Ian Melton is going to Rose City Comic Con this coming weekend for Bleeding Cool. But before the Portland show kicks off, he talked to the show’s organiser, Ron Brister.
Bleeding Cool: So starting off, good morning, Ron. Rose City Comic Con is again happening the weekend after Labor Day weekend in Portland, Oregon. In its seventh year, what keeps you excited about the convention and wanting to keep going?
Ron Brister: Good question, after seven years or so, I try to find something fresh every year to keep everyone engaged. Besides my competitiveness and wanting to see growth, I also want our attendee experience to be super memorable. This year I am most excited by three things. Anime Bashi, Play Fair PDX, and Lucasflim.
Bashi is our expansion into more Anime- and Manga-focused elements of pop culture. Bandai is coming to the event as one of their few stops in the US to promote the new Dragon Ball Z film. They will have an 80 x 90 activation on the show floor — the biggest we’ve ever had.
Play Fair PDX is the expansion of our kids’ area from 12,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet; lots of fun things for kids and families to do. Character meet-and-greets, live programming, music, and activities. Lastly, Lucasfilm is coming out to display a much of screen-used props and costumes at the event — it should be a really nice walkthrough exhibit for Star Wars fans.
Those things, to me, keep me excited and feeling fresh.
BC: That makes total sense that change and new challenges are keeping you excited.
BC: Comic book wise, RCCC has a unique position of being in Portland, Oregon, which is home to so many comic book creators, and five comic book companies: Dark Horse, Oni Press, CBDLF, IDW, and Image. It is an embarrassment of riches in terms of whom you can invite or who want to be there in terms of creators?
RB: Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, I feel there is fatigue in the Portland market. It’s great having everyone here, but a lot of creators are asked to do a ton of shows in the Pacific Northwest, and as a result I think some are starting to feel stretched thin. As a result, we try to make sure we are bringing a lot of outside talent and publishers from outside the market as well.
Again, trying to keep it fresh. This year, DC has a nice presence at the event with a heavy focus on the Bendis imprint, Jinxworld. And of course BOOM! will be here too. Dark Horse has been a great supporter of RCCC since year one and we love them. Oni also — huge supports since our early days, and of course having Image in town now is wonderful. So, yes, we are very, very lucky and appreciative to all of the local talent and publishers. This year we have some really top talent coming in from outside of the area. Starlin, Bagley, Mack, Houser, Staggs, Cook, Hughes, so many. It’s really exciting. And lastly, the amazing local line up. Rucka, DeConnick, Fraction, Bendis, Parker — all huge supporters that will always have a place at the event.
Obviously, I always wish we could give everyone a spot and this year, unfortunately, we had to turn down a lot of pros only because the demand was so high. That’s the only thing every year I wish I could change: having unlimited space for everyone.
BC: Since we last spoke Image has moved into Portland — has this affected RCCC in any big way at all?
RB: No, not really. We have a great relationship with them and are obviously huge fans. It was meeting Todd [McFarlane] in the early days of Image (met him in Oregon City of all places) that got me back into comics. Last year Image had a big set-up for their 25th anniversary and hosted a homecoming dance as a sort of coming out event in the area. This year they shifted the focus back to content, which I love, by hosting more panels. We are happy to work with Image in any way, and they have been a great partner since moving to PDX and before that as well.
BC: Well let’s talk what you are really excited about the fact that RCCC is now not just one convention, but three conventions in an odd way… or is it four? First off, what the *&$# Anime Bashi? In your own words…
RB: HAHA, Bashi means bridge in Japanese. We felt like that was a good name for the event to bridge the pop cultures between comics and anime/manga. Plus, Bridge City is another nickname of Portland. We’ll have one of the stops of DBZ, Anime vendors, games, and of course and TON of programming. By the way, our head of Anime, Peter Tatara, for RCCC is also the guy who runs Anime NYC. Peter is so well respected in the Anime industry and such a great person to be heading up our content for Bashi. I think his passion for Anime will be really evident at RCCC. He has a number of Anime-related guests and one who has never been to the US before, Yuriko Yamaguchi. There will be a number of other announcements soon about Bashi including additional guests.
BC: What brought up the idea of multiple conventions in one convention?
RB: It really happened kind of organically. We did it on a small scale last year with Future Con and found through the surreys that people really enjoyed having a diverse amount if things to do. And yes, we are trying to ensure that we continue to attract new people to our event. In order to do that we need to make sure that we appeal to all kinds of fandoms while keeping our integrity related to our core values: comics. So, having these pavilions offers the diversity, but we are still 100% a comics-focused event. 400+ tables in artist all and 100 of those being creators.
The other thing is I want to make sure that people feel like they got a ton of value for the money. Also, I want the event to be sticky. Meaning, we can attract attendees even before we announce guests because they trust us to put on a really good event that is super valuable to them in terms of their money and time.
BC: Well that’s at least a smart business model if nothing else, getting attention just from existing in the first place.
RB: We could go the other route and chase the really big-name stars, but we’ll leave that up to other conventions and focus on value and experience!
BC: And how does the Lucasfilm elements you mentioned earlier factor in? Separate convention space or a part of RCCC?
RB: These days we have all of the Oregon Convention Center. So, Lucasfilm will set up a museum a large portion of our meeting rooms with costumes used in the latest Disney/Lucasfilm movies. I expect we will see costumes from Solo and The Last Jedi. There is no additional charge for our attendees; their badge will allow them to walk through the museum and experience the exhibit.
BC: How did the Lucasfilm involvement come about?
RB: We have a person on our team who is a major Star Wars fan and had work previously for a company that ran Star Wars Celebration. As a result, she has great connections into Lucasfilm, reached out and started a dialogue with them. They have been an absolute pleasure to work with. I wish I could tell you exactly what their bringing, but we’re still working out all the props and costumers. They will be in production at the time of RCCC, but we have Joonas [Suotamo] (Chewie) at the show this year, and since he’ll be here I bet the costume will be too.
BC: Very nice. Let’s talk about the third “convention”, Playfair, which is also happening as part of the RCCC fun. What is that?
RB: It is a partnership with the Toy Associate that runs Toy Fair in NYC each year. Play Fair is a NYC-based consumer event, much like a comic con but for families. Play Fair is a focused event where brands can come out [and] interact and play test with families and children, so it’s a great way for the brands to connect with their customers. In the past our surveys for the Kids Area at RCCC were off the charts in respect to how much families loved it, so we thought, how can we provide an even better experience? That’s where Play Fair came in. We thought, let’s take the Play Fair brand on the road to RCCC, and it will allow brands to interact with families in the NW and provide an experience for the families that we couldn’t do on our own. So it’s now a 30,000-square-feet area that is dedicated to kids and families. Those, after all, are our adult attendees of the future. So their memories and experiences at RCCC, I would argue, are very important for this business to sustain over the decades. Plus, I have kids that were young when I started RCCC. We always complained to ourselves that conventions never had anything for kids, and it was a shame. So, we really focused on that as something that made us stand apart from other shows. We think Play Fair and the expansion of this is the next evolution in that.
BC: With Playfair attached, will there still be a kid’s area in RCCC?
RB: Oh yea, that is 100% what Play Fair is. It is what we’ve had in the past but expanded by a factor of 3. We’ll have Peppa Pig, PJ Masks, and a bunch of DreamWorks Characters for them to meet and take photos with. But in a lot of ways it is the same, just way bigger with much more to do. Still will have face painter, balloon people, Lego play area, and of course our Kids stage and costume parade.
BC: So Playfair will augment, but you’ll still have the kids’ area in the RCCC area like before?
RB: Play Fair is the kids’ area. Is it part of the show floor just like in years past? To be specific, it is the kids’ area, just rebranded and expanded.
BC: Gotcha. Keeping the old and adding a whole lot of new.
RB: Still on the show floor; nothing additional needed to enjoy the area.
BC: Now currently there is a very divided fanbase for comics and genre interests in America over certain issues and interests. Comicsgate; Harassment; Cosplay/Consent; Gender-neutral toilets; Trump and politics… so many hot-buttons right now, and the current political protests just recently in Portland like something out of Scarlet… what stance is RCCC taking going into September? What is the plan to keep con-goers safe?
RB: I’m glad you asked that. First and foremost, Rose City Comic Con is a safe place. We hire Portland Police to work the event. We have both uniformed and private security, and we run every single attendee through a bag check and screening. We do it quickly, but we do everything we can to ensure safety. We even fly dog and dog handlers in from around the country that are on constant patrol in and outside of the convention center.
The bottom line: a convention is a place to forget about troubles, not start them. Anyone there to harass, hurt, or offend we be ejected from the event. No question.
People can have different views on politics, I don’t care. Just leave it at home that weekend and let’s just have fun.
BC: Overall personally, even in the current landscape, I would still say most fandom is very inclusive. Do you hope for maybe some of that inclusiveness to spread out from the convention?
RB: I would agree. It’s still very inclusive — I don’t really see that changing. It’s a tough time for a lot of people given the current far right and far left cultures. Making it hard for some people to realize that, for the most part, people are good and want the same things.
I hope that people who come to the event can come open minded, meet new people, venture outside their comfort zones, and develop friendships. By doing so, perhaps tolerances will expand and we can all be just a little be more civil to one another.
But, if people can come and just take a break from all of it, I consider that a win as well.
BC: Good points, but the main RCCC stance is “safety for all” no matter what is going on outside?
RB: How do you mean, sorry? Are we saying someone with a swastika is safe and protected at RCCC, no. They would be asked to leave immediately.
BC: No not what I meant, but good to know…
RB: Haha, okay.
BC: Though does that mean some cosplay is… prohibited?
RB: Absolutely. Reminders of unspeakable horrors won’t be tolerated
BC: I meant that as you said the main RCCC stance is that personal politics are not the convention’s concern. It seems the main area RCCC is taking a stand is making sure RCCC is safe for its patrons.
RB: Yeah, safety is our concern and making sure our attendees feel safe while doing so. We ask that everyone treat everyone with respect. Ask to take pictures of cosplayers. Do not touch or hug someone without consent. Do not cat call or whistle at someone. Do not use vulgar language, etc. Just basic decent behavior, I think. Anyone who feels like they are harassed in any way should feel comfortable letting any staff member know and we’ll address their concerns right away.
We’ve never really had an incident, and I don’t expect that will be different this year. By in large, this community is super supportive and respectful of one another. That’s one of the things I love most about the show and the fans! People are there to have fun and celebrate all the geeky, nerdy stuff that we love!
BC: Agreed and great to hear. Let’s talk more fun elements before I let you go.
RB: Great, I like those topics.
BC: Any show merchandise or exclusives you guys are planning or excited for?
RB: YES! We will have two Rick and Morty comics that are RCCC exclusive. Done by the talented Kyle Starks! One limited to 1000 units and the other, a sketch cover, limed to 250 units.
We’ll also have four convention-exclusive DC comics. I can’t give away the details on those just yet.
And what I’m looking forward to the most: Karate Kid cast! And on Friday night you can go to their panel and then right afterwards we’ll have a free screening of the movie for attendees.
One other thing that I think is really great is we are really expanding our gaming hours this year. You want to play in a MTG tourney, we have it. You want to dungeon crawl for 12 hours, of course you do, you want to play retro games in an arcade, we got it. Gaming will be running outside the show floor this year, and we’ll have a gaming-only badge for those that are there just for that experience. Of course your standard RCCC badge will get you into everything.
BC: Well following that up what will you be up to as the show is going on?
RB: Once the show starts I spend a lot of time in Artist Alley thanking all our guests and supporters for coming out. I then spend the rest of the event being critical of myself and taking notes on improvements for the following year. Sunday I host a wrap-up event for all of our staff as a thank-you. Monday after, I sleep. And lastly, the Tuesday after I start booking guests for 2019.
BC: Take us inside that process for a minute… how do you personally do the “booking” portion? Fans show up for conventions, but really I can’t say anyone ever offers insight into who gets asked or why.
RB: I make a giant list of guests (both comic and celeb) and try to take a look at who has been in the NW recently and start working into creative teams and shows or movies. I wish there was a magic formula, but there isn’t. It’s lots of phone calls, emails, follow-ups, and maybes. Over the course of nine months those turn into commitments, introductions to other creators and agents, and we start to have something cohesive.
Some is happenstance, some is planned and strategic, but it is often organic and based on relationships.
Luckily the event seems to be a place people want to be and that makes it much easier to attract creators and media guests. Plus, Portland in September — who doesn’t want to be here? It’s AWESOME.
BC: I’ve heard that a lot on the con floor that people want to be there, creators and fans.
RB: That’s great, I really consider myself lucky to have such great people working with me that make it a place and event that so many have a desire to be at.
I think I’m also most excited to dig through a few long boxes and see if I can find a fair copy of Superboy 68.
I collect Bizarro stuff and I need that one next. I have a Bizarro commission from each of the events I run. Just one to commemorate the year. I think it’s an interesting character for creators to draw. Everyone’s version is so different.
BC: Two last questions for you. When will the fans know “this is the show lineup”?
RB: August 14th we finalized, so the lineup is set now.
BC: Nice. And finally, any final thoughts or things you want to hit that we didn’t cover?
RB: Hmm… I would just say thank you to all the fans, creators, and publishers for believing and supporting RCCC year over year. We do honestly put on this event with our community in mind. We love what we do, and we hope it’s evident in what we have planned for everyone this year. So thank you as always for trusting and supporting Rose City Comic Con.
BC: It does show. Thank you again for your time.
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