November 17 & 18th was the weekend for the Cosplay Con and Anime Experience in North Little Rock, AR. This convention didn’t have a stellar list of top-name celebrities, but it had a good line-up. Their headliner was Ciara Renee from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Other guests included Cig and George from SYFY’s Faceoff, Joshua Monroe from Cosplay Melee, and actor/voice actor Robert Axelrod.
Ticket prices weren’t bad for a new convention. The day of the con weekend passes were only $30, Friday passes were $15, and Saturday were $25.
This cosplay con and anime experience promised to be, “The ultimate community focused convention” and was marketed as “…a celebration of comic books and pop culture that showcases the exceptional works of talented Cosplayers, writers, artists, illustrators and creators of all types.”
Instead, this turned into a complete disaster that caused so much stress and anxiety for some that at least one person ended up in the hospital. There are so many things with this con, that I’m just going to give you a list of what I have heard so far and then I will expound on a few of them;
- Bad communication all around
- Guests weren’t paid
- Caterer wasn’t paid
- No break relief for vendors
- Vendors were not allowed food or drink at their booths
- Vendors were forced to accept ‘vendor bucks’ without compensation
- No Load-in information or map provided for Vendors
- Guests were kicked out of the hotel when the convention credit card was rejected
- Not all of the Costume contests occurred
- Owner avoided guests and wasn’t even seen in the vicinity of the convention for a large portion of the show
- Owner suspected to be operating with a false identity
- Continual schedule changes during the event
- Staff wasn’t paid
- Volunteers didn’t get fed
- VIP packages weren’t entirely as promised
Bad communication all around
This is the first area any convention falls apart and this is should be a warning sign, unfortunately it is also an area a lot of people make excuses for. Information on flights and hotels frequently weren’t provided until the last minute and it sounds like a few showed up to find that their hotels were not even booked.
It seems that communication has been a problem since the beginning. Most people have stated that their only contact before the convention was with Malcolm. Mr. Fledge seemed to have been accessible through a variety of media as some people only spoke with him over the phone, while others only dealt with him through Facebook, however it seems that he used only one form of communication with each person until forced into another. One person reported that they only talked with him over Facebook and Malcolm would not send email to them, everything including files were over Facebook. Another person told me that they only dealt with Malcolm over the phone, and it was with great hesitance that he sent any email.
It seems that very little information was actually being received by anyone until they pushed. Almost everyone received information at the last minute, even those flying seem to have only received their flight and hotels days before the event.
When guests arrived they weren’t given a schedule. Some ran off of the schedule on the website only to be told that they were wrong. Other guests worked with the volunteers to get things set to some sort of cohesive schedule.
The other major communication issue was at vendor setup. Vendors saw chaos when they arrived. I’m told that none of them saw a table map, so no one knew where they were supposed to setup. Vendors were told to just go where ever and setup. So not everyone got the table space they paid for and others got more table space. Then once things were settled and vendors were established. they started talking to each other and discovered that table pricing was ‘flexible,’ meaning that some people paid a LOT more money than others for the same tables.
Update 11/21 1:08PM CST – quote from comment below “[We were] special guests (last minute additions brought in by Malcolm…) and VIP Vendors. … We brought a truck with our 10×10 booth setup … direct to Malcom via PayPal…. The spot we was [sic] given was just a table space where we couldn’t set anything up, so we put cosplay prints and our print books out on the supplied table. ”
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST – Apparently the vendor area was set up and configured, however Malcolm (Aka Kenton Paul) changed things around on Friday night, without leaving a note or revised table plan. Malcomlm did not show up until late morning so volunteers and staff were forced to improvise the next morning to make some sense of it all and get the vendors into spots.
No one was paid
Some guests started to figure things out when they weren’t handed their Per Diem payments on arrival; in fact, the only guests that were paid by Malcolm were the ones that insisted on money upfront. I have heard rumors that Renee Ciara (Hawkgirl) did get some money, but that it was provided to her by a backer at the convention. Rumors conflict whether it was the money from the photo ops and autographs or paid from their own pocket. I have also been told that the same backer paid everything they were responsible to pay for.
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST – It has been confirmed that the financial backer did pay Renee Ciara out of his pocket
There was a VIP luncheon set up for guests, VIPs, and celebrities, it also sounds like vendors were invited. Very few people knew where this luncheon was. Even fewer people were able to attend it.
If a vendor wished to attend, they would need someone to cover their table and no one was provided for coverage. I’ve also heard that at least one person (a guest handler) was turned away from the luncheon because the person at the door didn’t know who was actually allowed to attend. Then to top it off the caterer for the event wasn’t paid.
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST – The luncheon was off-site, making it even more difficult for anyone to get to.
Vendors had multiple issues. Their problems started at load-in and I am sure many of them are still dealing with them. As stated earlier, there was no table layout for them. This meant that some vendors were absolutely thrilled with the space they got, others were extremely dissatisfied.
Vendors were not allowed to bring in outside food or drink. This was supposedly because of the rules of the Verizon Arena (not that I can find them on the website). This meant that vendors had to head over to a concession or totally leave the arena, however there were no volunteers that could sit at their booth while they were gone, or run to the concession for them. They had to rely upon their neighbors to watch their booth.
If the event had been profitable for the vendors, they might not have complained too much, but this appears to have been a losing proposition for all of them. To make matters worse, the convention was distributing ‘Vendor Bucks’ as prizes.
The vendors were expected to accept ‘Vendor Bucks’ from patrons, with the understanding that the convention would repay them. This obviously didn’t happen.
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST
- No food or drink is indeed part of the Verizon stadium agreement.
- At least one vendor did get compensated for the ‘Vendor Bucks’ however, that was only after they directly confronted Malcolm (aka Kenton Paul) on Saturday night.
Conventions guests ejected from the hotel
One of the big stories circulating around this convention is that the hotel rejected the credit card used by the con to secure rooms. This apparently resulted in several people being ejected from the hotel. I have not been able to confirm this rumor. Every guest I have spoken with, so far, has not had to pay for the rooms and I have not gotten a response from the hotel.
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST – Noone was kicked out of the hotel. The credit card was rejected and at least two guest cosplayers had to pay for their own room. I have also been told that another pair of cosplayers graciously covered someone elses room.
Not all the promised contests ran
In order to draw in more cosplayers, this convention claimed that they would be running nine costume contests in two days. I’m hearing complaints that not all of the contests ran. In fact, I only have confirmation of three so far and I have no idea who won them or if the winners were paid. What I have heard is that for one contest, volunteers pooled money in order to have a prize for the contest winner.
Nine contests is a LOT of costume contests and I am not surprised if they didn’t run them. Between the disorganization, the lack of money and the lack of attendees, I don’t see how they could have run all of the contests.
It seems that once the event was underway, he was a hard man to find and apparently didn’t even put in an appearance until halfway through the day. I was told by one guest that he seemed to be deliberately avoiding people as he was seen to turn the other direction when someone tried to approach him.
Somewhere along the way someone decided that Malcolm Fledge may not even be his real name and many vendors, guests and others are circulating a name and photo of a man they believe him to be. When he purchased T-Shirts the name on the credit card was Kenton Paul. I have not found verification that this is a true alias for Malcolm Fledge or if he was using someone else’s credit card,
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST
- It has been confirmed that Malcolm Fledge is an alias of Kenton Paul.
- It has been confirmed that Malcolm aka Kenton has previously resided in the Dallas area and it is believed that this is him
The attendees are few and far between. Most vendors and guests are saying there probably wasn’t more than 500 paying attendees the whole weekend. The VIPs were a little disappointed. The VIPs paid $100 and were promised:
- Full access to all areas of activities.
- Early entrance
- No waiting in pick-up or registration line.
- Autographed Poster with Pics of all the Special guests on it.
- Authorization to take selfies with all the Special guests & Guest Cosplayers
- Saturday dinner (4 – 5pm) with Special Guest(s) & The Cosplay Con staff.
- Event badge (lanyard) with your photo
- Event T-Shirt
- Event Tote bag
- Slim Cosplay Digital Watch
- Free Admission to the After Party
VIPs only got some of what they were promised in the goodie bags, and to top it off the crowds were so sparse that they didn’t feel like they were getting anything different than those who paid only a fraction. The two regular attendees I spoke with had a great time; the lack of crowds meant they got to do and see everything they wanted and the desperate vendors were more than willing to give them good deals on their purchases.
Update: One of the staff has the VIP T-shirts and is attempting to distribute them at her own cost.
Update 11/22 6:17AM CST – The promised “Slim Cosplay Digital Watch” was apparently out of China and Malcolm told one staff member that when they arrived they were not working. He also stated he planned to get all VIP addresses and mail them when working versions appeared.
Not Everything in this convention was bad
Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and this is another of those conventions where if you added things up, you could see a problem. In fact, many did see a problem and avoided the convention all together.
Despite all of the problems, this convention did have a bright spot. The volunteers and the staff were exceptional. Despite everything, the staff and volunteers hung in there. They helped the guests and vendors to the best of their abilities. I have not spoken with one person who was laying the blame for anything on anyone except Malcolm.
I have been given the names of a lot of people by vendors and guests who deserves kudos for keeping it all together and not all of these were volunteers or staff….(sorry if I spell the name incorrectly):
The cosplay was also spectactular.
PopCultHQ will continue to monitor events surrounding this convention and will provide updates as they come available, so keep an eye on us. If you have more information, please feel free to talk to us, drop us a line at [email protected].
Don’t let this convention spoil your view of all conventions, there are plenty of good ones. Be sure to check out PopCultHQ’s Convention List to see what’s coming to your area.