In its sophomore event, the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest (HVFF) in San Jose scored a direct hit again in connecting television’s most popular shows with its fans. While it may not yet have a broad-based, universal, cult-like following as the San Diego-based Comic Con International (SDCC), HVFF appears destined to grow its market share among the die-hard con attendees because of its ease of access and customizable fan experiences.
The HVFF schedule now encompasses the eight cities of San Jose, Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago, London, Portland, Nashville, and New York, bringing the super hero, sci-fi, fantasy, comic book world genre to more fans who may not otherwise be able to travel to San Diego to join the thousands upon thousands of nerds who make their annual pilgrimage to the Holy Grail of cons. As HVFF’s San Jose location grows in popularity over the coming years, it may well prove to be a serious alternative, premiere comic convention without all the hassles and crowds of San Diego.
An international business trip precluded me from attending the July 2016 spectacle in San Diego. Enter stage right, HVFF San Jose. Held on the weekend of 27-28 August, the small convention delivered on its tag line: “It’s not your dad’s comic con… it’s your Fan Fest.” From end-to-end HVFF San Jose gave me a more personal experience with less effort on my part than the other two times I’ve attended Comic Con International.
Buying tickets for HVFF San Jose is almost as easy as Amazon’s One-Click purchasing. You can simply buy online using all widely accepted payment methods including PayPal. Unlike SDCC, registering for a user name or ID is not required to complete your purchase. Additionally, the HVFF online ticket purchasing experience does not subject you to long wait times in a virtual lobby, where more often than not, you leave disappointed that you were yet again excluded from the general lottery, unable to purchase badges. Finally, $75 for the weekend is not cost prohibitive for basic General Admission. Children 10 and under can attend for free.
Stephen Amell, HVFF co-founder and star of the hit television show Arrow, has created a completely customizable fan experience. But it comes at a price. You get much greater access to your favorite actors with autographs, and photo op experiences, but some of these upgraded experiences, or VIP tickets, range in price from $220 to $950. For these prices, you receive multiple autographs and photos, reserved premium seating for all the panels, early admission into the convention hall 90 minutes ahead of the general crowds, as well as other perks depending on your VIP ticket level.
Can’t afford several hundred dollars? Don’t despair. Even a regular Joe or Josephine can have a few seconds of bliss gawking at Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), taking a selfie with Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), or admiring the physique of star XYZ, whoever it may be. This is the first major disparity between the two cons. At SDCC, you could wait for hours just for a chance to meet your favorite celebrity, but at HVFF you can easily meet and greet with an autograph for $40 on up depending on the star’s popularity. You can also get personal photos of you with the star for about $60 on up again depending on the star power of the actor.
Up close and personal, even for five seconds, is way better than staring at a giant monitor from the back of Hall H at SDCC where your favorite actor is just a speck in a chair on the brightly lit stage a football field’s length away. I can attest to this because I’ve experienced both.
In San Diego I would probably never have met Mr. Amell without camping out for days so that I can be one of the first to enter the convention center so that I can run to the CW booth (assuming of course I know where the booth is after looking at the convention floor map somewhere in the 100-page program) to get an autograph ticket that is given out only at a certain time only to find out that by the time I actually reach the CW booth, all the autograph tickets have been given away. Heavy sigh.
If HVFF San Jose touts a more personal fan experience, Stephen Amell embodies it. Mr. Amell worked tirelessly all weekend long, meeting fans, signing autographs, shaking hands, and taking photos. I gave in and purchased a photo op ($92) and autograph ($60) to meet the actor who portrays my favorite super hero, the Green Arrow. For my autograph, I had him sign the Stephen Amell page in my 50th Birthday Party photo book – yes, I had an Arrow-themed party. As he wrote, “Happy 50th Birthday Gerry”, next to the photo of the life-sized Arrow cardboard cutout, he took the time to notice the details of the photo album and remarked, “This is good.” A few seconds later, I extended my hand. He put the Sharpie down, looked me directly in the eye, and said “Thank you.” I must say I was really impressed. It’s difficult for me to look people directly in the eye when I speak to them, but for a few seconds, the Green Arrow made me feel like I was the only person in the room having a conversation about my birthday party and how much fun it was.
For a few seconds during the photo op, it was me and my buddy the Green Arrow, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me saying, “No, thanks. I already have a good personal trainer, but I appreciate your offer to help me with my workouts.” Ok, well maybe I didn’t say that, but afterwards, he looked directly at me and thanked me, even though I was probably the gazillionth person to get his picture taken with him that day.
These brief moments were not free, but they were affordable and certainly memorable.
I also enjoyed many other moments and features at the fan fest:
You don’t need to read any fine print, study blueprints, or conduct days of research on a 100-page convention program and other companion web sites to plan your experience. HVFF’s small size warrants a program that is only one page with a simple map on the back. Done.
What crowds? I showed up two hours early on Day 2 and was the ninth person in the General Admission line. You can walk through all the aisles of the Exhibit Hall, visiting as many display booths as you want, all without having to navigate a maze inside of a cramped sardine can.
Panels and Booths
I have to confess that I’m not much of a panel kind of guy. I’d rather be out on the floor looking at displays, admiring cos players’ intricate costumes, or chatting with an artist about his craft. But if you want panels, HVFF is the place for you. The single panel area seats a few hundred people where you can choose to wait in a relatively small line. Or you can do what I did. Just stand in the back behind the last row of seats. The panel area is still small enough where I can experience the full panel without the use of binoculars. If you’re looking for the new Rogue One trailer, The Walking Dead zombie zone, or a preview of the next Marvel movie, you won’t find those panels here. You’ve got to love CW-type shows since the majority of the panels were Arrow-focused. You won’t get any complaints from me.
What’s a comic convention without costumes? The photos below are a few of my favorites.
Will HVFF San Jose ever be as popular as Comic Con? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure: if you ever want to experience a con where you can actually meet celebrities, experience your favorite shows in a way that you can’t while watching television, and learn about focused content within the comic genre, then HVFF San Jose is the event for you. Through customization, you can make some pretty cool moments over the course of one weekend just like this one with my buddy Stephen.
By day, Gerry is a senior learning specialist working for a large healthcare company. By night, he freelances as writer, photographer, and Arrow-in-training.