A Tale of Two Conventions

2021’s Emerald City Comic Con happened at a rather unusual time. What kind of experience did that lead to?

I was departing from the first day of Emerald City Comic Con when I saw the news.

“All 53,000 attendees of Anime NYC urged to get tested after one got Omicron,” said a headline from The Verge, with its sub-headline describing the event as a “possible superspreader.” It turns out the enormously popular anime convention at New York City’s Javits Center – the location of New York Comic Con – might have been home to one of the first cases of the latest COVID-19 variant. And in that moment, all eyes turned to Seattle. It was a natural progression. If one event from just a couple weeks back could have played a part in this latest driver of fear, it was easy to look at Emerald City Comic Con as the next step.

The idea of it felt as if it loomed like a specter on ECCC’s first day already, with Thursday being one of the quietest days of any convention I’ve ever been to, including considerably smaller shows. It may have had nothing to do with the attendance, but you couldn’t help but wonder. As I deescalated my way out of the Washington State Convention Center, my brain pondered what was to come at this convention.

Seattle was home to America’s initial COVID-19 cases, and because of that, 17 it has approached pandemic safety with a righteous fear that few other major American cities match. Vaccination cards are required to get in anywhere public, seemingly, and masking is mandated, with little public squabbling over either concept from what I saw. Beyond that, locals seemed extra cautious at the very idea of being in public, let alone at a gigantic pop culture event like ECCC. That made two possibilities of where things could go from there seem likely.

One, the weekend would fall apart from there, with turnout disappointing even more than Thursday did.

Two, confident in its handling of the pandemic, the city of Seattle and all within it could move forward and have a good time in the first iteration of this convention in 991 days.

What happened from there felt as if it could color the near future of conventions in a very real way, especially with con organizer ReedPop having yet another event the following weekend in Chicago’s C2E2. If the result fell into the first bucket, things could get nervy quick, inverting 2020’s C2E2 to ECCC gap that resulted in the cancelation of the latter and effectively each major convention going forward. If it was the latter, then the path to normalcy would continue onwards, unfettered, and perhaps even emboldened.

As of now, it seems to have been more of the latter. It ended up being a tale of two conventions, as some determinants of success were maxed out while others were caught in the middle. Oscillating between shockingly relaxed and outrageously busy, Emerald City Comic Con 2021 was one of the oddest and most genuinely delightful conventions I’ve ever been to, and worth examining for the unusual divergence at its core that made it electrically productive for the soul, if not always the wallet.

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