By: D.C. “Spike” Harlow
Photos Courtesy of M.O.L.D.S. Episode 2
This spring marks the 3rd year of AwesomeCon; Washington D.C.’s own premier comic, cosplay, sci-fi and everything amazing convention. While Baltimore, Philadelphia and half a dozen other cities around us have had their own show for years, we’ve suffered, dreamed and wished to be way cooler than them! Thanks to Ben Penrod, our dreams came true! In 2013, Ben did some brainstorming and AwesomeCon was born! Ben brought us Bill West; the voice behind Ren and Stimpy, the Red M&M and dozens of others, Larry Hama and Herb Trimpe; two extremely influential artists from Marvel and Phil LaMarr from Mad TV, that first year. Year 2 saw Sean Astin, Billy Piper, Kevin Sorbo, Billy Martin, J.K. Woodward and dozens of other comic and sci-fi/fantasy artists. Not to mention hundreds of vendors: Ecto 1 and the T.A.R.D.I.S.! What could possibly top that? Well, I caught up with Ben and asked those hard questions.
We started from the beginning with how it all got started.
“D.C. really needed its own con and I really love running conventions, so that was all the spark we needed.” Ben recalls, “Money and inexperience were probably the biggest obstacles. I had to become really good at stretching a dollar as far as it could possibly go.”
Ben had been running cons since 2011 in Annapolis and Waldorf. Even though those cons were a success, many people were not eager to get involved for fear of the con failing. “I don’t blame them, there are a lot of new cons that fail; we just had to work our tails off so that we didn’t end up on that list.” After spending a lot of time traveling to cons across the country, before and after, to try to avoid common mistakes, it was time to make magic. The first AwesomeCon was 18,000 square feet with 5 small rooms for programming. There were some great guests and was attended by 7,000 people. “We took on a huge risk to run the 2013 con, but when it was over, we knew how big the next one had to be. I think people were ready for the 2014 con in 2013.”
And it was and they were! 2014 grew to 230,000 square feet and 30,000 people showed up to support it! There was even a concert from Andrew W.K.
“I learned that the Washington Convention Center security kind of freaks out when 10,000 people show up at the same time”, laughs Ben. Even the cons staff security was on high alert. One of the vendors was stopped from entering the convention center the second morning and asked to “check his weapons”. He claimed that the weapons were plastic; toy sonic screwdrivers from the popular Dr. Who T.V. show. It seemed like a good natured joke at first, but the security was very serious. Luckily, a supervisor was nearby and solved the situation. No other incidents were reported.
As the con grows near, it gets more and more exciting. It has already turned into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles weekend with Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the famed comic, and the voice actors of the beloved 80’s cartoon. Recently added was Judith Hoag, April O’Neal, from the original live action movie. As if that wasn’t enough to drive you in, joining George Takei is the one and only William Shatner!
“We should have some HUGE announcements coming. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and the website.”
As we wrapped things up, I asked Ben about some personal highlights of experience that was creating such an amazing adventure. Among hanging out with Andrew W.K. and finding out that Sean Astin is “one of the coolest people on the planet”; Ben enjoyed meeting all of you. “Mostly, just meeting new people and being able to do something I love as my job, it’s all good.”
And is he already looking forward to 2016, you ask?
“Yeah, I’ve got lots of plans for 2016.”
About the Author:
D.C.”Spike” Harlow is a local musician with ties to music going back to the ’80s. Currently playing bass with End of Silence and co-hosting the MOLDS Episode 2 podcast, Spike has recorded with Amethyst Heart and shared the stage with Emery, Living Color, Wolves at the Gate, Equiknox and Yellow Tie Guy. Writing is not new to him as he formerly wrote for several paintball magazines such as SPLAT! and Paintball 2Xtreme. Spike is an voracious fan of all things music, comics, and sci-fi.