Comic book, cosplay and pop culture geeks made a home in D.C. over the weekend. If you saw the crowds and wondered what was going on, the short answer is Awesome Con. The long answer involves a lot of hard work.
To host tens of thousands of costume-loving attendees, conventions need game plans. Awesome Con launched its first comic book and pop culture convention in Washington, D.C., in 2013, and the show announced that it attracted more than 7,000 visitors. In 2014, the con aspired to boost its attendance to 40,000 visitors, so it turned to a non-traditional source of funding – Kickstarter.
On April 18, Awesome Con flooded its new home at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with three days of panels, comic book sales, cosplay and celebrity autograph sessions. A few hours before the doors opened, Ben Penrod, the co-founder and organizer for the show, felt confident that his plan had worked.
“The space is fantastic,” Penrod said. “Last year we had about 18,000 square feet of exhibit space.”
He estimated that the 2014 show would use about 230,000 square feet of space by comparison. It would also occupy 12 rooms for panels and meetings, up from just three rooms in 2013. Additionally, the two-day schedule of programming in 2013 expanded to three days in 2014.
The Awesome Con brand debuted in Indianapolis in 2011. D.C. was the second city where the team behind it decided to plant its flag. Penrod credited the decision to crowdfund part of the show to one simple justification.
It was a “good way to get a large amount of money fast,” he explained. On July 7, 2013, the campaign, which started out with a goal to raise $50,000, concluded, and its pledges from Kickstarter users totaled $56,248.
That money allowed Awesome Con to put money down on its new space. Penrod admitted that running the campaign was a lot of work, but he said it had an added benefit: “It brought people closer.”
Pre-selling tickets is a common practice, but raising money through Kickstarter allowed Awesome Con to grab cash and give convention-goers a reason to believe that they helped make the show happen. It’s an added marketing benefit that comes with Kickstarter initiatives like this one.
The move also boosted interest before Awesome Con was able to finalize its guest list and programming, which eventually included well-known creators from the comics community, such as George Pérez, Steve Niles and Jamal Igle, as well as actors from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Princess Bride, The Walking Dead and elsewhere. Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters was among the biggest names to draw winding lines.
Live events included a Saturday concert, featuring Andrew W.K. and opening act Adam WarRock at Black Cat. Sunday followed with a live art-creation competition presented by a local group, Super Art Fight, which will host its own Black Cat show on May 17.
Like any fan-driven convention, though, Awesome Con thrived on the energy and creativity of its attendees, who attempted to break a world record for comic book costumes in front of the U.S. Capitol (and came up short). Fans poured in wearing costumes from HBO shows, superhero comics and many other sources. Many of the cosplayers sculpted their own weapons as well (and those weapons were inspected for safety purposes at the door).
Take a look in our photo gallery below to see the best of the cosplay to descend on the District over the weekend.