For 50 years, comic conventions around the globe were on a steady path, using a consistent formula to bring pop culture to life. Inviting fans to live out their fantasies and indulge in their fandom beyond the page and screen, it seemed as if nothing could slow down the process.
It took half a century to build an empire and only three months to bring it to its knees. Although COVID-19 has presented a variety of different obstacles including the forced cancellation of physical events, comic conventions have taken to the challenge.
Over the weekend, Wales Comic Con joined forces with familiar faces to host a series of panels in support of the NHS, whilst the ReedPOP team in North America was preparing their virtual Star Wars Celebration for May the 4th and 5th. Though these are just two examples from a list of a thousand initiatives, many events are continuing to bring something to their fans in a time of crisis. Which brings us to New Zealand…
Armageddon Expo was gearing up for another solid year of entertainment, but due to the strange nature of 2020, made the decision to postpone their events and have an honest conversation with their attendees. Remaining the only event in Australasia to pursue a virtual presence, Armageddon Expo is a beacon of hope for the future of comic conventions around the globe. Kapow spoke with Armageddon’s Event Director William Geradts about the impact of COVID-19 and the decisions they made as a result.
As a quick summary, how has COVID-19 affected your convention and plans for 2020?
At this stage, we would be already be running a show and would be well under way for the next two. We were meant to be doing shows during April and June, so we have had to do a bit of a shuffle around. Technically we could do the shows in June, however we were fairly confident that we wouldn’t.
It’s tough, but we had to look at the reality. I can’t speak for Australia, but I cannot see international flights taking place to New Zealand for at least the next year. As a result of that, we have taken a different route and explored a number of new approaches that I think will make the show different. I don’t know if ‘better’ would be the word to use in this instance, but it certainly opens up a range of new opportunities that we haven’t been able to do before.
We are doing virtual guest panels, so it means we don’t have celebrity photos or autographs. Some of the international conventions are doing virtual meet and greets and remote autographs, but I just didn’t think that would work. By doing the panels, it opens up a lot of opportunities for media guests that we might not normally be able to get because either their fees were too high for a whole weekend or they wouldn’t be available due to filming.
For October, I am in conversation with a couple of the actors from The Flash, which would never be possible for that time because they would usually be filming, but we have found ways to work in with their schedule.
So it’s a big change in comparison to what we have done before and it requires a lot of tech, which is a necessity especially for what is happening in the world.
I think New Zealand and Australia are going to be quarantined off and until there is a vaccine there is no chance of us having open borders. New Zealand has a strong chance of eliminating this virus completely, a majority of the cases originated from international travel, so we will be very cautious about who we are letting into the country.
America is suffering the worst and that means that we are unable to fly anyone from the states to New Zealand. That goes for music acts, actors, everyone. But there are now opportunities that were non-existent beforehand including some of the comic creators who we have been unable to get to the show in the past because they didn’t have the time. The future of our event in New Zealand is going to be a hodgepodge. Half of our guests will be appearing virtually and the other half will be here physically. Does that mean you will focus more on local talent?
Not really, we already support local talent as much as we can. But in terms of massive deals, people don’t come to the shows to meet local talent. Don’t get me wrong, some people do, but on bulk people come to the show for the show itself, the celebrity aspect is only a part of it.
Some people are saying “I know you had all these mega stars last year, but would you invite all these guys from Shortland Street to come this year”. You wouldn’t achieve anywhere near the same result and its also turning to something that looks like an act of desperation.
I’ve generally done a lot to support the local talent scene, but I remain cautious about the prominence that they have at the show, because there is a level of return in terms of attendance and public interest – it’s just not there for local stuff. That doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing and they’re not great at what they do, it’s just a reality.
Think of it this way, if you have a local band and then you have The Rolling Stones, you will be more inclined to see The Rolling Stones way before you’ll want to see the local band. You’ve been doing some incredible stuff on Facebook with some of the guests, what made you want to continue doing that?
Honestly, it was just something to do. We are still working away, but there is a limit to how much we can do. It was a way to keep us busy, but also test the virtual panel idea that we have been looking at. We are the only company of our type in New Zealand, but I was quite surprised that other conventions haven’t taken the opportunity to do the same, it seems like they just put their head in the sand and hibernated. We have been doing all of this remotely for the last six weeks, and I’m glad we actually went through with it, because we have seen some really good engagement and it’s been completely free on our end.
What has the engagement been like?
For organic reach it’s been about 900,000 people. Other statistics indicate 153,000 minutes viewed. Auckland, Melbourne and Wellington were our top cities. 2/3 of our audience have been female. Half a million impressions on Twitter.
The response has been very good. We have a couple more panels during the week, but we are beginning to slow them down now as we hope most people will be back to work within the next month. With less people trapped at home, there will be less people watching. So we will be switching to promoting our physical events for July.
And how have the guests responded to the virtual convention?
Oh they’ve been great, they have donated their time and that’s the best thing we could ask for. A lot of the actors are also trapped at home and physically can’t do a lot either, so they have been quite happy to be involved.
And moving forward?
We will continue to have virtual panels at the physical shows, so the last few weeks have been a great test to see how it works. Armageddon has announced new dates:
Christchurch: July 18 -19 Tauranga: July 25 – 26
Wellington: August 1 -2 Auckland: October 23 – 26
Check out Armageddon's Virtual Guests visit their Facebook page