The Motor City Comic Con is not a newcomer on the convention scene, but I can’t help but feel it’s a late-bloomer still unsure how things are meant to run.
The 2012 convention was held in Detroit, Michigan, last month and turnout this year appeared much higher than the rain-plagued 2011 event. Walking through the comics side of the Suburban Collection Showplace proved difficult as crowds clamored around the various comic and collectible vendors. Big name artists like Ethan Van Sciver and Talent Caldwell were almost always seen talking with fans or busy working on sketches.
But conventions like this are also a good place for smaller, local talents to find a wider audience. I Love Lightning Bugs, a band heralding from Royal Oak, Michigan, had a booth showcasing both their music and a new comic book illustrated by local artist Mindy McPeak featuring the band members adventures into the paranormal. First looks suggest a Gorillaz-esque alternative reality but with protagonists based on real people.
The artists definitely had a big audience to share their work with, as the comics remained the obvious draw for most people. On the other side of the event, media guests seemed more hit or miss. While some stars seemed bored waiting for someone to come along and ask for anything, others were barely allowed time to take a breath between signing autographs and posing for pictures. While big names like Dean Cain and Sam Witwer seemed to drawn big lines, the biggest draw by far was The Boondock Saints stars Sean Patrick Flanery and David Della Rocco. Even without Norman Reedus, who was original scheduled to appear but was called away for filming on the next season of The Walking Dead, the line for “The Saints” never seemed to dwindle.
While this kind of even crowd distribution is pretty common between media guests, one couldn’t help but think Tom Savini or Nichelle Nichols might have more people waiting to see them at conventions more focused on their given genres. But big names of sci-fi and horror could still draw crowds if people know they’re coming. This is where MCCC really dropped the ball. Between social networking and their own website, there were plenty of opportunities to get the word out about their well known guests. Instead, in the weeks leading up to the convention weekend, their front page only mentioned Seth and Ashley from TruTV’s Hardcore Pawn. Seriously? They have legends from classic TV shows and movies coming, and their website is pushing two local reality TV nobodies, neither of whom were prominently featured at the event itself.
But where MCCC really stumbled was with their panel setup. While I wasn’t able to see everything, several panels had depressingly low turnout, and the ones that did have bigger audiences didn’t exactly reward those who showed up. When five stars sat down to discuss their roles in cult classic films, they found themselves and the audience sitting in the dark for 10 minutes until someone bothered to flip a switch and get the overhead lights working. The celebrities had two microphones to share between them, but the audience members had none, leaving most people no choice but to cup their hands and shout their questions. During the “Childhood Classics” panel featuring starts from 60′s and 70′s TV series, Bill Mumy (of Lost in Space fame) would jump down from the speaker table and walk one of the microphones out to audience members. Behind the panels sat a small projector screen, which in the rare instances it was used, displayed images with the size and quality of old family slideshows that were almost certainly too difficult to see beyond the first two rows.
But overall turnout was still impressive, and many dedicated cosplayers showed up in incredibly detailed costumes. Some seemed to pose for more pictures than certain celebrities, and it should come as no surprise that there were numerous groups of Avengers walking the grounds. Black Widow in particular seemed like the most popular costume choice this year. (Check out our cosplay photo coverage: MCCC 2012: Cosplay Round-Up.)
Still, I can’t help but think these fans deserve better. Detroit only has two “major” comic conventions every year, and while MCCC seems to draw more guests than Detroit FanFare in the Fall, it certainly doesn’t have the best presentation. It’s still a (mostly) family-friendly event that offers a lot of variety, but it has a long way to go if Detroit is every going to be a big name on the convention scene. The shopping area is still the best setup, but it’s not worth showing up for since you could easily obtain most of it online. The big draws are the guests and the panels, and given the noticeable disorganization throughout, it’s amazing how many big names still show up. This would be more forgivable if this was the first time the MCCC was around, but they’ve had years to get things better organized than they currently are.