Three representatives from Stack Exchange (Abby, Katey and myself (Brett)) traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina this past weekend to participate in HeroesCon. HeroesCon has a reputation for being one of the friendliest and most fun comic conventions in the United States. We were pleased to find out that the reputation was an understatement! The creators in attendance were all super psyched to be there and the floor was gently packed with enthusiastic and outgoing fans of all ages and fandoms. Even Saturday, usually the biggest day of any convention, managed to feel vibrant, crowded and alive without approaching the mosh-pit levels of closeness that the bigger conventions lean towards.
Stack Exchange’s adventure in Charlotte began on the Thursday night before the convention with a SciFi.SE-sponsored pre-party held at local comics shop, Spandex City. This event saw the debut of the now-infamous Stack Exchange Spinning Wheel. How infamous is it? I’ll be getting to that in a bit, but if you went to HeroesCon, odds are you saw (and probably spun) the wheel. While some of the store’s regulars enjoyed some righteous barbecue (from Charlotte’s own Lancaster’s BBQ), the Stack crew asked people questions from our site about their favorite science fiction and fantasy franchises. Game of Thrones? Harry Potter? Legend of Korra? Batman? Questions about all of these and many more were asked that night and throughout the weekend. An answer (note that we did not say right answer) allowed the participant to spin the wheel and win a prize. There was a healthy assortment of SciFi.SE bags, shirts and stickers there for all the winners; some lucky people even won 3-day passes to HeroesCon and comics. Spandex City was super generous with their time and space and we were incredibly thankful for that. The pre-party event went over well thanks to Spandex City’s great environment. If you’re in the Charlotte area, do yourself a favor and check them out! You can watch a video about the event here.
The big event itself started on Friday and lasted until Sunday. We expected that our table, located at the far end of the convention center floor on the edge of the artists’ space, would get some foot traffic. We really expected to spend the entire weekend shooting video content for our YouTube channel (StackHQ) with one person left behind to work the spinning wheel. That…didn’t exactly happen. Little did we know, but people love spinning wheels. And I don’t mean a passive love, I mean an all-consuming and incredibly active love. The kind of love that leads to repeat visits and waiting in long lines. Because we had long lines. For the better part of two days.
HeroesCon was our test run into exhibiting at a convention, so we didn’t quite prepare for the massive crowds we received. We had to ration our t-shirts and bags so as to not run out on Friday, although by Sunday all the t-shirts were gone. The same was true for the stock of comics we brought to give out alongside our stickers. Three trips had to be made to the show floor to find more comics for the prize wheel. Thankfully that wasn’t a big problem, although getting receipts from vendors at a comic convention proved more entertaining than I could have predicted. We did learn a few things from working the wheel nonstop for two days:
- People love spinning wheels (this cannot be reiterated enough)
- Regardless of the answer given, the spinning wheel is a fun introduction to our site that leads to many smiles and much swag
- Give away most of the bags and shirts on Friday so that people will be using them all weekend long; by Sunday we became known as the “bag people” because of the high number of our bags on the show floor
- It takes 3 people to man the booth; 2 to ask questions and 1 to wrangle the wheel’s line
- People care way more about trivia than swag, although swag is super awesome too; people came back multiple times JUST to be asked more questions
- Ask kids softball questions and be super awesome to them; they have parents attached to them who will probably like the site if the site’s representatives make their kids happy
- We need some banners: one that clearly states that the table is a SciFi.SE jam, and another that features a call to action about the spinning wheel (“Can you answer our questions?!” or something)
Since we didn’t get a chance to leave the table for the first two days of the con, we decided to shut down the spinning wheel and make video content our main priority for Sunday. My main goal with HeroesCon was to create video content that could live on the internet forever and reach a wider audience due to having informative content with creators that people care about. The success of the spinning wheel got a bit in the way of that, and led us to learn a few facts about creating video content at a convention:
- Try to bring enough people to a convention so that 2-3 can work the table and another 2-3 can hit the floor to get video content. If only 2-3 people can go to a con, set up a spinning wheel schedule so that all 3 days are relatively equal parts table-sitting and video production.
- Schedule interviews ahead of time! I had gotten permission from a few comic creators before the con to interview them, but the fluidity of our agreed-upon time led us to spinning a wheel for two days straight. Approaching all your people on Sunday? Not the best idea.
- Don’t bank on Sunday. Creators are tired by the last day of the con!
- Joe Quinones & Maris Wicks: In this interview, we asked the interviewees what their favorite sci-fi or fantasy property was and then centered the interview around discussing that question.
- Question in Conference Room B with Dean Trippe: This is pretty much the same as what we did with Maris and Joe, except with all of the fun dressings of our web series. Plus the more conversational nature of QiCRB allows the conversation to go in different places. This isn’t just a question-answer interview, it’s a discussion.
- Kelly Sue DeConnick: This is the main type of interview I want to do. I want to find the writers and ask them questions about the work they have created. Kelly Sue DeConnick is about to take over writing Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel), so who better to ask the one Ms. Marvel question on the site? Stack Exchange prides itself on getting expert-level answers, and in sci-fi and fantasy it doesn’t get more expert than the writers themselves.
By the end of the show we made a lot of new friends, came up with a lot of ideas to improve our future con presence, gave a few hundred people hands-on, in-depth experience with SciFi.SE, and created internet content that can be shared and enjoyed until the internet cracks in half. It was a lot of fun! For more photos from HeroesCon, visit the SciFi.SE Facebook page, or keep an eye on our Flickr.
Thanks to Dean Trippe, The Nerdy Show and Flame On! podcasts, Scott C., Kelly Sue DeConnick, Joe Quinones, Maris Wicks, Spandex City, Whitney Cogar and HeroesCon for a great weekend. See you next year!