Slamcon and Nerd HQ : Is SDCC’S future in off-site events?
This is End of Show’s fourth consecutive year at San Diego Comic-Con and the first year where it was the independent off-site events which made up most of the highlights for us. Off-sites have been happenning at SDCC for a long long time but this time something was different – suddenly the off-sites weren’t just a nice bonus for those who couldn’t get tickets, or a sideshow to the main event. Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ and Syfy party alternative Slamcon were just two good examples of independent events overshadowing what went on at the convention centre and creating a grass roots movement of attendees who are bored with lines, lists and velvet ropes.
In 1995, a group of filmmakers who were rejected from the Sundance Film Festival started their own called Slamdance, in their own words it was ‘born out of rejection’. This year a group of creatives who were never going to get into the exclusive Syfy party on the Saturday night of Comic-Con organised their own event, named Slamcon in honour of Slamdance and held at the last minute on the mezzanine level of the Hyatt hotel. No room hire was paid for, the idea was to show up and congregate somewhere where nobody would be stopped by a doorman or rejected from a VIP area. Invite was in person or over twitter, so everyone and anyone showed up, from regular comic-con attendees to actors, writers, comic book artists and people who had never even attended comic-con but could hear the party going on and wanted to join in.
The event was the brainchild of actors Brea Grant and Todd Stashwick, comic artist Dennis Calero and Warehouse 13 story editor Deric A. Hughes. Some time on the evening of Saturday July 23rd, when the likes of Zachary Levi and Felicia Day were getting ready to walk the red carpet of the Syfy/E! party at the Hotel Solamar, Grant tweeted that Slamcon would start at the Hyatt at 9pm. When EOS arrived at 8.30 there was a grand total of five people waiting for the event to start. By midnight, and as many were turned away from Syfy’s bash, the number rose to triple figures, among them writers for Eureka, Supernatural and Warehouse 13, actor Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) and a crowd of comic-writers and artists fresh from winning Eisners. There was one rule of thumb – if you’re not on the list, that’s because there is no list. By the time #slamcon started to trend on twitter what had started out as a last minute tweetup had attendees begging the organisers to repeat the event every year. Indeed, when I caught up with a surprisingly fresh-faced Todd Stashwick (Heroes, Supernatural) the next day at the booth for his comic Devil Inside (a collaboration with Calero), he stated that he hoped this would become a comic-con tradition.
One man who did make it into the Syfy party was Chuck’s Zachary Levi, who came up with the hugely popular Nerd HQ, a redecorated Jolt ‘n’ Joes Sports Bar on Fourth and J. Levi installed X Boxes and a merchandise stand downstairs and upstairs held panels which were limited to 2oo seats. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Heroes), who featured on a panel for his company’s new graphic novel release Mr Murder Is Dead, commented “I love the idea of Nerd HQ because it means I don’t have to set foot on the floor of the convention centre.” The panels were mostly sold out before Comic-Con even began, tickets cost $20 and all of the profits went to Operation Smile which provides facial surgery for people in developing countries.
Nerd HQ filled a gap which Comic-Con could never hope to – it provided the true hardcore fans an opportunity to see their idols without camping out in the same room all day or having to take part in a draw to win the chance of an autograph. The sheer size of the con means that actors have no time to stand and chat to fans outside quickly filling rooms nor the inclination to hold impromptu photo shoots and signings where so much of Comic-con has become about grabbing all that you can get as quickly as you can. One Slamcon attendee commented “Comic-Con used to be all about geeks getting together and having fun, but it’s increasingly becoming an ‘us and them’ situation.” A comic book professional told me “They’re trying to bounce the comics out of the event, they put us in the corner and try to dissuade us from coming because now the comic book writers they want to feature are all TV stars and actors.”
So as Comic-con expands and tickets are harder to come by, are we approaching the day when the off-site events become a draw all of their own? It certainly only took a year for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (now the largest arts festival in the world) to break away from the Edinburgh International Festival and market itself as an inclusive alternative. If Nerd HQ and Slamcon, along with comic book off-site event Tr!ckster, manage to keep it up, then SDCC won’t be the only attraction in town when July rolls around in 2012.