For years the D.C. / Maryland / Virginia area didn’t have a major pop culture convention to call their own. With New York a short drive away, most big shows based themselves there or farther down the Mason-Dixon line. Most smaller cities in between didn’t have a major show to call their own, most glaringly Washington, D.C. That is, until Awesome Con hit the scene in 2013 and quickly established itself as the can’t-miss annual extravaganza for all things nerdy in the DMV.
This year’s Awesome Con served as an enjoyably easy venue for starting the east coast convention season. Awesome Con has always straddled the line between full-blown pop culture/media focused content and old school comic book and collector’s hobby show with relative ease. You’ll see spotlights on golden age comic book arcs down the hall from Q&As with the latest, hottest TV and Movie stars and around the corner from a cosplay workshop. Its emphasis on family-friendly fare not being relegated to just Sunday content means convention goers young and old will find plenty to do on all three days.
The con’s continued focus on comics and the creators behind them sets Awesome Con apart from other larger events, possibly due in no small part to their partnership with Maryland’s Third Eye Comics, a retailer staple of the area. Too many larger cons treat artist alley and creators as an afterthought in favor of devoting precious convention center real estate to overblown displays and gimmicks. While Awesome Con surely has a bit of that in its DNA with Detective Pikachu and Godzilla: King of the Monsters having promotional booths this year, the general vibe of the convention is akin to getting together at your local comic or hobby shop with thousands of your closest friends. In essence, Awesome Con is what happens when you take the glitz and glamor of New York Comic Con and combine it with the old school mentality of Baltimore Comic Con. There’s something for everyone here.
A Capital Convention
Awesome Con takes full advantage of its unique location in the nation’s capitol with its Future Con track of programming. With the Smithsonian, NASA, and other highly respected scientific institutions within walking distance, high profile scientists and historians descended upon the con to share their knowledge. Sunday was filled with conversations with NASA engineers explaining how we got that picture of the black hole a month ago. (Spoiler alert: that now famous photo is a composite of many angles from many telescopes working in unison. Science!) Saturday’s events featured demos from an animal conservatory for the kids and various panels on the science behind some of our favorite sci-fi characters.
A new, local addition to the con was the presence of the CIA. Yes, THAT CIA. Their marketing department was all over the convention with signs aimed at making the organization seem more approachable than it actually is. While their exhibits at their booth focused on the science and engineering behind their spy tools, the existence of this government organization at this event was met with questions by more than one attendee. While organizations such as these are representative of D.C. life, having them as a part of a convention built on escapism from the real world seemed a bit incongruous at best.
80 Years of Capes & Cowls
This being the 80th anniversary of Batman, there was a tribute exhibit set up to the different costumes worn by actors over the many years. Oh, to relive the days when the biggest controversy in comic book adaptations was Bat Nipples™ and wondering if the guy from Moonlighting would be a good Bruce Wayne. And say what you will about Batman & Robin, the level of detail put into Mr Freeze’s costume was chilling. See, ‘cause he’s a cold villain and… no? Ok then, moving on…
Q & A
Two Q&A panels that were of note were with Weird Al Yankovic on Friday and Theo Rossi on Sunday. It’s a rare treat to have a Q&A with a personality as larger than life and a career so storied as Weird Al. He described the work put into creating the song “White and Nerdy” as “a lifetime of research.” On the topic of using his songs in other media, The Pokemon Company approached him about including the “Polkamon” song during the credits of Pokemon: The Movie 2000, while his record company flatly told him there would be one of his songs dropped into the Transformers movie.
Theo Rossi’s panel was a case study on how an actor prepares. He went deep into how he developed his remarkable presence and seemingly unpredictable moves for Luke Cage’s Shades. It was all about ‘people watching’ to develop Shade’s movements, to make them as smooth as possible. Rossi never saw his characters as villains, not even Juice from Sons of Anarchy. To him, they were simply characters that thought they were doing the right thing. He approaches his roles as trying to be friends with the characters he plays and doesn’t cast judgement on them. Rossi also loved how bold Luke Cage was as a show: “We weren’t apologizing for the show. If you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it.”
The world of video games was also well represented with another partnership with another local favorite. Awesome Con’s Arcade area was provided by D.C.’s MagFest. Well-loved, vintage arcade cabinets lined the walls next to the latest indie creations still under development. Attendees jammed to VR rhythm games while a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament raged on a few feet away. The panel From Hot Dogs to Smash Bros. highlighted the random paths someone looking for a job in the industry could take. It turns out, applying to work in video games is just like any other job, so listing off your Fortnite kills to Epic Games won’t cut it.
Snags & Summary
While the event as a whole went smoothly, there were a few snags during the con. At most conventions in this day and age, a few bathrooms will be designated as ‘gender neutral’ to accommodate those who prefer that for whatever reason, which continues to be none of any of our business. It took until Friday evening for a few 8×11 copy paper signs to be posted, and it should have been a concern taken care of by the convention before the event, and not treated as a rushed afterthought. “Pride Alley” should have been a row of LGBTQ shops and booths, but instead they were scattered around the Artist Alley and Maker’s Mart. Again, hastily printed signs appeared, this time in the form of “Pride Alley” stickers pasted to the fronts of the tables on Friday evening. Last-minute cancellations of a few high profile guests also put a damper on a segment of attendees, but that’s out of the convention’s hands.
Awesome Con 2019 managed its ever-growing crowds but still kept its heart as a nerdy get together of the DMV persuasion. It continues to be well worth attending, especially for those living in an area so often skipped over for big pop culture based conventions.