Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pop-culture Convention Watch: ComicCon Asia, Manila - Was It Worth Attending?

Last year, Red Dot Diva and her Geek Blogger Alliance pals spotted a dodgy looking promo video of a new pop-culture convention called ComicCon Asia held at SMX Convention Center, Metro Manila, on 24th & 25th March 2018. They wondered if the convention was for real, especially since Asia-Pop Comic Con (APCC) has managed to garner solid fan and vendor support in the last couple of years. Are these newbies ready to take on the competition? That initial promo video and their newly launched website did not inspire much confidence.

The organizers, PSL Entertainment (who had more experience with beauty pageants) and Nam Entertainment Group, had touted that the convention was supported by Manny Pacquiao as the Philippines’ tourism ambassador. This was one of their biggest mistakes. The controversial, religiously conservative sportsman, was known to have called gay people ‘worse than animals’.

Perception that the show was being a poor copycat of the internationally reknown San Diego Comic-Con was also evident in its choice of name and the similarity in the logo design.

In comparison to APCC, tickets for the ComicCon Asia were more expensive. A 2-day ticket cost PHP1,300 (SGD33) compared to APCC's 2017 ticket prices of PHP1,100 (SGD27) for a 3-day access. To be fair, considering that they did invite Marvel's "Generalissimo" Stan Lee, the photo and autograph opportunities for the fans would have been worth the ticket price. However, any pop-culture fan would know that Stan Lee is already 96 years old, and has been of poor health lately. Would you fly more than 24 hours to another country to attend a convention at that age? It was not a surprise then, due to another bout of pneumonia, Stan Lee's appearance was cancelled a week before the convention. Also, a week's notice was late for those who had already made travel arrangements, even though Cavaet Emptor.

That was not the end of ComicCon Asia's list of boo-boos. Here are some of them:

1. The Mishandling of PR regarding Hatley Atwell

When announced guest Hatley Atwell pulled out of the convention, ComicCon Asia's press release said that she decided not to attend to "due to the perceived 'political unrest in the country'".

Due to the badly worded announcement, Hayley Atwell was harassed on social media by the fans. She later issued an official statement saying that she had to meet her work obligations which conflicted with the show's dates.

A post shared by Hayley Atwell (@wellhayley) on

It's heartening to see Hayley Atwell's classiness and grace under pressure. It's not easy to be on social media when you are a celebrity of a certain status.

In other words - get your PR's act together, ComicCon Asia. Regardless if there was or was not a smidgen of truth in the original message, this is not the way to get you on the good side of other future celebrity guests.

2. Messy Registration Process

Those who bought tickets online were supposed to be registered via RFID wristband, however the booking system failed on the first day. Attendees were then required to register manually with pen and paper, and there were only 2 staff members handling the registrations. So, this resulted in a 2 to 6-hour waiting time just to get into the show!

Now, if you were going to get tickets at the site itself, you had to line up to buy them, and then line up again to register!

People did not know where to line up or which way the lines went. There were no signages, no volunteers to guide people where to go. The SMX guards had to help organize the lines instead.

You can also read more about the badly organized ticket purchase and registration process by a video gamer here.

3. No Separate Line for Refunds

Fans seeking refunds for the photo/ auto ops purchased due to Stan Lee's & Hayley Atwell's cancellations were asked to queue in the same line as registrations!

Due to #2 and #3, heard many just decided to go home. It just was not worth the waiting time and hassle.

As for for those who did not want to attend the show due to the guest cancellations, there was a lack of information as to how they were going to get their refunds and by which payment method.

4. Generally Bad Logistics and Poor Communication

From the ground, there were news that ComicCon Asia's volunteers were clueless as to where things were, and how human traffic was supposed to flow. Were there even briefings with the volunteers as to what the layout was, and what their roles were?

The miscommunication did not just happen for the attendees. For the show's guests, hotels were changed at the last minute. At the hotel front desk, some of the guests identities were not listed and there was nobody from the organizing team to assist. On the first night, the scheduled guest dinner was delayed for over an hour, or rather, no one rounded up the guests to the dinner venue. (To the organizers' credit, they did feed the guests well for the rest of the show dates.)

Panels were cancelled due to the issue with registrations to get into the show hall. One the guests had to wait for 2 hours before he knew his panel had been cancelled. Precious time was wasted and there was hardly any compensation for that. Red Dot Diva also heard the Overwatch panel was almost cancelled. Thankfully, that did not happen.

5. Hardly Any Comic-related or Pop-culture Booths
There were scarcely any pop-culture related booths at the show floor. Several exhibitors cancelled (either due to Manny Pacquiao or otherwise) and what was left was a handful of booths that sold food items, like beer.

Maybe this is a good idea for some of you. Red Dot Diva would have preferred a balance of alcohol and good old pop-culturey stuff. ;)

On the comics side of things, Alex Milne (best known for his work on Transformers) was a special guest, and so were Filipino comic artists like Harvey Tolibao and Carlo Pagulayan, but there just was not enough comics-related stuff to call it a "ComicCon".

Many local attendees have called ComicCon Asia a really epic "con".  It could very well be that, but the show did get off the ground that weekend and many fans who managed to get in did enjoy themselves one way or the other. Red Dot Diva thinks it would have been less stressful if they had attended a show that was better organized. Depending on how much you love the guests, ComicCon Asia might not have been worth the ticket price or the time.

Red Dot Diva is of the opinion that the organizers were arrogant, disorganized, lacked EQ, was getting wayyyyyyyyy over their head with how a pop-culture event should be run and promoted. They intend to try again next year, so you might have a chance to experience it for yourself. (YAY/ NAY?) Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes rather than go around blaming others. 'Coz knowing pop-culture fans, they have powers of elephantine memory!

Having said that, hey... Red Dot Diva has gotta add this:
At least ComicCon Asia did manage to get some celebrities and voice actors as guests. A number of fans got to interact with Holland Roden ("Teen Wolf"), Dacre Montgomery ("Stranger Things"), Walter Jones ("Mighty Morphin Power Rangers"), and the Overwatch voice actors Anjali Bhimani, Feodor Chin, Jen Cohn, and Carolina Ravassa!

Our local Singapore Toy Games and Comic Convention (STGCC) cannot even - or rather don't want to - do that for the fans. The show celebrated its 10th anniversary last year without much of a fanfare. It's time you level up too, STGCC!



Note: Red Dot Diva did not attend ComicCon Asia but had acquaintances who were there on the ground. She has also many years of experience attending conventions in USA and the UK, and have seen how poor organizers failed in some very practical ways.

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