Sunday, January 28, 2007
AFF XXI -the final curtain
This was the program book cover for the last AFF. Note the SF/fantasy characters on the cover- nobody even remotely connected with these properties was at AFF that year. A nitpick, but one indicative of the total cluelessness infecting the higher-ups at the convention in its last few years. The convention had some high-profile media guests- Claudia Christian from the popular SF series Babylon 5, two A-Team cast members - but you wouldn't know it from this program book cover. On the other hand, in the Dirk Benedict bio one learns that a macrobiotic diet saved him from prostate cancer in 1975.
The Castlegate was in fine form this year; the convention was allowed the use of the former nightclub as a consuite, which became the most entertaining part of the show. We shot darts at each other in the halls, abused the Vampire players (one player, outraged that we would poke Vampires with sticks and proclaim them "dead", said that he expected us to treat them with a "modicum of decency". One con staffer got into a bar fight with cowboys, starting the brawl with a beer bottle to the head. (He later said, "He knew I was going to fight, and I knew he was going to fight, and I knew it would wind up with a beer bottle to the head, so I just got it over with").
I was in charge of the anime room and we showed Porco Rosso, Ah My Goddess, Streetfighter II, Giant Robo, Macross Plus, Prefectural High School Earth Defense Force (as we were calling it in those days), Urusei Yatsura, Akira, Rose Of Versailles, and Future Boy Conan, among other titles. I even ran an Anime Hell, though I couldn't tell you what I showed. Other events? Hollywood movies like The Flintstones, True Lies, Total Recall, and Rocky Horror (of course); episodes of genre TV like Wizards & Warriors, Logan's Run, Friday The 13th, The Night Stalker, and The Flash; and panels like "Q&A: Comics Guests" and "Panel: Fantastic Art", and cookie-cutter every-con-has-one stuff like "opening ceremonies" and "costume contest."
And yeah, that was it. So if you paid $35 for this convention you would feel completely ripped off. We didn't feel too great about it and we got in free. It was obvious to most of the staff that the convention was having a real problem getting guests of any stature - nobody busts down your doors to see B-movie legends, regardless of what the fans tell themselves - and while we had a lot of suggestions for events that might not require airfare from Hollywood, they were always shot down in favor of yet another scream queen or pro wrestler.
The fandom was becoming younger and more interested in things like computer and video gaming, live-action RPGs and Magic, and of course the Japanese cartoons. AFF reacted to this new surge of interest by ignoring it completely; they allowed people to play the games, but they did not capitalize on it in the slightest.
Another problem was that the AFF had generated massive amounts of bad publicity because of the bad blood between it and Dragoncon. Right, wrong, whatever; the practical matter is that people don't want to go to a convention percieved as shrill, self-serving, petty, politicky, and jealous. AFF was percieved as all those things. Having public tantrums in the halls of your own conventions, scheduling AFF a week away from Dragoncon, engaging in vocal smear campaigns - all that stuff keeps people away from your door. (re: MOC)
So we'd been keeping our eyes open when we started AWA, and we managed to avoid most of the pitfalls - we had a raft of cheap, involving activities for everybody, we kept a tight rein on our budget, and we never relied on guests to sell tickets, Plus we never feuded with other conventions in public. Will AWA last 21 shows? Who can say? All I know is that AWA will never have Darth Vader, Spock, or The Crow decorating its program book, and that's good enough for me.
Atlanta Fantasy Fair would not return. The owners divorced, and while one party wanted nothing to do with conventions, the other party wanted to keep going, yet at the same time deny the first party any convention money that would have to be paid if the name "Atlanta Fantasy Fair" was used. So the next year saw an exciting new convention, "Starcon And Comics". Comic book artists, B-level celebrities, and - this will really get people in the door - an Elvis impersonator. Scheduled on the same weekend as AWA 2 in November 1996, it became a living example of the Old And Busted being destroyed by the New Hotness. You know, guys, a damn phone call is all it would have taken to get us to change our dates, we would have worked with you guys, we had a lot of sympathy and goodwill. But nooooo, you had to act like big shots. I sure hope you felt like big shots watching the dealers pack up on Saturday afternoon.