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Megacon Orlando 2016: A Big Convention with a Big Heart

11898853_1127536160609222_5151883674342003192_nThe week before Memorial Day weekend, my daughter and I paid a visit to Orlando, originally for some happy/sad family matters. On the way to my in-laws’ house, we passed the Orlando Convention Center, which was flashing signs for the upcoming Megacon, Orlando’s premier multimedia convention. “Too bad we’re not going to be here next weekend,” said my daughter mournfully.

“Yes, really too bad,” said I, more focused on finding my in-laws’ house and not ending up in Lake Okechobee. “Who’s on the guest list?” (Well, maybe not that focused).

“John Barrowman, Billie Piper, Hayley Atwell, a bunch of Star Trek people, and oh my god oh my god oh my god David Hayter, and Chris Sabat!!!!” screamed my daughter.

“Uh, who?” (But let’s face it, she had me at Barrowman). “The voice actor from Metal Gear Solid! Solid Snake!!! The original!! And Chris Sabat!! From YuYuHakusho!!!” Now, I know all about YuYuHakusho, the anime that saw my daughter through a rough fourth grade year, and I had just spent four hours in a car letting my daughter ramble about her Metal Gear Solid obsession. Yes, indeed. Four Solid Hours. Metal Gear ones. Yada, yada.

But I am a formidable mother and I said No. We were here for a reason and the convention wasn’t one of them. (Neither were theme parks or tourist attractions but that’s another story). This was Monday.

Tuesday night, I had a Ferris Bueller moment and decided after all the grief my daughter and I had been through recently, we deserved this convention. I was in no way prepared for a con, i.e. no cosplay, no press passes, no camera but my phone…but you know, like the man said, “Sometimes you just have to say….” We picked up our wrist bands Wednesday morning, and pre-ordered photo shoots (which were, for a big convention, and big name guests, in my case John Barrowman and Billie Piper, reasonably priced). I’d met John Barrowman before, which my kid had never let me forget (I went to Dragon*Con without her) but unfortunately was financially restrained and had no picture. And Billie Piper, Doctor Who aside, was going to be my first Penny Dreadful meet.

I’ll spare you my daughter’s ongoing spate of oh my gods. For better or worse, David Hayter and Chris Sabat weren’t going to be there until Friday and Saturday, which meant Thursday was mine!

Due to medical conditions I needed a scooter to get around, and I apologize to the ninety or so people I nearly killed. However, the convention folk treated all of their handicapped fans with kindness and respect, and for that I give them kudos. Many kudos. I had been to Megacon about ten years before, and it was a midsized convention, then – “only” about 500 labeled aisles. The guests were all very accessible, no table Nazis, no set times for celebrity signings, and again reasonably priced. It has grown to 1000 labeled aisles, but their signage was incredible, with well-marked Artists’ Alley, Cosplay Alley (which was something new to me), author signing area, and Tattooists’ Lane. Remarkably the heart of this convention has not changed.

I signed up to get a new tattoo, with the incredible “Jerzy” (www.Jerzytattoos.com), part of a group known as “Ink Fusion.” They don’t have a set shop, but travel to pop culture and tattoo conventions. I find it remarkable and interesting that “comic cons” and body art have merged like this, and are remarkably good, fun experiences. This was my second convention piece of body art, and I enjoy talking to the artists about what they do, how they got into the field, and how they ended up at conventions. It makes sense when you put together art, storytelling and pop culture, which tattooing is – something that was once on the edge of shocking subculture has gone mainstream, as has being a geek or nerd in general.

We spent way too much of the rest of our time on Thursday looking at “shinies” and taking pictures of some fabulous and original cosplays. The funniest was a guy walking around with the front part of box fan on his chest and the back piece on his back (he was a “fan”); the most unusual was someone dressed as Papa Emeritus III from the metal band Ghost (another blending of pop cultures); and my favorites, “Regina” and “Dark Swan” from Once Upon A Time.

Friday, I got to meet John Barrowman; amazing his line wasn’t that long (yet), and I actually got to have a conversation with him. He didn’t have much merchandise with him (“It’s on the website”), and I asked him if he had any new CD’s. He responded, memorably and in Barrowman fashion, “Do people think I poop CD’s?” Well….yeah. “You don’t?”

“No, CD’s cost money and people and stuff!”

He had a wonderful selection of photos to sign, and he was able to settle a bet between my daughter and myself. He had a photo from the famous scene from the Ninth Doctor’s episode “Bad Wolf” where Captain Jack is being held captive by robotic nuns, naked, but escapes by pulling a blaster (definitely a blaster) from …somewhere. I got the photo and told him about the bet…“Was I really naked?” he seemed eager to tell me, but sadly no….

“Was it the sonic screwdriver or a blaster you pulled…From somewhere?”

“It was actually a small Victorian-like pistol, but I guess you could say blaster,” he responded.

“Could you write that on the picture?” I asked. (Dear Editors: Aren’t you glad I wasn’t there officially as press?)

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Little does he know how many times my daughter and I argued about that (well, what do you think geek families talk about?) and he also doesn’t know I lost, but it was over all hilarious and my daughter got a huge hoot out of it. (She was not there at the time; she was already in line for David Hayter, who actually had a longer line at that point than John Barrowman (go figure).

I was able to tell him about my husband Scott (“We have something in common!”) but that he had passed two years ago. The rest of the conversation I will keep private, but he had only kind words and gentle advice for me.

My daughter Sara got to meet David Hayter, who was super nice, and was genuinely touched when she gave him a drawing she did of him as Solid Snake. I was not there when Sara met Chris Sabat; she was way too nervous and for some reason, she finds herself more nervous if I’m around. (Go figure). We do try to stay out of each other’s fandoms and give each other space at conventions to do our own thing.

Sara went off to a panel, of which there were dozens of for so many different topics. Meanwhile, I went off and met Billie Piper. While most people were there to see her for her performance as Rose, it seems I was one of the few who was there because of Penny Dreadful. She had one photo of herself as Lily, and I told her how as a librarian, reader, and horror fan, I thought the show was excellent by all accounts. She seemed thrilled, and for some reason we ended up talking about the now infamous blood orgy scene, Season 3, Episode 3. Apparently it was nowhere near as much fun to film as it is to watch; the fake blood is very sticky, and the effects people kept dumping buckets and buckets on them. They had to walk around wrapped in plastic between takes, and it was quite difficult to get off. I got a lovely generous hug, and my convention day was made.

After panels, Sara introduced me to Ashley Cope, creator of the wonderful webcomic, Unsounded. Ashley did commissions for both of us; mine was of my RPG character, and she just nailed it! While in Artist’s Alley I checked in with my friend Heather Scott, of Dragonmun Studios, also a comic artist. You can check both artists out online: Ashley Cope and Unsounded at http://www.casualvillain.com/Unsounded/ and Heather Scott at http://dragonmun.deviantart.com/. It was great to see an almost equal mix of male and female artists.

We browsed through Cosplay Alley, where at least a dozen professional cosplayers were showing off their creations and offering advice for the newbies. We checked the author signing station, and was excited to see Peter David in attendance; sadly he had just sold out the last of the books he had brought with him.

At some point in time we went searching for food, and amazingly the convention center offered more than just one concession stand with the usual hot dogs and pizza. There were taco trucks, arepas, sandwich vendors, and even a hibachi place which mixed your noodles, meat and veggies while you watched. Most of the food was reasonably priced.

We checked out some of the cool exhibits, such as the actual car from Christine, and a booth that could make a 3D miniature of yourself. There was also a DeLorean, of course, and the original Batmobile, which was appropriate as Bert Ward and Adam West were both in attendance. There were Stormtrooper shooting games and a lot of wax characters to pose for pictures with.

My only disappointment was that we did not have any time left to go gaming, but it is certainly on my to-do list for next time. Overall, Megacon was a great experience for both me and my daughter, with so much to look at, see, touch, interact with and do. It was well-organized, and the staff and volunteers all were very helpful, especially when it came to the handicapped. We’re already planning our next trip to Megacon in Tampa Bay, and dragging a few extra people with us as well. A good time awaits us all!

Written by Arlene Allen

Hello, my name is Arlene Allen, and I love all things nerd: genre tv and movies, books, loud rock and roll music, kittens, conventions, books, graphic novels and superheroes, RPG and tabletop games, and did I say books? Oh, yes. I spent 25 years as a librarian (nerd) mainly working with youth (creating nerds), a number of years as a teacher (more nerd indoctrination). I have my own spawn, leveled up to 22 and my partner in nerdiness. As a nerdy writer, I have found a home at Talk Nerdy With Us.

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