This was one of those rare weekends where I was low on money and time. I could get away for Bent-Con for a Saturday and although I am not gay, I was the only one in a position to report on this particular convention. The owner told me I would have a good time and invited me to view as many things as I could, so I took him up on his offer and made the drive to Burbank with my camera and my notebook and kept my eyes open during my first “gay” comic book convention.
I did wonder if I would hear “It’s Rainin’ Men!” at all during the day.
Unfortunately, due to work and child-care needs, I didn’t stay overnight at Bent-Con, but the entirety of the convention was housed in the Burbank Marriott and Convention Center complex. Although this hotel is in the midst of homes, an industrial area, and next to the Burbank Airport, this is a very elegant place. They use polished wood and soft earth tones to their advantage everywhere. They have a Daily Grill in the lobby and spacious areas for people to gather downstairs.
They have a charming, if small, pool, and the staff is very courteous and well-trained. In fact, a friend was staying at the Marriott and registered early on. He was surprised when he opened the door to his room and found a junior suite when he booked a normal room. He was happy enough he didn’t ask, but the best theory I have is that they probably overbooked the hotel, but rather than simply tell him they didn’t have any more rooms, they automatically upgraded him. Although I have dealt with a number of hotels in the Marriott umbrella, this is the first time I have seen a proactive move by one of their hotels, and I commend them for it.
Since the Marriott was holding the entirety of the convention, there is no shuttle system to review.
Bent-Con is a smaller affair, so registration was handled by four people behind one desk. You would think that would create quite a delay, but, the opposite occurred. The crowd around the desk was minimal as they promptly handled requests and issues. In fact, although my press badge wasn’t ready when I arrived, the staff quickly took my name and printed a badge on the spot. Their staff made quick and decisive moves to keep people chugging along and limit any potential problems. They have a lot to be proud of with their workers and organization.
I’m not entirely sure that the Burbank Convention Center needs to be called a Convention Center. You see, this is a one-hall building that resembles a refurbished office building. I saw about six ballrooms of varying size used for a dealer’s hall and panel space. An Artist’s Alley was set up in one of the hallways, as well as some vendors in another hallway.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the space, but it is smaller than I expected for some reason. I’m probably spoiled by the larger and splashier buildings sprinkled across California. In the end, the building size didn’t matter, just the convention inside, right?
The Dealer’s Hall is an extended ballroom in the Burbank Convention Center. They have several artists and independent manufacturers showing off their wares for people to buy. One thing that struck me is that there was no formal industry support for this convention. All of the sellers are independent companies telling new and original stories. Some people would say that’s bad for the convention, but, in retrospect, I think that is bad for the industry. Marvel and DC have both crowed about their LBGT characters, but none of them are fairly featured in their books. They could have a chance to directly address these fans, but no one from any larger comic company, including Image, Aspen, and Top Cow, came to engage the con-goers.
Hopefully, that will be the next step to show these fans that their patronage is welcome.
A lot of the panels are well-catered to their customers, including panels about being fans, being gay fans, interaction with Guests of Honor and their experiences, Though there weren’t many panel rooms, they had full schedules from 12:00 p.m. to about 7:00 p.m. in the evening. Since I was on a short schedule for the convention, I didn’t get to see a lot of the offerings, but I did sit in on a panel with David Yost of Power Rangers fame. He told some interesting stories about growing up, realizing his sexuality, and the subsequent struggles. You rarely hear stories about such things in such strict detail. The staff does a good job of keeping the panels rolling on time and moving people as necessary.
They have a very good process here.
Cosplay here is comparable to Comic-Con during the daytime. You can see some detailed, well thought out costumes, but it doesn’t seem to be a larger part of the convention, so far. I didn’t see any gatherings, but I did see a lot of characters incidentally run into each other and take pictures together. There was a lot of appreciation of the costumes by those not in them, though. A lot of people would stop cosplayers and take pictures of what they see.
The staff is VERY glad to see you!
That is the plainest I could put it. The staffers I ran into made it a point to smile and ask if they could help me with anything. I was very glad to find out that customer service is a big part of the plan for Bent-Con and that the staff remained engaged and interested in what people may need. I really don’t have much more to say. At every level, the convention staff would occasionally look around and make sure we had what we needed.
If the convention had a general issue to overcome, it wouldn’t be the building, but it may be the city. Burbank is a conglomerate of a lot of building types. There are commercial buildings nearby, as well as houses, Burbank Airport, and a few cheap restaurants, including a Denny’s. I would say that the restaurants are the only true advantage of the area. Outside of that, the only useful building that I am aware of in short walking distance is Burbank Airport. There is also a Fry’s Electronics nearby, however, there is a railroad between the hotel and Fry’s, and you need to cross underneath the tracks via two narrow, shallow staircases. It isn’t a welcoming walk.
Though I have written the above, the hotel and convention center are great places for the convention, and I don’t have a great suggestion for an alternative place for the convention to roost.
There is no local night life for the convention to take advantage of, so they largely create their own. There are dances at the convention, as well, as areas to sit down and talk with the other con-goers. They actually created the best convention pool party I have seen complete with a DJ, fire pits, mermaids, mermen, and lots of chairs around the pool.
This is a definitive social convention; this is a place you go to share your fandom with other fans and enjoy the company for a few days. You can find some shopping to take advantage of, but the real draw is the ability to hang out in larger groups. Bent-Con had me a bit anxious since I am a straight male, but my wife kept telling me that they just wanted more people to go, and that was absolutely true. While it is billed and catered to a gay audience, they are very glad to have fans of all stripes show up to enjoy themselves for a while. Not only that, but they seem to have the full support of the facilities they are using and know how to make the most of their time. This convention isn’t necessarily good for kids with adult comics being in full display, but there is a lot for adults to see and do.
If you’re comfortable enough in who you are, you should stop by and have a good time!