Category: media

New York Comic Con 2017: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Television, Movies, Comic Books, and Immersive Marketing at NYCC

New York Comic Con, organized by the Relx Goup’s ReedPop, once again featured a rich array of pop culture activities during the four-day fan fest.

A number of outlets reported a record high attendance of 200,000. A change in the way tickets were allocated this year, however, makes comparisons to previous year’s attendance uncertain. [For more, see: “Comic Con Attendance: Numbers, Numbers, and Numbers.”]

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Crowds fill the Javits Center for NYCC 2017.

Yet, by any measure, New York Comic Con is an enormous enterprise. The event outgrew the confines of the Javits Center several years ago and now holds sessions at a number of additional venues around the city, including the Hammerstein Ballroom, the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and Hudson Mercantile.

The event sold out, although not instantly. While tickets for the popular weekend days sold briskly, the announcement that tickets for Thursday were sold out didn’t appear until just one day prior.

Here is an overview of New York Comic Con from my perspective, with links to additional photo galleries. [Click on the thumbnail images to view.]

TV, Movie, and Podcast Panels

In recent years New York Comic has excelled in presenting high-profile television panels. This year was no exception.

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The World of Philip K. Dick.

The Amazon Prime Video panel for The Man in the High Castle and a new anthology series, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, brought together actors and creators from the two series, including producers Michael Dinner, Ronald D. Moore, David Kanter, Isa Dick Hackett, and Eric Overmyer; director Dan Percival; and actors Liam Cunningham, Rufus Sewell, Alexa Davalos, and Jason O’Mara; in a session moderated by Deadline‘s Dominic Patten.

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Netflix Presents Black Mirror.

The “Netflix Presents Black Mirror” panel featured the show’s producers, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who talked about their inspiration for the series and plans for the upcoming season. The lively session was moderated by actor/director Jodie Foster, who directed one of the episodes in the new season.

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Grant Morrison and ‘Happy!’

Writer Grant Morrison was featured on the panel for SYFY’s upcoming adaptation of his comic book Happy! along with actor Christopher Meloni, writer/director Brian Taylor, writer Patrick MacManus, and moderator Brian Truitt from USA Today.

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Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

The panel for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan featured showrunner Carlton Cuse, actors John Krasinski and Abbie Cornish, and producer Graham Roland, moderated by IGN’s Terri Schwartz.

While many panels featured television properties, other sessions focused on forthcoming movies.

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Professor Marson and the Wonder Women.

The upcoming film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women explores Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and his relationship with the two main women in his life: his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and his romantic partner Olive Byrne. Fandango’s Tiffany Smith moderated the panel with the film’s writer/director Angela Robinson and actors Rebecca Hall and Luke Evans.

There was a moment of drama during the Q&A session when pop culture writer Dr. Travis Langley questioned the evidence of the film’s portrayal of a romantic relationship between Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne. Robinson responded that, in light of facts that she viewed as open to interpretation, she chose to tell her interpretation of the story. [For more details on the exchange, see Langley’s Psychology Today article “‘The True Story’ of Wonder Woman’s Marston Ménage à Trois“]

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Wyatt Cenac

In addition to television and movie properties, podcasting was also in evidence with Jesse David Fox recording a podcast with actor and comedian Wyatt Cenac in the session, “Good One: A Podcast About Jokes Live! With Special Guest Wyatt Cenac.”

Comic Book Panels

In addition to the television and motion picture panels, New York Comic Con also included a broad selection of comic book panels, including several celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of artist and writer Jack Kirby.

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John Byrne and Walter Simonson celebrate Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby’s 100th Birthday Celebration with IDW!” included noted writer/artists John Byrne and Wal Simonson, who were joined by IDW President Greg Goldstein and CCO Chris Ryall to honor the work of the famed comics creator.

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Celebrating Jack Kirby’s New York.

Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort, was joined by historian and podcaster Greg Young, comics journalist Meg Downey, and comics writer Brandon Montclare for a discussion on how Kirby’s work was influenced by the city of his birth in the panel “Celebrating 100 Years of Jack Kirby: The King’s New York.”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jason Reynolds.

Over at the Hudson Mercantile, authors Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jason Reynolds talked about their influences writing for Marvel’s Black Panther and Miles Morales characters.

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Berger Books comics creators.

The panel session on Dark Horse Comics’ imprint Berger Books, headed by the noted former Vertigo editor Karen Berger, featured images and conversation on the publisher’s upcoming titles. On the panel were Karen Berger, Richard Bruning, Ann Nocenti, Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, José Villarrubia, and Dave Gibbons.

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Celebrating Women in comics.

Dr. Sheena Howard, Janice Chiang, Karen Green, and Amy Chu presented the panel “Women in Comics: Celebrating Over 100 Years.”

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The Future is LGBTQ panel.

BOOM! Studios and GLAAD presented “The Future is LGBTQ” panel with creators
Brooke Allen, Mariko Tamaki, Gabby Rivera, James Tynion IV, Shadi Petosky, and Steve Orlando; and GLAAD’s Megan Townsend; moderated by Vulture.com’s Abraham Riesman.

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Dick DeBartolo and the gang from Mad Magazine.

A large contingent from Mad Magazine’s “usual gang of idiots” celebrated the history of the popular humor magazine in the “Mad about MAD” panel. The session included moderator John Ficarra with Sam Viviano, Al Jaffee, Nick Meglin, Dick DeBartolo, Mark Fredrickson, Teresa Burns Parkhurst, Joe Raiola, and Charlie Kadau.

Marketing Experiences

It can be argued that most of what takes place at a comics fest is, at its core, marketing. From the comics publishers and studios hosting panels to the creators in Artist Alley, much of the focus is on raising awareness for a product. This is particularly true of the booths on the exhibition hall floor and, increasingly, the large-scale “offsite” events happening outside the convention hall (and, in many cases, not officially affiliated with the convention).

As in previous years, Chevrolet was a featured sponsor this year, with pop-culture branded vehicles on display at multiple locations in the Javits Center.

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At the controls of The Tick: Dangerboat.

One of the most impressive marketing experiences in the exhibition hall was Amazon Prime Video’s The Tick: Dangerboat, a full-scale reconstruction of the show’s watercraft for fans to explore.

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Jigsaw escape room.

The film Jigsaw brought a creepy looking escape room inside a shipping container. The Ash vs. the Evil Dead installation recreated the show’s Kenward High School.

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Cloak & Dagger bodega.

Across the street from the Javits Center were installations from Freeform television shows, including a Bodega from Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger and the Jade Wolf restaurant from Shadowhunters.

A few blocks away, Campbell’s Star Wars “ComicCan” featured a large Star Wars themed construction made from the brand’s iconic soup cans.

The large, immersive marketing experiences, known in the industry as “activations,” took place outside the convention center.

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Your host greets you upon entering the Delos Westworld offices.

Westworld: The Experience, which debuted at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, came to New York this year. The exclusive event — open to only 120 participants each day — allowed fans to enter the Westworld universe, interacting with the show’s synthetic “hosts” and enjoying several rounds of drinks at the Mariposa Saloon. Unlike last year’s Westworld Experience at New York Comic Con, which was built around a virtual reality simulation, this year’s event consisted of live actors interacting with fans in detailed physical recreations of settings from the show. [For a more detailed account, see: “The Westworld Experience at New York Comic Con.”]

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Signing up for the Bank of E.

USA Network’s Mr. Robot brought an extensive marketing campaign to New York Comic Con, with a presence in the Javits Center and multiple offsite events. Inside the Javits Center, fans who signed up for an account with the show’s Bank of E received small gifts including Bank of E branded sunglasses, key ring, and credit card holder, along with an fsociety pin. Once a Bank of E member, additional opportunities for perks are available online.

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Lunch at the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ truck.

A food truck from the show’s Red Wheelbarrow BBQ appeared at a different location in the city each day, providing Bank of E customers with a complimentary lunch.

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Surprises abound at the Ecoin launch party.

The centerpiece of Mr. Robot‘s presence during New York Comic Con was the Ecoin launch party on Thursday evening at Terminal 5. The event featured drinks, hors d’oeuvres, live music, and a keynote address by E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer). There were many surprises, some occurring in plain sight and others hidden behind the scenes for those who discovered the clues.

For a detailed write-up of the Mr. Robot experiences, including the immersive alternate reality game at the Ecoin lunch party, see: “Mr. Robot’s Multifaceted Marketing Experience at New York Comic Con.”

Creators and Cosplayers

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A jam-packed Artist Alley.

New York Comic Con has historically had an outstanding assemblage of comics creators in the show’s Artist Alley. That was true once again this year although, due to construction in the Javits North Hall, Artist Alley was moved from its traditional location to a smaller, more crowded space with less photography-friendly lighting.

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Comic book creators.

Nonetheless, the show was brimming with noteworthy comics creators both in Artist Alley and at panel sessions.

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Cosplayers.

And, as at all comic fests, cosplayers were prevalent strolling through the corridors of the Javits Center and posing outside in the parking lot.

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The Javits Center on a rainy Sunday.

As rain drizzled down on the Javits Center on Sunday, another New York Comic Con came to a close.

For the gallery of photos from this year’s New York Comic Con, see: New York Comic Con 2017.

 

Mr. Robot’s Multifaceted Marketing Experience at New York Comic Con

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Fsociety Brings an Alternate Reality Game to the Party

USA Network’s Mr. Robot brought a series of interactive marketing experiences to New York Comic Con earlier this month. Like the show’s presence at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, the events provided a multilayered experience that combined conspicuous activities with a hidden alternate reality game (ARG) for those who were able to follow the clues. [See: “The Multilayered Mr. Robot Marketing Experience.”] The activities at New York, however, added an additional wrinkle. Whereas San Diego presented a single secret path for players to follow, the New York experience was multi-threaded, providing multiple parallel paths of varying depths for players to explore. At the conclusion of the main event, all the attendees were brought together for a group capstone experience.

Although there was no panel session for Mr. Robot at New York Comic Con this year, elements of the TV series appeared in multiple locations in and near the Javits Center. The program’s fictional narrative blended with the real world through three elements: Bank of E sign-up opportunities, the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ truck, and — most notably — the Ecoin launch party.

Bank of E

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Bank of E at the Javits Center.

The only official Mr. Robot presence at New York Comic Con was a desk at the Javits Center where people could sign up for an account with the show’s fictional Bank of E. In San Diego, new Bank of E customers  received a Bank of E card loaded with 20 Ecoin, the show’s fictional cryptocurrency, that could be used to buy items all around the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. At New York Comic Con, signing up for an account merely rewarded fans a few tchotchkes, such as Bank of E branded sunglasses and a key ring.

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Signing up for a Bank of E account.

There are, however, ongoing perks for Bank of E customers. Since New York Comic Con, Bank of E members have been offered a free Ecoin Power Bank and an Amazon Echo Dot. During New York Comic Con, members could also grab a free lunch at a Red Wheelbarrow BBQ food truck.

Red Wheelbarrow BBQ

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Lunch at the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ.

At San Diego Comic-Con, the Mr. Robot activation (as these marketing events are termed) included a full reconstruction of the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, the eatery that plays a role in season 3 of the series. At New York, in contrast, a Red Wheelbarrow food truck was available at a different location each day. Bank of E members could enjoy a complimentary lunch of pulled pork (supplied by Starr Catering), chips, and water. Folks who weren’t Bank of E customers could sign up on the spot.

Ecoin Launch Party

The centerpiece of the Mr. Robot Experience at NYCC was the launch party for Ecoin. Due to all the concurrent activities taking place, many of which were hidden, it’s difficult to fully document the experience. This account is based on my own experience and information gleaned from other accounts (most notably the excellent write up at GameDetectives.net, along with additional accounts from TV Guide, MTV, and Nerdophiles.)

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Outside the venue at Terminal 5.

From any vantage point, the launch party — developed by USA Networks along with BBQ Films and Civic Entertainment Group — was an impressive event.

Although Ecoin was prominently featured at San Diego Comic-Con, in the show’s extended real-world narrative, that was merely a pilot project. The official launch of the cryptocurrency took place at New York Comic Con.

Invitations to the event went out over Twitter and elsewhere. Fans who responded quickly received a confirmation message. (More on this RSVP response later.)

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Checking in beneath the illuminated E.

The entrance to the venue at New York’s Terminal 5 was arrayed with Bank of E signs and banners. A large E Corp logo was projected in light on an adjacent building.

After checking in, party guests received a badge with the Ecoin logo and slogan: “A new currency for a new era.” The badge was marked “BACKSTAGE,” implying you would have access to more than the events occurring in plain sight at the party. And, indeed, many attendees participated in activities behind the scenes.

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The champagne flows.

Upon entering the building, guests were met by servers offering flutes of champagne. E Corp advertising was prevalent throughout.

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Artwork honoring E Corp.

An artist was putting the final touches on a large painting of E Corp’s dominance of the Manhattan skyline. A small side stage was set up for the live broadcast of the event.

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Above the atrium: a large E.

The venue’s main space was a soaring three-story atrium. At its pinnacle, a large letter E was suspended.

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E Corp SVP of Marketing Debra Heller.

On the main stage, an actor portraying Debra Heller, E Corp Senior Vice President of Marketing, welcomed the crowd and introduced the band, the Keystrokes, fronted by vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson.

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Robyn Adele Anderson sings.

Hors d’oeuvre were served and drinks flowed leading up to the keynote presentation by E Corp CEO Phillip Price.

More Than Meets the Eye: Behind the Scenes

While these celebrations were underway, covert activities were taking place at various locations throughout the venue.

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RSVP response. [Click to view.]
Confederates for some of these endeavors were recruited before the night of the event.

Observant fans noted something intriguing about the RSVP notification they received: some of the bubbles above the champagne flutes were more prominent than the others. Beneath the phrase CELEBRATE IN STYLE WHILE YOUR SENSES WE BEGUILE! these larger bubbles appeared under the letters BITLYSEWGI. This implied a bit.ly url: http://bit.ly/sewgi

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“Silent Sin.”

Following this link sent you to an RSVP page for the event. (Subsequent to New York Comic Con, the link redirected to the Bank of E’s Ecoin site.) At the bottom of the page was an image with celebratory confetti and ribbons. The central set of ribbons were variations of the letters SILENT SIN.

Entering “Silent Sin” on the RSVP page returned the message:

Congratulations, your eyes have been opened and we now call on you to join our resistance. On October 5th, while EvilCorp is blinded by its own opulence, we will seize control of this Ecoin bacchanal and embarrass them on a global stage. These bourgeois oppressors have fashioned themselves a golden throne and placed the legs squarely on our backs. Together,we will rise up and burn that throne to the ground. Stand with us as we fight for a new tomorrow.

If, and only if, you will be attending the Ecoin Launch Party in person, leave us your email below and you will be contacted by one of our operatives with your directive soon. You must enter the same email used to RSVP to the Ecoin Launch Party. Do not share this page or this message.

People who submitted their email address received the message:

the war wages on.

the sins of evil corp must be
exposed. fsociety needs you at
the Ecoin Launch Event.

terminal 5 (605 West 55th
Street between 11th and 12th)
6:15pm

ask for benny the bus driver
outside the service entrance.
come alone. wear black pants
and a white-long sleeve dress
shirt.

the revolution won’t go down without a fight.

we are fsociety.

Other clues were distributed over Twitter before the event to selected fans who had tweeted using the #wearefsociety hashtag, advising them to “Go to the champagne station and find Charles. Tell him, ‘I am the 99%.'” or “Go to the serving station on Floor 2 and ask for the Chef. Tell her ‘I am a one, not a zero.'”

Some collaborators were recruited through a Twitter Direct Message:

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The mysterious white bus.

Parked beside the rear entrance to the venue on the night of the event was a white school bus with the windows covered with newspaper where a group of invited confederates assembled.

Inside the bus, participants were given cloth Ecoin swag bags containing an fsociety mask and were assigned secret missions.

Some of this group were appointed to sneak into the green room for E Corp CEO Phillip Price and hack his presentation. Others were disguised as waiters and waitresses to mingle with the crowd and distribute clues to other attendees.

Some bags contained notes for different assignments, such as:

we are about to reveal
the sins of evil corp.
blend in. be ready.
before 8:15 find alex
with the white rose
on the 1 st floor.
password:
“are you seeing this, too?”

As the party was underway, the secret missions began.

Joining Fsociety

A number of participants — both those inside the bus and elsewhere at the party — were given a card with a Snapchat Snapcode. Scanning the Snapcode led to the web address:

http://fsociety00.dat.sh/v/CDWNoGOMQSCKeArcAxZk/

Mr-Robot-Mission-Video-FsocietyThat site displayed a brief video that intercuts shots of a hoodie-wearing member of fsociety with a sequence of messages:

HELLO, FRIEND.
WE HAVE A MISSION FOR YOU.

GO TO THE STAIRWALL BEHIND THE BAR.

The final screen shows the fsociety mask with the following message:
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1. ASK FOR JESSIE

2. SHOW THEM A
SCREEN SHOT OF
THIS MESSAGE

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Down the dimly lit corridor.

Once Jessie was located and shown the image from the video, some people reportedly received a 5/9 button. Others, like the group I was with, were further interrogated about our actions that evening and were then led down a series of dimly lit corridors.

During this journey, other groups were being led through the hallways to different locations, indicating that different missions (such as, perhaps, the green room hack) were simultaneously underway.

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Showing allegience: “I am fsociety.”

In my case, the group of three of us were eventually escorted into a small room illuminated with an orange light. There each of us was told to don the full costume of fsociety’s iconic figure — mask, gloves, top hat, jacket, and cane. One by one we then sat in front of a mirror to record our message of allegiance to fsociety. Speaking through the voice-altering microphone, we read from the prepared text on the sign in front of us:

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I AM FSOCIETY.
WE ARE FSOCIETY.
TOGETHER WE CAN
BUILD A NEW WORLD
WHERE WE ARE
FINALLY FREE.

After removing the costume, we left the room and returned to the party.

This was but one of several sequences of similar activities taking place.

Some people were handed a small fsociety 5/9 flag and told to keep it until the right time. Others received stickers advising them to go to the coat check room and say to the person there, “Are you seeing this, too?” Those who did were handed the cloth bag with the Ecoin logo containing an fsociety mask with, at least in some cases, a note attached. My note said:

keep me hidden
find the bathrooms
on the 3rd fl
for further instructions.
say “hello friend” to frankie.

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Frankie questions potential recruits.

Once Frankie was located and the pass phrase given, individuals were led to another corridor facing a row of doors to small bathrooms lit with either a blue or orange light.

Inside each room, as before, was the attire of the fsociety figure with instructions on the wall to take a photo and post it to social platforms with the #Wearefsociety hashtag:

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“Are you with us?”

THE REVOLUTION WON’T
GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT.
ARE YOU WITH US?

Put on your mask
Choose your disguise

Turn your flash off

Capture evidence of your
allegiance for the world to see

Use #WeArefsociety

Leave the costume
Take your mask but keep it under wraps
You’ll need it later

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“Keep me hidden.”

Other bags containing an fsociety mask included different messages. One newfound friend at the party showed me his mask which included the message:

keep me hidden.
show your allegiance
to the rebellion.
look for an out of the
way corner.
put me on.
take a picture
share that picture
with the world.
#wearefsociety

The Capstone Event: E Corp Hacked and Fsociety Triumphant

Meanwhile, in the main hall, the party continued. As the band finished the set with a rendition of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, E Corp Marketing SVP Heller returned to the stage to introduce the evening’s keynote speaker: E Corp CEO Phillip Price.

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E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer.)

After the audience was seated, staff members made sure participants who had not previously followed the clues to receive an fsociety mask were given a bag containing the mask.

After showing a promotional E Corp video, CEO Price (actor Michael Cristofer) came to the stage.

Declaring that we live in “dark times” where “dangerous anarchists” are out to destroy the world, Price then assured the audience, “with the right leadership, order and stability will be restored,” touting Ecoin as the new currency to “unite the world.”

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Fsociety takes over.

During his speech, the screen started to glitch. The E Corp logo flickered. As Price continued, the glitching got more severe. The on-screen E Corp logo was then replaced by the fsociety mask. A pair of security agents safely whisked Price off the stage.

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The fsociety band.

One by one, band members returned to the stage, each wearing an fsociety mask.

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Everyone is fsociety.

By this time, everyone in the audience had donned their fsociety masks.

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“We are fsociety.”

The band members lined up on stage and led the crowd in chants of “We are fsociety and we are finally free.”

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The E descends.

The giant illuminated E that had been hanging over the atrium was slowly lowed and carted away.

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Fsociety banners unfurl.

Fsociety banners and sheets filled with graffiti were unfurled from the upper floors of the hall.

A message appeared on the screen:E-Coin-Launch-Video-Attention-NYCC-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400

ATTENTION: WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE  MUST NOT BE SHARED WITH THE WORLD UNTIL THE TIME IS RIGHT.

Clips from Mr. Robot appeared on screen. The audience was then surprised with an unannounced screening of the opening episode of season 3, not scheduled to air until the following week.

When the episode concluded, E Corp’s Heller returned to the stage flanked by a security agent. She apologized for the incident and announced the end of the party.

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Fsociety posters everywhere.

As people exited the hall, fsociety posters and graffiti covered the corridor.

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The painting vandalized

The large E Corp painting had been vandalized with fsociety graffiti.

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Protesters occupy the street outside the venue.

Outside the venue, masked fsociety members were protesting and distributing REMEMBER FIVE/NINE stickers. The large E previously projected on the adjacent building had been replaced by the fsociety logo.

By providing various concurrent levels of experience during the four-hour event, each participant felt they had a singular experience. Hardcore fans who cracked the online clues received an invitation to serve in a key role in the experience. Others uncovered clues on site that led them to other secretive missions. And all attendees joined together for the event’s final act.

It was a massively coordinated immersive marketing experience and alternate reality game that blended the TV show’s fictional narrative with the real world and let everyone play a role.

For a photo gallery of the Mr. Robot events at New York Comic Con, see: Mr. Robot Experience: New York Comic Con 2017

 

 


The images from the Mr. Robot video and websites are from potentially copyrighted content, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the program’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. All other photos on this page are copyright © 2017 Kendall Whitehouse.

The Westworld Experience at New York Comic Con

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Which Hat Will You Wear?

At last year’s New York Comic Con, the HBO Westworld offsite marketing event (known as an “activation” in the industry) consisted of a hybrid physical/virtual experience. [See: “Entering Westworld: VR Marketing at New York Comic Con.”] Visitors who scored one of the coveted appointments entered a reconstruction of the offices of the fictional Delos corporation, where an actor portraying one of the show’s synthetic human hosts greeted you. You were then led into a room to don an HTC Vive VR headset and enter a virtual simulation of Westworld.

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The secret location of the New York offices of Delos.

According to Steve Coulson, a Partner at Campfire who worked with HBO to develop this year’s activation, people who went through the 2016 experience were particularly excited about interacting with the live actors in the physical environment. When planning for this year, HBO and Campfire decided to forego the virtual in favor the actual. This follows a recent trend favoring real-world experiences over virtual simulations in these large scale marketing experiences. [See: “Marketing at Comic-Con Gets Real (Again)“] This updated version of Westworld: The Experience debuted at Comic-Con International’s San Diego event over the summer and came to ReedPop’s New York Comic Con earlier this month.

As at San Diego, it was an exclusive event. The experience accommodated only six people at a time for each 30-minute appointment. The activation was open for ten hours a day, allowing only 120 guests to visit Westworld each of the four days of the convention.

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Online clues for that day’s location to sign up for the experience.

The location to sign up for an appointment changed each day, with clues hinting at the spot appearing in tweets each morning.

The lucky few who obtained a slot were told the location of the installation, several blocks from the convention’s home at the Javits Center.

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Your host greets you upon entering the Delos offices.

Upon entering, guests are greeted by an actor portraying a synthetic human host. You and your five companions are then led into a room displaying weapons and clothing from the show. A wall-sized video screen provides a visual introduction to Westworld.

One-by-one you’re called for your interview. You enter a sparse, dimly lit room where your interrogator greets you. Two hats hang on the wall: one white, one black. Which will you be given?

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Which hat will your interrogator select for you?

The comprehensive interview includes a raft of questions. Some are focused on your psychology, such as: “What percentage of your dreams are nightmares?”

Others are moral conundrums, akin to the Trolley Problem:

“If someone invented a device that would bring happiness to everyone in the world, but would also eliminate half the population, would you: (1) use it or (2) destroy the device and its creator?”

“A band of criminals comes into a bar and shoots everyone. You have a gun. Do you: (1) kill them, (2) join them, or (3) do nothing?”

The interrogation is oddly effective. If you answer the questions honestly, you inevitably begin to think about which hat you’re likely to receive. Are you, truly, a white hat person or a black hat person?

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Heads made from life castings.

Once you’ve been given your hat, you’re led into a narrow room displaying eerie life-mask heads.

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The door you do not enter: Samurai World?

As you move through the corridors of the Westworld Experience, there are details worth noting. One door — through which you do not go — is identified by a circular SW logo. Samurai World, perhaps?

From there you enter an elevator and ascend to the centerpiece of the experience: the Mariposa Saloon.

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Preparing a Blue Blazer.

The saloon, dimly lit in a soft yellow light, is a small but credible reconstruction of the establishment seen in the HBO series. The show’s iconic player piano is positioned on a wall opposite the bar. Working behind the bar are two bartenders — one male, one female — who prepare you a series of three drinks. And, yes, they are real drinks. A post by Michael Leventhal on Hi-Def Ninja includes the recipe for each of the three rounds. The flaming Blue Blazer is particularly striking to see being prepared.

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A host at the Mariposa.

As you enjoy your beverage, women portraying hosts working in the bar alluringly converse with you.

Even though we entered as a group of six, after being interviewed and escorted to the Mariposa, I realized there were only three of us in attendance. By carefully timing the introductory segments — the initial exhibits and the interview — the experience moves the initial group of six through the saloon in two cohorts, making for a very intimate experience.

Other groups that attended the experience reported that it ended with a flurry of drama. An alarm sounds, guests are told there is a problem with the system, and the hosts show signs of glitching. Attendees are then briskly escorted to the elevators to escape. Alas, when I was there, the experience ended more sedately, with the hosts simply telling us it was time to leave.

One final note: The hat. You get to keep the cowboy hat you were assigned, which I knew going into the experience. I had assumed, however, that it would be an inexpensive costume hat. It’s not. It’s a high quality hat made by Serratelli, a company that traces its roots back to 1878 and has been manufacturing Western hats since 1997. This unexpected bit of quality is emblematic of the attention to detail of the entire Westworld Experience, and is a prime example of how to recruit brand advocates by delighting fans.

For a photo gallery from the event, see: Westworld Experience: New York Comic Con 2017

Comic Con Attendance: Numbers, Numbers, and Numbers

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The Size of a Pop Culture Event Depends on How You Count

This year ReedPop’s New York Comic Con reportedly reached a new record high attendance: 200,000. However, it’s difficult to know the actual size of the event relative to other fan conventions — or even to the previous year’s New York Comic Con — due to vagaries in how attendance is counted.

New York Comic Con is unquestionably huge. Several years ago the annual fan fest outgrew the confines of the Javits Center and now hosts additional programming sessions in the The Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom, the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and Hudson Mercantile.

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Artist Alley crowded with fans.

The Javits seemed particularly crowded this year due, at least in part, by having less available floor space than in past years. Javits North, traditionally the site of Artist Alley, was closed due to construction, forcing the show’s artists to relocate from the 80,000 square foot hall to the 45,000 sq ft. room 1E on the ground floor, a space used for vendor exhibits in the previous year.

Ways to Count

While fan festivals both large and small routinely report specific attendance numbers, what they mean is less clear. There is no industry standard for attendance calculations at pop culture conventions. In practice, at least three methods are used:

(1) Counting unique individuals, where each person counts as one attendee, regardless of the number of tickets they hold or days they attend.

(2) Counting the number of tickets sold (whether for a single day or multiple days)

(3) Counting the number of people who enter each day and totaling it for all the days of the event.

For example: An individual with two single-day tickets (say, one for Friday and one for Saturday), would count as one attendee using the first approach and two using the second and third. On the other hand, someone with a single four-day ticket would count as one attendee using the first and second methods, but four using the third.

The third method is sometimes referred to as a “turnstile” count, although this term introduces an additional confusion. Most events allow you to leave and return later the same day, so an actual count of the number of turnstile entrances would further inflate the number, making this a potential fourth method of counting attendance  (although I know of no event that actually uses this approach).

Which Con Uses Which Numbers?

When a convention reports attendance figures, it’s often not clear which method is being used. All these approaches are valid, but they’re different, making comparisons fraught with uncertainty.

San Diego Comic-Con reportedly uses the most conservative approach: a count of unique individuals, regardless of the number of days each person attends. Comic-Con International, which hosts the San Diego event, uses a Member ID system that allows them track the number of tickets or passes given to each individual. The attendance at San Diego Comic-Con has been capped by space constraints for several years and is reported to be around 130,000.

When New York Comic Con proclaimed a significantly higher number — 151,000 — in 2014, it sparked a flurry of articles breathlessly reporting that ReedPop’s event had surpassed the Comic-Con International convention. The confusion was compounded by ReedPop’s identifying the number as a “unique attendee” count. Reporting by the SDCC Unofficial Blog, however, clarified that ReedPop was counting tickets sold (using method 2, above) not unique individuals (method 1). Although ReedPop introduced a Fan Verification system linked to RFID badges in 2016 that could allow them to track individual attendance, given the steady increase in the numbers, it seems unlikely they have switched to a more conservative method of reporting attendance.

The key takeaway is that comparing attendance figures from events run by different organizations — Comic-Con International (San Diego Comic-Con and Wondercon), ReedPop (New York Comic Con, Chicago’s C2E2, Emerald City Comic Con), Wizard World (events in dozens of cities) or others — is highly dubious.

Assuming the method for each event remains the same, however, at least year-over-year increases could provide a reasonable proxy for the relative growth of a single event. Alas, this year New York Comic Con — which, remember, tallies the number of tickets sold — changed their ticket sales policy to no longer offer a four-day ticket. People were able to attend all four days only by buying four single-day tickets. Thus, even with the same number of attendees, the number of tickets sold would be expected to increase irrespective of any growth in attendance.

New York Comic Con and Comic-Con International: San Diego are both enormous pop culture events, with an broad array of activities and large numbers of attendees. Until the industry adopts a standard accounting method, however, the relative size of each will remain obscure.

For a visual tour of this year’s New York Comic Con, see:  New York Comic Con 2017

The Multilayered Mr. Robot Marketing Experience

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Mr. Robot’s Alternate Reality Game at San Diego Comic-Con

At San Diego Comic-Con last year, the offsite marketing event for USA Network’s Mr. Robot cleverly blended a physical environment with a virtual reality experience. This year, Mr. Robot eschewed the virtual in favor of physical constructions and encounters with live actors. Some aspects of the experience were clearly visible. Other elements were revealed only to fans who participated in a complex alternate reality game (ARG) to solve clues scattered around downtown San Diego.

Clearly Visible: The Bank of E and the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ

While the climax of the experience was cleverly hidden, much of this year’s Mr. Robot activation (as these marketing events are termed) was apparent to anyone strolling around San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

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The condemned Mr. Robot Repair Shop. Note the small white chicken, upper right.

On Fourth Ave, a short distance from the Convention Center, fans could see the storefront of the Mr. Robot Repair Shop. Last year, the shop was the entrance to an elaborate reconstruction of the fictional retail establishment from the TV show, complete with old mid-1990s computers. Moving down a hallway, fans then entered a recreation of the apartment of Elliot Alderson, the show’s protagonist. From there, participants donned VR headsets and entered a 13-minute virtual reality experience written and directed by showrunner Sam Esmail. [For more on the 2016 marketing experience, see: “The Mr. Robot VR Experience, Storytelling, and the Future of Immersive Media

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Mr. Robot Repair Shop Notice to Vacate.

This year, the repair shop was abandoned. The closed storefront displayed a condemned sign and a notice for eviction. An ad for the E Corp Online, the AOL-like online service of the show’s mega-conglomerate E Corp, could also be spotted. (More on this ad later.) Graffiti was splattered over much of the storefront.

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The Bank of E.

Next door, the Bank of E had a small branch office where fans could sign up for an account from the fictional bank and receive a charge card loaded with 20 Ecoin, the Bank of E’s cryptocurrency. People could also sign up online on the Bank’s website, e-coin.com. While the bank may be fictional, Ecoin worked as an effective pseudo-currency throughout much of the Gaslamp during Comic-Con. Signs declaring “Ecoin Accepted Here,” where fans could use their newly-acquired Ecoin card to purchase souvenirs and snacks, were scattered around downtown San Diego.

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The Red Wheelbarrow BBQ.

Next door to the Bank of E was the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, where Bank of E customers could receive a complimentary pulled pork sandwich (supplied by local favorite Phil’s BBQ) along with chips and a shake.

While the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ appears only obliquely in the previous season of the show — appearing briefly as a takeout menu in one episode — it will reportedly play a larger role in the upcoming third season.

These physical recreations of locations from the show allowed many fans at Comic-Con to enter the world of Mr. Robot. There was, however, a mystery hiding in plain sight.

Following the Clues

While many people were blithely enjoying lunch at the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, observant fans noticed clues to something deeper behind the Mr. Robot activation. [For many of the details in this section, I’m indebted to the redditors in the /r/MrRobot/ and r/ARGsociety/ subreddits, particularly B-Cipher, Cornelius55555555, and britter2]

At the Bank of E, a video screen running promotional ads for the bank would occasionally glitch and display a black screen with red lettering saying:

SOMETIMES TO SEE CLEARLY, YOU MUST CLOSE YOUR EYES.
ISE IARI CHI EIVE RIY WIH IERE

Removing the Is and unnecessary spaces, gives: SEARCH EVERYWHERE

Some of the Ecoin Accepted Here signs included the following text at the bottom:

Use Ecoin to unlock the mysteries of the universe!
Don’t wait… EVERY SECOND COUNTS!!
EUNSLEIPGRHOTMEONCMOEDNET

The gibberish at the bottom is an anagram for:

USE PROMO CODE ENLIGHTENMENT

Entering ENLIGHTENMENT as a promo code on the Ecoin website showed a black screen with white text that read:

so, you decided to bank with e corp.

good.

you’re on your way.

but first…

you need a job.

ask an employee at red wheelbarrow if they’re hiring

hope to hear back from you soon.

When asked, staff at the Red Wheelbarrow would hand out a job application form to prospective hires. Applicants were told to be observant and look around both inside and outside the Red Wheelbarrow. Staff also pointed out the application number at the top right of the form: 619. This is the area code for San Diego.

A number of letters were missing from words in the application form. Listing the missing letters gives: “find and assemble the pieces enlightenment calls.”

At the top left of the application, above the Red Wheelbarrow logo, were three circles, the first of which was filled with the other two empty.

On a chalkboard at the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ was written the William Carlos Williams poem from which the establishment takes its name:

So much depends upon

a red wheelbarrow

glazed with rain water

beside the white chickens

– William Carlos Williams

Underneath was a speech balloon saying “follow us!” above one of a pair of stickers of white chickens.

A white chicken sticker could also be seen on the closed Mr. Robot Repair Shop.

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Clues hidden in the E Corp Online ad.

Looking closely at the shop’s E Corp Online ad revealed additional clues. At the upper left, three circles could again be seen. In this case, the middle circle was filled with the two outside circles empty.

The first sentence of the text read: “A world of  enlightenment is just a click away with E Corp Online!,” with the bold “enlightenment” harking back to the earlier clues.

Elsewhere in the text, a number of words, representing numbers, were in all caps:

The World Wide Web is what’s happening now, and EOL brings it right to your computers. Sports, Shopping, Travel and more… over FOUR categories of content all at your fingertips.

And thanks to E Corp’s cutting edge technology, connecting with the people and things that you love has never been easier. Our new high connection speeds will have you online in less then THREE minutes!

BONUS: Order now, and receive ONE free hour to check out E Corp Online!

This text thus adds to 619 three numbers: 431.

White chicken stickers led down 4th Avenue and across the street. An abandoned building displayed a street art poster with four marionettes on strings. In the upper left were three circles, with the first two empty and the final circle filled.

The text of the poster one day read:

If you pull the right strings,
a puppet will dance any way you desire.

The work was signed “Enlightenment.”

Another day, the poster read:

The real you is not a puppet
which life pushes around.
The real, deep down you
is the whole universe.

A representative from Civic Entertainment Group involved in the production of the activation explained that since the text was key to entering the final stage of the experience, the poster was changed each day to reduce instances of sharing the text with people who had not solved the earlier puzzles.

In one hand, each of the figures was holding an object: a noose, a white rose, a cell phone, and a knife. With the other hand, each of the marionettes displayed a number of fingers. In order they were: 2454

Putting together the three sets of numbers gives a San Diego phone number.

A number of people reportedly had problems calling the number, receiving a busy signal or a recording telling them to call back tomorrow.

When the call was completed, the person on the other end said, “If you pull the right strings…” A wrong response would be answered with “Your journey is not complete. Follow the chickens.” If the caller answered correctly with the correct response for that that, such as “A puppet will dance any way you desire,” they were congratulated on following the correct path, asked their name, and given the time and location at which to appear. (In some accounts, they were told they could bring one friend.)

At the appointed time and place, the participant was met by someone who asked their name and led them to a doorway for the final segment of the experience.

The End of the Journey

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The secret door opens.

It turned out the entrance to the final chapter of the Mr. Robot Experience was located next to the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ. A glass doorway was covered with newspapers which, in a clever bit of misdirection, appeared to be more relevant to Superman than to Mr. Robot. A Daily Planet newspaper placed in multiple locations on the door trumpeted the headline “Mysterious Crisis Strikes City!” and discussed shocking developments in Superman’s home town of Metropolis.

The newspaper included a crossword puzzle with odd clues:

Across Down
Put First
Things First
Don’t Be
Afraid Switch
Things Up

Although I didn’t see this when I was there, apparently at one point the crossword puzzle on one of the pages was filled in with a series of backward and forward words:

Across:
EHT
TIGHR
OT
THAT
KNLOCU
DEHINDB
DINF

Down:
TNLIGHTENMENE
ROOD
RUMBEN

Unscrambling and rearranging these gives: “Find The Right Number to Unlock Enlightenment Behind That Door.”

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Past the secret door, down the hallway.

The door led to a dimly lit hallway with graffiti on the walls. A woman in a hoody was standing midway down the corridor. I was told I needed to turn over my cellphone before proceeding. I objected. As a compromise, I turned off my phone and promised to keep it in my pocket.

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Angela enters an interrogation room nearly identical to the one at Comic-Con.

The door at the end of the hall led to a darkened room — one that looks virtually identical to the interrogation room encountered by Angela (Portia Doubleday) in the penultimate episode in season 2 of Mr. Robot (titled “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”).

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As in the TV episode (shown), the room at Comic-Con held a Commodore 64 computer and a red phone.

As in the show, the room contained a dimly lit table on which sat an ancient Commodore 64 computer along with a few 5-1/4-inch diskettes. Also on the table was a red telephone. The only other object in the room was an illuminated fish tank, whose glow provided ambient light in the room.

While the physical environment closely matched the room seen in the show, there was one striking difference: While Angela was interrogated by a young blonde girl — looking much like the Angela would have looked at that age — in the room at Comic-Con, you were facing a person wearing the mask of the ominous Dark Army.

After being directed to sit down, the questions began.

“How many times have you lied today?”

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

The series of questions apparently varied somewhat. One account reported being asked “At what age did you realize you are alone?”

The final question was:

“Are you afraid of the dark?”

At that point, the masked figure slid forward a mechanical light switch. When switched on, the lights went off and the room turned . A black UV light revealed graffiti scrolled on the back wall that included the phrase, “What do all those in darkness seek?”

To avoid the obvious I initially answered, “Truth.” The masked figure shook his head. I then responded, “Light.”

At that point, the black light switched off and the dim room lighting returned.

One account reported that the fish tank began to slowly drain, echoing what happens during the similar sequence in show. When I spoke with one of the developers of the activation, he told me the original plan was to drain the tank, but it was taking too long to refill between sessions, so this was dropped.

The red phone then rang. When answered, the distinctive voice of Whiterose (BD Wong) began to speak. “No, no. Please don’t talk. I have allotted precisely one minute and twenty seven seconds for this conversation.” The character then went on to provide hints about the upcoming season of Mr. Robot, the main thrust of which (as well as I can recall) was that things were in motion that were much deeper than E Corp president Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) and others currently realize.

After replacing the receiver at the end of the call, my interlocutor said I had earned the right to see something. He handed me a manila envelope and said I had 30 seconds to review the contents. Inside were a series of photos from season 3 of Mr. Robot.

After viewing the photos, I returned them to the envelope and handed it back. I was then told I could leave and was shown the door.

Once in the hallway, participants who turned over their cellphones had them returned. I exited the hallway to return to the bustle of San Diego’s 4th Avenue and the crowd blissfully dining at the Red Wheelbarrow.

Worlds Within Worlds

The final phase of this elaborate marketing activation was a haunting experience. Being placed into a bizarre situation from the show — not as a digital simulation, but a physical environment interacting with human performers — is an eerie experience.

It’s striking how much effort went into the hidden elements of the marketing experience that would be seen by only a few fans of the show. A representative from Civic Entertainment Group, the company that helped to develop the activation with USA Networks, told me the final act of the experience took about 8 minutes. Allowing for buffer time between each session, this implies that only six or seven people per hour could go through the experience. As mentioned above, draining of the fish tank was dropped in order to decrease the time to cycle between each session. And some people were reportedly told they could bring a friend, which would double the number of participants. Even so, it’s a large effort for a limited audience.

Of course, the Mr. Robot presence at Comic-Con extended beyond the obscure clues that led to the final experience. The closed Mr. Robot Repair Shop, the Bank of E, and Red Wheelbarrow BBQ were readily apparent to anyone who strolled by.

In a way, this echoes the structure of the Mr. Robot TV show itself. Many viewers simply watch each hour-long episode. Others pick up on the obscure references and hidden “Easter eggs” that reveal additional story details or lead to other websites or videos for a deeper experience.

The Comic-Con Mr. Robot Experience was a rich interactive component to the show’s layered, transmedia content.

Related articles:

 

Updated with additional details on why the posters were changed each day. 

The images from Mr. Robot are from a copyrighted television program, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the program’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. All other photos on this page are copyright © 2017 Kendall Whitehouse.

San Diego Comic-Con 2017: Recap and Photo Highlights

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Comic-Con International: San Diego or, as it is more commonly known, San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC, is a massive event. Each year presents attendees with a challenging exercise to determine which of the many simultaneous activities they can afford to miss. Comic-Con scheduling is particularly vexing in my case since I wear multiple hats. For Knowledge@Wharton I’m on the lookout for emerging business trends, which frequently sends me to many of the offsite marketing “activations” (as they are known). As a photographer for TwoMorrows’ Comic Book Creator and other magazines, I attend many of the comic book panels and autograph signings. And, of course, there are things of which I’m personally a fan, which often send me to the mammoth Hall H for the major movie and television properties.

Here is an overview of San Diego Comic-Con 2017 from my perspective. [Click on the images to view full photo albums.]

The Big Panels in Hall H

The most popular programming sessions at Comic-Con are held in the 6,500-seat Hall H.

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Kyle MacLachlan gives the thumbs up at the ‘Twin Peaks’ panel.

On Friday, the cast of Twin Peaks: The Return took to the stage for “Twin Peaks: A Damn Good Panel.” Moderated by Damon Lindelof, the panel included Kyle MacLachlan, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Dana Ashbrook, Kimmy Robertson, James Marshall, Everett McGill, Matthew Lillard, and Don Murray.

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The cast of ‘Twin Peaks’.

Following the Twin Peaks panel, I was able to do a brief photo shoot with the cast of Twin Peaks before an autograph signing in the Entertainment Earth booth.

Saturday typically hosts the biggest panels to Hall H. This year, the day began with Warner Bros. and concluded with Marvel Studios.

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 ‘Ready Player One’: Steven Spielberg and Ernest Cline 

For the first Warner Bros. panel, Ready Player One, the curtains on the side walls pulled back to display a huge 180-degree video display that wrapped around the audience. Following a trailer for the upcoming film, moderator Chris Hardwick brought to the stage director Steven Spielberg; writers Ernest Cline and Zak Penn; and actors Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, and T.J. Miller.

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‘Blade Runner 2049’: Denis Villeneuve, Ryan Gosling, and Harrison Ford

The Blade Runner 2049 panel began with a display of a timeline of the events between the period of the first film (2019) and the upcoming sequel (2049). A version of this content can be seen at roadto2049.bladerunnermovie.com. Following this, the film’s trailer was screened, followed by a hologram-like projection of actor Jared Leto. Moderator Chris Hardwick then introduced director Denis Villeneuve; actors Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Lennie James; producers Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson; and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.

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The cast of ‘Justice League’ and ‘Aquaman’.

The final Warner Bros. presentation was for Justice League, which began with the stars of the forthcoming film charging down the center aisle past the Hall H audience to ascend the stage. Moderator Chris Hardwick first introduced Aquaman‘s Jason Momoa, who danced around with his trident like Jimi Hendrix on the guitar. Next up was Gal Gadot, followed by the rest of the cast: Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, and Ezra Miller.

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Charlize Theron.

After Warner Bros., next up in Hall H was the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel. While this annual panel typically includes a group of female actors, this year it highlighted a single performer: Charlize Theron. After an extended clip from Atomic Blonde with Theron in an intense fight scene, the actor was interviewed by Sara Vilkomerson.

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The cast of ‘Stranger Things’.

The Stranger Things panel showed a trailer for season 2 of the popular Netflix series and then brought to the stage an enormous panel of cast and crew: series creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer; actors Natalia Dyer, Shawn Levy, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, David Harbour, Caleb McLaughlin, Matthew Modine, Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Dacre Montgomery, Millie Bobby Brown, Paul Reiser, and Sadie Sink; and moderator Patton Oswalt. Midway through the panel, Shannon Purser, who played Barb in the show’s first season, emerged from the audience to join the cast on stage.

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Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood.

The Westworld panel included a trailer for the upcoming season of the series and featured a large cast including showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy; actors Shannon Woodward, Luke Hemsworth, Angela Sarafyan, Ben Barnes, Jimmi Simpson, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Rodrigo Santoro, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Simon Quarterman, and Tessa Thompson; and moderator Reggie Watts.

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Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige with his Inkpot Award.

Capping Saturday in Hall H was Marvel Studios. Moderator Chris Hardwick first introduced Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. Before introducing other cast members, Comic-Con International Director of Programming Eddie Ibrahim presented Kevin Feige with an Inkpot Award.

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‘Thor: Ragnarok’: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Ruffalo.

The first part of the Marvel panel then focused on Thor: Ragnarok. Joining Fiege and Hardwick on stage were director Taika Waititi and actors Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, and Jeff Goldblum. An exclusive trailer was shown.

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The cast of ‘Black Panther’ celebrate after seeing the first footage from the film.

Following Thor: Ragnarok, Feige brought to the stage the cast and crew of Black Panther: writer/director Ryan Coogler and actors Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis and Winston Duke. Exclusive footage from Black Panther was also debuted.

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Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston rousing the audience.

Although Fiege had initially stated the session would cover two films: Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, when Fiege began to sum up after the Black Panther cast exited the stage, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, and Mark Ruffalo returned to egg Fiege on for more — pointing out there were three Avengers on stage. Responding to the rising audience demand for additional material, Fiege, playing along, relented and showed the first public footage from Avengers: Infinity War.

While the footage shown in many of Saturday’s panels was released to the public shortly following its debut in Hall H, the Marvel Studios footage remained unavailable elsewhere. While it’s a shame to keep the content from fans who couldn’t make it into Hall H — and it’s likely beneficial to the studios to have the material seen by the largest possible audience — I’m pleased Marvel is upholding the tradition of showing exclusive content to the fans who who camped out for hours (or even days) to get inside Hall H.

Comic Book Panels, Signings, and Awards

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of famed comics artist and writer Jack Kirby. A number of this year’s comics-focused panels honored his legacy.

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Barry Ira Geller and Mike Royer.

On Thursday, the panel “Jack Kirby’s Consciousness, Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Barry Ira Geller, and the Real Argo” featured Barry Ira Geller and artist Mike Royer discussing Kirby’s work on a planned movie and science theme park based on Roger Zelazny’s novel, Lord of Light. While neither the movie nor the theme park materialized, the unproduced movie script and artwork were used as part of the scheme to rescue American diplomats who were in hiding in Iran following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, events portrayed (in a fictionalized version) in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning film, Argo.

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Mike Royer.

Mark Evanier moderated a separate spotlight panel with longtime Kirby inker Mike Royer. In comparing his inking style with that of another noted Kirby inker, Joe Sinnott, Royer said, “Joe Sinnott inked Jack MGM. I inked Jack Warner Brothers…. MGM was glossy. Warner Brothers was raw, and to the point.”

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John Morrow.

TwoMorrows’ publisher John Morrow, editor of Jack Kirby Collector Magazine, was featured in a spotlight panel on Friday. At the outset of the panel, Morrow was awarded an Inkpot Award by Comic-Con International’s Gary Sassaman.

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“Jack Kirby: Friends and Family.”

Also on Friday was the “Jack Kirby: Friends and Family” panel with Kirby decedents Jeremy Kirby, Tracy Kirby, Lisa Kirby, and Jillian Kirby, along with artist and family friend Mike Thibodeaux and moderator Mark Evanier.

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Denis Kitchen and Danny Fingeroth.

This year also marked 100 years since the birth of Will Eisner, who was honored in a number of panels, including Denis Kitchen in conversation with Danny Fingeroth discussing Kitchen’s long associated with the influential artist/writer.

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Paul Dini.

The “Spotlight on Paul Dini” panel featured the writer in conversation with his friend,  writer/producer David Mandel.

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“The Women of Marvel.”

The Women of Marvel” panel included Sana Amanat, Lorraine Cink, Margaret Stohl, Rainbow Rowell, Christina Strain, Alanna Smith, and Mariko Tamaki, moderated by Judy Stephens.

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Comic book creators.

Beyond the panels, comic book creators are available throughout much of Comic-Con — in Artist Alley, at signing events, and simply browsing the con with the other attendees.

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The Eisner Awards.

And, as always, Friday evening brought the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony, which is a wonderful event honoring the women and men who create comics. Among the many awards given that evening, the members of the Kirby family accepted the Bill Finger award given to Jack Kirby for his writing.

Science Fiction Meets Real-World Science

While Comic-Con often features panels that look at the scientific underpinnings of fictional worlds of movies and television like Star Trek or Star Wars, this year saw a number of panels and events focusing on science in the real world.

New at Comic-Con this year was the Futurism and Tech Pavilion (an expansion of last year’s VR Con) with demonstrations of a wide range of immersive entertainment technology including virtual reality, 4D VR motion controlled chairs, and augmented reality goggles.

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“Science Fiction, Science Future.”

In the “Science Fiction, Science Future” panel, science fiction writers, including The Martian‘s Andy Weir, discussed the synergies between science fiction and science fact with scientists and engineers.

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“No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars.”

No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars” featured engineers and scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) discussing how the space program works to anticipate and avoid problems in interplanetary travel.

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Richard Browning demonstrates “The State of Iron Man Tech.”

The “2017: The State of Iron Man Tech” panel, moderated by Dent the Future’s Steve Broback, featured inventor Richard Browning (who has developed a prototype jet-powered exosuit), actor and stunt woman Zoë Bell, NASA engineer Chris Gerty, and venture capitalist Adam Draper. That evening, Dent the Future hosted an informal get-together with Browning and Bell at San Diego’s Mission Brewery. While billed as an opportunity to see Browning’s jet suit, there were hints during the panel that Browning might do more than merely model the suit. And, indeed, midway through the gathering, people were given earplugs and asked to assemble outside the brewery where Browning flew around the parking area in his jet suit.

For more on the real-world science in evidence at this year’s Comic-Con, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Science — No Longer Just Fiction — at Comic-Con.”

Marketing: From Ubiquitous Banners to Immersive Environments

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‘People of Earth’ on the Marriott Marquis.

Advertising takes over nearly every square inch of San Diego during Comic-Con. This year’s award for Most Ubiquitous Ad Campaign would likely go, as in other recent years, to TBS. This year the network was promoting People of Earth (replacing the Conan ads from the past two years). Ads promoting the series appeared on everything from the stairways and baggage carousels at San Diego International Airport to the large building wrap covering the upper floors of the Marriott Marquis.

The companion real estate on the Hilton Bayfront was occupied by wrap for FX’s Legion, which mercifully replaced the creepy banners for The Strain that occupied that location in the previous two years.

The most significant marketing activity at SDCC occurs on the large-scale activations that take place around San Diego. Virtual reality was all the rage at many of the immersive marketing events in recent years. While VR was still in evidence, several of the most popular marketing activations this year were geared toward physical installations and real-world interactions. Scavenger hunts were featured in the activations for The Tick and Mr. Robot. Meticulously constructed physical environments populated with actors formed the core of the events for Blade Runner 2049 (which also included an optional VR component), Mr. Robot, and Westworld.

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The Tick Takeover.

The Tick Takeover, promoting Amazon’s forthcoming series, was a two-part activation. In the first section, fans could work the controls of the large tick antennae that towered over the sidewalk and rest on sofas while viewing the pilot episode of the series. In the second part, fans are first led into a reconstruction of a convenience store and are then whisked away into another room for a competitive scavenger hunt. Throughout the event, fans are required to answer a number of surveys in order to get free schwag.

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Blade Runner 2049 Experience: VR segment.

More immersive was the Blade Runner 2049 Experience. Located in a large temporary structure, this event was also presented in two parts. The first was a 4D virtual reality experience — 360-degree video and sound with a synchronized motion chair. In the simulation, you’re piloting a spinner, the flying car in the show, in pursuit of a runaway replicant. The chase soars between the skyscrapers in Los Angeles of 2049, eventually ending with both vehicles crashing to the ground.

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Blade Runner 2049 Experience: physical construction.

Once the virtual experience ends, you remove your headset to see the wall previously in front of the room has disappeared and you walk into a large scale reproduction of a street scene in Los Angeles 2049. The entire scene is suffused with a foggy haze. Actors wearing outrageous fashions interact with you. A chef prepares dishes at a noodle stand. Police keep an eye on things and, at one point, insist you submit to a Voight-Kampff test to verity you’re a human. There are also props from the film on display and, in an adjacent room a place to pick up noodles or drink vials of Johnnie Walker whisky.

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‘Westworld’ player piano.

Perhaps the most exclusive marketing event at this year’s Comic-Con was the Westworld Experience, which reportedly accommodated only 12 people per hour. The lucky few who were able to sign up for an appointment, were able to participate in an in-depth physical immersive experience. After being interviewed by a host, you were given a western hat — either white or black. Guests were then led to a full scale replica of the show’s Mariposa Saloon.

This year’s physical construction stood in sharp contrast to the Westworld activation at last fall’s New York Comic-Con, which used a physical entry point for a VR experience. [See Knowledge@Wharton, “Entering Westworld: VR Marketing at New York Comic Con.”]

Also built around physical environments, along with a mysterious scavenger hunt, was this year’s Mr. Robot Experience. As with the Westworld Experience, this year’s event stood in contrast with last year’s Mr. Robot Experience, which combined a VR experience with a physical environment.  That year’s hybrid experience reconstructed the Mr. Robot Repair Shop and the apartment of the show’s main character, and then launched into an extended, 13-minute virtual reality experience. [See On Technology and Media, “The Mr. Robot VR Experience, Storytelling, and the Future of Immersive Media.”]

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Mr Robot’s Bank of E and Red Wheelbarrow BBQ.

This year, the Mr. Robot Repair Shop was closed, with condemned notices posted on a reconstruction of the building’s exterior. Open next door was the Bank of E, where fans could get a bank card loaded with 20 ECoin, the show’s fictional digital currency, that could be used to buy food and other items at many locations throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. At the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, an establishment only hinted at in season 2 of the show but reportedly playing a larger role in season 3, fans could enjoy a pulled pork sandwich (supplied by Phil’s BBQ) with chips and a shake.

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The interrogation room in ‘Mr. Robot’ episode 2×11, nearly identical to the one at the Comic-Con experience.

As if this weren’t enough, observant fans discovered hints that led them on a hunt to decode additional clues around town. When all the clues were collected, they revealed a phone number that directed participants to the final stage of the activation. Past a secret doorway, guards confiscate your cell phone to prevent photos or recordings, and then lead you down a hallway to a dark room that is a near-exact replica of the interrogation room in which Angela finds herself in season 2 episode 11. You’re seated in front of a table with a red telephone and an old Commodore 64 computer. A few 5-1/4 diskettes are scattered around. At the rear of the room is an illuminated fish tank. But where Angela was interrogated by a young girl, you’re sitting across the desk from a masked representative of the Dark Army. He asks a series of odd, somewhat intimidating questions: “How many times have you lied today?” “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” “Are you afraid of the dark?” “What does one in the darkness seek?” After the interrogation, a phone rings. When answered, you hear the voice of Whiterose giving you a cryptic message that may contain clues about the direction of season 3 of the show. You’re then handed a manila envelope and told you have 30 seconds to review the contents. Inside are photos from the upcoming season of Mr. Robot.

While these immersive marketing events relied on real-world environments populated by actors, rather than virtual simulations, next year may reveal whether this was a single year deviation or the beginning of a trend. [For additional commentary, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Marketing at Comic-Con Gets Real (Again).”

Cosplay and Talk Back

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Creative cosplay.

While I don’t photograph cosplay as extensively as many of the photographers at Comic-Con, I love original costumes and clever mash-ups. Highlights from this year included a combination of Sailor Mercury and Freddie Mercury, a Day of the Dead costume, and Dr. Strange with his floating cape.

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John Rogers responds to attendees at the Talk Back session.

SDCC 2017 ended for me, as it does each year, with the Talk Back session, in which Comic-Con International President John Rogers listens to feedback from attendees on what went right and what went wrong (mostly what went wrong) at that year’s Comic-Con. In addition to the usual complaints about long lines and over-zealous security staff, this brought a new concern: allegations of counterfeit Hall H wristbands. Although these reports were unconfirmed, it was clear something went terribly awry regarding Hall H access on Saturday. After the 6,500-seat room was filled for the opening Warner Bros. panel that day, a significant number of fans with wristbands — which should have guaranteed access to the room — were still outside waiting in line. Rogers made it clear that Comic-Con International needs to “look into the security of the wristbands and how we tie that into people going forward.”

For a gallery of 1,100+ photos from Comic-Con International 2017, see the Flickr photo album: San Diego Comic-Con 2017:

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The image from the Mr. Robot is from a copyrighted television program, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the show’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. All other photos are copyright © 2017 by Kendall Whitehouse.

Wizard World Philadelphia 2017: Looking to Expand the Fanbase

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This past weekend, Wizard World Comic Con returned to Philadelphia with a show geared to expanding the audience beyond the usual comic book and superhero crowd. This year’s celebrity headliners were drawn from a wider array of fandom than the usual superhero and science fiction movies and TV shows. And, new this year, Wizard World partnered with Bloody Disgusting to present the Wizard World Horror Fest as an addition to the Philadelphia pop culture convention.

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Wizard World CEO John Maatta.

At Wizard World Philadelphia 2016, newly-ensconced Wizard World CEO John Maatta stated his plan to “amp it up” with “better marketing and more content creation.” After expanding from 17 comic conventions in 2014 to 25 shows in 2015, Wizard World scaled back to 16 conventions in 2016. While originally announcing a slate of 16 shows for 2017, when I spoke with him at this year’s Philadelphia show, Maatta stated that announcements of additional dates — perhaps has many as ten — may be forthcoming.

While smaller markets may not have the audience of Wizard World’s largest shows in Chicago and Philadelphia, Maatta sees benefit in these venues “because the fans are so appreciative.” In his view there is less advantage in moving into a saturated market like Los Angeles.

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The cast of Riverdale.

Regardless of the number of cons, the content of the Philadelphia show seemed designed to appeal to a broad audience with appearances by performers outside the usual comic book and sci-fi realm. Jesse Eisenberg, who played Lex Luther in Batman v Superman (but is perhaps better remembered as portraying Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) was a featured celebrity. A popular panel featured the cast of the CW’s Riverdale. And Wizard World regular Michael Rooker from Guardians of the Galaxy was also in attendance. However, many of the other featured celebrities were drawn from other realms of pop culture, including KISS front man Gene Simmons and actors Chuck Norris and John Cusack.

While casting a wider net for celebrity appearances, this year’s crop seemed to offer a bit less star wattage. The “stars aligned last year” to bring a slate of A-list talent Maatta told me. And, indeed, last year’s Wizard World Philadelphia included top flight talent including Civil War‘s “Team Cap” of Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie; Arrow’s Stephen Amell; Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston; the entire Back to the Future cast; David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi, and William B. Davis from The X-Files; and Agent Carter actors Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper. That year’s headliners appeared in the Philadelphia Convention Center’s 4,300-seat Terrace Ballroom, which was packed for many of the events. This year, the largest panels were in the 2,500-seat Ballroom AB, which had ample seating available throughout the show.

While it’s tempting to view this year’s celebrity roster as an attempt to reduce booking fees for top tier talent, it may be more happenstance than intention. Maatta told me they company has offers out to major stars of current DC/Warner Bros. and other films this year. Maatta indicated his plan is to keep the show’s traditional core comic focus with artists and comics creators while expanding to a broader range of interests.

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White Wedding performs hits from the 1980s on the Entertainment Stage.

Maatta also highlighted the company’s aim of adding more entertainment to the show. An Entertainment Stage on the floor of the exhibition hall featured an eclectic array of acts, including musicians, magicians, and a hypnotist. The stage’s master of ceremonies was Kato Kaelin who, despite his unusual rise to fame as the world’s best known house guest, did a deft job of entertaining the crowd throughout each day of the show.

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John Maatta inducts Rob Liefeld into the Wizard World Hall of Legends.

In addition, Wizard World Philadelphia introduced a new initiative, the Wizard World Hall of Legends, to celebrate “the artists, writers, and insiders” who have contributed to the industry. The inaugural award went to writer/artist Rob Liefeld in a ceremony with CEO Maatta hosted by Aaron Sagers.

“We’re here to please the fans,” CEO Maatta told me at the show. Time will tell whether these format changes keep the core audience pleased while also expanding to bring in a broader range of fans.

Here are highlights from Philadelphia Wizard World Comic Con 2017, with links to more extensive photo galleries for each:

Riverdale-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400All four of the principal cast members in the CW’s Riverdale — KJ Apa (Archie), Lili Reinhart (Bettie), Camila Mendes (Veronica), and Cole Sprouse (Jughead) — interviewed by CBS 3 Philadelphia’s Meisha Johnson.

Jesse-Eisenberg-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Jesse Eisenberg discussed his roles in Batman v Superman, The Social Network, and other films with Aaron Sagers.

Famke-Janssen-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Famke Janssen talked about her many popular portrayals — including Jean Grey in the X-Men movies; Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye; and roles in Game of Thrones, all three Taken films, the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove, and ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder — with Aaron Sagers.

John-Cusack-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400John Cusack spoke with Aaron Sagers about his many film roles from Say Anything…, and High Fidelity to Being John Malkovich, and 1408.

Michael-Rooker-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Wizard World favorite Michael Rooker regaled the audience with tales of his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead, and Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer. To get through everyone on line waiting to ask a question, Rooker left the stage and went onebyone down the line to spend a moment with each fan.

Gene-Simmons-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400.jpgKISS front man Gene Simmons hosted an interactive session with the audience and offered his advice on achieving success and profit. “Being selfish is good,” Simmons stated. “Think: Me, first,” noting that airlines’ safety procedures require passengers to first apply their own oxygen mask before helping others. Simmons also demonstrated how to gain personal power when greeting others. When another audience member asked “Is it ever enough?” Simmons unabashedly replied “It’s never enough.”

Chuck-Norris-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Chuck Norris and wife Gena O’Kelley discussed the actor’s long career with Aaron Sagers.

Billie-Piper-and-Billie-Piper-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400.jpgAaron Sagers also hosted a conversation with Doctor Who companions Billie Piper and Pearl Mackie.

Kristy-Swanson-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Kristy Swanson hosted a Q&A session following a screening of her 1992 film, Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Indie-Comics-Creators-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400.jpgThe “Indie Comics Creators Power Hour” panel hosted by Danny Fingeroth initially featured Fabrice Sapolsky, Dean Haspiel, and Josh O’Neill, but became an interactive session with comics creators from the audience Kathleen Kralowec, Christine Cassano, and CS Jones joining the panel.

Danny-Fingeroth-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Danny Fingeroth also gave an overview of the entire history of Marvel Comics in the panel, “From the Golden Age to Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel at 75.”

Exhibition-Hall-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400The Exhibition Hall included the expected assortment of vendors offering comic books and pop culture collectibles. The show floor also included a number of surprising booths, including live tarantulas and large insects at the Philadelphia Insectarium & Butterfly Pavilion booth, snake skeletons and mounted creatures from Darwin and Wallace, and both real and reproduction human skulls from RealHumanSkull.com. As has now become common, there was also the usual array of non-pop culture vendors. In addition to the usual booths by Geico insurance and an array of telecom providers including Verizon, T-Mobile, and Comcast/Xfinity, the show floor included a surprising number of health related booths, aimed as easing aches and pains which, given the rigors of a long day on the con floor, could be viewed as relevant to the event. The relevance of the booth from Risqué Boutiques with more intimate personal products was less clear.

JG-Jones-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400Comics artists and writers and were also available to chat with fans, autograph their works, or create original artwork.

Brit-Bliss-WizardWorldPHL-2017-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-600x400And, of course, there was cosplay in evidence throughout the show, from both fans and featured performers like Britt Bliss.

For 300+ photos from Wizard World Philadelphia 2017, see the Flickr photo album “Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2017“:

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