DAY 1, Sept. 14
5 p.m. –Stealing a moment of quiet in a secluded part of the convention center, sweating in the heat of the third floor, I reflect on the first few hours of Day 1 of the Cincinnati Comic Expo.
Con season is my favorite time of year –and ‘con season’ for me, living as I do near Cincinnati, is when the Cincy Comic Expo opens, normally mid-September.
Because of class and work, I don’t usually get to go to the first day, Friday, but a combination of planning and snatching up a VIP pass six months in advance allowed me to attend all three days this year.
The first day’s schedule consisted of scouting out the floor and taking in the over-stimulation offered by the con.
Fan art. Original comics and books. Woodwork. Stained glass. You name it, it’s at the comic expo. Cincinnati’s is by no means a particularly large expo, compared to those held in Louisville or Indianapolis –the other two metropolises near me– but it can hold its own by packing the Duke Energy Center full of vendors and fans. And the guest aren’t too shabby, with this year’s lineup including the likes of LeVar Burton, Cary Elwes, and Summer Glau. Despite some last-minute cancellations and a few disappointed fans, the first day seemed to go pretty well, by far the least crowded of the three days.
I spent my time walking around the con floor, taking in the sights, sounds, and, interestingly, smells. I’ve noticed a recent new business venture of scent design, in which custom scents are developed for immersive experiences like amusement parks (and D&D games) to fully envelope participants in the environment.
An initial round of the floor only found one booth dedicated to that (shout-out to Epic Adventure Candles), but I’m sure another day of exploring would turn up more.
The lines for t-shirts snaked around the corner of booths, clogging up aisles and hampering movement. People talking on cell phones plugged their ears against the noise, keeping one eye on their booth and making deals with collectors and others in the free seconds grabbed between transactions. A few artists sat alone, looking bored, as people passed by their booths with no intention of stopping.
Cosplayers complimented each other as they passed, and stopped every few feet down the aisle for an obligatory photo from a gawking passerby.
Day 1 turned up quite a few Bucky Barnes and several “Rogue One”-styled uniforms.
Eventually it was time to go, and get some sleep before Day 2.
DAY 2, Sept. 15
10:30 a.m. –Arrival. After a late night of catching up with friends in my hometown (and getting destroyed in a game of bowling), I gratefully grabbed a coffee immediately upon entering the convention hall and sat for a moment to plan the day. I had a few panels in the early afternoon and another obligation in the evening, and that meant I had fewer hours than I’d like to walk the floor.
Solution: grid walk. The hall is laid out in aisles, crisscrossing for the most part in a grid, with a few larger booths breaking up the pattern. In theory, walking that grid, snaking through first one way, then the other, makes sense. (It’s much harder in practice.)
While the panels are fun and the guest interesting, my preferred con experience is walking the floor, especially spotting all the cosplayers.
Recently I’ve been watching Studio Ghibli films (I know, I’m very late to the party) and was delighted to find Sophie (and a tiny Calcifer) from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” one of my favorites. Going up the escalator, I ran into John Hammond from “Jurassic Park.” There’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing such incredible costumes, many of which are handmade, the product of hours of blood, sweat, and heart.
Noon –Spotlight on Cary Elwes
The panel was full of energy, with Elwes literally bounding off the stage on several occasions to hug fans or get a closer look at their costume. He insisted on finishing the line of question-askers, despite running low on time.
Best quote: When a fan complimented him on his ability to play such a hated character in “Twister”
Fan: “If an actor can make you want to punch him in the face, you’ve done it right.”
Elwes: [Emphatic] “Thank you!”
1:15 p.m. –I witnessed a ‘confrontation’ between Luke Skywalker and kid Kylo Ren, who, grinning, made peace while waiting in line for autographs.
Behind me, I overheard a kid say, “I forgot who we were in line for.” Then they caught a glimpse of the media guest at the signing table (in this case it was LeVar Burton), “Oh, yeah, that guy. Wait, he was in ‘Star Trek’?”
2:30 p.m. –In the midst of the lunch rush, the frighteningly long lines allowed a chance to stay stationary for a few moments, enjoying the pause.
Cons are a lot to take in. It’s easy for the excessive amounts of sensory information to overwhelm, between the often-crushing crowds; deafening drone of conversation, sound effects, and music; the blindingly brilliant colors from artwork lining both sides of the aisle.
But these few moments allow for the experience to sink in –the spirit of cons is acceptance. Everyone is accepted, no matter how much or how little they know about a fandom. I’ve never found a kinder, funner environment than at a con.
It’s heartening to be surrounded by people reveling in their passions, to share those passions with complete strangers and get the chance yourself to learn about something completely new.
4 p.m. –Spotlight on LeVar Burton
The entire crowd erupted into cheers when Burton appeared, so loud that he jokingly panicked and turned around to flee the stage. The panel focused on his work cultivating imagination, from his new podcast to his work on “Reading Rainbow.” Every time the crowd cheered his work on “Roots,” “Reading Rainbow,” and “Star Trek,” he looked more and more shocked, and kept repeating, “Wow, you guys are old.”
Best quote: In response to an audience question about defeating writer’s block
“Just keep writing. Write through the writer’s block. Write through life’s distractions…alcohol helps a lot.”
6 p.m. –Departing. Ready for the final day of the con, the last-chance sights and panels.
DAY 3, Sept. 16
1:30 p.m. –In the corner of the hall, a costume contest is judged by the screams of the assembled crowd. A homemade Transformer walks off with the prize.
The final day of the con was the last chance to run through the floor and make last-minute purchases and ogle the artwork, before catching any last day panels.
I always find it hard to leave. I love the feeling of the con, the excitement of walking the floor, the shared joy of a roomful of people eating up an interesting panel.
It’s hard to tear yourself away.
Part of me is sad it’s only once a year, and when I leave today it’ll be another 360-odd days to wait until the next expo.
The other part of me, the rational part, knows it’s good it’s only once a year. That much stimulation going on for too long would get old after a while, and the con would lose its magic. I’d hate for that to happen.
So, for now, until I managed to sell enough of my organs to make it fiscally possible to make the continuous con circuit, it will remain my favorite time of the year.
If you have to choose just one day to attend the Cincinnati Expo, for the fiscal reasons I just alluded to, I’d suggest Saturday. It’s really the heart of the con, between the costume contest, the celeb autographs, the packed floor, the buzz in the air.
Friday is a good preview day, to scout locations and catch fan and creator Q&A panels.
Sunday is mellower, more crowded than Friday but nowhere near as hectic of Saturday.
Day 2 gives you the full, manic Cincy Comic Expo experience.
2 p.m. –Spotlight on Summer Glau
Judging from the noise of the crowd, attendance of the panel seemed evenly split between fans of “Firefly” and “Sarah Connor Chronicles.” Soft-spoken and clearly thoughtful with her choice of words, Glau entertained the crowd with stories of her break into Hollywood from a years as a dancer, her experience working with Joss Whedon, and description of the family dynamic behind the scenes of “Firefly.”
Best quote: In response to a question about her preference of roles, between River on “Firefly” and the Terminator on “Sarah Connor Chronicles”
“I always say ‘Firefly’ is family and it changed my life, but playing a Terminator is the most fun a girl can have.”
And then it was over. My time at the con had ended. I had to return to normal life, borrow my parents’ car and drive home to resume classes on Monday.
I had to tear myself away from the floor, from the costumes, from the rush. From the most joyful part of my year.
The magical feeling in my gut faded, and I was back to work. Replaying the scenes in my mind.
Waiting with bated breath for next year’s lineup to be announced. Wishing that con magic could last year-round, but knowing it was better this way.
Better to wait.