Monday, June 4, 2018

MomoCon 2018 – The Love Movement

By Dave

For the first time ever I really do believe that these kids are going to make this world a better place.

Yes, seriously – that’s my takeaway from my weekend at MomoCon.

Maybe it was just being surrounded by youthful enthusiasm, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been in as positive and inclusive an environment on such a large scale. Every color, race, gender, nationality, and whatever else was present and interacting in a way that I’ve never witnessed. It’s a little hard for me to say exactly what made this so different, but it was a feeling that pervaded the entire Georgia World Congress Center/Omni hotel location – a sense that everyone was happy to see everyone so… happy.

I – and many Needless Things guests – have spoken at length about the sense of community and belonging we get from cons. The satisfaction of knowing you’re surrounded by people who share your passion for things, whatever those things may be. It doesn’t matter what the fandom is, just that we’re all fans. At MomoCon, that is all dialed up to “11”.
Perhaps it’s a generational thing, maybe it’s the fact that this convention is more focused – rather than trying to be everything to every fan, it highlights what I think of as “the stuff kids are into”. Anime, video gaming, and cosplay are all very tightly intertwined amongst their fandoms, to the point where it might generally be thought of as one fandom. Those things are all simply a part of growing up for the generation behind mine. For people a decade (and more) younger than me, those things simply existed rather than being new facets of pop culture.

Whatever the case, as early as Thursday when I picked my badge up I could sense something different and special about MomoCon.

Unfortunately for me I had to work Thursday night, but I knew I didn’t want to waste time on Saturday picking up my badge and my media pass. As soon as I set foot in Building A of the GWCC (Georgia World Congress Center) I knew there was something special and different going on. There were already quite a few cosplayers on site, doing what they do and creating a magical atmosphere that feels somehow separate from the outside world.

You guys know how I feel about cosplay – it’s not for me, but I view it as one of the most important aspects of a good con. And MomoCon had a higher percentage of cosplayers than any con I have attended. While the bulk of what I saw seemed to be anime, there were still plenty of comic book and video game characters that I recognized.

One thing I want to emphasize is MomoCon’s user-friendliness and organization. I was able to get my badge and pass in under fifteen minutes and this was entirely thanks to how clearly everything was labeled and how well-informed and good at communicating the staff were. These elements would be in place throughout the weekend, leading to a con that was almost entirely frustration-free, an unusual occurrence.

Another advantage of my Thursday visit was that I was able to get the lay of the land. The GWCC is relatively easy to navigate and has several features that seem designed specifically to accommodate large crowds (no wonder for a convention center). Two massive spaces on the lower floor played host to the dealer/exhibitor room and the gaming area, which I just now remembered was open 24/7 and I wish I’d gone back late Saturday night.

The two rooms were connected by a small common area so that access was easy enough, but were still distinctly separate areas.

The dealer/exhibitor room was basically like every other example of a con marketplace, with a few key differences. For one, there seemed to be a much better variety of products between sellers. I felt that way on Saturday and had it confirmed when my wife and son came down on Sunday. That may sound odd considering the slightly less diverse focuses of MomoCon, but even though most of the stuff there wasn’t my thing, it was more interesting and less homogenous wandering around the room. Sure – there were a dozen or so places selling plush characters, but they all had different styles, sizes, and focuses. The same went for the toy dealers – very rarely did two of them have the same selection. This is very different from most cons I go to where you see the same figures everywhere you go, and most of them are readily available online or even from local brick and mortar stores.

Side Note: The obvious exception here are Funko’s Pop toys. Those things are everywhere. I do not understand the motivation to show up to a con with Pops because the only thing more common than them is oxygen. I am convinced that someday the planet of junk from Transformers: The Movie will exist, but it will be made up entirely of Pops that we had to shoot into space because we no longer have room for the damned things on Earth.

The exhibitor room also contained Artists’ Alley and a pop culture vehicle area.

That thing is just gonna reek of mushrooms now.
The vehicles were fairly standard for any con, but personally I always get excited to see the Batmobile or the Ecto-1, no matter how many times I’ve seen them before. Pictures of the vehicles were free, pictures in them were $5, which I think is perfectly reasonable.

Artists’ Alley was made up mostly of creators that weren’t my cup of tea – not a knock on the con, I’m just not into manga and anime. It did, however, feature our pals Mike Gordon and Peter Cutler, as well as what was, for me, the highlight of the con (and possibly my entire damn year).

Phantomaniacs, I had the privilege of meeting Eric and Julia Lewald, two of the creators behind the seminal 1990s X-Men animated series. I’ve written and spoken about the role Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run had on me and my love of comic books, but I haven’t mentioned the cartoon it inspired nearly as often. It was one of the few shows that I kept up with through my high school years and beyond. Even the mighty Batman: The Animated Series lost me at one point, but I stayed with my X-Men all the way. For a long time I had some of the seasons on VHS tapes recorded from broadcast. I got rid of them when the DVDs were released, not considering the value of the commercials and station IDs and whatnot.

I’m no Dinosaur Dracula, people.

I spoke at length with Julia on Saturday and she simply couldn’t have been any nicer. I returned on Sunday to purchase their new book, which you can buy here and help out Needless Things at the same time:

Meeting the Lewalds and having both of them turn out to be such nice people really made my whole con. I can’t wait to find out more about the production of one of the most significant comic book cartoons of all time.

The gaming room was loud, dark, and full of excitement – it almost looked like something out of a movie set in a dystopian future.

I mean that in the nicest way possible.

The left side of the room was dedicated to real-world games – Magic, Pokémon, all manner of board and tabletop games. There was some kind of team-based game that involved arranging huge tiles within a square on the floor. It looked interesting to me because I love puzzle games, but there were games in progress every time I walked by.

That left side was well-lit and bright, with areas labeled and dedicated to specific games.
The right side was loud, dark, and lit only be the glare of neon, monitors, and arcade cabinets.

It seemed to me that every kind of digital gaming that has ever existed was represented here in some form. From old school arcade games to consoles to cutting edge gaming PCs, there was a bewildering (for me) assortment of video games available. As impressed as I was with the variety available, I have to admit that I do not go to conventions to play video games. There’s just too much other stuff to do that I can’t do anywhere else. Heck, I’d rather just wander around the con areas and people watch than sit down and play Contra. But for those that do enjoy gaming at cons, MomoCon is for sure going to make you happy. Very happy.

I didn’t want to commit my entire weekend to this con without knowing how much I’d enjoy it, so I was just there from Saturday afternoon through Sunday, with an intermission to drive home and gab the family Sunday morning. Because of that I only caught one panel – a conversation with the team behind Arby’s social media. That may seem like a bizarre panel for a pop culture convention, but it was a good one that provided a fascinating look at the subject matter, and the savviness of the kids in attendance.

The panelists were all from the firm that handles Arby’s current social media campaign – one centered around pop culture awareness and some truly deep cut references. Apparently they have quite the following and the respect and admiration of even the most jaded pop culture critics. I loved hearing the team talk about the creation process and how their ideas came about. What was even more interesting, though, was the level at which the young people – teens and slightly older – grasped marketing and commerce. When the panelists started the obligatory Q&A session, a massive line of these kids formed and each question was astute and relevant.

Well, most of them were. This was still a con, so there were a couple of “Remember when _________? That was awesome.”

I attended the panel – and spent part of the day with – my pal Dana Swanson (so for those of you who might have been moved by Episode 210 of the podcast, everything is, indeed, cool). Afterward I met some nice people she works with on a podcast you should definitely check out – Dark Ages.

Howard, Dana, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, severed hand
We spent a few hours wandering around the aforementioned gaming and exhibitor halls, then stumbled into one of the most magical rooms I have ever experienced at a con – the MomoCon karaoke room. It was like the general youthful enthusiasm from the rest of the con, but in concentrated form. A host in Wakandan finery was doing a great job providing energy, but the crowd in attendance hardly needed it. As we walked in, basically every person in the room headed up to the stage to dance and perform Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”, without a shred of self-consciousness or irony.

The next act was a duo that took on “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King and absolutely killed it. The guy performing Pumba’s part was phenomenal.

I think Dana and I had entered the room with intentions of making up for the karaoke opportunity we missed at Days of the Dead, but after seeing those kids kick so much ass neither of us probably felt like that was the best place for our first live duet.

Eventually Dana left for the conveniently located Marta station – take Marta, it’s smarta! – and I went and had dinner at Dantanna’s with another old pal, Mike Gordon. You should all wish you were there for that epic conversation, but the next best thing will be this Friday’s Needless Things Podcast where Mike will join me to discuss MomoCon!

Dantanna’s has an absolutely terrible name but pretty good food. If you’re in the area and want something nicer than the food court experience, I recommend it.

Thanks to Mike being such a naturally fascinating conversationalist, I totally missed the one event that was on my “Must-Do List” – Bit Brigade performing selections from Legend of Zelda. There was still plenty to do, though and I hadn’t even put a mask on yet.

Side Note: I do still put a mask on when it’s appropriate.

I wandered around as Phantom Troublemaker for a while and had the oddest experience – in the midst of all of these incredible costumes that people had spent countless hours and dollars on, I kept getting approached for pictures and compliments. I can’t even begin to fathom why, and if not for the almost palpable sincerity of MomoCon I would’ve thought everyone was somehow making fun of me. And it’s not like they could tell what an old, old man I was under the mask.

At one point a group of kids even surrounded me chanting about how much sauce I had. I don’t know what that was all about, but I could tell they meant it.

One of my favorite spots at MomoCon was the courtyard between the GWCC and the Omni. It was constantly populated and a hub of activity. From well-choreographed dance routines to sing-alongs to sword battles to people doing the Macarena, every time I walked through that area there was something exciting going on and entertaining people to look at.

Aggretsuko, with whom I identify greatly
It was here that I decided it was time to turn in and save myself for the next day. None of my usual con companions were there and honestly the day of new experiences had worn me out.

MomoCon is wonderful. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has something to offer for everyone, I would certainly say that there’s plenty for most fans of pop culture. And even if anime or video games aren’t really your thing, you could find yourself a day’s worth of entertainment. And you’ll certainly be rewarded by an atmosphere like none you’ve ever felt.

You can find even more pictures from MomoCon 2018 on the Needless Things Facebook Page!

Be sure to join the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group and get in on the conversation for this week’s episode! Let us know what you think!

You can follow Dave as Phantom Troublemaker on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for all the latest on pop culture!

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