I had a fantastic time at Adelaide Supanova 2019. For me, the best way I can describe the weekend is that it was cathartic to finally let our geek flag fly here in Adelaide after such an odd 2019 so far.
It’s five weeks later as I finally publish this as I was busy with a variety of projects. Also I spent some of that time processing my Supanova photos (which you can view here) and video from that weekend. You can check out my Supanova 2019 Cosplay Music Video here…
On a related note, for the first time in 10 years of attending such events, I decided to try my luck and apply for a Media Pass and was fortunately approved. What with my branching out into videography now (on top of years of taking photos), I wanted to be unencumbered in where and how I was recording and capturing images.
As per usual these write ups are about recounting my experiences of the weekend including observations and feedback/criticisms of said event. It’s a way for both organisers and attendees to have a perspective on the goings on either side of the curtain as well as allow an opportunity to give perspective and clarification on a few aspects of the weekend.
Since arriving in Adelaide in 2012, Supanova has struggled to attract the large numbers seen at their interstate shows despite being identical in basic setup. A lot of finessing has happened over the last few years to try and adapt and for what it’s worth there have been gradual and incremental improvements.
The 2017 show in Adelaide was the boost it needed with Stan Lee as headline guest (this tour was announced as his final ever outside of the US). Combine that with the two week shift in date to avoid Schoolies, the uptick in crowds resulted in an energy we hadn’t felt on the local con scene since the very first Oz Comic-Con in 2012. It was going to be a hard act to follow and the 2018 show rode on that wave of energy and goodwill to be (and I still maintain this) the most fun I’ve had and the most content I’ve been at a convention in a long time.
The lead up for Adelaide Supanova 2019 was also seemingly positive. The guest announcements were looking rather good, (even before the announcement of John Travolta), and fans were reacting positively in anticipation.
And then this happened…
So let’s talk about that post…
A few days before the Adelaide show, the Supanova Facebook page posted an update, which basically implored the fans to buy a ticket and attend or else they may not return to our city.
This didn’t go down too well for some locals.
Adelaide has a self-esteem issue when it comes to missing out on events, mostly big concerts. Many reacted as if our partner had just said to us “we need to talk”, made all the more anxious as we were still not over our ex (Oz Comic-Con) who had previously up and left without warning.
The post received some backlash being described as “guilt tripping” and (erroneously) “passive aggressive” (which is incorrect as it was very much straight to the point). And what was shaping up to be a great weekend was now tainted with negativity as a handful of fans in the local community (using it as a way to regain ground after a disastrous public relations fiasco and potentially endangering working relationships between events) thought fit to spuriously complain about Supanova any chance they got.
Some of those involved with the event expressed their own puzzlement at how the post got trough the approval process to begin with.
I myself had a similar knee-jerk reaction to the post. It felt awkward and unnecessary. However, as the days went on and the more I thought about it (as well as digging through my archive of screen grabs), other events, other creators, etc, have pretty much expressed the same sentiment. You can argue all you want about wording but “we can’t do this without your support…” or “if you want to see me keep doing this…” is pretty much identical in sentiment. It’s still not ideal but it exposes some level of hypocrisy either unconscious or otherwise.
What frustrates me though is that it worked (at least from a social media point of view).
While there are legitimate criticisms about Supanova from vendors and artists, as well as stuff regarding personal politics (all of which I’ve addressed many times before), the backlash came from a minuscule minority.
Against traditional internet wisdom, I read the comments and shares on that notorious post and noticed that all the negativity was outnumbered over 100 to 1 by a deluge of Adelaide folks encouraging others to attend the show. Whether or not it translated to ticket sales is unknown at this point but the Facebook post achieved part 1 of its task: regardless of whether positive or negative (or panicky), it got people talking. Even those complaining reminded others in their friends lists that Supanova was happening.
It’s Marketing 101. In fact, I would not be surprised if the post was specifically engineered to target Adelaide’s well-known “always a bridesmaid” low self esteem.
Stepping away from that echo-chamber and looking outside the bubble, it’s easier to see the bigger picture and realise that so many people wanted Supanova to remain in town
For all the complaints the few people had (including how expensive the event was), no one actually noticed that entry prices went up this year. With a weekend pass costing $65 presale ($80 at the door) and a single day pass costing $37.50 presale ($45 at the door). These were both $10 and $5 more than last year respectively.
As I’ve said previously for this and other events, this is the upper end of what is considered affordable for most people (as far as presales go, o the door is exorbitant). A single day pass is somewhat more attractive for those who just want to check it out for the first time but it is still a hefty gamble.
However, it must be pointed out that our Brisbane friends actually pay $20 more than we do for the same paired weekend (Sydney too. Melbourne, Gold Coast, and Perth are roughly the same price as Adelaide and single day passes are the same across the board). The only substantial difference being that Brisbane has a full Friday afternoon, 1PM to 7PM, which the fans flock to in droves despite being a work/school day (same with Sydney).
As always, one of the major influences on this is the rising cost of doing business. It’s been alluded to that costs in hiring out the venues has gone up, not just here but around the country. So to lay blame on the event for being “greedy” is always a lazy accusation, especially when there are so many factors that go into the cost of doing anything anywhere.
But it is still up to the organisers to make sure that the cost of entry remains appealing and accessible enough for its target audience, especially when you have vendors who rely on maximum foot traffic.
I’ll say again, I was rather impressed with the line up of guests for the 2019 show. Regardless of my interest in maybe only one of them, I can recognise the range and appeal of said line up especially with the excited reactions to said announcements.
Admittedly, the addition of John Travolta to the line up as the headline guest seemed a little odd to me at first. But on further examination it did make perfect sense when you consider his body of work as well as its impact and proliferation in popular culture. Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, Face Off, these are easily iconic signposts in broader pop culture.
Supanova really excels at the guest part while others either struggle or deliberately play down its importance. At its most basic, big name “supa-star” guests are draw cards, they attract the various fans and if those names are sufficiently big enough, like Stan Lee was in 2017 and like John Travolta was for this year, that will make it all the way to mainstream news. Boom! Advertising!
Delving a little deeper, most will often wax lyrical about how these events bring together like-minded fans. And while that is true, these events also have the potential to bring fans in contact with the people involved in the creation of their favourite works. Whether it be actors, artists, performers of any medium, the ability to interact with, to connect with, the creators of their favourite stories is one of the most uplifting aspects that these events can provide.
It isn’t just about the local community, it’s about connecting with other communities around the country and around the world.
Complaints are often levelled at the cost of autographs and photographs with these guests and it’s not completely unfounded. When you look at the price list and start highlighting which guests you’d like to meet and get a photo with it does start to add up (VIP passes are usually to help make that more appealing of course). Also, back in 2012, voice actors were free for the first autograph but now that’s not always the case.
However, the manner in which the criticism is applied and presented is often disingenuous, almost bordering on outright lie.
Notice in one of the previous paragraphs I said ” which guests you’d like to meet“… that’s important because most trolls (that’s what they are) often imply that the extra costs are for you to “see” the guests and that’s not true. You can still see them talk in their panels for no extra cost.
They also tend to only highlight the most expensive of guests and imply that cost is consistent for all guests. Again, this is a dirty tactic because a lot of people aren’t going to bother to look up the costs themselves unless they have to. But as you can see from the list, there is a massive gap between the most expensive (John Travolta) and the second most expensive (Jason Isaacs) with Isaacs being less than half as expensive as Travolta.
It’s also curious to recall that no one complained about Stan Lee’s prices.
It sucks when we can’t afford the things we want, even more so when it appears those things are exorbitantly priced. However, in cases like this it’s also important to keep some perspective and understand that these prices are not only not uncommon but also a result of the cost of doing business.
Supanova’s prices for vendors and artists also went up this year for the first time in a decade but they were still cheaper than Oz Comic-Con’s (I wrote up a whole comparison a couple of years ago). Again, organisers need to be mindful about just how far they can take it before it becomes out of reach of for most people.
In Adelaide, the Friday night of Supanova is usually reserved for the opening ceremony or for the punters to purchase tokens for guest autographs and photos (so I don’t cosplay, I just rock up to collect my pass and get a feel for things). But neither of that happened this year and yet it was possibly one of the busiest Supanova Fridays I’d seen since maybe 2013?
In a previous write-up I failed to clarify that when I said there were no After Dark events for I meant there were no dance club-style events on the Saturday nights. Supanova have almost always had a live music performance on the Friday night. This year it was Star Wars-based metal group Galactic Empire and they were bloody awesome!
Unfortunately, the Adelaide crowd were somewhat subdued during the performances, really only reacting to applaud (which is very on-brand for us I guess). My mate, Rowan – who is a massive metal fan, did throw out a few windmills for good measure though.
Volunteers & Staff
As a counter to the sometimes unfair but not always unfounded criticisms that staff and volunteers receive, I always make it a point to highlight my personal experiences interacting with them as well as observations and anecdotes from others. And again my interactions were overwhelmingly positive.
I’ve had my issues with volunteers in the past, at Supanova as well as other events. But the last few years here have been pretty good.
Yeah sure, I spotted some volunteers looking a little bored but mainly because they were stuck on the same spot outside (on a warm day) for hours on end but as far as those whom I interacted with they were all friendly, polite, and helpful.
As an example, while the rules for having a media pass were spelled out to me in the email I received, there was one clarification I required and it was answered by the head of the department almost instantly (recording of guest panels is not allowed as was stated but I wanted to know if I could record part of the Friday night performance – I wasn’t and that was fine).
During the ushering of patrons for the Cosplay Odyssey on the Sunday afternoon, two volunteers were absolutely delightful in helping me with seating (I don’t remember their names but thank you to them). For what it’s worth, recording the cosplay competitions is allowed.
Obviously, not everyone will have had the same experience as I did. Apparently, a few unsatisfied locals caused enough of a ruckus that it required the police to be called and it was claimed that the organisation of the guest signing/photo area on the Saturday was very poor (I observed otherwise on the much busier Sunday but of course that could mean they got their act together).
The main thing that needs to be remembered at all events is that volunteers are more than simple “man-power”, they are the customer service face of any respective event. If any one of them is offside then it can ruin an experience for an attendee.
Saturday mornings are about getting a lay of the land so when possible I rock up early (for the good car parking) and I get suited up in a trusty old favourite, Master Chief. And already it felt good to be there.
Like the changes for 2017 and 2018, the updated layout for 2019 was another improvement all while maintaining some of the elements that have worked previously.
The main change was the switching around and of the Cosplay Odyssey stage and the Guest Signing area in the Goyder Pavillion and properly sectioning them off from one another. The new separation also allowed the former to be kept dark while the latter to be bright and open (there is something about the difference natural lighting can make but I doubt that was deliberate, just fortunate).
Another major change was the location of Cosplay HQ. Instead of being near the entrance, it was moved to inside the far end of the main vendors hall. The weapons checklist was also split from it and kept in the foyer/atrium to maintain the convenience of checking in props.
Cosplay HQ is an attraction and it doubles as a hangout for many cosplayers as it’s the location of the photo walls and the repair station so it drives the punters toward the area. It’s also the location of the Cosplay Ambassadors and the cosplay guest, Meagan Marie, whom by the way was not only delightful and lovely but also made for a great choice in guest because her fields of interest and work cover both cosplay and gaming as she’s the Community Manager over at Crystal Dynamics.
Other major attractions were also strategically placed as to encourage attendees to move through the rows of vendors. The wrestling and the medieval battle arena were moved to same area as the Rebel Legion and the Dalek Builders Union because all of these are popular draw the fans (although, having the “Imagineers & Gaming Stage” so close to the wrestling was a problem when it came to sound).
Like many others I observed there were fewer vendors than in previous year. On closer examination. in terms of traditional vendors there were less than a dozen down from 2018. Where it was most noticeable though were there were nearly two dozen artists in The Alley fewer than last year. Yes, this is most likely attributed to the increase in the cost of setting up a table but it also has to balance with the more self aware and harder to swallow notion that maybe people aren’t interested in what you have to sell. That is harsh but every vendor (and event organiser) has to consider that at least once. Some artists and vendors cannot afford to keep doing this year after year if they pay off isn’t there so that is a choice they all have to make for themselves.
To compensate, Popcultcha expanded its set up (to the chagrin of a few people). Now in all honesty I like Popcultcha, I like their products and don’t mind their prices and, by the looks of their crowded stall, so do a helluva lot of others. Their location, as dominating as it is, is due to them being a major sponsor for Supanova. They also make a lot of effort to bring all that stock in from Geelong (and it’s A LOT of stuff). But I would suggest, like attractions such as the Rebel Legion, Popcultcha should be located where the punters can flow through past other vendors.
This is going to sound random but I loved the variety of the food trucks this year. I don’t recall if there were more of them or simply a better variety (I know quite a few people lit up when they found out there was a Boost Juice just sayin’). This variety and convenience (as well as the large area set up for it) made for a great way to relax and enjoy a bite to eat. I’m also hoping its proximity to artist alley was beneficial to their foot traffic.
Another complaint some had of Supanova was the supposed lack of gaming, often citing the other part of the event’s name “comic-con and gaming” as a failure on a promise and then lumping it into an overall criticism of “nothing to do”.
I’ve spoken about disingenuous complaints like this many times before but here it’s especially egregious because it completely dismisses the Australian E-Sports League had a major set up for the 2018 show. It fails to highlight that for the 2017 show, Twitch had a streaming stage and MSI had a PC gaming area. And for the previous three years in a row before that Origin PC had a big gaming set up too (does no one remember that ugly ATV parked in the middle of the vendor’s hall??). It also sweeps under the rug that a certain anime and video game related event failed to bring video games as part of their promotional stall set up.
And when they say “no gaming what so ever” they failed to notice at this year’s show there was a table top gaming area smack bang in the middle of the hall.
Things like this only remain if there is enough of an interest or else the companies involved will not bother with the expense or effort next time.
Also, that map comes from one of my favourite improvements for this year’s Supanova. I’ve mentioned in the past that a booklet, while handy and informative, can often get in the way of enjoying the event because it’s an extra thing to carry around (near impossible for most cosplayers to keep a hold of). Other solutions have tried an app, which is also handy because most of us carry phones anyway but again cosplayers can be at a disadvantage (gloves, pockets, not enough hands to operate and hold props).
What is clearly a cost-cutting measure, the “pocket guide” is also a major improvement in terms of convenience and usability. It distils all the important information (map, panel and event schedules, list of vendors) while still featuring sponsor advertising, getting rid of the fluff that no one eve really cared about (did we need detailed profiles of guests and people involved?). And the great this is that it can easily be folded down even further by cosplayers and crammed in any convenient nook (I know how that sounds but honestly it works).
Once again I had the honour of being invited to help judge the Saturday Cosplay Competition. I love these and the judges table is also my favourite seat in the house as I get an incredible view of all the wonderful cosplays that step up onto that stage.
You can check out my photos from that competition here.
I got to judge alongside Cosplay Ambassador Georgia Costumes and last year’s ambassador ANDYCam Cosplay. We were limited in the amount of time we had to deliberate but fortunately we were also on the same page about many of the choices we made for awards and, despite there not being any pre-judging, we did have an opportunity to take a closer look at many of the costume during marshalling (just a handy tip: you should always sell yourself during that time too because we’re taking it all in).
A part of the ease in which we made our decisions also has to do with the categories being awarded. Supanova has done this better than most others in recent years and even than it still develops as the cosplay landscape evolves. But yes there’s a streamlining that helps to make it all rather efficient (even if it does look like a blur of activity in the moment).
Saturday was relatively quiet. It felt more like a Sunday and that made a lot of people nervous. Overheard were so many expressing concerns that the low turn out was the death knell for Supanova in Adelaide.
And then Sunday came along…
And Adelaide finally turned out for Supanova. The weekend had flipped around and the Sunday was now the new Saturday. The energy we were sorely missing the previous day had finally arrived with the increase in fans. Hell, even the food truck area was overflowing with people at lunch (which is why I keep campaigning for more tables and seats).
Most of those people had saved themselves for the Sunday mostly likely because that’s the only day John Travolta was scheduled to appear, which adds credence to the importance of big name guests as draw cards.
Someone snuck me into Travolta’s panel after it started just so I could see how full it was and it was overflowing. There were even fans standing to the side when the seats ran out. When they left the panel, it was a sea of humanity pouring back in to the rest of the event.
Does that mean the Adelaide show was suddenly saved because of this? Well, I doubt it was as dire as some people made it out to be in the first place. What it did prove was that Adelaidians are still hungry for this sort of thing. You just have to get the ingredients right.
Cosplay Odyssey and Cosplay Dash
Last year’s debut of the advance-level, national competition, Supanova’s Cosplay Odyssey, had a few rough edges but overall was a great introduction to offering an alternative to Oz Comic-Con’s Championships of Cosplay.
I’m glad to see it return along with a few improvements but from memory those improvements were for minor things anyway as the overall contest was fairly solid to begin with. In any case, I’m glad the judges were no longer seated up on stage (a very US style arrangement that does not make a lot of sense to me). Although, I’m disappointed that there are still only two awards so that the judges had to come up with another one on their own.
Mind you, with only three contestants it may seem like awarding a third place might be too much. And that’s a problem I’ve been mulling over for a long time and I may have to fall on my own sword in regards to expressing concern over entries that aren’t considered “advanced” level. Too few entries is actually a problem that has also been plaguing OzCC’s Championships, Madman Cosplay Competition, actually almost any advanced level contest. It’s an issue I’ll probably tackle another time but it’s an interesting one all the same.
I wasn’t impressed with the Cosplay Dash last year with its super-fast pace it didn’t allow me time to appreciate all the cosplays on show. But for some reason I did enjoy it this time around and I can’t pinpoint as to why. Maybe improvements were made to the format and presentation, maybe my own expectations were different now that the first one was out of the way. Whatever it may be, I enjoyed the Dash this year and it made for an entertaining filler while the judges were deliberating the Odyssey.
As always my main interest of events like these are the cosplay and I enjoyed and appreciated all the wonderful costumes I stumbled upon that weekend. It’s why I take as many photos as I do regardless of how bulky and cumbersome my own cosplay is.
It’s why I’ve shifted into video now too because I want to showcase all the fantastic work Adelaide fans have to offer. And I truly enjoy that.
Just for the record, my own costumes for the weekend were a couple of old favourites, Master Chief and Russell from Pixar’s UP. But I also threw together something a tad more comfortable using the coveralls I already had planned for a more advanced Ghostbusters costume.
If feels as though I spent the majority of this write-up addressing complaints and busting the misinformation that a small minority have been trying to spread but as always I feel it important to clarify and be as honest as possible. A lot of people don’t know what goes into an event and organisers may not be aware of the on-the-ground experiences.
That’s not to say I don’t have concerns and criticisms of my own as I’ve long-windingly demonstrated. The cost of things, any things, being my primary concern.
This year’s Adelaide Supanova was so much fun, especially once the crowd arrived on Sunday. I can’t say that it was exactly on the same level of enjoyment as the last two years by a matter of degrees but the efforts to improve and freshen up the event definitely had the desired effect and highlight that organisers are always trying to make things better. That includes the date of the event, which was already shifted (and set ahead of time when OzCC was still a thing).
I’m hoping that this year’s event showed that Adelaide is still hungry for such events. This is the only broad pop-culture event we have left and it’s important that it remain. What many don’t realise is that events like Supanova don’t just attract the “geek” community but is meant to appeal to the broader community. Whereas something like AVCon is deliberately structured as a “youth event” (which is why the Adelaide City Council sponsors it) but Supanova appeals to kids, the families, anyone that loves anything and everything about these popular culture, not just dyed-in-the-wool fans. It’s the same demographic that flocks to the Royal Show. It’s somewhere fun for people to enjoy.
This is our outlet, how we express ourselves, and how we connect with others not just here but across the world and I want that to continue.
If you enjoyed this write up, please consider supporting me by dropping a few dollars in my tip jar at: https://www.ko-fi.com/oldtrenchy