Monday, May 20, 2019

3 Rivers Comicon 2019

After Pittsburgh Comicon closed its doors in 2014, the Steel City was left without a true comic book convention. That was until 2016 saw New Dimension Comics, a local chain of comic shops, launch the first 3 Rivers Comicon. For three years they put the comic back in comic con at the dying Century III Mall. When the region’s once golden shopping center breathed its last breath, the 3 Rivers Comicon moved on to the Waterfront in Homestead. Did the mall take the con down with it, or has 3 Rivers Comicon found its new, permanent home?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided complimentary admission to the 3 Rivers Comicon courtesy of New Dimension Comics.
Opinions are my own.

How is that even a question? Of course, this year’s 3 Rivers Comicon was bigger and better than ever and shows no signs of ever leaving the Waterfront. The New Dimension Comics store in the Century III Mall was the only thing keeping the mall alive and the con was the only real foot traffic it ever saw. The con - and parent comic shop - moving to the Waterfront is the best thing for everyone… except for the Century III Mall, I guess.

Just as the con used to inhabit one of Century III’s many empty storefronts, 3 Rivers found a home in the Waterfront’s recently closed Macy’s department store. Cons in malls are notorious for being weird and uninviting and are often the stuff of nightmares considering they’re usually last minute decisions.

For that very reason, I was weary about 3 Rivers this year. But I gotta say I was thoroughly surprised with how well everything went. The weekend foot traffic at the Waterfront is insane and the overall location is so much more accessible for everyone. It’s a good bus ride from Downtown and there are plenty of food options within walking distance, unlike Century III’s ghost town food court.

The new venue also allowed for way more vendors and artists, although it felt like there were fewer vendors than usual. This is fine for me though as I went in wanting to meet creators and buy indie comics and self-published books instead of second hand from vendors.

Although even when I had a few extra dollars on the way out, I didn’t see very many comic vendors selling trade paperbacks or graphic novels. Most of them had short boxes full of bagged and boarded single issues. That’s fine, but it’s not my thing. There were also plenty of toy vendors, Funko Pops, custom LEGO Minifigures, vinyl decals, and a handful of big-name publishers as well. It was so refreshing to see such a diverse selection of vendors - I was even seeing new stuff on my way out!

The selection of artists was top notch. It wasn’t just random fan artists selling prints of their work. Lots of name creators were in attendance with all kinds of books for sale. From Marvel and DC to creator-owned to self-published to even a few who looked like they printed and folded and stapled the books themselves. Meeting comic artists and writers is always the best part of any comic con and 3 Rivers delivered this year.

There was also a small selection of panels. All of them were put on by creators and industry professionals and covered interesting topics, although the topics themselves could’ve been a bit more diverse. As an aspiring comic creator myself, I was excited to see a panel on using crowdfunding platforms to fund indie creations. But there were four of them. After the first one I didn’t feel as if I needed any more. Panels on the actual creation process would’ve been nice too. And while I appreciate the emphasis on wannabe creators, some more general Q & A's with the bigger names there might have been a bit more welcoming to general attendees.

But the new venue wasn’t without its faults. The panel “room” was really just a curtained off section of the larger space, so the noise sometimes made it hard to hear even with a microphone and a speaker. The bathroom situation was a bit rough too with store-bought paper towels and the same hand soap you see in like... your house. Although considering this was a Macy’s that has been empty for over a year at this point I’m honestly just happy there was running water.

My only real problem with the venue was the layout. Due to the old Macy’s architecture, the tables couldn’t be laid out in rows like a traditional convention center’s open space would allow. It’s hard to really explain, but the whole thing felt like a maze. Multiple times I’d say goodbye to an artist, wander around for a few minutes, then somehow end up back at the same artist. At the same time, I’d leave a section and never seem to be able to find to it again.

I saw a few artists set up in awkward corners or next to columns and a lot of tables overlapped the carpeted and tiled areas which you would think would make for a perfect division between walkways and vendors. There were also at least four entrances/exits to the old Macy’s but only one was open for the con, so finding the front always took a bit of trial and error for some reason. I appreciate that the overall square footage of the new venue allowed for more tables - which means more opportunities for artists to set up and more artists for attendees to meet - but maybe trying to fit so many tables in a large, complicated space was a bit too much.

Maybe next year they could put up signs with arrows, or put like letters on columns to denote areas. Or even give areas cool names based on the themes of what kind of vendors and artists are in a certain space.

But this brings up one thing I love about 3 Rivers. The promoter, Jon Engel, is a great guy who really does listen to everyone’s feedback. Multiple artists I spoke to said he stopped and talked to them previously at Tekko, others said he had talked to them during the con and was already making plans to improve the layout next year. So I have complete faith that next year’s 3 Rivers Comicon will be even better than ever.