costumes and cool down, or break for a bite to eat. It makes the convention a much more pleasant experience for these talented attendees who undoubtedly lift the convention experience to another level.
While the increased use of venue space did a lot of good, it did have its downsides. Getting from one end of the center to the other takes a lot of time, which means lots of time walking from point A to point B, and less time enjoying the sights. Then again, if your preference lies with the celebrity Q&As and other big events, you could just stay on that side of the center and be fine. There was a lot of unnecessary walking, as well. Each entrance has several double door sets, but I only ever saw one or two doors being used at a time. All exits were funneled to the very far end of the space. Which is fine if you get to enter on the opposite end – VIP and Premium ticket holders had their entrances on that end. But regular attendees had to trek a good ways to their designated entrance. This is fine on Friday, when those premium holders get to arrive and enter early. It makes less sense as the weekend goes on, however.
I honestly don’t have a lot of complaints, however. I’m worried about the continuing increase in prices, but the content is also growing. Parking is atrociously expensive ($20 for an outside lot behind the center, one day). Food inside the center is expensive, too, but at least there are lots of choices. Aside from the standard nacho concession stand types, there were scattered stands selling fruit smoothies, popcorn, fudge, and various snacks. There’s also a cafe in the center that sells tea and coffee, as well as a cafe that sells salads and sandwiches for those of us who want something healthier. Since the center does not allow outside food or drink, it’s good to have such variety sold inside (and spaced throughout the venue, too).
Obvious improvements were made this time around. I had fun, and most of the people I know also had a blast. I’d rather there was more focus on the comic industry, and less on Hollywood celebrities, but they do have their draw and charm. I can only hope that Fan Expo is careful with pricing their valued vendors, and continues to listen to critiques about the experience of everyone at their conventions, as much from the one-day pass holders as the $400 VIP holders, and everyone in between.
Cosplay highlights coming later in the week!