It’s perhaps every fan’s greatest aspiration to go to a convention; to meet like-minded people, buy merchandise from their favorite show/book/movie/game/what-have you and to maybe even get a glimpse of their idols; to shake hands with Stan Lee or get your Lasso of Truth prop signed by Gal Godot.
If you’re like me, you’re a poor student who has to settle for sitting at the backs of panels and catching glimpsing looks of Stan the Man from across a crowded convention hall, barred by a couple of security guards, some corded barriers and the fact that I don’t have the $100 for an autograph.
Rhode Island Comic Con, which I attended on Sunday, was my first large-scale comic con, and while it may not be my last it has certainly given me a better idea of the sheer industrial machine that fan conventions have become. While I’m used to smaller, local-run conventions such as Quinni-Con and UCon @ UConn, these usually have a large amount of heart and are well-intentioned and fun.
When attendance scales start ratcheting up to over 17,000 people a day, you get a few things:
Crowds, lines, price-gouging, more crowds and a lot of security guards yelling at you when you try to exit through the wrong gate.
It’s what they never show in the cosplay videos. Trying to get to one side of a room to the other while wading through about 1,000 or so people, some of them with oversized costumes that you have to avoid getting poked by, is a sheer nightmare. Then when you finally get to the door you want to exit from, there’s a security guard there shaking his head because it’s an entrance-only door, and now you have to go to the other side of the room to actually be able to leave it.
I know it’s part of crowd and contingency control, but I feel like RICC would have been a lot more enjoyable if they had put a smaller attendance cap on it. The lines to get into certain panels, such as the Stan Lee panel, were ridiculous. I count myself as pretty lucky to be able to get into the panel for Doug Walker (AKA the Nostalgia Critic and one of my favorite reviewers ever) without too much fuss, but this was only after battling my way through a sheer horde of people as I entered the hall.
I know that worse has happened. In 2014, RICC was plagued by overbooking problems and reaching the building capacity for fire safety standards, which meant that some people who actually bought tickets were turned away. Though the RICC administration and management fixed this by expanding the convention to another building in 2015 and 2016, it still felt overly crowded and suffocating.
The convention charges as well were borderline insane. The original price for my one-day badge was $35 (or so it was advertised on the website). By the time I actually bought it, the various fees, charges and extra costs (including a $4 charge just to pick up by badge the day of the convention) brought the total to $51. That’s nearly 50 percent of the sticker price in fees alone.
Once you’re actually there, it’s more price-gouging. Want to take a photo with R2D2? Ten bucks. Want lunch? It’s $4 for a child-size soda and $8 for three chicken strips and some fries (which they guarantee that you buy, since they confiscate any snacks you brought from home during the bag check).
It’s $125 for a Gal Godot autograph and another $300 if you want a photo with her. Oh, the panels are free to get into, but pay RICC $150 (with fees, of course) for a VIP pass and you can jump ahead of the line and actually have a chance of making it inside.
Maybe, I’m bitter. There were parts of the con I enjoyed, like the vendor booths, which boasted a huge variety of sellers and a ton of merchandise to buy. The fans were fun to hang out with and I got to see some amazing cosplay (including a really cool Opal cosplay from ‘Steven Universe’). My favorite panel, hosted by Doug Walker, was enjoyable and made me feel like I was getting my money’s worth.
However, the RICC management no longer sees its convention as a fun gathering for fans: It only sees a cash cow, and I was treated as such. Maybe, ConnectiCon or DragCon, which I would one day like to attend, will be better. Maybe, I’m just not a con person.
Final rating: 2.5/5 stars. Get your act together, Rhode Island, and I might actually come back.
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com. She tweets @marlese_lessing.