By: Jaimz Dillman
Like a long-awaited Christmas morning, after many postponements and cancellations, MEGACON descended on the Orlando Convention Center this past weekend. Mask mandates were in place - whether vaccinated or not (and security was NOT about to argue with any pushback), loads of hand sanitizer could be found all over, and a general consensus of "Okay, guys, we're all in this together. Let's make it work," seemed to be the feeling.
Streams of fans lined I-drive in the trek to the mecca of all fandoms. In fact, this year's MEGACON slogan was "United in Fandom," and whew, we saw everything represented. I thought I was pretty good at knowing my pop-culture, but within 15 minutes of the first day, I was clueless on the amount of anime, video game, comic book, and internet characters represented by the attendees.
Not to mention the mashups! Hello Kitty DeadPool? Yep! Jedi Harry Potter? Yep! And the gorgeous gender-bent characters were a feast for the eyes. One particular She-Ra, Dan Williams (@daniscre8tve), said, "MegaCon marks the first convention that we have all gotten to attend in about two years. It felt wonderful to get back to 'normal.' It was definitely a lot less crowded than previous years, but that did not affect the fun factor at all! There was still plenty to see, do, and buy!" That there was.
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Celebrities (Those who didn't cancel.) lined one end of the hall while vendors, tattoo artists, cosplayers, interactive photo ops, and food stalls filled in the thousands of square feet of the west concourse. Outside of the hall were panels on every kind of specialty, from belly dancing to stage combat to horror to Lego. Among special performances were shows by Phantasmagoria and the Geeks of Comedy, and celebrity q and a's in the larger theaters. "It really did feel safe, and management was great in making everyone feel welcome. We are exhausted, but pleased. And cannot wait till next year," said John DiDonna of Phantasmagoria (@phantasorlando).
While Saturday was the busiest day, there was no shortage of customers all weekend for vendors selling everything you can think of. Brian Griffin, of Copper Coast Confections (based out of Pennsylvania) creates naturally gluten-free, 30 percent less sugar handmade fudge and chocolates. "This is our third year in a row. We grew out of having one booth, and now have two on the floor. It's been a really positive experience. We've had a lot of repeat customers," Griffin said. With 10 different fan-themed flavors, like Butterbeer, Hulk, and Captain America, their gloved and masked employees were kept busy. Also, handing out samples of their custom hand-painted truffles, Griffin says they're looking forward to adding more non-dairy options due to feedback from guests (@coppercoastconfections).
Loads of people were also there to see custom art and creations from craftsmen only found on the con circuit. Caden Aiello, 15, says his favorite artist is Shelby Denham (@cryptigutz), and he's attended MegaCon at least six or seven times. While he usually spends the time with his dad, procuring new pieces of art for his room, sometimes he comes with friends. "I treat it like a museum... looking around. I don't usually expect anything, I just go in and enjoy it. It's a lot of fun," he said. Sporting a comic book T-shirt and mask, he's not among the costumed. "I'm not really into cosplay, but I like to see how far someone goes in the character." He also said he felt safe and was used to wearing a mask by now (@cadenaiello).
Those who really are into cosplay had the chance to meet several personalities who have risen to TikTok or Instagram stardom for portraying some of their favorite characters. Cassanda Ariel (@CassandraCosplays) said, "I've met a ton of people I've gotten close to on social media, and being able to meet them in person has been incredible. When people are timid about approaching me, I just tell them, 'I'm a nerd, and I like dressing up as things. I'm literally just you - I just have a booth." Also being among other popular cosplayers has been a highlight for her. "They're so willing to teach and exchange and ask about different things. We connect and are so willing to help one another. It's really cool," she said. She was also impressed with how respectful everyone has been with being safe and keeping masks on or even incorporating them into their costumes. "It's been busier than I thought, but I'm glad to see everyone working as a team to have cons back."
First-time vendors weren't too sure how things would be received with COVID numbers in Florida being the highest ever. Arielle Wojciechowski of Owls of Athena (@guardianowlsofathena) said, "It was very stressful, the largest scale show we've done, but once we got set up, it's been great. We're almost to our goal of selling 100 fascinators for the weekend." One-half of a mother/daughter millinery booth decked out with fairy lights and flowers, she said everyone had loved it, and said, "it's magical."
She said she's learned for the next round to make inventory through the year instead of right before the event. With custom top hats and fascinators selling from $40- $150, she intends to make more with different Disney characters and Beetlejuice based on the feedback she's been getting. "We also do custom orders." Boothmate Lori Wisiniewski, steampunk character jewelry maker of Once Upon a Time (@once_upon_a_time_steampunk), says the experience for her has been "so interactive and fun to show people what we do." The woman-owned and operated businesses can be found next at the House of Mouse expo at the Wyndham resort in November.
One set up that drew a lot of attention was our friends over at the Oh! The Horror card game (@oh_the_horror_game). Scoring a coveted corner spot, the area was decorated like a living room - where something has gone horribly wrong. And honestly, I wouldn't expect anything less than an attention-grabber from theme park vets and game creators Patrick Braillard, Jacob McAlister, and Nate Stevenson.
"We sold out by Saturday at 12:30pm. It's been better than we hoped. An insane proof of concept for us," said Stevenson. One of the only booths also set to invite passersby to sit for a spell and play the game, it was easy to see why they garnered so much interest. "Watching strangers play at your table and they're selling to people walking by, it's mind blowing," says Braillard. And he was right. There was hardly ever a free seat available whenever we passed by. McAlister said, "It's been tiring, but rewarding, and worth every second we put into it to see everyone so ready and excited to play this. It's been our full time job for 6 months."
With their icon character, Cheerleader Cherry, bloodied and available for photos, the creators hit on the best combination of interactive area and selling points. Even after the available games were gone, preorders for the next round were piling up. I passed several other game vendors, and if you're too bored to even look up from your phone to possible customers walking by, that tells me something about the excitement you have for your product. Future exhibitors, take note.
Enticing setups for fans wasn't limited to just the vendor area. CosFx welcomed all who "ain't afraid of no ghost" to one of the best photo-ops I've ever seen. Headed up by Rob Sims and Kyla Swanberg, their recreation of the final battle from the first Ghostbusters movie was detailed down to the drool on Gozer's demon dogs. Swanberg (as Gozer the Gozerian, Gozer the Destructor, Gozer the Traveler - you get the picture) sounded perfect with a voice-modulator, as she asked visitors, "Are you a God?"
She handles the costuming, makeup, and hair for the duo, and assistants that help at the front. That includes all the hand-sewing needed to recreate one of the most infamous body suits in film history. She said, "We always go bigger and better. This setup will run another year and then we'll build again." And the building is credited to Sims (as Dr. Janosz Poha from part 2) who said the booth setup had been perfect. "No hiccups. I've already had a couple guys wanting me to build them stuff from the art." He also handles the tech side of things, creating instant photos sent to your email address to cherish forever. Looking down the road Sims also said, "We flip back and forth. One year she's the villain, then it'll be me next. We'll do other cities - New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis. It all fits in our covered trailer like Tetris." I got some inside info on their next concept, and I am SUPER psyched for it. Stay tuned for those announcements on Instagram @cosfxstudios.
And finally, it wouldn't be a fan convention without comic books! Rows and rows of boxes of books, and artists and authors from several different publishing houses were very excited to invite folks in to hear about the stories they've created. Tampa-based author Alfred Paige got our attention just by saying "hi" as we passed his table. Paige said, "I brought 200 business cards, thinking that'd be plenty, but at MegaCon, I was down to 20 my first day." Not bad for his first time. He's heading to DaytonaCon next. Primarily publishing horror titles, he says he's Second Site's action title.
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We wrapped up our day by getting sucked into the temptation of the mystery box. Available in all sizes and sub-genres, Johnnie couldn't resist and we ended up unboxing three different combinations, with a mix of fandoms. Was it worth it? It was fun to open them, even if everything inside wasn't his cup of tea. But at least he's got Christmas gifts for some friends already!
With aching feet, bags of loot, and empty wallets, we joined the zombie mass walk out after the final buzzer sounded the end of the weekend. Even though I was there for three days, it was impossible to see it all. I passed by some vendors for the first time as we headed for our Uber (better than paying for off-site parking and dealing with the shuttle). Was MegaCon a success? Judging by the amount of attendees we saw, vendors and guests we talked to, and safety precautions that seemed to be well received, I'd say yes. Doing one day on my own, one day dressed up with my daughter, and then one day working, I think I saw enough different versions of experiences to be able to say that.
Photos by Johnnie Maier