Conventional Wisdom: Tips On Picking A Convention June 22, 2008by John Tenuto , Filed under: Conventions/Events/Attractions , trackback
The failure of FedCon USA was big news this week and it isn’t the first con to go down, however such things are rare in the world of conventions. Today Trekmovie.com presents a brief history of conventions, including a couple of past failures to provide some context. We also take a look forward with a guide to trusted cons and tips for fans to avoid con disappointments.
Sci-fi conventions go back decades
Science fiction conventions first started in both the UK and US in the 1930s. One early attendee was Arthur C. Clarke who attended a British genre convention in January 1937. Star Trek would occasionally receive some attention at generic science fiction during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it was at Tricon in 1966 that Bjo Trimble first met Gene Roddenberry who brought episodes of Star Trek to show the audience a few days before the "Man Trap" premiered. The first Star Trek convention was a gathering in New York January 21-23, 1972. It was planned by a group of fans known as "The Committee" which included Joan Winston (eventual author of "The Making of The Trek Conventions") and Al Schuster. Guests included Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett.
The popularity of that first Star Trek convention led to many more conventions in various cities around the world. These early Trek conventions were often interactive events, with fan art shows and costume contests. It really wasn’t until the 1990s that "official" Star Trek conventions started. Before this, conventions had to have names like "Star Con" or "Trek Con" because of copyright considerations. In the 1990s, Viacom and Paramount started letting companies such as Vulkon, Slanted Fedora, and Creation Entertainment be considered sanctioned if they met certain guidelines, including the prevention of sales of counterfeit Trek merchandise. Eventually, the license for official conventions would be awarded to Creation Entertainment, a company started in the early 1970s. Today, there are about 20 Star Trek specific conventions held each year in the United States, some local fan events, others by professional promoters such as Creation Entertainment. Big and small, almost all go off without a hitch.
TWO CAUTIONARY TALES
The FedCon USA fiasco brings back memories of past convention failures.
In the 1990s Slanted Fedora tried to bring a new kind of model to Star Trek conventions. Slanted Fedora innovated some of the mainstays of modern Star Trek conventions including "dinner with the stars," guaranteed autographs, theater performances by celebrities like Leonard Nimoy and John DeLancie as Spock and Q. However, there were criticisms over expense, and conventions being too passive an experience. Things started to go south after a much publicized convention where, according to Patrick Stewart, he was promoted as a guest even after he cancelled. Stewart’s issues with Slanted Fedora became public knowledge and soured fans on the company. In the early 2000s cancelled guests and rescheduled events became more and more common. Eventually monetary issues led to Slanted Fedora going out of business, and there was even legal action by the Kansas Attorney General against the company.
1982 Houston Summit
Perhaps the most infamous Star Trek convention of all time is the 1982 Houston Summit Arena event. The actors and some crew from Star Trek II, except for Leonard Nimoy, yet including Kirstie Alley and Harve Bennett, were to appear at this celebration of The Wrath of Khan. While thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of fans were supposedly going to the event, only a few hundred showed up. The promoters had utilized the money for room reservations and pre-event sales for other purposes, and many fans found they had no reservations and the actors were not paid. Harve Bennett would have none of this and with the help of some of the actors and fans, a convention of sorts was still had. The fans still got their promised three days of entertainment. Like John Billingsley demonstrated at FEDCON USA, Bennett showed that you can make the best of a bad situation as long as fans have an advocate.
CONVENTIONS WITH A PROVEN HISTORY
Although there are examples of cons going bad, there have been thousands of sci-fi and Trek conventions over the last few decades, with only a tiny handful of bad apples in the bunch.
The following list of conventions are established events with a proven history. While there are no guarantees of a good time at conventions, these are companies where you can be assured the event will most likely go on and the celebrities advertised will appear (with the occasional last minute cancellations due to acting schedules).
Creation Entertainment (creationent.com)
The best-known and only ‘official’ Star Trek convention. Creation provides wall-to-wall entertainment and a good selection of A, B, and C level celebrities (with focus on Q&A panels with actors). The annual Summer Vegas convention is the premiere and biggest Trek convention. Prices vary inexpensive to attend the panels to expensive if you want all the autographs, photo-ops and celebrity events.
Vulkon Entertainment (www.vulkon.com)
Smaller and medium sized fan-friendly most Trek focused cons mostly in the Mid-west and South. Provide more direct access to celebrities, with night-time banquets being a highlight. The Summer Orlando con provides selection of Trek stars. Their pricing is comparable to Creation.
A relaxed medium-sized summer convention in Baltimore in July, with a good mix of B level celebs and a big focus on Trek literature. A great place to meet you favorite authors and other celebrities. Pricing is very reasonable with autographing provided at various tables.
FedCon Europe (fedcon.de)
Despite what happened in Texas, FedCon Europe is still the premiere European convention and well regarded by fans and celebrities alike. One of the biggest in the world and certainly largest in Europe is known for its energy and enthusiastic audiences. Reasonable pricing, but gets more expensive once you include autographs.
Comic Con (also runs Wonder Con) (comic-con.org)
The ultimate genre trade show. Panels focus mostly new and upcoming sci-fi and pop culture entertainment (TV, movies, comic books, etc.). Gigantic hall with every vender, often feature exclusive merchandise. Tickets are reasonably priced, with a special area for a handful of signers. Most panels speakers do not sign. Very little fan interaction with celebrities. Trek panels and content varies from year to year.
Dragon Con (dragoncon.org)
The South’s version of Comic-Con, this fan-run convention is both relaxed (celebs sitting in couches chatting with fans), yet is large and well run. A general genre, but provides a special ‘Trek Trak’ with a good selection of Trek stars big and small. Pricing is reasonable for the weekend. Autographs are less organized, but more personal.
Motor City Comic Con (motorcityconventions.com)
Held usually once per year in Detroit, Motor City Comic Con is a general sci-fi con which always features a handful of A or B and C level Trek guests. A good con for autograph collectors as prices are low to get in and you get good access to celebs. Panels provide good interaction as well.
TIPS FOR ATTENDING CONVENTIONS
Conventions are often very expensive and fans should use the same ‘caveat emptors’ you would with any vacation or big purchase. Even when attending big established cons like those listed above, make sure that it is right for you (although all good cons, there are big differences between Creation’s Vegas Con, Comic-Con and Shore-Leave).
For newer and smaller conventions it is a good idea to learn as much as possible before purchasing tickets (especially tickets in advance). There are no guarantees, and most conventions are successful and fun events, yet education is a good way to avoid being disappointed.
- Check forums for the con and other websites (StarTrek.com, TrekBBS, etc.) and ask questions about the con of organizers and past convention goers
- Visit the websites of the actors promoted to make sure the event is listed
- Call the venue to make sure the event is actually booked for that accommodation.
- Save all email communications with conventioneers.
- Know the convention policies regarding refunds or cancelled conventions.
- Check out the companies with better business bureaus.
- Google the name of the actual owners of the convention to see if there are complaints or problems.
If uncertain, don’t buy. You can usually buy tickets at the Star Trek convention door if needed. Be sure to support small, local conventions. These are often personal and rewarding conventions.