SLC ComicCon 2014 After Action Report

Wow. What a busy con.

I haven’t heard if it is official or not, but if Salt Lake City wasn’t bigger than San Diego’s Comic Con, then it was really, really close. On Saturday the word was that we’d broken 120,000 people. The entire state of Utah only has 2.8 million people. That’s 4% of the state’s population in one building. This was only the 3rd time we’ve done this.

That is one powerful nerdy state.

This was a really different con for me. Normally I like to just go and wander around, be on some panels, maybe do a book signing for an hour or two, that’s it. I’ve never been tied down to a table before, but Kevin J. Anderson and Peter Wacks invited me to have a spot at the WordFire Press booth. So I went for it. KJA had a brilliant idea, and he’s been trying to put together this sort of author “super booth”. I spent most of the con sitting between Peter Beagle (Last Unicorn) and Brandon Sanderson (Way of Kings).

There were more books stashed. It still wasn't nearly enough.
There were more books stashed. It still wasn’t nearly enough.

It was like a good book signing, that was non-stop for three days. By the end I’d been cleaned out of nearly every title. All I had left was some MHN and Warbound hard covers. By Saturday morning I was out of book 1 of every series. And that’s not counting the ones people brought in, or the hundreds—not a typo—of people who just wanted to come by and say hi.

I’m not kidding when I say that I probably shook a thousand hands. My hand is sore. Now I understand why celebrities use the fist bump (to be fair, some of my fans are really STRONG). Protip to authors, if you see a guy with tree trunk arms and tactical beard standing in line, go for the fist bump. If you are me, and half of your fan base looks like that, suck it up. Ace wrap that shit and get back to typing. 🙂

Because there was over 500 guests they capped the number of panels that we were on to four. All of mine went well, but my favorites were the one in the big room on Friday. Brandon Sanderson was the moderator, and it was me, Brandon Mull, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weiss, and Dave Wolverton.

One HALF of the room...
One HALF of the room…

To put this in perspective, this panel was about How to Write Good Magic Systems. That is a geeky writing topic panel. That is a 1,500 person room and we filled it. I found out after that there were more people outside who couldn’t get in. Where else can you get 1,500 people to come and listen to geeky, nuts and bolts, writing topics?

The other half.  And yes, ComicCon wants to make sure the guests remain properly hydrated.
The other half.
And yes, ComicCon wants to make sure the guests remain properly hydrated.

And that room is a tiny fraction of how many people were there. The green room overlooks the floor, and I’m kicking myself for not getting some pictures from up there of the crowds. This year, because I had an actual booth, I didn’t hang out in the green room as much, so I didn’t see as many celebrities and didn’t get to meet any of them. I missed Patrick Warburton by a couple of minutes, which is a bummer, because Brock Sampson is the greatest character ever. I was hoping to suck up and get him to record my voice mail as Brock Sampson. “You’ve reached Correia. LEAVE A MESSAGE… AT THE BEEP.” Come on. You know that would be awesome. I didn’t see Ron Perlman or Bruce Campbell either, which is a bummer.

I had another fun panel on Friday. I was the moderator and the topic was How to Write Awesome SciFi and Fantasy. Good bunch of writers, I was sitting on the end so I could see down the table, “small” room with only 200 people in the audience, so I’m really looking forward to it. Right off the bat I asked the audience by show of hands how many of them want to be professional authors, and 90% of the hands go up. Good. Now I know what way to take the questions.  So I tell everybody that we’re not going to waste time with college professor bullshit like defining genre or any of that nonsense, but let’s get down to business, nuts and bolts, tips and tricks, what do we actually do to make this stuff work.

The panel is going great except for one tiny little thing. It turns out that we are next door to something that I would find out later was Zombie Laser Tag, and the folding partition between the rooms isn’t sufficiently sound proof to stop the Screecher Zombie, whose riveting dialog consisted of HRAAAR HRAAAAAAAA HrEEEEEEEEECH HreEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH HrEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH over and over again.  

So it was funny at first… A few minutes in, starting to get annoying. So I signal one of the volunteers at the back and they disappear, hopefully to get Screeches to take it down a notch. Nothing. It keeps going. Apparently the moderator is starting to look annoyed because people I recognize in the audience as Monster Hunter Nation fans are giggling. Then when Screeches drowned out John Brown (who has perfect radio announcer voice, so I know if I couldn’t hear him, the audience probably didn’t either) I’d had enough.

So I hopped off the stage, pounded on the wall and ordered them to KEEP IT DOWN IN THERE!  I used my firearm’s instructor voice (you’ve got to speak from the chest) so that whole section of the convention center heard it. That worked. The zombies shut up. In fact, I didn’t hear them again until the 5 minute warning. The audience enjoyed it. If the moderator had been anybody other than the guy who makes his living off of zombie killing, it wouldn’t have been nearly as funny.

Now SLC ComicCon wasn’t without its glitches. On day 1 there was a huge bottleneck. The people who’d registered early and paid extra for Gold or VIP passes ended up in the same line as general admission, so people who’d already paid were stuck out there for 3 or 4 hours trying to get inside. That killed half their Thursday. The Con had set up satellite locations where people could pick up their badges early, but you can’t expect people to go out of their way and change their behaviors in sufficient numbers to make a dent. Hopefully next year they’ll do what other big cons do and mail those badges in advance or something.

On Friday I brought my three oldest kids with me, and I let them wander ComicCon unsupervised. The deal was they had to come and check in with dad every hour, which they sort of, almost did, if you consider two hours like one. One nice thing about SLC ComicCon is that it has an atmosphere where I could let my teenagers wander around and not be too worried about them. Serious props to the volunteers and security for working their butts off to keep it that way.

Since this is ComicCon even the working professionals still have our geeky fan boy moments. My geeky highlight was when I got Margaret Weiss and Larry Elmore to sign the 1985 Dragonlance trilogy I’ve had since I was 10 years old. I already had Tracy’s signature, so that’s both authors and the artist, and I could honestly tell all three of them at once that it was those novels that got me writing in the first place.

It was 120,000 fans flying their geek flags
high. I had a blast.

Book Bomb: John Brown's Dark God Saga
Reminder, BOOK BOMB tomorrow! John Brown's Dark God series

36 thoughts on “SLC ComicCon 2014 After Action Report”

  1. Had a friend go, and he complained about the line to get in on the first day. He said he spoke to one of the organizers later, and was told that they hadn’t expected so many people to arrive right at the start.

  2. AWESOME geeky moment! I gotta wonder how many tens, hundreds, or THOUSANDS of thousands of people got their start with the DragonLance trilogy?

    One of these days, I’ll make it to a book signing/con/random event to say “Hi!”

  3. Well, of course it was bigger than San Diego Comic Con, but not because of anything the con runners did. Remember, a recent study showed that Utah, more than any other state, has the highest nerd population. The reason this thing is so big is because of location, Location, LOCATION.

    I loved it. Maybe now, all those movie makers and book makers who cater to nerds will realize that UTAH is the place to show off their products. Don’t show off that new teaser trailer in San Diego! Show it in Salt Lake City! We’ll treat you like you deserve to be treated.

    If any con deserves the title of “Comic Con”, it’s the one here in Utah.

    1. You don’t really want that. As soon as that happens it becomes the San Diego Comic Con and loses its nerdy charm. San Diego is so packed and filled with people that dont really care for the nerdy things but just want to party that it’s no longer fun.

  4. I figure part of it is that there’s NOTHING ELSE TO DO in SLC. I definitely had a blast at con, but they had stupidly short hours for the con (the con isn’t just the vendor hall, which most cons close at 7 or 8 anyway), and zero stuff going on outside the convention center grounds from what I could tell. I wish there’d been more b/c I was itching for it. It’s like I got a solid taste of fun and then… nothing, not even an ease off. Just a “thanks for coming, but we’re closing now. bye”.

    Granted, it’s the con’s second year in a row, so I’m not totally surprised. I just hope it improves next year. Problem is that the Salt Palace simply is too small. Too few panel rooms and such. But what there was, was VERY fun. I left feeling very much like the character I was cosplaying, in that “I don’t want to go.”

    Since I’m using my ‘net handle here, not my name (like on facebook), I was the Tenth Doctor ;).

    And thanks for letting us just shoot the bull with you at the booth, Larry. That was awesome. I just wish I’d decided to get photos then, as time and stuff pulled me away from another opportunity the rest of the con.

    Maybe we’ll see you at Phoenix Comicon 2015. Smaller crowds (we’ll probably hit 90k attendees next year, as PCC has grown by about +20k-25k attendees per year since 2012, and this year we hit just over 77k total), but bigger convention center (3 buildings, with an interconnected underground expo/vendor hall, and a WAAAAY better and overbuilt A/C system than the one at Salt Palace).

    But I’m definitely coming back to SLCC next year. I had way too much fun despite the snags and snafus to NOT come back.

    And I might just have a MHI cosplay for it. I just need more details on the Dept of Energy team in AZ to figure out how to I want to do that one. 😉

    1. What they could do is talk to the surrounding hotels and get some things moved into those, like DragonCon and GenCon do. That gets over the fire marshal’s cap for the main building, gives them more space, and would also lead to more after hours party stuff.

      1. That’s what Phoenix does and it works very well. We had the One Man Star Wars show in the grand ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel, the “Phoenix Comicon Geek Prom” (it was as bad as it sounds… SLCC threw one hell of a party and PCC should learn from that), the Party Like a TImelord (AZ TARDIS hosted), and Browncoat Jamboree (AZ Browncoats hosted) were done at the Sheraton, all the gaming and the Star Trek Bridge Simulators were held in the Hyatt, etc. And PCC works with the Fire Marshall from the word “go” to decide on capacity and thus they decide on the upper limit of passes (of all kinds) to even offer for sale well before con starts. Then again, PCC has been running for 7 years. This is SLCC’s 2nd year only. Growing pains. Hopefully they learned their lesson this year with regards to the fire marshall and will be acting accordingly next year.

        For the registration bottle neck:
        Maybe offer registration for out-of-towners at all the hotels they’ve arranged con-block room rates at for ONLY those who are staying at those hotels. So those of us staying at the Little America would check into the hotel, and then turn right around, show we got room keys to the con staff at the set-up registration table and then show our QR code that they scan then hand over the pass, wristband, etc.

        That would let those of us who aren’t in town the day before to still get our passes before the con, just like those who got them the days before at area megaplexes.

    2. No no — the DOE team is based in Albuquerque NM with equipment caches in Los Alamos, North Las Vegas NV, Livermore CA, Richland WA and Oak Ridge TN. They used to have people and equipment on standby in Aiken SC, Naperville IL and Upton NY, but since the end of the Cold War all the “interesting” research at those locations moved overseas, so they merely share intel and coordinate with the Swiss hunters based in Meyrin.

    1. Not really. In Vendetta, Owen’s hotel is swarmed by zombies, a good number of which were from the college party down by the pool.

      A con event where people with the latent “flexible minds” that MHI likes are present could be a fun and violent starting scene for Owen and crew to be called in to deal with. Larry DOES say that his fans are the best ones suited to surviving a zombie apocalypse, even ones who didn’t take their guns to con b/c they lack reciprocity (backups aren’t just for you, after all :P). That, and Earl would gain a whole class load of new recruits from it. We could call them “The Zombie Con class” or something :P.

    1. I believe that. It is also why we’ve got such a disproportionate number of professional sci-fi and fantasy authors compared to our tiny population.

      1. Interesting chart. I wonder if the south is too busy listing their interests as football and hunting to get around to nerdy things.

        I would like to see a non facebook based study, personally, because I’m sure there are a lot of undercover nerds.

  5. I was in the long line on Thursday, thankfully I had decided to come very early and so I only had to wait an hour and a half after doors opened (grrrrr). Thanks Larry for being cordial and nice to everyone, and the superauthor booth was a good idea. Happy to see your inner Hulk released upon the zombie slayers, that was very entertaining. Bummer I didn’t even think of getting a picture of that.

  6. Sorry I couldn’t go, man. Work. I got a lot of writing done. No time for cons when you’re up against a deadline.

    Besides, I’m not standing in line for four hours to talk to you. 😉

    Glad it went well. To hell with San Diego, I say!

    1. SDCC is also essentially “standing-in-line con”. From all I’ve read about it, NOT worth it. It’s more like an attempt (these days) at a kind of E3 but with fans, not the press. It’s going to bite them in the butt sooner or later as E3 is VERY good at what it does, and as SDCC’s hollywood studios and mainline publisher focus starts to alienate the cosplayers and fans there to be fans with other fans, it’s going to find that it’s competing with the industry trade shows which will beat them with experience hands down.

      If SLCC can focus on staying a con FOR nerds/geeks/fans, and not as a con for big release announcements, it won’t make the mistake SDCC has made.

  7. Quick question for you, Larry:

    I used my firearm’s instructor voice (you’ve got to speak from the chest)

    I did choir for something like 8-9 years total, and we were always trained to sing (and speak) from the belly in order to project and fill the room with sound. How does speaking from the chest work? What’s the difference?

    I assume one difference is that a choir is filling the room with sound that isn’t competing with other noise (the audience is being deliberately quiet), whereas a firearm instructor, or a guy needing to be heard over the sound of Screeching Zombies, is competing with a LOT of loud noise and needs to project differently. But how does it work, exactly?

  8. I’ve been to the SDCC one. Maybe next time I want to go I’ll try this one instead. I don’t much like San Diego, but the one time I was in SLC it seemed nice enough. I bet the lines for the Starbucks stands are a bit shorter, at least.

  9. I wish I’d been there to meet you and a couple other people, but not being big on crowds I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a ticket.

    On a somewhat related note, you mentioned doing some book signings locally before you went on your signing tour for MHN. Any idea when and where those will be? I’d love to get your autograph in at least one of my MH books. And see if you really are scary. I don’t believe it, but I’m not a man-hating feminist, the Village Idiot, afraid of a little heteronormative patriarchy, or a criminal.

  10. Nice report. I have to say, Larry, you are living the dream! Too bad you didn’t get a chance to meet Mr. Warburton though. Next time.

    My favorite Brock Sampson moment is when, after returning to the dorms (having previously killed Tommy the QB by accident), he steps on a D12, and goes berserk. Great writing, though the D4 is what you really have to watch out for. The thing is essentially a caltrop 🙂

  11. Larry,

    It was an honor to work with you and Rabbit! WordFire Press will be doing more of these booths and I hope we see each other at them.

    Thank you for being a part of the team and remember Evil Looms, Cowboy Up, Kill it, Get Paid.

    My best,

    Alexi Vandenberg

  12. New fan, first time commenter- I am so jealous that you got Elmore, Hickman and Weis on a first edition DL Chronicles. Seriously. Mad nerd props.

    Also agree with Mike that a youtube video or podcast recording of the magic system pannel would be awesome for all of us aspiring U and S listers. 🙂

    -Justin Watson

    1. There were a couple of professional cameramen recording, including one guy on an elevated stand with a great big camera, so I can only assume that will be going up somewhere.

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