By Jared Cornelius
Late spring has certain associations, schools almost over, vast clouds of pollen, the prepping of air conditioners, but perhaps best of all the start of con season. Shortly after last year's Wizard World Philly, I looked into upcoming conventions and was pleasantly surprised to find out about the Atlantic City Boardwalk Convention. This first year show, being held at the Atlantic City Convention Center is looking to make a name for itself as the premiere New Jersey convention with the promises of creators, celebrities, vendors and more. With only a 40 minute drive for me I decided I'd braved the wilds of Atlantic City early Friday morning as a member of Bleeding Cool's red-shirt scouting crew to scope out what the con had to offer and see if AC/BC was giving fans a worthwhile show.
I arrived shortly after the con's opening with several celebrities and creators still in line getting their badges. Humberto Ramos was seen off to the side discussing something in Spanish, while Mike Zapcic from Comic Book Men was finishing his business at the front of the line. The wait getting in didn't seem to be a bother as plenty of workers were on staff to help con attendees.
Taking my first lap around the show floor, I felt like booths were fairly well spaced out and there was plenty of room to get around. I also noticed that special handicapped lanes had been provided for people with mobility needs which is always a plus. The first thing that really caught my eye was the Stan Lee Museum. The exhibit had plenty to see, with unique art, various pieces of Stan Lee paraphernalia, but most interesting of all was the life sized props from the Marvel movies.
Plenty of con goers were seen mouth agape at the sight of a life sized Iron Monger. However, the experience was incomplete as Lee pulled out of his con appearance a few days before the show. As I had no plans to speak with Lee or attend any of his events this mattered little to me but audible groans could be heard when his absence was announced over the PA system. With very short notice I know some fans felt left shortchanged and the promise of an exchange for what amounted to Stan Lee bucks didn't sit very well with some people. I will say that the exhibit was excellent, and for me was far more interesting than a brief moment I may have gotten with the aged creator.
One of the other big eye catchers was the show's huge line up of classic cars. This certainly wasn't the Atlantic City Auto Show, but the showing of nerd themed cars was top notch! The Ghostbusters Ecto-1 was out on the show floor for fan admiration as was a Back To The Future DeLorean complete with flux capacitor.
Seeing the legacy of the vehicles was an impressive sight and each iteration gave a little context on where the movies and television show were design wise. From Tim Burton's Gothic design to the swinging 60's Batmobile they were in great condition and drew a large crowd early on.
As I made my way across the show floor, I passed through some of the typical vendors, but noticed that there were a few unique items including a couple selling bamboo pillows, a young lady selling macaroons, and Sire's Eye-wear who made wooden glasses frames. The more unique vendors were nice as it broke up some of the monotony of comic book vendor, comic book vendor, toy vendor, toy vendor. Which isn't to say comic book vendors are monotonous, the fine folks at Boom! Studios, Valiant Comics, and Marvel had a huge presence.
Valiant were representing by handing out copies of X-O Manowar and selling trade paperbacks of the lines favorites like Bloodshot, Unity, and Harbinger. The staff were also very friendly taking time to talk to fans about their excitement for the upcoming Book of Death event and the overall positive reaction their series had gotten in the last few years.
Boom! Studios had a big presence at the show too. Riding high off the success their hits like Adventure Time, and Cluster, they were looking to promote a new title from Archaia, Lantern City. With a steampunk look and story from Matthew Daley and Paul Jenkins the representatives at Boom were super high on the book, noting that they would be having a panel and signing Saturday at 2.
I was actually pretty stunned by Marvel's show of force. With a huge setup in the middle of the show floor and an over sized Secret Wars banner across their stage it was not only imposing but a genuine surprise. The bigger surprise for me is that I missed the headline that artist Mark Brooks who's currently doing work on Ant Man was signing books. I was pretty annoyed at myself as Ant Man is one of my favorite current titles, and the spiritual successor to one of my other favorites Superior Foes of Spider-Man. The Marvel section was capped off at both ends by a Marvel store, selling some official merchandise, a Marvel Unlimited booth, showing fans the benefits of their all you can read digital service, and a couple of friendly ladies handing out Free Comic Book Day copies of All-New All-Different Avengers and Secret Wars #0.
As I continued on to artist's alley I came across the super talented Peter David. If your reading this website chances are you've read one of David's books. With defining runs on X-Factor, The Hulk, Aquaman, and Young Justice just to name a few. After I assured him that I was uninterested in undermining Marvel and Rich Johnston was not the Master of Whisperers we had a fairly long conversation about his legacy. David is a really nice guy, and gave me a short interview, he also graciously signed my copy of All-New X-Factor #13. Look for the interview shortly. Walking through artist's alley I did find myself wishing more big creators had attended the con. I certainly wish no disrespect to the fine artists and creators who were there, but there weren't many people there who the average fan would know, and for the number of the smaller artists no one stood out with a really interesting art style or design sense. A lot of it felt very samey.
While I found artis'st alley to be lacking, the celebrity section of the con was pretty well stocked. I don't really have an interest in meeting most celebrities, but ACBC did an admirable job of getting a wide variety of bigger celebs including William Shatner, James Gunn and Michael Rooker. They also invited a well-regarded group of voice actors like Jim Cummings, Rob Paulson, and Maurice LaMarche. From what I could see it appeared that everyone was having pleasant interactions and the lines weren't outrageous.
Outside of the celebrity area also had a fairly interesting setup, with an area specifically dedicated to tattoo artists. As an un-inked individual I didn't get to deep into their area, but did notice that those patronizing the booths seemed engaged with the artists. Outside that area was also a setup for prominent cos-players. Like the tattoo area, I'm not really up on my pro cos-players, but the most popular were the booths featuring pretty ladies dressed up like Artimis and Ms./Captain Marvel. A few of the cos-players weren't getting a ton of attention and looked board, so I'm sure they'd appreciate someone saying hello. The cos-play on the floor was a little livelier however with Harley Quinn being the most popular outfit. A Borderlands Psycho, female Winter Solider, and a very professional looking Darth Vader made the scenery very entertaining and everyone seemed amiable to pictures. My favorite bit of cos-play was a mother, daughter, son trio as Ms. Marvel, Black Cat and Captain-America. The majority of the cos-players I interacted with seemed pleased to have some extra room to pose and didn't feel overwhelmed.
After fishing thorough some long boxes at various vendors I made my way over to the Conquest Comics booth. Conquest is my local shop in Bayville New Jersey and are often doing interesting things like exclusive covers and recently had Adam Hughes signing their store exclusive Spider-Gwen #1. I've known owner Chris Blewitt for some time now and when I look for impressions from the retailer end of things he's usually the guy I go to.
Chris Blewitt: The impressions are nice, it's an early start to the show. We had a nice little rush come right in. Our good friend Mike Delesio put together a really nice show, the Stan Lee Museum looks beautiful, Marvel has a big presence here, Boom is here with what I think is the same setup they use in San Diego. All the cars are here, they have some nice celebrities, so it looks like it's going to be a nice show, especially for the first year.
JC: How are you finding the floor space?
CB: It's not too crowded, Mike and the team at the boardwalk show did a really nice job spacing out and giving room. If you've ever been to New York or San Diego it's like herding cattle, everyone's shoulder to shoulder. Now granted those shows get a hundred thousand plus attendance so it's a different level, but you can't walk down the aisle comfortably, here they've made the aisles a little more spacious. One thing I really thought was cool and unique was the walking zone for people with disabilities which is a nice touch because I've seen so many people in wheelchairs and crutches get trampled over the years so they made a conscious effort to take care of those people.
JC: What's the hot seller at the Conquest Comics booth this morning?
CB: Funko Pops! By far, people are eating them up. We focus a lot on that in our shop and lots of people are buying the chase variants and exclusives, the more hard to find things. A lot of the other vendors bring the new releases which is really awesome, but a lot of them don't have the variety and selection of exclusives like that. So that's a big hit along with our Funko crane machine, which is a nice draw. People just walk by and put a buck in. There's only two of those machines in the world, Funko has the one and we have the other, so the allure of that to Funko fans is something that they can say they played the crane machine.
JC: If people want to come visit, what's your exact booth space?
CB: East 225! We have a 10×30 right across from MMJ Comics right by the entrance you'll see us right there.
My early impressions are the show does have a lot of potential, but does need work. The Stan Lee appearance was a big problem and left plenty of fans unhappy. The cancellation isn't exactly the shows fault, but as already pointed out, the show runners need to have a clear and concise message for fans on refunds as well as advertisements after the fact. The noticeable groan of fans when the announcement happened made it clear that AC/BC didn't communicate the cancellation well enough and left those who paid for a Stan Lee experience with a poor Stan Lee experience.
It was nice to see bigger publishers interacting with the crowd. The impressive showing from top tier publishers helped the show feel legitimate, but the lack of a certain major publisher who may or may not have just moved was noticeable. It wasn't the shows fault by any means, it was just very noticeable that DC Comics wasn't there while Marvel, Valiant, and Boom! were well represented. The artist alley could certainly also use a few more big names too. With Peter David, Humberto Ramos, Phil Jimenez, and Charles Soule picking up the slack, there really was only a handful of recognizable creators.
I will again commend AC/BC for its wide range of celebrities. They seemed to make the experience a little more manageable than the bigger cons, although that might fall off with a larger weekend attendance.
Another big plus for AC/BC was a lively cos-play community who were all very welcoming about having photos taken and seemed pleased that they had room to breathe and show off. I'd again assume that it may be a bit more difficult with weekend attendance, but for the moment it was a positive in AC/BC's favor.
At this point I'd say a three day pass is probably unnecessary, with a day pass making the most sense to me. Most panels or courses seeming to have an analog somewhere between Friday and Saturday and a lot of the celebrities will be at the con multiple days. If you're in the area it's absolutely worth your time to go down and check it out, even if just for a day. The show's current size leaves a lot of room for growth and with Atlantic City's Convention Center being huge, expansion is fairly limitless. I'm hopeful that in coming years Atlantic City Boardwalk Con will grow larger and develop not only a healthy relationship with fans, but expand into the premiere show for New Jersey.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from the Jersey coast who's looking forward to next year's con. If you'd like to tell him about your con experience, contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis.