This past March 27th-29th, we attended our first Emerald City Comicon. Nerd For A Living is no stranger to Seattle, having hosted several panels over the years at the city’s Geek Girl Con. And with numerous stints at San Diego Comic Con and C2E2, we’re quite accustomed to heavily attended conventions. But this still didn’t prepare us for the scale of Emerald City.
With an estimated attendence of 80,000, ECCC packed the Washington State Convention Center. This is the first con we’ve ever been to that had scalpers roaming the streets outside the venue, selling single and 3-day passes, while also offering to buy spare passes from con goers for the sold-out event.
Seattle’s downtown was swarmed with people wearing their distinctive convention badges, with the expected colorful array of cosplayers filing in the doors and taking up positions at numerous designated photo op areas.
Or click here for all our Emerald City photos in one gallery.
Emerald City “How to be a Nerd for a Living” Panel
Before we go in-depth on the show itself, I’d like to highlight our experience hosting a panel at Emerald City. On Saturday, N4AL’s Wendy Buske presented our “How to be a Nerd for a Living: Careers in Nerd Culture” roundtable discussion to the ECCC crowd. The guest speakers included voice actress Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman, Justice League Unlimited), production designer Claire Hummel (HBO; BioShock Infinite), illustrator Karen Hallion (T-shirt designer, TeeFurry, Yetee and more), author Isaac Marion (Warm Bodies), Espionage Cosmetics CEO Jaimie Cordero, and GnomeAcres owner/founder, Amanda Nuckolls.
“You have to trim your life to make room for your success. Sometimes there’re sacrifices.” – Isaac Marion
Our panel was in Hall E, a big, long room that I’d guess held four or five hundred people. The panel generated a long line, with attendees filling about three quarters of the room. The panel rooms were well laid out, with marked line-up areas and a team of “minions” (ECCC volunteer staff) coordinating.
Wendy led the discussion with this awesome group of professionals about their careers and how they got work in the industries they love. Each spoke passionately about their experiences toiling through tough jobs, numerous rejections, and bizarre experiences to cultivate a business or profession.
“Don’t be afraid of rejections! I’ve received more rejections than acceptances. But keep trying.” – Karen Hallion
The overriding theme from each of our guests was that, if you’re willing to make the sacrifices it will take to succeed, don’t wait to act. Take action now by finding people working in the industry you love, and engaging with them. Learn about the companies you want to work for, and the process by which they find new employees. Offer to work, even if it’s on a volunteer basis (and possibly not even doing the exact job you want), for those doing what you want to do. Being a part of the industry – and learning about it from the inside – is invaluable.
“There’s nothing better than getting in the room and doing. Say yes to opportunity”. – Susan Eisenberg
At the end, audience members lined up for an ethusiastic Q&A session. We received a ton of great feedback from attendees, both in person and via Twitter. Our speakers were approached repeatedly during the show by attendees thanking them for their insight and advice.
A huge thanks to our panelists, and to everyone who attended!
The Emerald City Exhibition Floor(s)
Most cons we attend feature a single large exhibition floor housing the majority of the publishers, merchants, and artists, while panels and other programming expand out to nearby meeting rooms and auditoriums. The layout for ECCC, though, spread across numerous floors in two separate buildings divided by a busy street. The primary exhibition floor took up the fourth floors of both buildings, which were connected by a skybridge. Spanning the width of the street below, the skybridge even held a number of exhibitors, including an impressively large display from Boom / Archaia.
One side of the fourth floor most prominently featured the artist alley, with long rows of single tables and larger exhibitor spaces. On Friday, this hall was filled to capacity with quickly moving con-goers, making it difficult to cross aisles and stop to casually peruse booths. I got the impression that the Friday-only pass holders were in a rush to take in as much as possible and hunt down their favorite artists for prints and commissions. Several artists and exhibitors told us that sales were strong on Friday. A few even sold out of their newest and most in-demand stock on the first day.
The density didn’t decrease on Saturday, but the speed did. Friday’s frantic pace slowed to a Saturday mosey, with con goers idling through the alley and window-shopping. But attendee dollars were already spreading thin, with a number of exhibitors reporting surprisingly slow sales. That’s not unusual for larger cons, though, as 3-day pass holders tend to shop around until committing their money late Saturday or on Sunday.
The opposite side of the fourth floor exhibition hall housed a number of smaller publishers, art collectives, big retailers and also many of the notable professionals. The isles were wider, the booth spaces larger – if not in table size, but in space behind and around the exhibitors. Strangely, the wing where the pro creators had their own alley seemed difficult to find. We’d ventured into this side three or four times before we found it. When we did locate and explore it, their area seemed very well attended, but other attendees we spoke with expressed frustration finding them.
Celebrity Signings, and the Writer’s Block
The sixth floor of the convention center held an exceptionally well organized celebrity signing area. I really appreciated how dividing the signing area from the rest of the floor kept the lines tidy and didn’t interupt the flow of commerce for the other exhibitors. We strolled through to rubberneck at actors like Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennett, Gina Torres, Orlando Jones, and many more. Cameras and recording devices were prohibited in the celeb area and con volunteers were onhand to enforce this, but everyone was exceedingly polite and friendly.
The “Writer’s Block” shared the sixth floors with the celebrities. Some comic and entertainment focused conventions go light on novels and other prose content. ECCC provided an entire wing devoted to authors and publishers, both established names and up-and-comers. Oddly intermingled in this area were a few artists and other media, and exhibitors with wares catering to genre fiction enthusiasts. The flow of attendee traffic was much more casual here, but that seemed to benefit the exhibitors, who had the ability to converse with potential readers and consumers. Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press group had a half dozen authors behind their tables, engaging a steady stream of con-goers. Our friends at Espionage Cosmetics (wo)manned a massive display nearby, essentially a not-so-mini retail shop, which always seemed to be swarmed with patrons.
Retail Shops and Gaming
The third floor of the convention center seemed limited to small meeting rooms. These spaces were turned into small pop-up retail stores, with various gaming and toy shops doing business. I had not encountered a show set up shops in this way before. I would have expected these often poorly labeled side rooms to generate little traffic, but each of them had shoppers inside perusing shelves, tables and spinner racks. With 75,000 people roaming the buildings, many looking to escape the intensity of the fourth floor halls, these quarter spaces might have been very inviting for some con-goers.
I believe the third floor also played host to most of the gaming companies – video games, tabletop and related retailers. We encountered a few of them, demoing games and hosting CCG tournaments. We didn’t explore these areas too thoroughly, though, and found the entire floor layout kind of confusing. This was likely a product of being split across two buildings, with only the fourth floor connected by bridge. Room numbers were duplicated in both buildings, adding to the confusion. In particular, we were keen to locate the Bungie setup to talk with the concept artists behind Destiny but, in three days of exploration, never stumbled upon their exhibit.
Am I on the Right Escalator?
A big part of navigating ECCC was just picking the right escalator. The convention center has a ton of entrances and pathways, but attendees occasionally ran into issues. For instance, upon reaching the flourth floor, there with no obvious way up to the sixth. You had to navigate side hallways or wade across the exhibit floor to find another escalator leading up.
Thankfully, maps and information stands were prevalent and plentiful. There were also “Cospitality” lounges were cosplayers could loiter for photographers and tired attendees could collapse against a wall and rest for awhile. If you’ve ever attended SDCC, you know that having a place to just rest your feet for awhile is both necessary and exceedingly scarce at times. ECCC’s expansive layout provided plenty of nooks, landings and hallways for the tired and overwhelmed to recollect themselves. We found one such landing outside of Writer’s Block to be refreshingly quiet, slumping against a glass partition for twenty minutes of recouperation.
The Emerald City Minions
Something that I really appreciated about Emerald City Comicon was the quality of its volunteer staff.
Many of the larger cons have a volunteer workforce. There’s really no way for the shows to fully staff themselves otherwise to handle the volume of attendees and activities. Some shows have notoriously had undertrained and uninformed volunteers that often made things difficult for con-goers. The volunteers themselves are often frustrated and confused.
However, ECCC’s green-shirted “minions” were exheedingly helpful and congenial. When we had questions, every one of them went out of their way to assist us. Of particular note were the celebrity handlers, volunteers specifically paired with a singular personality to help them at their booth, take them to panels, and manage their schedules. The handlers have a hectic, high pressure job, but all seemed to be handling it with class and confidence.
Emerald City Wrap-Up
Emerald City entertained, enthused and exhausted us. It’s easy to see how it has become one of the most popular conventions in the country. Next year it expands to four days to meet the demands of its audience. While the layout of the venue created a number of challenges, the sheer volume of options for consumers, and representation for creators and exhibitors, is really pretty stunning. Being located in beautiful downtown Seattle, surrounded by great views, food and culture (and lots and lots of Starbucks cafes) doesn’t hurt either. We plan to be back for the 2016 show.
Coming soon: a series of publisher spotlights and interviews from the ECCC floor!