Springtime here in Washington, DC usually brings a few yearly traditions: The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Easter Monday at the National Zoo, the start of a new season of baseball and the annual open house festivities at a few dozen embassies around town. Quietly stealing spots on our weekend calendars is Awesome Con. Since 2013, Washington’s very own convention covering everything ‘awesome’ has seen exponential growth. Surely there were some of the expectant growing pains in 2015 after an amazing 2014 yet, Awesome Con seemed to be growing the right way. Still the size of a grain of sand when compared to bigger comic/geek culture conventions such as in San Diego or New York, Awesome Con certainly had room for growth in 2016. But, heading into its fourth year, is the Con still Awesome?
Day 1: Friday, June 4th, 2016
The last hour of the work week seems to be the longest. Finally freed of duties at my day job, I seemingly teleport out of the office and rushed over to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. After walking what felt like a country mile to an inconspicuous corner office at the back of the convention center, I finally picked up my press pass. The cavernous Hall E is teeming with activity. The all volunteer info aides known as the ‘Brute Squad’ buzz around the convention center in their uncomfortably bright yellow shirts like fireflies. I arrived just after 330pm. The Con opened at noon. The Brute Squad is in place and a few panels have already started; but where is everyone? It would be unfair to call the crowds on Friday sparse, but my first day of Awesome Con ’16 was surprisingly underwhelming. The big guests for Friday were voice actors Grey DeLisle and Wes Johnson and actor Jeremy London. The evening was capped with ‘An Evening With Kevin Smith’, the live Q&A session, starring the titular filmmaker. Workshops like ‘Molding and Casting’, ‘Cosplay 101-Get Started’ and discussions about the intricacies of every fandom such as: ‘Nerd Rock Bands’ and ‘James T. Kirk: O Captain, My Captain’ were scattered throughout the Convention Center. Since Saturday is usually the biggest day of the Con, I decided to spend most of my time in the Exhibit Hall. The Exhibit Hall of Awesome Con is a sight to behold. The nerdiest mall in the city has everything from Western Pop Culture. From 3D Printed Pokeballs to Tony Stark’s car in Iron Man 3, there wasn’t much that couldn’t be found in the Exhibit Hall. After a getting slaughtered in an actual arcade version of Marvel vs Capcom 2 I turned my attention to Crazy Taxi where I did better. After spending too much money on t-shirts and trinkets, I decided to call it a day and rest up for Day 2, historically the busiest day of the weekend.
Day 2: Saturday, June 5th, 2016
Saturday’s Awesome Con was jammed pack with panels, discussions and workshops. It’s impossible to see everything, but I tried my best. Matthew Lewis of Harry Potter fame had a Q&A at the same time as Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario and many other flagship Nintendo characters. I didn’t want to choose between the voice of my childhood (and current ringtone) or Neville Longbottom. So I peeked at both.
Martinet has been the voice of Mario for 30 years. He talked about voice acting in general and snuck in a few lines as Mario, Luigi, Wario and WaLuigi. I had to slip out of the panel to catch a bit of the Matthew Lewis Q&A. Lewis, best known for his role as Neville Longbottom, can also be seen on the big screen in the romantic drama Me Before You. Afterwards there was a long sprint from Hall D, downstairs to the Futurama Panel. Awesome Con regular, Phil LaMarr along with Billy West and John DiMaggio discussed their careers and the legacy Futurama left.
I wish I could’ve stayed longer at the Futurama Panel, but the original Dynamic Duo had a panel that was starting shortly. Awesome Con Saturday has always been an exercise in strategy. The schedule seems designed to test loyalties and challenge fandoms. An Agents of Shield panel was nearby, leading to a score of troubled looks on the faces of conventioneers. Do you see Mario, Star Wars or Harry Potter? Is it Batman, Futurama or Agents of Shield? Tough choices all around, but fans soldiered on undeterred. Though the crowds were definitely bigger than Friday’s crowds and surely will be bigger than Sunday; I never got the claustrophobia inducing crowds of New York Comic Con. There was plenty of room for everybody and certainly room for more exhibits as Awesome Con only covered slightly more than half of the Convention Space.
With little time to spare, I hustled back up to Hall D (Via Hall E) for the Adam West and Burt Ward Q&A. Celebrating 50 years of the original Batman tv show, the original Dynamic Duo was in town to field a lot of questions about their careers and what’s next for the two. That led to a very cryptic tease by Ward who promised that the duo’s upcoming project will “knock your socks off”.
I could only stay with West and Ward for a few moments before a wrestling discussion was to start. Covering most of the current events in the world of Professional Wrestling, Pro Wrestling: Awesome Mania 4 was a lively fan discussion of rumors, speculation and any wrestling fan’s second favorite thing to do: fantasy booking. There were other high-profile Q&A panels but I wanted to check out the rest of the Con. So, for the first time today I visited the Exhibit Hall.
The Exhibit Hall alone is worth the price of admission. If Geekiness were a state, the Awesome Con Exhibit Hall would be its state fair. Filled with sights, sounds and so many smells, the Exhibit Hall is always buzzing with activity. Prizes were won, autographs were signed and every enjoyed themselves. I wished for it to be bigger, as aisles became clogged with buyers and passers by, leading to the occasional bump, poke and snag. A lot of people were in awkwardly shaped costumes. Though the bulk of Awesome Con’s guests were from American media (TV, film, comics etc.), there was a fair amount of anime represented at the con. Whether it was from cosplayers or vendors, anime had a noticeable representation, however K-Pop (‘K’ for Korean) was non-existent.
One of the new additions to the Exhibit Hall is the classic arcade. Classics such as X-Men, Marvel vs Capcom 2 and NBA Jam among others filled the arcade area. Not to be confused with the official video game room upstairs, the arcade area was teeming with nostalgia and was a welcomed addition to the festivities.
And then there’s this…
This tower of mystery boxes are all for sale. I have no idea what’s in the boxes but, it was funny to see people around the weekend, in Mario costumes carrying power blocks.
Saturday’s Awesome Con was great. Tons of people, most of which had 3 day passes was good to see. Personally, there weren’t any must see guests for me this year, but I realize that Awesome Con isn’t tailored to my interests and a good time was had by all. I know what I liked and disliked, but Awesome Con has a long way to go. So far it’s heading in the right direction and we haven’t even made it to Sunday.
Sunday, June 5th, 2016
StarTalk Live was the big event on Sunday, but I could only stay for a few moments of the 90 minute long live podcast. Just as host Bill Nye and co-host Eugene Mirman were about to introduce the guests: NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman, Astrobiologist and StarTalk All-Stars host Dr. David Grinspoon (aka Dr. FunkySpoon), and comedians Jo Firestone and Hari Kondabolu. I had to run downstairs to meet one of my heroes.
I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling since childhood and Ron Simmons (seen below) has been a long time favourite. A WWE and College Football Hall of Famer for his time at Florida State University, Simmons was a WCW Champion, Tag Champ and US Tag Champ. Also, Simmons was a 3 time WWF Tag Team Champion. The intimate but knowledgeable group of wrestling fans asked Simmons of his career and where the wrestling business is headed. A healthy wrestling indeed as Simmons shared his valuable insights into the business.
As Awesome Con moved into its last hours there was still a lot of commotion of the floor. Peter Capaldi and Ron Perlman had panels starting shortly, but I was en route to the Billy West Q&A moderated by our very own Brandon Troy.
If you were a fan of Nickelodeon on the late 90’s you’ve probably heard Billy West’s voice. Also known for more recent roles such as various characters in the hit show Futurama, West’s illustrious career proceeds him. Talk of West’s upbringing and a few of West’s memorable roles were discussed along with audience questions.
After the West panel and a quick lunch I peeked into the Video Game Lounge. As a gamer I was rather disappointed with this year’s selection. There were the expectant two-player fighting games and other multiplayer party games, but surprisingly a lack of sports games. One could play the single player epic Tomb Raider (2013) but not a quick game of hockey or basketball. I did manage to steal a win in Mortal Kombat X (2015), but time flies at Awesome Con and I had to move on to my last panel of the weekend. I couldn’t be late as I’m on the panel.
The Arkham Files: Superhero Psychosis sought to clinically diagnose the worst villains in Gotham City. Moderated by Brandon Troy, along with myself, Illustrator Julian Lytle and Dr. Charles Samenow M.D., M.P.H. of The George Washington University. Analyzing a supervillain and trying to find where they went wrong (or why they’re right), turned the common ideals of good and evil on its head. Lots of fun and a truly unique discussion.
Awesome Con came to a close and the feeling was still bittersweet. There wasn’t the growth I had expected to see, but there wasn’t a reduction in content. I hope that a stronger focus on cosplay is in the works for the future along with a bigger video game space, with a larger palette of games. The lineup of guests will never please everyone and this year wasn’t for me. However, that didn’t take away from overall experience. I can’t officially call Awesome Con ‘awesome’ this year, but while the con doesn’t have to get bigger, it should strive to get better, if it want’s to maintain its status as Washington’s premier comic convention. They’ll have some more competition as Otakon, the Baltimore based anime convention, moves to the Washington Convention Center next year.