Comic conventions have severely evolved from their simple origins of being hosted out of hotel basements and small convention centers to a multimillion dollar industry that practically goes from January to December, giving fans a chance to mingle together and meet their favorite creators.
Last week a completely new type of comic convention for America took place on board the Brilliance of the Seas for the Fan2Sea Comic Con Cruise. A five-day cruise that traveled from Tampa to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, then back to Tampa. Having never been on a cruise of any sort before, I was curious as it seemed like something I would easily enjoy. The guests ranged from the Stranger Things actor Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) to some of comic books' marquee names from Scott Snyder and Charles Soule to Phil Noto, Gail Simone, and even the legendary Frank Miller.
There was a lot going on every single day, too. From dances to trivia, to costume contests, even late night nerdlesque performances, Fan2Sea definitely had a range of activities to do while you were on board. Plans have been talked about for a follow up and, going forward, there’s a good chance this could be the first con of the year and it’s not a bad idea. Starting the year with incredible weather and all you can eat food sounds like the only way to start the year, right? Obviously there were some initial misgivings and trepidation about this kind of convention going in.
“There was one of these almost twenty years ago and it was set up much the same way as this one,” Black Widow co-writer Mark Waid told Newsarama. “As I was walking up the gangplank I realized to my horror that hundreds of people paid thousands of dollars to be here and that might give them some sort of entitlement as to my presence, but this has not been that way. It’s been great running into fans and have short or sometimes in-depth conversations with them at the bar. It’s been a relaxing experience.”
Though with inaugural conventions there’s still a small learning curve of what worked and what didn’t, with a convention on this type of platform in this type of environment, it’s going to be quite the curve.
First the let’s look at the paneling structure. Even with a stacked day of activities to choose from, we were handed an updated schedule upon boarding, but even then, there were more than a few changes during the cruise that made planning the day somewhat interesting. The panels ran smoothly for most of the time, but if they were by the pool deck, the wind made it somewhat difficult to hear and interact with the panelists, especially during the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 panel where Michael Rooker had his drink whisked away from him but a heavy blast.
The indoor panels were fantastic by comparison. They were presented in the Pacifica Theater room that provided a lot of space that never seemed full, which gave fans that much more intimacy with their favorite creators and personalities.
What was even more interesting is the limited time of certain guests. Again, I’m not too familiar with cruises so this could just be part of that whole thing, but for example, Frank Miller wasn’t on board the whole time. He did appear at his panels, but interaction with him was limited to what was simply assigned. That makes sense for a creator of his caliber, but it didn’t help that we had a few last-minute cancellations including Greg Capullo. It happens to any convention, but you want to have every name available on your maiden voyage so to speak.
How the artist alley set up was completely different from anything as well, and this is probably where they might want to change things up.
It wasn’t really an alley as it was like a cul-de-sac with maybe 6-8 creators at any given time if that. The problem was that it was so secluded from the rest of the cruise. It took place on the 13th level, which could only be accessed by a limited number of elevators. The rest maxed out at 12 and then you had to cross the entire boat to get to this place. It was smart to schedule certain people on certain days and mix it up from there, but some creators changed their times and it was somewhat challenging to keep on who was where and when.
Since it’s a Royal Caribbean liner, you had people who weren’t there for Fan2Sea, and had fun gawking and interacting with the more elaborate cosplayers and having a grand time. Where things got kind of confusing was the hierarchy of who I actually needed to talk about certain things about the convention. There was the Royal Caribbean people, the Flying Dutchman travel people, and the Fan2Sea crew - whom were rarely seen until the last day.
The dining experience had different levels as well. You had the casual dining buffet where you could sit wherever you wanted or many other options, but all more incredibly upscale. The menu provided was nothing to sneeze at as I had some of the best scallops of my life on the second night. It was impressive and something you would expect coming from a premium cruise line. The buffet was equally varied in meats and other fine foods, and the presentation, while less flashy, was hardly mundane.
I wasn’t the only one who had never braved the seas on a cruise before. Talking to a few creators, we empathized in our packing worries, if we had the right paperwork, the rush and anxiety of going to new places, but I would be completely down for doing this again now that I know what to expect and I wasn’t the only one.
“I would do this convention again,” said Star Wars: Poe Dameron artist Phil Noto. “This is fun with stuff to do on the boat that’s all comic and nerd wise, but outside of that I don’t think I’m a ‘cruise person’, but definitely a nice way of trying this out.”
“We’ve been treated wonderfully here,” added colorist Laura Martin. “The showrunners have been fantastic and it’s been a fantastic con experience.”
Fan2Sea really did offer a completely new experience of going to a comic book convention because the notion was already so unconventional. Given their first year, it went off without any major issues while some reorganizing should be considered, I can see myself doing this again now that I’m familiar with the ins and outs of what to expect.