Big Easy Con: A Missed Opportunity To Make A Good First Impression

by Gary Catig

I went to graduate school in New Orleans and lived in the area for six years. It was during that time I became more interested in comic conventions, attending shows in the gulf coast area and back home in southern California. The more time I spent there, the more I saw the potential the Crescent City had for hosting a great comic con.

First of all, NOLA is already a big convention city, where one of its biggest industries is hospitality. It is home to Ernest N. Memorial Convention Center, which is the sixth largest in the country. The venue regularly holds numerous trade shows, meetings and conventions throughout the year. I remember attending the Society for Neuroscience, which usually attracts around thirty thousand participants, and noticing how much spare room was still available. In addition to the facilities, location wise it is within walking distance to the popular French Quarter, a casino and outlet mall not to mention all the excellent dining options. The city itself is a desired tourist destination, so you wouldn’t be twisting talents’ arms to come into town for a con.

Speaking of talent, they are the big attraction for comic cons and play a significant role in bringing people to the show. In particular, everyone wants to see the stars. Many people don’t know that many projects are shot in New Orleans. Some of which could resonate specifically with the geek audience. Whether it’s television programs like American Horror Story (Coven and Freak Show), Into the Badlands (first season) and Cloak and Dagger (current) or movies like Terminator Genisys, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Jurassic World, there are actors and actresses around. Someone needs to find a way to take advantage of their close proximity and book the talent.

In addition, though maybe not as prominent as Los Angeles, New York and Portland, there is a good community of comic writers and artists that reside in the city or within the region. Some people who call NOLA home are Gabe Soria (Mega Ghost), Gavin Guidry (Going to the Chapel), Savanna Ganucheau (Bloom) and Ben Passmore (BTTM FDRS). Other creators who live a drivable distance away include Rob Guillory (Farmhand), Victor Gischler (Spirits of Vengeance) and Nick Robles (Doctor Mirage). Sure, when creating a list of comic guests at a con, you can bring in bigger names that are from outside, but it’s good to supplement with local talent to bring them exposure and hopefully grow the community.

A third aspect of throwing a great con are the attendees, because there must be a big enough market to sustain the show. New Orleans fans are some of the most passionate I have seen. There are plenty of groups based off of fandoms like the Louisiana Ghostbusters, Krewe du Who and the 501st Legion: Bast Alpha Garrison. There is even a Mardi Gras krewe, the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, that is dedicated to many facets of pop culture from Star Trek to Rick and Morty and from Guardians of the Galaxy to Sharknado. Plus, there are many people regionally that would travel for a good con in the city. There’s a close, tight knit network of shows that are very supportive of each other that stretches to Lake Charles and Lafayette to the west, Biloxi and Mobile to the east, and all the way north to Memphis. There would be no shortage enthusiastic people willing to go to a convention.

With all of the above, it’s surprising there is no real big Comic Con in New Orleans. There are smaller shows like CONtraflow, Sawa Con and MechaCon but nothing on a large scale. The closest is Wizard World, but many view it as a cash grab focusing more on celebrity engagement than actual comics. Also, during the couple shows I attended, I found the panel programming underwhelming. About a year ago, I became intrigued by the announcement of Big Easy Con that was to be held from June 1 – 2, 2019. 

I was optimistic because the showrunners, LeftField Media, had a good pedigree running both Awesome Con in D.C. and Rose City Comic Con in Portland. Both are highly regarded, respected shows. As time progressed, I was impressed by how active they were in the community hosting events at local bars and cosponsoring a trivia night with LCBS, BSI Comics. As I checked periodically at their invited guests, I thought they had a good mix with stars from movies and TV like Ron Perlman, John Barrowman and cast members from Star Trek: TNG, The Walking Dead and Cobra Kai. They put as much focus on their comic creators, assembling an impressive list. Scheduled to appear were some ComicSketchArt talent like David Finch, Clay Mann and Charles Soule, a couple of Helioscope guys in Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber and more. The event planners were doing all the right things, so it came as a shock when just last week, the con announced they were postponing the event until November.

LeftField’s reasoning was that they were not satisfied that they could hold a con to their standards in three weeks, so they pushed it back. They claimed that through informal, internal polling, that both invited guests and vendors preferred November. With the new date, they obtained more space for the show and added an extra day as well. The showrunners tried to be accommodating to exhibitors, offering options to proceed, including refunds. For the visitors who pre-ordered their badges, they could receive refunds, and for those who originally purchased two-day passes, they could receive a free upgrade to a three-day pass. Also, for those who booked rooms at the official hotels through their process, they could receive refunds.

Many did not take the news well and took to social media. Understandably, it reflects poorly on LeftField to change the date so close to showtime. People need to plan ahead of time to attend a con to save money, request time off, and make accommodation arrangements. Although they were offering refunds, that did not cover hotel rooms booked through other means and airfare, not to mention the lost time and resources for exhibitors to gather and buy their inventory. Moreover, there’s the loss of an income source as they no longer have a place to sell their goods.

The whole situation didn’t sit right. If a significant number of invited guests wanted the November date, why aren’t they already confirmed and on the site? So far there is only one guest, Zachary Levi, who I’ll admit is a big get. It’s not guaranteed all the originally scheduled guests can make the new date. For example, Barrowman is at Rhode Island Comic Con that weekend.

One argument LeftField makes is to trust them because they have experience running successful shows like the aforementioned Awesome Con and RCCC. That is true, but both were founded by other people local to that area. It wasn’t until the cons were established and had a regular following that the event planning company purchased them and brought them under their umbrella. Running an already well-known convention and starting a new one from scratch are two different processes, so it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt here. Furthermore, a common platitude their PR person makes to comments on social media is that the show is going to be bigger and better now, but how can people believe that? They couldn’t run a two-day con correctly, so everyone should have faith they can do a three-day one?

Most people are understanding and would have preferred an alright show with a genuine effort to improve later than postponement or no show at all. They would chalk it up to first year growing pains. However, if you change the date of a show in New Orleans, you stir up some bad memories. The city has a bad history with conventions trying to break into the market. In 2012, there was UltimaCon, a show centered around gaming LARPing and anime. A few weeks before the show, they lost their venue and had to cancel the show. Many people who pre-ordered tickets lost their money. In 2014, the New Orleans Comic Expo did so poorly, they began letting people in for free because vendors were complaining about the lack of business. They had plans to return the following year and kept on posting on their Facebook page to stay tuned for guest announcements until they stopped posting all together.

Big Easy Con lost much of their good will they built up when they decided to push the show back to November. Going through all their social media posts, I never saw once an apology to anyone. Now, they’re viewed with suspicion and It will take a herculean effort to win back all those fans. Right now, some see the organizers as opportunistic outsiders trying to take advantage of a city without a major convention. They are currently taking the PR hit, but I don’t think it’s Universal FanCon level of mismanagement.

I really do hope they are able to rebound and pull off a successful show because I think New Orleans deserves a big, quality comic convention. Current confirmed guest, Levi, previously stated he’d like to bring Nerd HQ to other cities someday. If that started in NOLA during Big Easy Con, I don’t know if it would make people forgive and forget, but it might be a good start.

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