Did you know that there are comic book nerds, sci-fi geeks, cosplayers, and gamers over the age of 21? Well, the organizers and staff of the ConnectiCon convention in Hartford, Connecticut don’t. Year in and year out, the management of this Convention advertise and charge for product that they don’t deliver. Their website claims the event is “New England’s ONLY massively, multi-genre pop culture convention, the convention’s focus is on all things pop culture and does every genre of pop culture in as big a way as possible. The event attracted over 8,000 members in 2011, and expects to have over 10,000 members attend its 10th annual convention in 2012.” However, after attending the Con for four years now — three as an attendee , and this year as a member of the press — I’d venture to say that they have never covered “every genre” of pop culture.
The truth is, ConnectiCon is for the kids. It’s a convention aimed squarely at the 12-17 year old demographic, and the geek culture product born out of the post-comic book speculator boom of the mid 1990’s, which transitioned to the Pokemons and Narutos and Final Fantasies of the world influencing a generation of impressionable fans. The Con is heavy on Anime/Manga, table-top gaming (Magic, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, etc.), and video gaming.
Everything else, and I mean everything else – is relegated to a minor blip on the radar. There were maybe three vendors selling comic books amongst the piles and piles of manga, snap-on tails for “furry” costumes, and various edibles from the Orient. There were no artists or writers from any of the major publishers like Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse. etc. (In the CTCon’s defense, most of these people are at San Diego Comic-Con, but not ALL of them. Come on guys.) Science-Fiction? I think there was a Firefly panel, and I might have seen a Star Wars shirt or a poster. Movies and Genre TV shows? Well, there was a guy selling some movie posters and some 8X10’s, but were there any actors from Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, X-Files, Star Trek, Babylon 5, LOST, Firefly, Game of Thrones? Was there a contingent from the Star Wars charity group, the 501st Division? Nope. (And again, yes, I’m aware most of these individuals were probably at San Diego Comic-Con as well, but surely a handful of celebs are East-coast based and prefer local cons.)
Look, I’ll admit, I’m an old man. I know. I’m in my 30’s, and I was raised on a steady diet of Marvel and DC superhero comics; movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner, TRON, Aliens; and TV shows like Star Trek, V, Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman in Japan), Robotech, and Voltron. But I’m still a geek to this day, and I still follow genre comics, TV shows and movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Firefly, LOST, Game of Thrones, Prometheus, etc. If I see a Convention in a huge, beautiful facility advertising that it “covers all aspects of pop culture,” then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to see some of these things represented more than they are here. The ConnectiCon is 75% Anime, 20% gaming, and 5% everything else. And when you’re asked to pay $40 for a one day pass, or $60 for a weekend pass (plus hotels, parking, etc.), it’s simply not worth the expense or the effort if you’re between 24 and 60 years old, and are a fan of traditional science-fiction/fantasy/comic book/genre TV, etc.
It would be different if the Con advertised itself as “One of the largest Anime and gaming Cons in the Northeast,” or something that effect, but they don’t. The words “Sci-fi,” “Comic Books,” and other key terms are displayed in their promotional materials, but the content pertaining to these things is minimal at best, and anyone looking to attend the Con in the future should be aware of this.
What follows is a series of letter grades for the ConnectiCon, divided into categories: Facilites, Layout/Signage, Cosplay, Events/Panels, Guests, Dealer Room, and Overall Value. (Keep in mind, these scores are based on the opinion of someone in their 30’s, who has very little interest in Anime or role-playing games.)
The Hartford Convention Center is an absolutely beautiful modern convention facility, with 140,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 40,000 square foot ballroom and 25,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. It’s a bright, airy, and open location that suits photo opportunities with the colorful cosplayers very well. The panel rooms are on the smaller side, but with the low-profile caliber of guests the convention books, larger spaces aren’t necessary. There were widespread reports of the Convention Center security staff (not the Convention staff) harassing cosplayers and other con attendees, but I did not personally witness any incidents.[divider]
“Niche” is the word when it comes to panels and events at ConnectiCon, and that “niche” is 12-17 year old Anime fans, cosplayers, furries, and hardcore gamers. Here is a smattering of some of the panels, taken from the official ConnectiCon website: Making Pony Ears, Surviving The My Little Pony Apocalypse, Plushie Weapons Workshop, Solo Juggling, Barfing Forth Apocalyptica, Brony vs. Brony, Brentalfloss Q. I can’t imagine any of them drawing more than a handful of people, and I’d be willing to bet that most of them were in that 12-18 demographic. I did notice a Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and Game of Thrones panel, but I was unable to attend, as many of them weren’t scheduled during our visit. However, I can tell you that none of them featured moderators that worked on any of the films/shows.
In terms of events, the Con is centered around three: The Cosplay “Death Match,” in which cosplayers engage in pretend battles, and the shrieking pre-teen crowd cheers for their favorites; The “Masquerade,” in which the cosplayers perform skits or dance routines, and the shrieking, pre-teen crowd cheers for their favorites; and the Saturday night Rave, in which the pre-teens and teenagers dance the night away to techno and dubstep music.[divider]
Cosplay/Photo Ops: A
This is where the ConnectiCon truly shines, no matter what age group or sect of fandom you belong to. It’s a wonderful place to see literally thousands of awesome, creative, funny, scary, and downright bizarre costumes from dedicated cosplayers, who spend months crafting and sewing their superhero or anime garb. The cosplay contingent here can rival any of the major conventions (yes, even the vaunted San Diego Comic-Con), so you can always walk away from the event with a nice photo gallery.[divider]
As I mentioned in my introduction, The ConnectiCon never books any comic book writers or artists from the major publishers, or any actors from films or TV shows. Instead, they have a strange predilection for Video Game /Anime voiceover actors, and obscure webcomic creators. This year, Jim Cummings — who provides vocal talent for Darkwing Duck, and numerous Disney animated favorites — was the guest of honor, and the rest of the “featured guests” were ConnectiCon standbys like Carlos Ferro (“Dom” in the Gears of War video game series) and Rachel Robinson (various video games and animation). Hardly a lineup of household names in the Geek Community.[divider]
This year the event made a HUGE blunder by constructing a labyrnthine series of curtains and booths known as the “Online Media” area. This area was a maze filled with a hodge-podge assembly of webcomic creators, small-time online merchants, webseries producers, obscure genre t-shirt sellers, game makers, and any other vendor that didn’t belong in the main merch room. Unfortunately, this relegated the merchandising room to a tiny corner of the event hall, causing claustrophobic log jams in the too-small aisles. Dozens of dealers that I saw at the Con in the past were missing, making a former strength of the convention into a major weakness. It was very disappointing. Aside from that, the signage of the Con is adequate, and the panel rooms are easily located in the upper floor.[divider]
Overall Value: F
The ConnectiCon charges $60 for a three-day pass, and individual day passes are $30 for Friday, a whopping $40 for Saturday, and $25.00 for Sunday. These prices are simply too outrageously high to pay for a convention that offers no artists or writers from major comic book publishers, or actors from genre film/TV. Hell, you can’t even see the Batmobile or the DeLorean from Back to the Future, attractions that you can see at smaller-sized cons than this one.
CLICK HERE for our ConnecitCon 2012 Cosplay gallery.