Allcon Interview - Jedi Cole
By David Doub
How did you get involved with All-Con and how has your work with All-Con evolved over the years?
In 2004 my wife Catherine and I opened A Piece of the Action Collectibles, a tiny weekend-only comic and collectibles shop in Arlington, TX. It was there that a friend of ours arrived to ask if we might be interested in being vendors at a brand-new convention in early 2005. All-Con. At the time a weekend at a convention would keep the shop afloat for months, so we were always happy to find a new venue. It was through this that we became a part of the show from the outset as their once sold-out dealer room began to lose vendors at such an alarming rate that two days before the show, we were one of only two who had not backed out.
The morning of the first day we discovered that APOTAC was the sole vendor! So, we pretty much imported the shop to the potentially vacant dealer room and became the All-Con Mini Store. As a thank you we were invited to purchase the same room in 2006 as a separate entity from the larger dealer room that year and we naturally accepted. It was while preparing for the new year that Catherine suggested "Geek Match Game", a game show sponsored by A Piece of the Action Collectibles that would be performed daily all three days of the show. We were able to tap some of the convention's celebrity guest pool for some shows and fleshed out the panel with friends and convention staffers. Thus began the presence of game shows at All-Con that evolved into a feature then a full-scale track.
2007 was the only year we were not in full attendance but did help out in advance and I co-hosted the first "Star Wars Fear Factor", maintaining my presence with All-Con in an abridged but uninterrupted run. That hiccup led to a determination to switch gears from vendor to content provider, expanding the volume of game shows annually from those produced by my own "Half-Ass Productions" to those produced by others. For the ensuing few years I pushed on a constant for these features to become their own track, be produced under a common group umbrella to ensure consistent quality, and ultimately to become a full-fledged department.
After many years of development and expansion of my role with All-Con the game show track would become consolidated as "Games and Theory" with myself as the self-titled Group Captain. Catherine's role also expanded as she became the Executive Producer and the game show team has increased to include nearly a dozen producers and more than twenty-five distinct show titles per year over the four days of the convention. We are both now fully vested staff members of All-Con.
Over the years (from the first) I have been tapped as a judge for the Costume Contest and Ms. Star Wars, hosted the opening ceremonies, and been a panel moderator for many of the celebrity guests of the show.
What are some of your favorite memories from All-Con?
A tough call that one. With fifteen years in a row to draw from, pinpointing just a handful of memories is tricky at best. Though I must say that having show guest Burton Gilliam ("Blazing Saddles") as my guest on the first talk show I ever produced ("Fandom at Random Live") does shine out in my All-Con memories. He was quite impressed that I had done my homework on his pre-acting careers in the Coast Guard, as a professional boxer, and ultimately as a fireman. That he brilliantly filled in the rest of his history from an unexpected role in "Paper Moon" to making Mel Brooks laugh out loud tor initially turning down the role of Lyle in the comedy western for lack of vacation time with the Dallas Fire Department, the experience was one I will carry with me for a lifetime.
Others certainly include the myriad times I have been a judge for the Costume Contest (as well as the first two years of Miss Star Wars), hosting Super-Hero Sunday as my own original character The Mighty Placeholder, Neil Caplan and Camden Toy paneling on Geek Match Game, and three years of successfully defending "JediCole's Prize Pile"
More recently I was asked last year to host an interactive panel with classic Battlestar Galactica actors Terry Carter, Herbert Jefferson, Jr., and Jack Stauffer - complete with original scripted scenes I had written myself.
How do you prep for all the work for All-Con?
While I tend to do my best work at the last minute, I do strive annually to get a little ahead of the game with All-Con. In many respects, work on each year begins on the heels of the conclusion of the current year's show. Many new programming ideas come from producing each year's slate of games shows, talk shows, and other events as well as from the inspiration of the ever-growing team of game show producers. With All-Con in March each year, the last couple of months of the year prove ideal for obtaining prizes and getting the creative juices flowing. Currently, as January draws to a close, I am already writing trivia for my own shows, my wife Catherine is diligently making sense of the complex four-day schedule of events, and meetings with the Games and Theory team have happened or are in the works for February.
All of that said, in the end it becomes a mad scramble in late February and early march to print up all of the questions for the various shows and affix them to game show cards, prep game boards and equipment, and box up prizes by show for ease of production when the big weekend arrives.
What do you think are the biggest strengths of All-Con?
True to the spirit of its name, All-Con strives to be an all-inclusive, community driven event. The programming is drawn from Content Provider applications on the show's website, allowing for incredible diversity of interests from the steampunk, anime, cosplay, sci-fi/fantasy, comic book, and gaming communities to name a few. The result is what I refer to often as a "convention with a dealer room attached" in light of the sheer volume of content available.
While many conventions catering to the communities represented by All-Con offer hourly programming, or in some cases two to three concurrent tracks of panels and workshops, throughout the course of the four-day weekend, the volume of content offerings have steadily grown over the years from around 100 to over 400 distinct events. Convention goers must effectively pick and choose from a vast array of choices in any given hour, well into the night. This was what conventions were like in my youth and I remain ever impressed that a long-lost aspect has returned and remained a part of the DFW convention scene since 2005.
With more and more conventions becoming more multi-media like All-Con, how do you see All-Con standing out in the future?
The inclusive nature of All-Con will remain ever its strength. By way of example, within the Games and Theory easily more than half of our current corral of producers are former audience members, in one case present at every single game show annually for years. The entire convention encourages participation beyond simply volunteerism and everyone attending benefits from the resulting diversity.
In my own personal experience, I have had offers to provide content to some multi-media shows flatly ignored despite a rather lengthy resume in the Texas convention community. This illustrates the significant difference between All-Con and most other shows that tend to dismiss the potential for new programming opportunities.
What are some other favorite conventions in the area?
Time constraints have kept me out of the attendee aspect of conventions in DFW in recent years, though I still try to get out to a few when I can. The North Texas Comic Book Show is a favorite for bringing back a comic show that lives up to its name. The guest-driven nature of so many conventions have created a dynamic of comic book shows in name only, favoring movie and television celebrities over those of their namesake.
As a toy collector for most of my life I do love that there are several tabletop shows in the area now that cater to that aspect of my con-going. Monthly shows like the Texas Comic & Toy show, DFW GI Joe and Action Figure Show, and the long-running North Dallas Toy Show are favorite haunts.
You coined the #Keepit100 based on the fact that Texas has more than 100 nerd conventions a year. How do you feel about this current trend?
Having watched the Texas convention scene blossom and flourish over the last decade, the 100 plus conventions that now grace the Lone Star State have the dichotomy of being a blessing and a curse. The volume of shows run the gamut from intimate events produced by public libraries or schools to massive media extravaganzas that promise the opportunity to "Meet <fill-in-the-blank-celebrity>!", resulting in Texas never lacking in a convention in any given month of the year.
A boon for convention goers, vendors, artists, and cosplayers, but at once a detriment due to the cost-prohibitive nature of so many choices. So often I have heard that it is becoming increasingly difficult for fans to attend every show of interest as they stack one upon the other, often with several popular shows in a single month. Add to the mix corporate mammoths like Leakey Con (2018 and 2019) which sold out in mere hours and swallowed a considerable percentage of the con-going populace locally and everyone from attendees to convention producers are being forced to be quite shrewd about the entire year's convention schedule just to work out the particulars of financial feasibility.
Yet at once I personally celebrate this phenomenon. I began tracking conventions in Texas in the newsletter I produced for A Piece of the Action Collectibles as a service to our customers. That led to the first Convention Awareness Day which was repeated only once, shelved, and later inspired the website Convention Awareness Project - Texas. In those years I have seen easily as many conventions come and go as will be realized this year. Yet I have seen so many come out of nothing and expand year after year as new shows follow in their footsteps.
The second biggest state in the Union, while boasting well over 100 conventions a year, still ranks roughly fifth in the nation for volume of shows! Given that we reside in the second largest state, that is a fairly telling figure when assessing the impact of so many conventions.
If you could make a convention from the ground up, how would you build it?
I have the unique distinction of having been a part of the convention scene in Texas in every conceivable capacity - an attendee, a content producer, a volunteer, a guest, a panel moderator, a vendor, an emcee, and even a promoter. While "JediCole's Comic, Toy, and Collectibles Swap Meets" were by no means ambitious events, they did teach as much about convention production as any other facet of my long career in conventions.
To the point of the question, I would spend six months to a year in advance of producing a new show in the active study of a variety of other conventions. All-Con is an ideal model in some respects, but then I have a bias. To truly prepare for such a daunting task it is important to do some field research. Attending, or better still, volunteering at conventions outside of my personal wheelhouse in the pursuit of what does and does not work in the practical application of the show. So many first time producers seem to look jealously at the successes of shows that have been around for decades and aspire to be what they became without benefit of knowing how they achieved those ends. The surest pathway to failure is to attempt to be something like Fan Days in year one. That show started out as a small tabletop comic and toy show with a single guest, not the celebrity packed event it became.
During that prepatory period I would also study the convention scene both locally and around the Texas and its immediate neighbors. Nothing will kill attendance quicker than scheduling your freshman outing on the same weekend as two or three decades-old shows, even if they are 100 miles away. And once I had settled on some target weekends for consideration, I would reach out beyond the community to whom my show appeals to be certain I have not selected dates in the midst of a major sporting event, by way of example. My second Swap Meet was held, it turned out, on Texas/OU Weekend!
Once the foundation work is done I would begin to promote the show well in advance of the actual event dates. Beginning with establishing a relationship with other promoters, something sorely lacking in the convention industry, but that is another story. Flyer exchanges are an ideal way for conventions to scratch each other’s back and build a community among shows.
Then comes the active promotion by any means necessary. When I produced Convention Awareness Day I created a quide for promoters that outlined free and inexpensive promotional opportuniites that exist almost universally but are rarely if ever utillized. Nothing is more irksome to me than a show promoter who sets up a website or a Facebook page and considers that the end of their promotional responsibility. I favor inexpensive flyers distributed in the immediate market area including an offer of a small discount on the price of admission (thus creating an emphasis to maintain the promotional item) and sent by mail to comic shops and other businesses a reasonable distance from the event itself. This would be supplimented by the use of venues like Craigslist, Facebook, and local newspapers' weekend guides. A website is an effective tool, but no toolbox worthwhile contains only a hammer!
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