One day at WizardWorld Cleveland 2018

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend WizardWorld Comic Con in Cleveland, Ohio. Intrigued that a fan event would be taking place within an hour of my small town, I eagerly volunteered to attend my first ever convention. It was an eye-opening experience, in a very good way.

Before attending, I knew exactly two things about fan conventions: 1. People dressed up in costumes. 2. People paid money to get autographs or photos with celebrities. Neither of those things appealed to me, so I never looked into them any further. As it turns out, I was missing out.

Main convention floor

The main conventional floor just before opening, from above.

The first thing on the main convention floor was a live entertainment stage that alternated between musical performances and master of ceremonies Kato Kaelin expertly working the crowd.

The center of the floor was reserved for autograph booths and photos ops with celebrities from various sci-fi/fantasy/action-adventure movies and television shows. The rest of the convention floor featured vendor booths.

There was an endless amount of merchandise to peruse and purchase — t-shirts, collectibles, original artwork, comic books, and more. Best of all – there were booths featuring artists creating original work on the spot and fandom groups spreading information about what exactly they do.

Panels

Charisma Carpenter and Holly Marie Combs sharing an embrace on stage.

There were so many panels that it was difficult to choose which to attend. Plus, several overlapped. After some consideration, I decided to choose a variety.

Women of Pop Culture

This featured a conversation/question and answer session with Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) and Holly Marie Combs (Charmed, Pretty Little Liars). In addition to telling stories and answering questions about what it’s like for women in the male-dominated industry in general, they also offered opinions on what it’s like on-set for young actresses now, versus 20 years ago.

Holly Marie Combs offered the unique perspective of being one of the young stars of Charmed in the 90s and more recently playing the role of mother to one of the young stars on Pretty Little Liars. She praised the focus and ambition of the actresses she worked with on PLL pointing out that some of them have already pursued producing and directing projects.

While Charisma and Holly did answer questions and share stories about struggles they faced as young women on male-dominated sets, they kept the general tone light-hearted and hopeful for the future of females in the industry.

Disney Trivia Against the Disney Brothers

This was a fun trivia contest. The audience was split in half to play as teams for Walt Before Mickey stars Thomas Ian Nicholas and Jon Heder. Host Lani Sarim posed questions to the actors and audience about all things Disney. The actors then relied on their audience team for help.

In contrast to the ‘Women of Pop Culture’ panel, where the actresses stayed on stage behind a table, these guys repeatedly ran into the crowd, weaving through the audience aisles to get answer suggestions directly from the fans. Audience members joked with the stars as they debated who had the correct answers. After one young boy called out Jon’s name to get his attention, Jon joked to the crowd that he was now on a first name basis with the young fan.

Their one-on-one interaction with fans made this a lot of fun. Their ease at joking around with the audience created an exciting buzz in the room. Helpful fans were rewarded with prizes – one was even rewarded with an original drawing created onstage by Disney artist Clinton Hobart during the panel. Thomas Ian Nicholas filmed the entire event live for the Walt Before Mickey Facebook page.

Words Create Worlds: Lessons from a Storyteller

This was led by author James Morris (Sky Bound, Water Tower, Surface), as he presented a workshop on the elements essential to storytelling.

This panel took place in one of the smaller rooms, with only limited chairs. However, the lack of seating didn’t dissuade aspiring writers from filling the room – they leaned on walls and sat on the floor wherever there was extra space.

Morris had a general outline of the message he wanted to convey but encouraged questions from the audience to drive the conversation. As a fiction writer myself, this was a particularly informative panel.

He shared a few great tips to help get through a first full draft before editing:

  1. Keep a running list of important things to remember (character traits, family members, powers, weaknesses, rules you’ve laid out that you don’t want to break, etc.) so that you don’t have to go back through your draft to find these details.
  2. Each time you complete a chapter, write a short paragraph summary of what happened. Don’t go back to revise or edit any chapters until the entire draft is finished. If you need to remember what happened, look at your summary.
  3. Hit one major bullet point each chapter.
  4. If you get stuck and experience writer’s block, picture the movie trailer that would sell your story and write towards that.

I have a habit of writing and then re-writing. I tend re-read and edit as I go. These tips will help me get to a first full draft of my next story much faster.

Saving People, Discussing Things: A Supernatural Panel

This was the last panel I attended. Full disclosure: I’ve been a Supernatural fan since the pilot episode, 13 seasons ago, so I specifically stayed at the convention late into the day to see what this panel would bring.

Host (and YouTuber) Alana King led a fun discussion about the current season and the potential Wayward Sisters spinoff. She also allowed a local fan chapter to introduce themselves and their mission (see below) before inviting audience members to participate in a yes/no trivia contest about the show. Having seen most episodes numerous times, I eagerly volunteered to play.

Alana had 20 players stand in front of the stage. She gave us each cards with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ written on them. She explained that she would ask several questions and we would hold up our answers for everyone to see. If you got an answer wrong, you were eliminated and should return to your seat. Her plan was for one winner to take all three prizes.

After the first question, our line of 20 players was cut in half. When the second question narrowed the field even more, she realized her questions were harder than she thought and the game was going to go much quicker than planned. Someone called out a suggestion to go three rounds instead, with the winner of each round winning a prize. Everyone in the room quickly agreed to the new plan.

On the third or fourth question there were only three players left standing – me and 2 others. I was the only one to answer the question correctly and won the first round! I chose an art piece of the Winchester brothers over the other two prizes – a Supernatural book or a photo op with a replica of the iconic car from the series.

WizardWorld
The prize I chose after winning the first round of the trivia contest.

Local fandom groups

Before this convention, I was unaware that fan groups existed.

Geek Girl Brunch

While walking through the vendor booths early in the day, I met a few women from the Cleveland chapter of Geek Girl Brunch. They explained that they meet monthly for brunch or other arranged meet-ups to discuss pop culture and forge friendships with other women who share their interests.

Women of Letters

The Cleveland chapter of the Women of Letters introduced themselves at the Supernatural panel and explained that in addition to sharing a love for the Winchester boys and all things Supernatural, they also strive to raise money for their community through different fundraising events.

Both of these fan groups have chapters in major cities across the country. They each also have pages on every major social media platform. I was unaware that fan groups existed before this convention. I’m now seriously considering joining both groups mentioned above. Gatherings to discuss the things I love that no one I know seems to understand? Sign me up!

Unique merchandise

The amount of merchandise offered was impressive. In an effort to carefully inspect all items available from all vendors, I decided to look for something related to Marvel’s Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes — one of my favorite characters that I know is hard to find in stores near me.

My hope was to find a t-shirt, but I had no such luck. Very few Bucky items existed at this convention, but I did find a Winter Soldier-themed mystery box at one of the artist booths. For $10 I received a magnet, three buttons, a decal, and an art piece, all featuring the Winter Soldier/Bucky. The magnet (top left of the image below) was added to my fridge as soon as I got home.

My Bucky Barnes loot.

Things I didn’t get around to

There were many things at the convention that I didn’t have time to check out – booths, workshops and contests revolving around anime, cosplay, weapons, gaming, and more. I did get a chance to marvel at some of the impressive cosplay of people simply walking around the convention floor.

The time and attention to detail put into many of the costumes was impressive. There were both individual and group efforts. I was stunned by a tall man dressed as Bumblebee from Transformers. There was an adorable young child dressed as Dipper from Gravity Falls.  I was impressed with a group of women dressed as various Harry Potter supporting characters (including Professors McGonagall and Umbridge, Dobby, Luna Lovegood and a Dementor) at the Supernatural panel.

Should you go?

I get it now: I fully understand the appeal of having that kind of access to celebrities you enjoy. Like a music fan buying really good gig seats or meet and greet packages for a concert, fan conventions are a chance to get up close and personal with your favorite actors.

I watched both Charmed and Buffy all through college, so it was particularly surreal to be seated in the first few rows of the ‘Women of Pop Culture’ panel. As I made a last loop through the convention floor at the end of the day, I passed five feet in front of Ezra Miller of Justice League being escorted across the floor (he’s taller than I realized).

Torchwood, Justice League, Dr. Who, Gotham, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were all well represented at WizardWorld Cleveland. In addition to autographs and photo ops, many of these celebrities participated in panels where fans could interact with them. If you’ve ever considered going to a fan convention, and find one that your favorite actor is attending, GO. Especially if that convention is WizardWorld.

Was anything missing?

Me, after 8 hours at WizardWorld.

Only one. I’m a huge Marvel movie fan. So much so that I wore my Captain America shirt to WizardWorld even thought I knew no one from Marvel would be there. Judging by the display of past photo ops featured in the official program, actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe frequently attend the WizardWorld conventions, but none of them came to Cleveland. Zero. Not a single one. And none are currently scheduled to come to Columbus, Ohio in June. If any Marvel actors come to a future convention in Ohio, I will absolutely go back.

Image Credits: Meredith Miller

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