NotCon was a unique experience among anime or popular culture conventions, one I was happy to be a part of but hope never comes again.
(Not) Origin Story
Our story begins with Michigan’s Midwest Media Expo, sister event to the much larger Youmacon. Both events are held by Youmacon Enterprises in the greater Detroit area. Whereas Youmacon has been running since 2005 and cleared 21,000 attendees in 2016, MMX was to have its fourth annual event the last weekend of April 2017 and may have been lucky to see a third of that. It’s hard to say, as information on these matters is difficult to understand and unreliable.
Speaking of difficult and unreliable, this takes us to the Edward Hotel & Convention Center in Dearborn MI, which was to be the venue for MMX. Smaller and presumably less expensive for the organizer than the Marriott Hotel and Cobo Hall dual venue Youmacon is held at, the Edward Hotel has gone through several changes in management in the last few years. According to popular rumor, hotel management changed fairly close to MMX 2017 and changed the conditions of the agreement to where it would have been impossible for convention organizers to comply. A press release was issued late Tuesday night before the convention, declaring Midwest Media Expo 2017 canceled. News of the story reached as high as Gawker site i09.
Fans were distraught and outraged, many of whom took to review sites to lambast the Edward Hotel and shred its scores on review sites. The convention they had eagerly awaited for and planned cosplays around was canceled days before it was to take place. Many were stuck with travel expenses they couldn’t hope to get back.
Given most of his expenses were already paid for, convention regular and favorite Jon St John, best known as the voice of Duke Nukem, announced he was coming to Detroit anyway. It snowballed from there. Other guests scheduled for MMX, such as David Eddings and mc chris, threw caution to the wind and announced they would be coming to town as well, even though they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into.
Organizers made arrangements with a smaller but highly very accommodating venue, the Radisson of Farmington Hills, and Notcon was born. This (mostly) free consolation event salvaged as much content from MMX as organizers could manage.
I myself had been planning a panel for MMX, Morality in Breaking Bad, while my wife had planned one for Prostitutes in Popular Media. I was contacted the night before the event, some 13 hours before content was to begin and asked if I still wanted to do my panel, to which I agreed, and offered up my wife’s panel as well, which was accepted on the grounds its mature content could be watered down.
(Not) Cosplay & (Not) Events
We arrived Friday afternoon to the small hotel with lots of people gathered and mingling outside. Just through the doors in the front lobby, a handful of Japanese arcade games were set up feet from the front desk. Vendor tables were crammed along the halls, and cosplayers clustered around the hotel the bar and restaurant. They were people like us who already allocated the weekend for fun and wanted to make the most of a bad situation.
Unlike larger events where one might have to fight to find the likes of Jon St John or convention chairman Morgan Kollin, they were easily accessible throughout the entire weekend. Down a ramp and past the restrooms was the one and only event room, which might cram 200 people in at one time. It was a far cry from the large main event rooms, 4-8 panel rooms, dedicated video and tabletop gaming areas, and 24-hour screening rooms MMX normally runs with.
After some mingling with the general populace, we started getting ready for my wife’s Prostitutes in Popular Media panel. Ours was the very first panel, and little had yet been conceived by the AV crew on how to present one. Together we were able to set up a table, chairs, and microphones, but no projector. This left us to utilize our laptop, turning it back and forth between ourselves and the dozen or so attendees we got. Mercifully, we had an audio line out of the laptop and were able to share clips like the Lovely Ladies number from Les Misérables, the El Tango De Roxanne from Moulin Rouge, or Liane Cartman’s sordid presence on the Internet from South Park. Unfortunately, my Breaking Bad panel had been moved out of this time slot to another time, then to another, then canceled outright in the chaos of NotCon.
Later Friday evening came what was the highlight of the event to me, the mc chris concert. Opening for him was Jason Wisely of Mindful Dynasty, a talented and entertaining guitarist who is deserving of at least more than the four youtube subscribers he has as of the moment I am writing this. He and MC Yoda warmed up the crowd for mc chris, best known for his contributions to Aqua Teen Hunger Force. mc chris delivered his ‘nerdcore’ rap to an excited and receptive crowd, opening with I Want Candy and interacting with the crowd as the show went on. His music was fast paced and probably written with studio productions in mind, which was likely why he stopped some songs a few seconds in to start over for forgetting his own lyrics, but nobody cared. The 50-some-odd-people in attendance went from having nothing to being in the splash zone of a concert rich with comedy and nerd culture.
Saturday took a different approach than Friday, dedicating the event room to tabletop gaming for six hours. My wife and I played some Death Note Mafia before I doubled back to the car to get Zelda Monopoly and getting in a game with fellow Dashing Nerd Mike Panetta. As time went on I continued my con tradition of drinking a bottle of Patron Silver tequila with Jon St John and whoever else happened to be in the vicinity, and was able to talk to him more than I usually get to with the typical hustle and bustle of Youmacon. Shortly after that the band to perform later, Foxes & Peppers, did a warmup concert in the loading bay area of the hotel for the many who were mingling, while wearing cosplays of Star Lord, Rocket, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. Beyond that, I was mostly left to make the most of the day for myself. I found entertainment between talking with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle enthusiast and proprietor of Cowabunga Corner Michele Ivey.
I also made a trip to the gaming room I only found out about late Saturday night; roughly a dozen console games set up to accommodate over two dozen players in the space of the average economy hotel room minus the usual furnishings. A few sets if Stock 2 and claustrophobia set in, and my wife and I called it an early night.
We almost didn’t go to Sunday festivities per fatigue and low content, but with our schedules already clear we decided to see NotCon through to the end. We arrived in the early afternoon to find things still going strong but winding down. Dance Dance Revolution players were doing extreme doubles and people were still huddled around the crane games trying to get last minute souvenirs, but we were more interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle panels. I had sat Michele Ivey’s panel before, if memory serves, at the first Midwest Media Expo. The content was similar this time to what it was then, but she still buts on a great panel, telling stories of her getting to know the creators of TMNT and many actors and others involved in the many productions the franchise has seen. She is generous enough to show off some of her movie props, including a Leonardo head used in a turtle costume.
With arcade games being torn down and little alternative besides going home, we stayed through S.H.I.E.L.D. Combat Training and a stage combat show, both hosted by Ann Arbor based fighting choreography group Ring of Steel. My wife got taught how to throw a punch for a movie scene by Captain America.
In closing ceremonies, the people who stayed to the end were happy to show their support and approval for the event and it was clear the staff and guests who made it happened were happy to receive it. Aforementioned Morgan Kollin showed more emotion than usual when addressing the 50 some there to cheer for the con and shake his hand afterward.
I tip my Heisenberg fedora to the staff for putting on a good show after the heartbreak and chaos of having to cancel Midwest Media Expo with just days to go before it was to be. It wasn’t the event I was expecting, but I was entertained. I just hope that this doesn’t happen again, as calling it ‘Notcon2017’ would seem to imply.