15 July 2010

connecticon: a review

I will be the first to admit this: I know the cons in Virginia extremely well, but ask me about New England, and I come up empty. Every year I make long drives down the I-95 corridor to DC, Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, Arlington and Baltimore, but when it comes to New England, an area of the country I am right next to, I can’t tell you anything about what cons are up there. Aside from Anime Boston, which is a huge hub of a con in a huge hub of a city, I only have a passing knowledge of cons, and this is mostly by name recognition. I know of Bakarestuscon, Another Anime Convention, Portcon and Gloucester Anime Festival, but I have never been to any. It’s not for time/distance- Portcon is only a little further away than Nekocon is, no, when it comes to new England cons, the main reason I never attend them is because I am unfamiliar with the area, the fans, and the “aesthetic.” Horrible excuses, but entirely true.

One of my goals this year was to expand beyond my modest Mid Atlantic horizons and explore some of these northern cons. The first on my list (and I say first of maybe 2, because I completely missed Portcon and Bakaretsucon is in my “downtime” between AAC and Neko) was Connecticon, a con I actually attended last year and was impressed with. My main goal in visiting was, in addition to padding my research with another 50 responses, to interview Matt Myers of the L33tStr33t Boys. I knew Hartford was “on the way” to Boston, that it was much closer, that it had a huge Steampunk presence and it had a solid draw (7000 is actually on the higher end of the cons I attend). What I found while I was there was something of an anomaly- a convention that was bigger, but still felt like the smaller ones I was used to. Though I was only there for two days, I decided to come back this year and see if the magic was still there.

Long story short, it was, just in a different way.

Connecticon is located at the Connecticut Convention Center in the capitol city of Hartford. The most I can say about the convention center is that it is huge- upon stepping off the escalators, one is immediately struck by just exactly how huge the entire complex is. You can see all the way up to the ceiling, with its wide windows and view of both the river and 1-91/84 next to it. There’s more than enough space to sit and gather, even on the gigantic staircases that travel alongside the escalators. Indeed, unlike almost every other con I attend, this one never feels cramped, never feels crowded. This is, in my opinion, the main reason why Connecticon can be such a large convention, but still have the feel of a smaller one. It’s mostly an illusion thanks to the carefully crafted space, but a welcome one. Drawing a bit from Doctor Who, it’s a lot bigger on the inside than the outside.

The space is not without its flaws, however- the main one being the Convention Center’s “No outside food” policy. I normally pay no mind to policies like this, mostly because the food is either reasonably priced or of decent quality (like AMA and Anime Next), or because there are ample alternatives outside of the convention center (like with Nekocon and Anime Boston). However, in the case of Hartford, it seems like the city was in cahoots with the convention center.

See, one of the things I noticed about Hartford off the bat was how...empty it was. (I actually remarked that I thought the city resembled a sort of “zombie apocalypse” idea- it was almost completely empty by day, and only marginally more lively by night.) Despite being the capitol of Connecticut, there is nobody, and nothing, there. And most of the “reasonable alternatives” for food were either fast food (namely, Burger King), they closed at obscenely early hours (like the State Street Food Court, which wrapped up sale at 2 PM, and was closed on weekends), or were spaced out in areas of the city far from the convention center, where a cosplayer would have to trudge to reach. Now, I will admit being a New Yorker has spoiled me somewhat, because nothing in the city closes before 6, and usually you can get food until midnight most of the time, and the selections are everywhere. But even so, closing between 2 and 4, and staying closed on weekends, seems just plain wrong to me. And it severely limited what kinds of food congoers had access to. When money is an object, many congoers often elect to forego food, and given the skimpy options for affordable eating, it happened a lot.

As for me, I had an “inside track” on good eats, mostly due to a “Man vs Food” episode I watched while I was at AMA, and a car, so I ended up at Ted’s Restaurant twice over the weekend.” Steamed cheeseburgers make for good con fare.

I have two things to say about programming: they have a wide array of panels for just about any subject, and they had some serious setbacks in scheduling this year. This is because, as I was told, programming had to essentially start from scratch after an online snafu left the department struggling to keep up through no fault of their own. I must also extend thanks to Scott Rubin and Rym DeCoster, because without them, I would have had nothing to do over the weekend.

Much like Katsucon and Anime Boston, Connecticon does not limit itself to anime related panels. Given the large amount of programming space they have, it is easy to schedule panels devoted to multi-fandom topics like writing, heavy metal music, costuming, and whatever it is that I happen to lecture on. In addition to this, they have a wide selection of multi fandom panels dedicated to all the fandom cultures found within the fan world. I sat for a few minutes on the Babylon 5 panel, zombie apocalypse panel and the board game panel. However, it must also be noted that some of the panels mentioned in the book had been cancelled/changed, which lead to some confusion at times.

Main events was another story entirely. I love the Geek Comedy Tour, and was thrilled to see it was performing this year. The Dating Game is a perennial favorite of mine (I just wish I had applied for it, they have a lot of Doctor love), Connecticon the Musical was refreshingly original, and the Death Match equally so.

And, as usual, I did not attend the Masquerade, but the line for it was among the largest I’ve ever seen, so I can only assume how it was. The halls were dead while it was going on. Maybe next year I will make it a point to check it out.

On my front, it was actually a solid weekend. Despite not having mention in the program guide itself (I was in the addendum), Modern Mythology posted a respectable 40 attendees, which is actually pretty good given the hour (11 AM Friday). Dead Like Us replaced a Pokemon panel, but a lot of the people stayed anyway once they found out it was about Shinigami. Weekend Nihonjin started slow, but by panel’s end the room was half full and we shared some very interesting stories and opinions on the con life. But the crowning event of the weekend was Worlds of Miyazaki- see, there was no panel room listed in the addendum for it, and no description aside from “Miyazaki- 1PM.” But thanks to some quick promotion by Rym, and some handmade signs, and the fact I was replacing a Mecha panel (but again people decided to stay), the room was entirely full for the hour and ten I presented. Thanks to everyone who showed up and stayed, I appreciate you sharing your time with me.

Connecticon has a Dealer’s Room about the same size as Anime Next, with a wide selection devoted more to multi-fandom pursuits than straight anime. A lot of the perennial vendors are there, like Anime Pavilion, X (the sword guy), Video Games New York, but also a good deal local vendors selling almost anything you could want. (I say almost because there was a distinct absence of anything Doctor Who related this year. There’s a lot of Doctor love at this con, but nothing to feed the addiction.) The back end of the room was devoted almost entirely to webcomic guests, who always have an interesting selection of swag for your buying pleasure.

If I were to give a general overview of what one could expect to find when visiting the Connecticon Dealer’s Room, I would say to expect a lot of gaming, a lot of manga, a lot of “exotic goods.” Gaming especially makes up a big part: I’m used to finding a few game vendors at my cons, but CTCon has some of the largest and widest selections to choose from. I did snag a copy of the AD&D 1st edition rules for a low price.

The artist alley was a bit smaller this year than it was last, but the selection remained the same. It’s a little small on it’s own, especially when compared to other cons like Anime Next, Anime Boston, Katsucon and Nekocon. In fact, I can probably say with confidence that it is the smallest of any con I attend, especially given the size of attendance. For those who prefer to support local talent over merchandise, it can be a bit of a disappointment. That said, I am happy with my commissions.

Vibe is becoming more and more important to me these days. As my mindset changes, and I seek for other things to draw me to cons, the energy tends to be what I feed off while I’m there. Fortunately, Connecticon has a very lively feel to it. Lots of cosplay, lots of cosplay photos, friendly attendees, lighthearted amusement and laughter, “escalator high fives,” and nary a “buttscratcha” to be heard, I always left the convention center with a smile on my face. More than a lot of the cons I go to, there is a stronger sense of community here- anyone can talk to anyone else, there are no cliques to speak of, and the atmosphere is very inviting and supportive to new attendees. Interestingly, not a lot of parents elect to attend this one, but they are always dropping their children off and picking them up after the weekend is over.

Connecticon at times might appear to the outsider as the stepchild of Anime Boston. Given it’s proximity to the much larger con, the fact they share a lot of the same attendees, panels and energy, this would be a logical conclusion to form, but one that does not do the con enough justice. Connecticon is far more than “Anime Boston Lite,” it is a multi-fandom convention that has managed to stay that way despite the prevalence of anime in the fandom community, it is large without feeling that way, refreshing, and at many times more lighthearted. For a first-timer looking for a con to attend, Connecticon is a wonderful choice, a first step into a larger world.


  1. Nice review! I was only there on Saturday so I wasn't on top of all the details and it was nice to read them all in once place. I agree with the “Anime Boston Lite” part a lot. My friends and I found ourselves constantly comparing the two cons because they're both so welcoming :)

  2. It's a shame you couldn't make it to the masquerade, we had a lot of fun with it this year. :) Also, I'm glad you liked the Dating Game - we haven't heard much feedback for it. Very nice review, I'll have to be sure to catch your panels at katsu again this year.