Somewhere in between the massive, mega-corporate, multimedia juggernaut nerd Valhallas like San Diego Comic-Con, and the local, low-rent cons that consist of 25 card tables covered with dusty Star Wars action figures held in the lobby of a dirty hotel off the interstate – lies ConnectiCon, a mid-size “Massively Multi-Genre Pop Culture” convention held in Hartford, CT. I’ve attended this Con for several years now, and gave it a rather scathing review last year. Have the event organizers taken any of my critiques to heart? Has the convention grown up and improved at all? Let’s take a look at the ol’ report card and see![divider]
The ConnectiCon makes good use of the spacious and modern Connecticut Convention Center, a sprawling 140,000 square-foot space that easily accommodates the 10,000 – 12,000 anime fans, cosplayers, gamers, and geeks that spill through the revolving doors. In fact, if there’s a knock on it, it might be too airy and cavernous. The enormity of the Center has a tendency to make the show appear sparsely attended; only on the peak afternoon hours on Saturday does the place show any semblance of a crowd filling the grand foyer of the facility.
Our visit to the ConnectiCon took place on Friday, the opening day of the show, and the place was a veritable ghost town. Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation) conducted a Q&A panel in front of an embarrassing crowd of around 150 people in a space that was capable of handling ten times that amount. The Battlestar Galactica panel that immediately followed fared no better, but the Con staff gets major points for re-configuring the ballroom to meet the professional standards of other, much larger conventions like New York or DragonCon in Atlanta.
Aside from the excellent main ballroom, the Connecticut Convention Center boasts the requisite food court and snack kiosks; plenty of smaller panel rooms for the Bronies and the Brentalflosses of the world; a massive merch room with adjacent space for table-top and video gaming; lots of outdoor space for photo shoots; an attached hotel and parking garage; and this year a movie theater across the street held screenings of geek-related films & animation for the con goers.[divider]
This year seemed like a down year for elaborately crafted and colorful cosplayers, but that was likely a byproduct of the day we chose to attend the convention. But even with a smaller crowd, it still appeared that nine out of ten people were dressed in a costume, and for a mid-sized convention, the ConnectiCon is always one of the best places to see awesome, sexy, funny, imaginative, and flat-out bizarre cosplay.
Some of my personal highlights at this year’s convention included a couple dressed as Wonder Woman and Steve Rogers in gym attire from the beginning of The Avengers (complete with heavy bag); a Kevin Smith look-a-like as Bluntman; a terrific Prince Robot from Brian K. Vaughn’s amazing comic Saga; A couple dressed as Plants vs. Zombies; a surly Aquaman that seemed to be put upon when asked to pose for a photo; two Thors touching hammers *ahem*; a limbless Black Knight from Monty Python & The Holy Grail; and a melancholy young girl dressed as Padme Amidala from The Phantom Menace, whom we immediately dubbed “Sadmé.”[divider]
When you go to a Con, it’s important to be able to check in quickly, then navigate the facility and find the panels/events/workshops that you want to attend without much stress. The con staff do a relatively good job here, with adequate signage, video screens embedded in the walls of the facility, and a well-labelled map in the official ConnectiCon program. Registration always seems to generate very long lines and technical snafus – but that is true of any mid to large-size convention.
The organizers should also be commended for unravelling the labyrinthine nightmare of a merch room/artist alley/online media guest area they created for last year’s show. They wisely turned this area back into a spacious, orderly, and appealing section of the convention. As I stated earlier, the main ballroom—where all the major celebrity Q&A’s, an events like the Cosplay Masquerade take place—was rearranged and equipped with large video boards and improved lighting and sound, making it feel more like the rooms you see at the massive mega-cons.[divider]
Last year, I accused this convention’s events and guests of being too “niche,” and while the show still tends to skew to younger demographic—focusing on obscure anime panels, video game voice artists, and events like the Cosplay Masquerade—I’m happy to say that in 2013, the ConnectiCon’s organizers made a conscious effort to draw in older geeks like myself who are more into sci-fi and superhero comics by bringing in guests like Star Trek‘s Marina Sirtis (Counsellor Troi), Battlestar Galactica actors Timoh Penikett (Helo) and Michael Trucco (Anders), and even some comic artists like Michael Golden. (Thanks for the awesome signed G.I. Joe print, Michael!)
It may be too early to tell if this had the impact that the staff was looking for, but hopefully, it was a big first-step in attracting a more diverse audience. (That’s a nice way of saying I hope the show gains more civilized 30 and 40-somethings and loses many of the dirty, rude, shrieking pre-teens.)[divider]
This is where the ConnectiCon always falls short. I understand that it’s very expensive to put on a multi-genre convention in a modern, state-of-the-art building like the Connecticut Convention Center, but charging admission (in this case, “membership”) prices that are comparable to New York Comic-Con or any of the huge Wizard World events is a major miscalculation. The addition of some higher-profile guests was nice, but when you factor in parking, food, and—for some—accommodations, the prices are simply unjustifiable for the content and programming offered.[divider]
If you are between the ages of 13-24, this Convention remains a fantastic opportunity to be with friends, make new ones, compare cosplay craftsmanship, engage in mock “Death Matches,” play video games, attend small panels that appeal to you, and dance the night away at the nerd rave. However, if you’re between 25-50, you’ll only have an okay time; there’s a high probability you’ll be bored once you’ve walked the floor two or three times, met the Star Trek and BSG folks, and attended their panels. Things are rapidly improving at this con, but it still isn’t quite the all-genre, all-age encompassing event that it should be just yet.