In July, Andrew Herrmann went to Fandomfestt 2016 – a convention that claims to be the largest Mid South event of its kind. The following is his ethonographic account:
Friday, July 26: Kentucky hates me. I believe this to be true. Every single time I drive through that state, I get caught in a deluge. You know the kind: when you are on the highway going forty miles an hour with your flashers on, white-knuckling it hoping it would end. That’s how my trip to FandomFest 2016 in Louisville started. In fact, I completely missed Friday’s activities thanks to Kentucky’s hatred of me. C’est la vie.
Saturday, July 27th: I got an early start, and after getting lost, I arrive at the Kentucky Exposition Center at around 10 a.m., and pay $8 for parking.
“Can I leave and come back?” I asked the attendant.
“No sir.” That means I’m here for the day.
Checking in and getting my bag of swag was simple. I got my Stan Lee VIP pass, a FandomFest tee, a coozie, and some other paraphernalia. I check the program to double-check the times and locations that are on the app to make sure there are no new updates. There aren’t, but there is already a long line. For what? To get legendary Stan “The Man” Lee to sign stuff. People have posters, comics, action figures, and all sorts of other Marvel goodies. The excitement in the line is palpable, people are laughing and smiling and simply giddy.
My VIP pass allows me to get one free signature, and I’m in a quandary. I have my The Defenders #1 comic and my Doctor Strange #169, which is his origin story. I’m not sure which one I want to get signed. The line moves quickly. Within ten minutes I’m next. And I cannot stop grinning. I hand in my voucher for a signature and make my decision: Dr. Strange it is.
“Hi.” Pause. “Ah, Doctor Strange. This is a good one.”
And with that he signs my comic book, and I am shuffled off to the side, where a man from CGC, the comic book grading company says, “Blow on that signature to make sure it dries before you put it back in the sleeve.”
I get in the CGC line. I’m second. I’m waved up to the table by an affable young African-American man in his early thirties. “How are you today?”
“I’m fantastic. I’d like to get this graded,” I say, handing him my comic. “I’m not sure if I made the right decision. It was this or The Defenders #1.”
“You definitely made the right choice, especially with the movie coming out. With Stan’s signature, this comic just went up in value probably about $200. I can’t give you a definitive value on the whole thing until it is actually graded.”
“Ok. Let’s do this. I have the cash on me.”
“If you are paying in cash, you get a discount. Instead of $120, it’s an even $100.”
As I hand over the cash and the comic, he begins filling out a receipt with all the information about my comic on it. After he hands it to me, I watch with trepidation, as my comic slides into a box with a stack of others to be graded. Dear God, don’t lose it, I think to myself as I walk away.
It’s almost 1 p.m. Now to relax and plan the rest of my day, but I really need a cup of coffee. One thing I always forget, and I’m always dismayed about, is that Red Roof Inns do not have coffee in their hotel rooms. Sure, hotel room coffee tastes like you’re licking an Appalachian mudslide, but it’s better than nothing. And to know me is to know that I don’t function very well without a cup of coffee. I guess I was stimulated to see Stan.
Heading down the vast hallway of the Exposition Center, I notice that it is relatively empty compared to other similarly sized fan conventions. It’s definitively smaller and quieter than Kansas City’s PlanetCon and Nashville’s ComicCon. The coffee is $4. It tastes like crap. I sit at a table in the food court and weigh my options as I look over the schedule.
Time: 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Stan Lee Q&A – Panel Room B (C104/105).
Not missing that one. Given the limited food options, I decide to grab a hamburger and fries. I gobble them down and head back into the fray. I peruse the artist tables. I’m not impressed. Most of these are substandard and seem like knock-offs. (This will eventually be confirmed a few weeks later in a conversation with Andrew Dunn, who knows an artist who was there, and has vowed never to go back due to the shenanigans of people copying other artists’ work, but claiming it as their own.)
I peruse the comic book vendors looking the few original run Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics that I am still missing. I also look for some Dr. Strange comics that I need. Neither of my searches turns up anything. I do, however, find some spectacular Dr. Strange tee-shirts.
The line for Stan Lee’s Q&A session is a cluster. In fact, you cannot call it a line. It’s simply a mass of people surrounding the doorway. “Ok people! VIP people line up over here, and non-VIP people line up against the far wall.” I find myself about twenty people back from the front of the VIP line. This is good. When they open the doors to let us in, I strategically place myself three rows back, in front of the microphone on the table on the podium.
“Stan has asked that no pictures be taken during the session,” someone announces. Well shit. I have my good camera that also takes video. I picked this spot so I could get both. “I paid extra for this seat, I better be able to get some pictures,” the woman next to me gripes. We wait. The announcer makes a bunch of very lame jokes, as the non-VIP people start coming in. I can barely catch snippets of conversation amongst the din.
Another announcement. “Stan has decided to allow you to take as many pictures as you want.” He then arrives to an explosive standing ovation. He mounts the stage and gets right into answering audience questions. I take pictures and video, and I cannot stop laughing. I had no idea Stan Lee was funny. Hell, he’s not just funny; he’s hilarious! And then, seemingly faster than time is allowed to pass, the hour and a half is over. Another standing ovation.
Now it’s “get a picture with Stan” time. There is a lot of confusion in the line to get a photograph. VIP members also got a voucher for a free photo with Stan. However, there is a dilemma. Those white vouchers are useless. They are to be traded in for a black ticket from the photography company. This goes unexplained, although I happened to be mulling around and watched as someone else traded theirs in. I get in line.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a woman announces through a megaphone from the front of the line. “If you are in this line and do not have a black ticket for a photograph, you will not get a photograph. You need to go to the table just outside the line, and get a black ticket.” There is full-blown confusion on many faces.
“If you have a black ticket, raise it in the air.” About three-quarters of the crowd comply. “Ok. Good.”
“If you have a white voucher, raise it up in the air.” The last twenty-five percent of the crowd does so. “That is not a ticket for a photograph. That is the voucher you need to get your ticket for a photograph. If you have a white voucher, please head to the table to trade that in for an actual ticket.”
Chaos ensues. People are cussing. They are really pissed off as they start running over to the table to get their black tickets. “This is ridiculous.” “What the fuck?!” They have lost their place in line.
“They guy next to me in a Superman tee-shit comments, “They really did not explain that very well.”
“I know, I found out by accident,” I say nodding.
As the line shrinks, I’m now a lot closer. Hurray for me!
“You are not allowed to bring anything into the photography room. When you go through the back curtain, you must place all your belongings – bags, hats, phones, purses, and any other items – on the table as you enter.” Garbled questions from the crowd. “Yes, you can keep your wallets and your glasses. No you cannot touch or hug Mr. Lee. You will be escorted out immediately and not allowed back into the convention.” These announcements are repeated several times.
Then the line starts moving. I throw my bad of swag and my Dr. Strange hat on the table. I’m whisked into position to the right of Stan Lee. I’m an exuberant excited wreck.
“Hi Mr. Lee. I just want to say thanks for everything.”
“Mr. Lee? That’s my father,” he jokes. There’s a flash, and then it’s over.
I gather my belongings off the table, head out the back, and grab my photograph of Stan and me.
Coming up next on ProfsDoPop… accidentally meeting the boy bands.