Now don't get me wrong, this isn't a 'Oz Comic Con was rubbish and everyone involved should hang their heads in shame' post ... I'll leave that to everyone else who's seemingly bitching endlessly about it. Personally, I had a blast, but perhaps that's an opinion partially tainted by the fact that I spent a lot of (undisclosed) cash on a ticket in order to ensure I had said blast. Not everyone gets that opportunity, I'm afraid, so the event that was Oz Comic Con Melbourne was vastly different for many people and for many reasons.
With all that in mind, here's a few pointers of my own that I hope may both educate and entertain ... not in any particular order:
1) Plan Ahead
This is obvious. When you're inviting two of the biggest names in pop culture history (that's Patrick Stewart and Stan Lee, for those unaware types), among many other's who have a strong following of loyal fans in Australia, you really need to plan for every sort of situation. This includes training your volunteer staff to ensure everyone's on the same page and pre-determining where everyone must go and how. Some of this was done, but only to a point, and as the massive crowd grew over the course of the weekend, it was clear that Hub Productions weren't entirely clear what to do about it. Which was a shame.
Having back up plans, and enough staff to contain crowds, should be atop any list of things to do, but this problems leads to a much bigger issue that, upon reflection, would have aided this first point:
2) A Bigger Hall
Simply put, the hall wasn't big enough to accommodate for the fans, the booths and the ideas in place. Yes, three photo booths is a good idea (which I'll come back to), but when there isn't enough space as it is to fit all the other booths together, any positives are thrown out the window.
Above all else, you CANNOT HAVE BOOTHS THAT CLOSE TO AN ENTRY/EXIT! When it takes just as much time to leave an area than to enter it, you know there's a problem. A wider hall, or using the upstairs auditoriums that have been previously used by the Armageddon team, would have eliminated space issues. Now, the argument can be made that Hub may not have been able to afford it, but I doubt that. Very much.
Something I did note, however, was that the areas for presentations and talks were quite large themselves, yet most of them were half full at the best of times. Perhaps one large area for the bigger talks (such as Stan Lee's, which was overflowing), than the upstairs areas for smaller ones would have allowed for much better use of the hall itself.
3) Signs. Dear God, use SIGNS!
Getting lost within the venue seemed like an easy thing to do, especially when so many lucky patrons who DID get in probably never ventured into such an event before. The more signs around, even having fun with them like street signs pointing the way between vendors, would have cleared that up quickly. Especially when it came to the three photo booths and three presentation halls. Timetables were too small to really get a handle of what they said from a distance, and I noticed there were signs made up to display who was inside at the time, but none of them were ever used. The halls themselves, unless I missed something, didn't have any lists or numbers, or 'entry' and 'exit' signs.
4) Crowd Control
This ties into the debate that there weren't enough staff who were either a) trained up for the event or b) kept in the loop. When it came to the biggest areas, such as a Stan Lee signing area that was very much in the wrong place right opposite the indy artists who got crowded out by the long lines, this was a shambles. They did their best to contain it on Sunday, but by then the damage was done.
The fact that some lines twisted and turned around almost every direction gives you an idea of how bad this and point 2 were, working hand in hand to destroy any attempts at control over the human mass. Again, I was lucky that I had the kind of pass that allowed me to get through these lines easily enough, but I know what it's like to stand there, wasting an entire day for one autograph while the con goes on without you. It's frustrating, which leads me to:
5) Better Time Periods
This one's up for debate, but I noticed that the schedules just didn't seem to make much sense at the most of times. Whether the guests had anything to say about them is anyone's guess (I'd say probably, but who knows), but clearly this was an issue. Everyone knows who they wanted to see the most, so perhaps getting the talks out of the way first, allowing the rest of the day for photos and autographs in separate areas, away from the rest of the guests who's lines never had the same kinds of issues or time table clashes, would have been the better solution. In fact, using an entirely different hall for them would have gone a long way to fixing many of the above points I just made.
As it was, the situation wasn't aided on Sunday when both Stan and Patrick arrived much later than most people anticipated. I can forgive that, though, given many aspects of life and normality that comes with being a hero to the people. They need their space just as much as we do.
6) Better Photos
This was a hit and miss area. Three booths made sense, it's the most I've seen at a con such as this (they've used two at Supanova in the past, though curiously only one at the Perth Supanova the other weekend). However, there's a major concern with Hub's control over photo development, that reared its ugly head on the Saturday that I'm sure put the nail in the coffin of most people's enjoyment of the day.
Simply put, you CANNOT have photos developed elsewhere, then expect people to AGAIN line up in some mad cap fashion to find them. Not only does this waste even more time that most of these fans cannot afford to waste, it means that most fans don't get a chance to have their photo signed, if they're after such a thing. Having learnt that Patrick Stewart doesn't personally sign that often, getting my photo signed made sense to me. The problem was, my photo's weren't developed on time, meaning I had to return the next morning to retrieve them. Luckily for me, not a huge issue, but for those who'd only paid for a day's entry? Not cool.
The answer is clear. Having on-site photo development easily fixes this problem. Even if it means a separate room for it, away from the photo booths, that alone is far better than waiting half a day only to find they haven't arrived yet. Take a note from Supanova's book and fix this one ASAP, otherwise it'll continue to be a bane of Oz Comic Con events for years to come. Or just get a better group to take the photos, that would work too.
7) Better Presenters
It makes a ton of difference when the voice you hear at the start of a talk, or a voice over on the PA giving you can update, actually sounds interested in being there. In this case, every voice I heard sounded like someone from a back water retail store, and the presenters mainly lacked the motivation to entertain between guests.
If it's a show you're going to put on, you need the right people on the microphones. There were some positives though, like cartoons on display on the big screens, but that's little conciliation when there's no witty banter while the guests wait in silence for another question to be asked, or fans sit bored by another 'here's our rules and regulations' intro. We're not kids, we get it!
In fact, let this one go out to all event organisers. Find people who motivate and entertain, that can give as much as they get from the fans and can break up any sudden moments of silence. If I hear another 'any more questions' from the guests themselves ...
8) Don't Be Like Everyone Else
Just because you're a con, doesn't mean you have to act like all the others that came before you. Trying to stand out based on the guests you invite won't always work, as we had here. If you're going to attract fans who will not only attend the event today, but the event next year and the year after that, you're going to have to try something new and exciting to get them in the door. Barring all the above problems this con had, things like the indoor light gun battles and video game challenges by professional players was a welcome sign. But this con still felt too much like every other, and clearly there wasn't much thought put into improving or adding features that placed Oz Comic Con ahead of the pack.
It's time to mix things up. The fan's are there, the country is willing to give these cons everything they've got. Every year, we hear about bigger attendance's, records broken, bigger names as guests. But every year the con itself is much like the last. We need someone, anyone, to break up the typical agenda and say 'you know what, to hell with the rules.'
What's that? You want me to suggest something? Okay then. Start with a host, the voice of the con, someone that as soon as you hear their voice, you know to listen. He or she needs to be in as many places as possible, presenting guests and keeping people up to date, while being entertaining at the same time (as I said above).
Secondly, bring in activities. There's only so many stores you can buy things at that aren't online cheaper. Light guns are a good start, but how about stalls that feature the best Cosplay artists teaching you how to make your own costumes or jewellery, or treasure hunting events for the kids in the audience, or perhaps something that *gasp* uses the outdoors for its purpose!
Music artists would be welcome too. Generally they are either actors who sing or bands that are some kind of geek or pop culture relation, but some real music by a local band or two wouldn't go astray to sit back and be entertained by. Lord knows the halls are rather quiet towards the end of the day on Sunday, what better way to keep people within the venue and paying a little more towards something extravagant?
Finally, and I say this with the highest level of regard for every con that's happened before, but we need more local talent. Having international guests is great, for sure, but there's so many local community members who can bring along their own talents. An artists ally that features roughly the same kind of people every con isn't enough.
9) Have Humility
Hub Productions needs to quickly learn how to apologise correctly. Too many times now have they created problems for their fans without a proper 'sorry, shouldn't have done that'. It's okay to be wrong, it's no biggie if you make a mistake and own up to it without coming up with excuses or blaming outside interference. What annoys me about this past weekend is the common line 'we didn't expect so many' which, and I apologise for my language, is BULLSHIT! I said it above, I'll say it again here, PLAN AHEAD, and apologise profusely to those who either didn't have a good time or couldn't get in at all.
Above all else, have some heart. Yes, it's hard putting a show like this together, but can you imagine the kind of experiences some of these fans are having to go through? Getting crushed in lines, not getting a ticket in, missing out on meeting a childhood idol? That's a much bigger impact on anyone's life than you can imagine. I've already experienced that myself, I missed out on meeting Richard Dean Anderson a while back because they 'didn't expect so many' to turn up. *ahem* BULLSHIT!
10) Stop Fighting
What's worse than a con not working out? Having other con organisers berate your mistakes and call you out on it. We should be a community that thrives, not three groups that are trying to out do themselves!!! If nothing else, Oz Comic Con shouldn't have existed in the first place. Hub tried to bite off more than they could chew, and it backfired. Now, having previously stated they knew what they were doing, they're getting lambasted by the other con organisers for it. But it shouldn't be like this at all, not even in the slightest.
Everyone has their differences, that's a given. But for a group to go out and try to better someone else for spite? That's just wrong, in many ways. We should be working together, to ensure both the fans and the guests are having the best times of their lives, and building up the community that we have into one of the best in the world. Instead, we have three separate groups trying to work within a country that just doesn't have the right kind of infrastructure to maintain to many different types. Supanova travels the length of Australia every year now, no doubt they are in a good place. Could you imagine, then, if Hub worked together with them to get Stan Lee and Patrick Stewart right across Australia?
We should be trying to break free of the problems of the past and looking to do something right for the fans that are, in their droves, doing all that they can to make it to these cons and to show their true colours in front of the world. I'll still be going to these cons, when I can, and I always will. But until such time as we all get along and make the best of the opportunities afforded to us, we may never be able to break free from the smaller, side story in the news headlines to the San Diego Comic Con heights of our neighbour.