Sandusky, OH, USA. June 3th-6th, 2010.
Photographers(s): Amanda Hull
There’s a certain level of expectation that arises from attending a convention that is self-titled as “colossal”: impressive events, engaging panels, astounding cosplay, big-name guests, and a venue to match. This being my first time to both Colossalcon and the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio where the con took place, I was expecting something on par with the size of Ohayocon, in both physical con space and attendance numbers. Colossalcon 9 hit around 3,600 attendees this year, not counting the 400-odd dealers, con staff, etc.; comparatively, this is less than half of Ohayocon 2010’s 10,000 registered attendees. Therefore, Colossalcon 9 was not quite what I expected, but this is only because I didn’t know what to expect; the experience I actually got was exceedingly satisfactory, and wonderfully unique.
Kalahari Resort is surprisingly compact and self-contained as far as activities and attractions are concerned. By taking place at Kalahari, Colossalcon presents the unique opportunity for attendees to have a real vacation and a con experience at the same time. Besides the indoor water park, Kalahari offers dining options, spa services, an arcade and putt-putt golf course, and outdoor activities such as a ropes course and zipline. The only downside to these amenities is the price tag. Aside from the complimentary water park passes that come with each Kalahari room, most activities in Kalahari require an extra fee, even if most are relatively small. Anyone who comes to Kalahari Resort for vacation should expect to spend money, though it is possible to get away cheap if you trade on-site food for eating out or stashing groceries in the hotel room’s mini-fridge. Staying in Kalahari’s hotel rooms is a bit pricier than getting a room in one of the many other hotels in town, but it’s much closer, parking is free, and the mattresses and bed sheets are so soft, it’s like sleeping on clouds after a full day at the con.
One of the most important aspects of a con is its venue. Kalahari’s convention center is basically a giant loop, so it was difficult to get lost. The only real issue I had with the Kalahari convention center was its lighting, which was slightly dim and sometimes made getting a good picture tricky. I was surprised to find out that there were around 3,600 people present that weekend, as it felt like both more and less. More, because of the constant level of energetic activity in the halls, and less, because the atmosphere was that of a con small enough to manage a high number of diverse events without being overwhelmed to the point of chaos. High-profile voice actors such as Vic Mignogna, Aaron Dismuke, Wendy Powell, and Chris Cason were present, yet the panels with them were small enough to be fun, friendly, and intimate. The con attendees overall were excitable without being rowdy, making it easy to talk to people and make friends.
As I have volunteered at cons before, I pay a lot of attention to how they are run, and I felt that the Colossalcon staff performed very well. Their organization was impressive; not only were there big, colorful banners labeling each room as Panel 1, Media 2, Main 3, etc., Colossalcon’s entire weekend event schedule (Thursday to Sunday) was all printed on a single, double-sided piece of regular printer paper, with a small and easy-to-read map of the convention center in the upper left corner. The panels and events themselves were always in the rooms advertised on the map. There were a few panels that weren’t very well run, and I heard of one or two where the panelists didn’t come at all. However, weighed against the number of good event and panel experiences I had over the course of the four days, this didn’t at all discourage my opinion of the success of Colossalcon.
Two areas of a convention that almost every attendee is sure to drop by are the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley. The Dealer’s Room wasn’t large in size, but it was packed, and the vendors had a strategically wide variety of merchandise; steam punk and cyberpunk accessories, anime merchandise and gear, swords and weaponry, Japanese pop-culture CDs and books, cosplay wigs, t-shirts, manga, doujinshi, and DVDs. Artist Alley didn’t have anything quite as eye-popping as some of the Dealers’ displays, but the artists there had a nice selection of prints, stickers, buttons, key chains, and other paraphernalia to choose from. The artists’ tables were located in the hallway around the Dealer’s Room, so no matter which door you took to leave the Dealer’s Room, you ran into the Alley. This allowed the Artist Alley to be a separate entity from the Dealer’s Room, but not cut off from the purchasing power of con attendees while they were still in “buy stuff” mode.
I was amazed at the quality and diversity of the cosplays and other fashions present at Colossalcon. The costumes represented a plethora of shows and anime, from big new favorites to old classics. More importantly, even the people who weren’t in cosplay were usually dressed up in some way, with t-shirts, jewelry, anthro accessories (tails were very popular), even traditional Japanese dress, adding to the con’s atmosphere as being a safe place for self-expression. Those who attended Colossalcon’s Formal Ball on Friday night showed just as wide a range of “formal” dress: everything from prom dresses to yukatas to cosplay gowns to maid and Lolita skirts. At both of the Dances of Awesome, aka the con raves (one on Friday, one on Saturday), there was an explosion of rave attire to compliment the heavy beat of the music and the high-energy movement of the lights.
There were also two major occurrences that bear mentioning, if only because they have quickly gone down in infamy among Colossalcon 9’s attendees. The first of these events was the fire alarm being pulled on Saturday night, emptying the entire convention center. This incident was one-upped by the 4am shuffling of the entire population of the Kalahari Resort into the Kalahari basement in response to a tornado warning in the area. Colossalcon attendees have dubbed the weekend “Disastercon” or “Tornadocon” for these reasons. Neither incident ended in real disaster nor injuries, though the memories of them have made for a kind of solidarity among Colossalcon 9 attendees.
“Disasters” aside, Colossalcon comes highly recommended. Like Kalahari itself, it takes a small space and does a lot with it, and does so very well. Being four days long allows Colossalcon to have two big days, Friday and Saturday, so there’s no rush to get everything in on the first or second day; it really is a total-package vacation. Whether you come to Colossalcon just for the con or for the unique attractions available at Kalahari as well, you’re guaranteed an experience that will make however long you drove to get there well worth the trip.