MegaCon Orlando 2017
By: Arlene Allen
MegaCon Orlando, billed as the Southeast’s largest pop culture extravaganza, was four days of non-stop events. Celebrity guest appearances, comic book creators and artists, independent authors and artists, reunions, dances, panels and film showings – this year’s MegaCon had it all.
MegaCon has been a staple of the Orlando fan scene since 1993. The show has progressed from a local homegown event to a show that draws in 100,000 people. Purchased in 2015 by Informa Canada, the same group who host Fan Expo Canada, Toronto ComicCon, Boston ComicCon and FanExpo Vancouver to name a few, the convention boasts attendees from all over the world, including New Zealand and Australia.
This year MegaCon was held in the North and South concourses of the Orlando Convention Center, with an exhibition hall of 400,000 square feet! In addition to the convention center, events were also held in the Rosen Plaza Hotel, which included the first ever “Geeky Tiki Luau.” Many celebrities were on hand to provide additional excitement, including Stan Lee (in his final South Florida appearance), Richard Dean Anderson, Gina Torres, Felicia Day, Ian Somerfield, Brent Spiner, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Danielle Panabaker, Matthew Lewis, Jeri Ryan, legendary rocker Alice Cooper and many more.
This was also the year of reunions: Felicia Day, Eliza Dushku, Nicholas Brandon and James Masrters were on hand to celebrate 20 years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There was also a shadowcast showing of the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” episode Once More With Feeling. Rocky Picture Horror Show alumni Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Nell Campbell and Patricia Quinn were on hand; and “The Dukes of Hazzard” themselves, John Schneider and Tom Wopat with Catherine Bach made appearances. Down on the exhibition hall, fans could even have their picture taken with the General Lee.
There were panels galore for everyone – costuming, anime, voice acting, gaming, comic book artists and authors, which ran each day from opening until 9PM except Sunday. Film screenings and shadowcasts were daily events. Panels and workshops took up both the second and third floor of the convention center.
The convention opened Thursday, May 25th, 2017. It took a while to get bearings – every year MegaCon grows and this year was no exception. My partner in crime, who also happens to be my daughter Sarah, spent most of the day getting finding our way. We scanned the exhibition hall, checked out Tattoo Alley and the new Cosplay Photo Park. We located the celebrity autograph areas and photo op booths. Many artists were still in various stages of set up, as were some of the independent retail booths.
During our wanderings we did meet with a group hosting one of the highlights of the convention, Cos-A-Commotion’s amazing Gotham cosplay and photoshoot experience. “Setplay vendors” were a major “thing” this year, with the General Lee, the DeLorean, the Halo Experience and, of course, the 501st Legion bringing to life our favorite movies, video games and TV shows. Shellane and Dean Demarest had an incredible “Gotham” backdrop and the couple nailed interpretations of Oswald Cobblepot and Fish Mooney. Throughout the weekend we met the incredible crew, which included Jim Gordon, Hugo Strange, Edward Nygma, Jerome Valeska and Selina Kyle. Though billed as villains, these young actors were so interactive with fans of all ages they made it easy to fall in love with all of our anti-heroes all over again. Their overall devotion to their craft was visible in the set and props they created.
We also discovered the food vendors later in the day – two walls of food stands that boasted Subway, Nathan’s Hotdogs and Pizza Hut as well as tacos, Japanese Bento boxes, barbeque, sandwiches, salads and desserts. The convention center also had its own food court where if you could actually find a table, you could enjoy a relaxing break with friends while enjoying a Boar’s Head sandwich.
Thursday night ended with a Q&A with the man himself: Mr. Stan Lee! Stan Lee is now 94 years old and is still going strong, but this convention was billed as his last appearance in Florida. Mr. Lee has difficulty hearing amplified sound so had an interpreter on hand to relay questions. There was also a person signing the entire panel. Lee’s sense of humor is still very strong as he explained to one fan “how to use the language economically.” (No, there will be no more Strike Force). Lee was asked if he had a favorite superhero and responded that if he said anyone other than Spider-Man he would be booed. (For the record, Stan Lee was never booed at MegaCon 2017!).
Friday, May 26th, was a full day of excitement. I spoke with Richard Dean Anderson and asked him if he was going to be returning to television any time soon. He responded that he wasn’t aggressively pursuing any roles at the moment, which he explained further in his Q&A session. I also braved the waters and asked what he thought of the new “MacGyver” series. He is not a fan. He was even offered a cameo role, but turned it down.
I also met Tom Cavanagh. The floor was abuzz with shock and awe regarding “The Flash” season finale (as well as that of “Arrow”). I told Tom he owned the episode. He hadn’t seen it himself yet, but was glad no one saw the plot twist coming. I asked him which was his favorite version of HR/Harrison to play and he responded, “All of them.” Finally, knowing HR likes to fiddle with drumsticks, I asked if he played drums himself. He does, but his real love is the guitar. Thankfully, HR will be back next season.
My daughter spoke with voice actor Troy Baker (Uncharted, Bioshock, The Last of Us, and Metal Gear Solid to name a few). He’s a humble, down to earth guy. He’s always wanted to play a blind character and actually auditioned for Netflix’s series “Daredevil.” The part went to Charlie Cox; however, and now Troy can’t image seeing anyone else in the role.
Lines were long and volunteer crews were finding their footing, but far too many people ended up displaced for seating. That included me, as no one seemed to know what to do with a lady with a walker and I was shut out of the Tom Cavanagh/Danielle Panabaker panel. The situation was remedied by Saturday. The volunteer crew is usually pretty on top of things, as I’ve attended the event in the past, but this year the crowds were so large there was a great deal of scrambling going on.
I would be remiss to not address the props situation, because that same weekend Phoenix ComicCon had a near miss with an attendee bringing in actual guns to the convention center. There were surprisingly few prop checks until Sunday, May 28th, when they sprouted up all over. There were no bag checks and no security gates, unlike some convention centers. Volunteers were not very helpful when I lost my cell phone (which I was fortunate enough to find on my own). This is the downside of growth, more than likely, and I’m hopeful these situations will be remedied in the future.
Saturday, May 27th, 2017 was “Felicia Day” day. It was an honor to meet with the “Queen of the Geeks” (although she prefers Grand Duchess because “we all know what happens to queens.”) Felicia is incredibly down to earth and considerate with her fans. She was one of the few guests to do table selfies and her autograph prices were the most reasonable at the convention. In her Q&A later that afternoon, she spoke about her love for the series “Supernatural” and the cast and crew. Additionally, she stated she would be happy to return as Charlie someday (#bringCharlieback). She also talked of her role in “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and how the series was the one thing she and her brother had in common – and how now she gets to lord it over him that she is in the show.
We also explored the exhibition hall Saturday and photographed many of the intricate and beautiful costumes bedecking the halls and the exhibition hall. The costume contest was held later Saturday night and broadcast live to all participating hotels. We explored Artists Alley and picked up commissions from Kari Draws, Dee Fisher, Joey Qunitin and Jasmine Beckett Griffiths, one of my all time favorite artists and an Orlando icon. I perused Tattoo Alley where the starting rate for convention tattoos was $100. Ink Fusion was back again this year; they are a group that tours the nation doing only convention work. The group was there last year and I did get a tattoo from them. If you have the time, inclination and money they are a crew of gifted artists. Tattooing at popular culture conventions seems to be a growing trend. There was also a gaming section with ongoing card game tournaments, a full section of onsite costume repair and makeup touch up complete with sewing machines and cosmetic counters.
Later that afternoon I met the beautiful Gina Torres, who is very excited about her “Suits” spinoff featuring her character Jessica Pearson. I asked her if she would be returning to “Westworld” and she responded that she would like to, but doesn’t know yet if she will. She said the creators are taking their time making the series and don’t know yet when it will be returning (but it will). Gina is an icon of pop culture, starring not only in “Firefly” and “Serenity,” but in “Alias,” “24,” “Angel,” etc. It was nice to see she is down to earth and extremely gracious to her fans.
Saturday played host to one of MegaCon’s most celebrated and certainly one of its funniest panels: Twisted Toonz Theater. Voice actors read through a well known script using various surprise cartoon voices. This year featured Troy Baker, Nolan North, Roger Bumpass, Jennifer Hale and Alli Hillis doing a reading of the movie The Princess Bride. It was fall out of your seat funny, with voices ranging from Squidward to Captain Kirk to Christopher Walken to Winnie the Pooh. It’s a credit to the actors that they made it through the hour and a half panel without completely losing it, although Troy Baker came close.
Sunday is always the saddest day at any convention, knowing reality is looming back around the corner, money is running short, feet are tired and fun is coming to a close. The children’s costume contest was Sunday morning and the kids really owned it this MegaCon. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the future generation of geeks, who were so into their costumes, as well as costumed parents with their dressed up babies. The winner of the children’s costume contest was a toddler dressed up as Vanellope of the film Wreck-It Ralph in a wagon that had been decorated as a candy-cart racer. The whole effect was impressive.
There was one last run through the exhibition hall, through Artist’s Alley and through the Celebrity Autograph area. Tim Curry was doing his final round of limited meet and greets. Tim had a stroke last year and is in a wheelchair. He was in a separate, cordoned off area, much like Stan Lee. Legendary rockers Meat Loaf and Alice Cooper were on hand, representing the horror track. Alice Cooper remembers playing one of my hometown’s classic venues, Pirate’s World. It was an outdoor arena and make up would run before he even came on stage.
Alice Cooper also was the last featured Q&A of the convention. He spoke of all of the incredible people he had known over the years, including Salvador Dali and Groucho Marx. He spoke of one of his latest projects, the Hollywood Vampires and praised Johnny Depp’s guitar skills. Alice will also be releasing a new album this summer and embarking on a world tour. Alice Cooper seems unstoppable and provided a satisfying and uplifting ending to a great convention weekend.