HUDSON VALLEY COMIC CON 2016

KATE THE GEEKY REDHEAD 10-MAY-2016 Most times in life we hate being wrong. It’s a blow to our pride, it catches us off guard. Depresses us. There are times, however, when it is a positive delight to be wrong. When it came to Hudson Valley Comic Con, I was incredibly wrong and I am over the moon to be so. But I’ll get into that later – I’d like to highlight what made it so awesome before we get into the mistakes – particularly since mostly what me feel uncomfortable won’t happen again. I attended on Sunday only due to schedule conflicts.

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Cost/Travel

At $35 for two days, the con is down right affordable – particularly considering that they had guests like Ernie Hudson, the Etco-1, Batomobiles and other fairly ‘big ticket’ con standards. It was $25 for just Saturday and $20 for just Sunday. Free parking, and while there isn’t a lot of food in walking distance, the local eateries are reasonably priced and there is a lot of nearby fast food.

Driving is probably your best bet for getting there although there are trains into both Wappingers Falls and Poughkeepsie and plenty of taxis in the area. This part of New York state is far enough that most people drive but still close enough to the city that it’s not unheard of for folks to have never bothered – hence somewhat decent public transportation. I would do taxis rather than buses if possible, if only because I have deep distrust of bus timetables. While I would actually suggest traveling to attend this con, the downside is that there don’t seem to be any hotels in walking distance. That said – there are some B&Bs nearby and chain hotels close as well.

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Atmosphere/Location

The con was held in a large, indoor sports arena attached to Gold’s Gym. I gotta admit that it was a little weird to see people on the second level who were working out and watching us in amusement, but there was no unpleasantness. It was large, spacious and well lit. I met up with a friend in a motorized wheelchair and specifically asked if he had any issues getting around on the AstroTurf and he said that it was surprisingly easy. Of the two of us, I had a somewhat harder time as my thin heels kept sinking into the ground and getting tons of little rocks in my pumps. Hardly a real issue – next year I will simply wear a costume with thicker heels/flats and more of a boot instead of a pump to prevent the rock issue. It was much more comfortable on my feet than your typical cement floor!

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I experienced no harassment issues from attendees or bystanders, which was lovely. When it comes to first year cons, I have run into issues with locals being taken by surprise and not always on their best behavior or new con attendees getting…. overexcited and forgetting basic manners. The worst issue I had was a few younger (teenish?) attendees asked me for photos while I had parked my butt and was resting my feet. They were polite, excited about the con and perfectly happy to wait while I gathered my things so I rolled with it and stood up to pose. If the worst thing that happens to me at a con is a few eager folks want photos while I’m sitting, I will happily take that any day of the week. There was also a group doing a live Rocky Horror show and it was really neat to see them wandering around!

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I don’t know who arranged it, but there was also this beauty – which several cosplayers (including myself as we can see) took full advantage of for fun photos. Between this and the pirates who were flinging gold and collecting donations for children with cancer, the convention felt almost like a geeky playground.

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Everyone I spoke with expressed that they were happy with the con, having a great time and were looking forward to coming back. This gave the event a wonderful, happy vibe.

Accessibility

I want to talk about this. I want to talk about this a LOT because this con – this little first year con – gets MAJOR props for accessibility.

They have a booth, right by the entrance, that existed solely to provide disability services.

I have never seen that at a con before.

My friend and I swung by to check out. Disabled folks, both those with visible and invisible issues, get a sticker for the back of their badge that they can show to staff members in other areas while quietly requesting assistance. This allows them to take advantage of the services being offered while maintaining privacy if desired. Each attendee also gets a sticker for the badge of their favorite person, as Randi Marf playfully put it and I’m really hoping I spelled her name correctly! This sticker lets the bearer act as line holder or get other services and again, maintains privacy. Also: Major props to Randi for being so friendly and playful and her ability to read our group’s sense of humor. She answered all our questions and gave me some information to take home for the purposes of this article. Randi explained that these policies and programs were taken, with permission, from the Walker Stalker events. If anyone has questions about how things are handled at Walker Stalker, Katie Anderson is the woman in the know and who I now want to meet!

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the services that were being offered! NOTE: This is my own wording and paraphrasing.

On Site

Line return time – This is awesome to me: Attendees with a disability were allowed to request return time for autographs. This went for folks with standing issues even if they don’t rely on mobility aides, low vision, hearing issues, sensory disorders, etc. The return time will be about the same time as the wait time for an abled atteendee with a similar pass – regular, VIP, etc. and only one active return time at a time. Anything where it’s a limited number of people, you just buy the ticket in advance like everyone else and you still get to do your line return. It is worth noting that with the big celeb photos ops things can vary a little since the policy is to let the celebs and their handlers organize their line to best suit what works for them – in those cases it is suggested that anyone with a disability be in the area at least 15 minutes in advance so that you know how things are being handled. Some celebs like to have disabled attendees go first.

Seating – There were reserved seats throughout the con and you had the option to request accessible seats near exits during panels

Aide/Favorite person – this person is basically allowed wherever the attendee is allowed to go, gets seats near them, etc. They aren’t allowed to request special seats if the disabled attendee isn’t with them/joining them however.

Service Animals – Working animals are not required to wear a vest/tag, but the con does encourage handlers to bring papers, which is never a bad idea frankly. The policy, again taken from Walker Stalker, states that in areas where emotional support animals are not recognized, the con will work with the venue to obtain access.

Quiet room – There is a quiet area that you may stay in as long and as often as needed throughout the con

Advance Notice

Sign Language Interpreters – While you needed to give them a three weeks heads up, the con was happy to help arrange for interpreters

Wheelchair/Scooter rental – The con would also assist attendees in renting scooters or wheelchairs if needed

You do not have to provide documentation of your disability.You will not be asked be for proof. In fact, the staffing guidelines specifically tell their volunteers NOT to ask for proof.

And, because I know someone will read that and go “OMG I AM GONNA FAKE SHIT SO I DON’T HAVE TO STAND IN LINE”, don’t bother. If you are found to be fraudulently using these services, you will be removed from the event.

In terms of getting around, the aisles were wide, there were no stairs that I encounters (though there may have been stairs to get the food area upstairs – I didn’t venture up there so I can’t be sure). On Sunday, things were buzzing but not overcrowded and so people needing space or mobility aides were able to move through easily. I am told that Saturday was more crowded although the aisles themselves were so wide that I still feel comfortable suggesting it as a con for folks needing wheelchairs and other aides.

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I look cranky but we were having a blast!

Cosplay/Vendors

So much enthusiasm, at least on Sunday! I really wish I had been there on both days. I ran into several friends and there were a few cosplayers with tables – selling both prints and merch. Personal favorite: My friends Scott and Deirdre of Married with Cosplay were there, selling some leather work and other items. You can find some examples of their work at Deevious Designs.

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Given that it was a first time con, there was a surprising number of vendors and artists – several of whom told me that they had great sales. A few had done so well on Saturday that they actually ran out of product and either left early or had to run out and grab more of their prints. There was at least one body painter, several photographers, quite a few local artists and some bigger names, bubble tea, costumes, toys – vintage, current and custom. LOOK AT THIS EMMA FROST PONY BY MOIRA CAT DESIGNS! LOOK!!!

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The artist (on left) was incredibly sweet. I adored meeting her and really wish I could have taken this pretty girl home with me.

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The local roller derby team was there, there was a kids’ corner and a gaming station. Several big name companies were there of course, like ThinkGeek and Barnes and Noble. Overall, there was a great variety and I’m looking forward to seeing how it expands next year.

If you are thinking of coming next year and are a cosplayer, I will throw this out: This a great con to bring your large cosplay. There is space for that giant mech suit. For the six bone hoop skirt. Just know that the astroturf flakes onto everything. It’s super easy to remove – it just brushes off. It’s something to keep in mind before a photo shoot though. Bring a lint roller if you need that pristine look. Also – no spike heels. Trust me.

Why I was concerned and next year

I have to be honest and throw out the negatives, even though my concerns have long been put to bed.

When I first heard of the con, my experiences with some of the volunteers who were doing hype for the event were less than pleasant. A pushy photographer doing promos and a mansplaining dude handing out fliers at the mall don’t exactly thrill me. When I found out it was the same weekend as both Free Comic Book Day and Mother’s Day, that raised more concern. Was this some cocky event who felt their first year could compete with Free Comic Book Day? Did they not care about local shops, whose business they might be taking?

Once I got to the con, as noted, the feel was warm and welcoming. I was never pushed or made to feel uncomfortable. I got to speak with some of the con organizers and they freely acknowledged that picking that weekend was a mistake and an unintentional one. They had been so excited about the venue and moving ahead that they grabbed the date without double checking about conflicts. It’s a mistake, but it’s a forgivable one for a young con, particularly since they were so very willing to acknowledge that they did – in fact – mess up and that it will not happen again.

To me, that is key. Everyone, be they a person or an organization, makes mistakes. That they are willing to look at what went wrong, to wholeheartedly acknowledge those mistakes says a great deal about them. Especially when paired with a willingness to embrace attendees with different needs.

So I’m actively looking forward to next year. Yes, this is a baby con. And yes, we need to see what they do next year to get a better idea, but I think this is a con to keep your eye on. On their first year, they got over a thousand attendees! Normally I don’t advise traveling for small cons unless you specifically want smaller cons. This one I actually will say “Yes, I think this con is worth some travel for. Grab a hotel – I think you will have a blast.” Doesn’t hurt that the con is only about 30 minutes from the Pandorica – an amazing Doctor Who restaurant that is one of my favorite places to grab lunch. I hope to see you there next year.

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Kate Foil is addicted to spicy food, loves bad movies and can never turn down a slice of chocolate cake.