As the Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy genres continue to dominate popular media it is logical to assume that supporting gatherings in the form of conventions will continue reflect this unabated and voracious growth. A new convention made its debut in San Jose, California on the weekend of November 21 and 22 at the San Jose Convention Center. The convention was the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest and it was created by James Frazier and Eric Nordoff who had famously created the Walker Stalker convention in 2013 to much success. The convention’s formula would be to appeal to fans who wish to obtain autographs and photo opportunities with the attending celebrities from fan favorite shows such as Arrow, The Flash, Once Upon a Time and Doctor Who. This formula which has been used to great success at their Walker Stalker cons could arguably have been inspired by the Creation Convention model but the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest brought a number of unique elements to fans at this debut of their new con.
Upon walking into the San Jose Convention Center, one was immediately greeted by an inflatable sign that measured over twenty feet in length and width. This marquee would prove to be an irresistible photo spot for many attendees as well as an area where friends could meet up before venturing onto the convention floor itself. Once inside it was immediately evident that this convention had set aside a fair amount of floor space for games that would appeal to children which is a factor that is not so common at other conventions. The Heroes and Villains Fan Fest had a zip line attraction, a controlled BB gun firing range, a low impact bungee ride and a laser tag game room. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the convention presenters because essentially adults who had brought their children with them would find that it would be a rather balanced mix of activities for all which is not often the case at other convention gatherings.
The convention had a number of different tiers that would might create a different experience depending on which tier you had purchased. On both days fans were treated to rather unconventional panels which also added appeal to this con. The first day of the convention began at 9:00 A.M. for those who had purchased a V.I.P. package which included photo opportunities, autographs, preferred panel seating and many other con privileges. All celebrity guests signature booths were located at the back of the huge dealer’s room area as well as the photo opportunity area as well. The main hall at the convention center also housed a dealer’s area, the aforementioned game attractions and a panel stage area as well as a podcast stage booth. The decision to house the entire convention in one area was perhaps made because this was the first convention of Heroes and Villains Fan Fest, but in the opinion of this columnist it would prove to be the only misstep at the debut of the con. Many factors beyond control of the organizers should be taken into account if the convention returns to this particular location. First and foremost it was the cavernous design of the hall that would bedevil acoustics throughout the two the day span of the event. It was especially evident when a panel happened to coincide with a podcast at the other end of the area. It would be difficult to be able to clearly understand what the principals upon the stage were discussing as well as what guests might be talking about at the podcast booth. It should be noted that there are several meeting rooms that are on either side of the main hall that could have easily accommodated panels and it can be logically assumed that the budget might have been a factor as well as the fact that the organizers did not know really what the eventual head count would be at the end of the con. It is a problem that can be easily rectified and one imagines now that the con organizers have had this experience that if they return then they will take advantage of those meeting rooms located in the convention center.
Whatever missteps Heroes and Villains Fan Fest experienced paled in comparison to the sheer atmosphere of unbridled and apparent over the top celebrity and fan interactions that were witnessed and experienced throughout the two days of the convention. The main instigator of shenanigans seemed to be actor and singer, John Barrowman. Barrowman is currently part of the CW network television series entitled, Arrow in the role of Malcom Merlyn who also recently became the famed villain, Ra’s al Ghul. The actor went on a number of fun and sometimes wild excursions onto the dealer’s floor. He made a remarkable purchase from vendor, Charlie Sotto of figurines, noted space ship replicas and other items. He took amusing selfie shots with fans which included an incident where he amusingly safely bit a fans ear and shoulder for an image. He decided to try the bungee attraction which also attracted the attention of fellow Arrow actor, Neal McDonough who started to playfully engage him in nerf and silly string shooting match as he glided through the air very much like a mischievous Peter Pan. There could be no doubt that John Barrowman literally stole the hearts and minds of the convention attendees of all ages. One of the most humorous, touching and enjoyable moments happened when Barrowman invited a very young fan dressed as the Arrow to join him on his panel stage so he could show the excited fan how to shoot attendees with silly string. A sense of real and rare spontaneity was displayed by John Barrowman that will forever cement him as a fan favorite. It was an experience that the CW network will undoubtedly reap ample riches in terms of social networking awareness and so much more.
The panels that were scheduled had all of the trappings of the traditional elements to be found-stories, question and answer sessions and hints of things to come. There was an unexpected and rather welcome element that had become the common denominator throughout the run of the con. It was an element of rare unpredictability that became the major theme of the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest convention. This columnist does not have any insider knowledge on whether the celebrity guests had created some sort of pact to keep their handlers, convention organizers and fans on their toes, but the level of incidents became joyous moments that will have those who had attended discussing for years to come. The Amell cousins invited fans to play games with them on stage, John Barrowman and fellow cast members indulged in a dance-off with fans which ended in both John Barrowman and Neal McDonough literally jumping from the stage to be caught by excited fans! A stunt panel which included actors Caity Lotz and David Ramsey invited fans to stage a fight with them, actress Karen Gillan received a surprise birthday cake brought to her by her parents who led attendees in singing happy birthday to their daughter!
Cosplayers also added to the incredibly fun ambiance of the convention. Several rather well known bay area cosplayers were in attendance which included Tim Hurles who is one of the most remarkable Captain American cosplayers that you will find anywhere. He was accompanied by his very photogenic son who bears an uncanny resemblance to the young actor who played Gage in the film, “Pet Cemetery.” In fact the producers of the proposed remake of the Stephen King story should look no further than to actually cast Tim Hurles’ son as the new Gage! Several other cosplayers included Ace Allmara as Thor, Sean and Lani Carissa Basset who also won the cosplay contest as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy and Sandie Vader who continues to thrill as Maleficent were seen throughout the weekend interacting with fans and bringing smiles to the all who encountered them.
Could the convention organizers of Heroes and Villains Fan Fest continue an atmosphere of unexpected at their future cons? It will be a fascinating question to have to discover as the creators of Heroes and Villains Fan Fest can look with pride that they have accomplished what they set out to do. A convention that caters to fans above all(even over media) and creates a genuine sensation that you can interact with your favorite talent at any point during the convention. That alone is worth the price of entrance!