There Are So Many Conventions in Texas These Days. Which Ones Are Most Worth Your While?
Welcome to Ranked, our recurring column in which we take a long, hard look at oddly specific things pertaining to Dallas and tell you the order in which you should care about them.
Last weekend, Downtown Dallas was transformed into an epicenter for all things pop culture-related with its annual Fan Expo Dallas event. And why not? It was a chance for the nerds, sportos, motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, dweebies and dickheads to all congregate under the righteous Church of Fandom at the Dallas Convention Center and celebrate their love for all things geeky in unison.
Don’t worry if you missed it, though. The Fan Expo may boast the biggest attendance figures of any of the Dallas-Fort Worth area conventions out there, but it’s far from the area’s only game. This weekend, for instance, local Anime convention A-KON will take over Dallas’ Hilton Anatole for its 26th straight year.
And even that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Convention Awareness Project, there are over 100 fan conventions happening in Texas this year alone. That in mind, I decided to rank the best area conventions (plus one that’s close enough) based on my own personal experience and knowledge, as well with some input and contributions from local congers from around Texas.
These ranking are not only based on the years these events have been in business or their guest lists, but also other accommodations such as panels, cosplay support, parking, pricing, staff, food, safety, after-hours actives and diversity.
When calculating ranks and breaking down the cons by bits, I used information I’ve gathered from my own experience, from the online forum “Rate That Comic Con” and from the my the attendee perspectives I’ve gleaned from friends, vendors and artists.
Specifically, I focused on ten different factors.
• Pricing. How affordable are the tickets?
• Guests. Is there a diverse selection of celebrity guests? Are there repeats? Are there many last-minute cancellations?
• Panels. Are they interactive and informative? Is the local community represented in these panels?
• Artist Alley. Are there a wide variety of local artists on display? Are the artists easily accessible? Are the artists promoted as much as the bug media guest?
• Cosplay Support. Does the con offer a place where cosplayers can take a break from their fans and rest in quiet? Are there consent statements that remind people to ask for cosplay photos rather than just assume it’s OK to take a picture of someone’s ass?
• Parking/Public Transportation. Are there plenty of parking spaces for the crowds? Are these events set close to public rails with easy access to bus stops? Is there easy access for vendor load-ins and -outs?
• Food/Beverage. Are there readily accessible set-ups for food and snacks int he convention centers? Are there enough places to access water? Is free water and cups provided?
• Safety. Do you feel safe walking around the con? Are security officers on site and always within sight?
• Knowledgable/Friendly Staff. Self-explanatory.
• After-Hours Fun. Do these events keep the party going on after the convention shuts down with after-parties, events and/or movies?
I awarded up to 10 points to each category for each of the above events, thus affording for up to 100 possible points to be earned.
Here’s how 10 of the area’s top conventions fared.
10. ScrewAttack Gaming Convention.
Location: Embassy Suites, Frisco.
Operating as SCG in Dallas for two years, SGC is a gaming convention like no other. It’s a three-day party where gamers from around the world can come together and share their passion for, well, video games. Ticket prices are reasonable and parking is ample. This is an event where the cosplay aspect is hardly seen, which helps make for a weekend clearly focused on gaming. It’s a fairly new convention, so there is opportunity for the panels to fill out in diversity and spotlight local talents in the years ahead. Hotel security is always in view on site. There’s no official after party, but finding an afterhours activity isn’t difficult.
9. Texas Frightmare Weekend.
Location: Regency DFW Airport, Dallas.
Operating as Texas Frightmare weekend for eight years now, this convention caters to the horror side of all fandoms with collectibles, books, posters, rare memorabilia, models, movies, toys, art, T-shirts, posters and more. As the name suggests, the guests are from horror movies and television shows, with little to no emphasis on cosplay. Hosted as a hotel convention, it does have limitations with regards to parking. Similarly, on-site, accessible food options are limited. But the staff is always on the ball, and the ticket prices cannot be beat given all that this one offers. There isn’t an official after-party, but they do have midnight movie showings and have teamed up previously with the Alamo Drafthouse in offering horror movies nightly leading up to the event. Although this event does offer an artist alley, it doesn’t highlight the artists specifically, making this con more about the media guests. The plus side there is that celebrities are willing to stop and take selfies with con-goers. Security is always in sight.
8 (tie).Fan Expo Dallas.
Location: Dallas Convention Center.
For two years running now as Fan Expo, this convention focuses on all aspects of pop culture, including movies, TV shows, cosplayers, comic artists and creators. The guest lists rotates often but does frequently lean on repeat guests from previous years. Also of note: This event does have more last-minute cancellations than it would prefer to be publicized — especially when considering that Fan Expo boasts the highest-priced three-day pass of all the conventions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, while placing little emphasis on the local artist scene. The panels are mostly of the media guests, although they have had the same local SFX artist host panels these past two years. Since moving to the Dallas Convention Center, there have been more choices for food and beverages, and the lines are much shorter than when this event was hosted at the Irving Convention Center. Also on the plus side: They do offer plenty of sitting areas and charging stations for those needing phones, iPads and cameras charged. The staff is also mostly knowledgeable and willing to find the answers out if they do not know them. There is an after-party dubbed the “Saturday Night Shin Dig,” which, surprisingly enough, does host more local artists and talent than the convention itself does. The Shin Dig is conveniently located a quick five minutes away from the center. Parking is a pain anywhere in Downtown Dallas, though, so come early for a good spot and be prepared to pay heavily. That said, DART runs right to the center and can really make things easier on your planning. Fan Expo also provides a safe environment with much security in sight, and fire marshals always visible.
8 (tie). A-KON.
Location: Hilton Anatole, Dallas.
Operating as A-KON for 26 years now, this is the longest-running event of its kind in Texas. It’s also fairly niche: This convention focuses heavily on the Anime/animation aspect of fandom. Its limitations come from being held in a hotel, so access to parking and food is somewhat limited. The guest lineups vary from year to year, heavily focusing on voice actors and cosplay. Their cosplay contests are especially well-known and bring out the best of the best every year. The staff is usually quick to resolve problems if they arise. The feel of this convention is slightly younger, so security is always in sight. Really, though: The emphasis and support of cosplay is what makes this one a must-go for a majority of the cosplayers around the Texas area. Pricing is comparable to other cons given the panels and events offered throughout the weekend.
6. Creative Women’s Conference.
Location: North Denton Library.
The Creative Women’s Conference is currently the only convention that focuses on the female side of all things creative and pop culture. It’s in its early stages but it’s working hard to grow and has a staff and volunteer network that knows how important an event like this can be. The panels are fun and led by some well-known female artists. This is clearly a smaller event, but it offers great prices and ample parking for increasing crowds. An artist alley is highlighted as an aspect of the show rather than an extra.
Location: Hilton Anatole, Dallas.
Nineteen years into its run, QuakeCon had proven itself a convention unlike any other in Dallas. Dubbed as a “PC/LAN Woodstock,” the Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) area at QuakeCon is the largest gaming Local Area Network (LAN) party in the world. They provide the tables, chairs, power and an enormous gaming network; you bring your computer that’s ready-to-play your favorite video games. It’s just that simple. People who are not partaking in the BYOC area can gain access to the three-day event for free. There are no cosplay contests, and this is an event where cosplay is not the attraction, although some can still be seen. There is no artist alley, and the handful of vendors are most always returns from previous years. The panels are from various gaming companies offering looks and gameplay trials for upcoming games. Security is incredibly strict considering that this is a place where computers are brought; in turn, it’s definitely a safe place and a family friendly event.
4. North Texas Comic Book Show.
Location: Doubletree Hotel, Dallas.
The North Texas Comic Book Show has been bringing the comics back to comic cons for four years at this point. Held two days each quarter, this convention is one of the best deals around — and the only convention with a $10 ticket price. If you’re a true comic book fan, it’s tailored just for you, too, as it scores some of the best names in comics despite its smaller scale. The cosplay community in particular loves this easy-going, welcoming ad safe nature of this one, too. The panels are diverse but somewhat lacking, although they could easily grow into more in the near future. This scene is big and the family-friendly atmosphere is great for a first-time con-goer.
Location: George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston.
OK, given that this is a Houston con, maybe including it is cheating at bit. But, what can I say, I’m a fan. Five years in, Comicpalooza is pretty quickly becoming the biggest convention in quantity and quality alike, having grown by leaps and bounds since its introduction. The programming spans the entire four days of the convention, which takes place in a whopping 35 separate rooms. The panels are extremely diverse, too, and are always keen on showcasing local talents and fans. Also? The pricing is low considering the amount of days and programming offered. The location is easily accessible through public transportation as well, and the security and staff are constantly visible and willing to help as soon as needed. Moreso than at most other conventions, the volunteers are very familiar with the schedule and able to guide attendees to almost anyplace they need to go. Aside from the media guests, the artist alley and cosplayers are big factors in this event. Even though Houston is about a four-hour drive from Dallas, many fanboys and fangirls from the North Texas area make the pilgrimage from year to year because this convention just continues doing a great job of showcasing what the fans want. All guests are welcome here: A-List movie stars, NASA astronauts, musical guests, cosplayers, writers, artists and even wrestlers. There’s a big after-party, too, just minutes from the con. And the safe-and-secure convention center offers various food stands. This con is on its way to being the SDCC of the South, folks. Get on board.
1 (tie). Retropalooza.
Location: Arlington Convention Center.
In its third year as Retropalooza, this convention has established itself as a beacon for fans of all things retro and nostalgic. Guests are mainly pulled from the works of YouTube in the likes of Andre Meadows of Black Nerd Comedy and The Game Chasers, and, yeah, it’s one of the smaller conventions. But it still has a big con feel. The vendors are unique as well as the artists, with the alleys doubling in size almost every year. They also host old-school video game tournaments throughout the event. Security is always in sight and the convention center offers plenty of paid parking. The panels, while highly interactive, could probably stand to become a little more diverse. The cosplay scene, on the other hand, continues to grow every year with an annual contest that’s fast becoming a draw all its own. Lastly, the staff is usually aware enough of where panels are and what the schedule is, and the ticket pricess are reasonable for one- and two-day passes.
1 (tie). AllCon Dallas.
Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Addison.
For 12 years now, AllCon has focused mainly on diverse community panels. That’s what makes it special, really: While it does bring in some big names in the movie prop and set world, this con focuses on community like no other panel around. The pricing is very affordable, too, with the first day of the four-day con offered as a freebie. The staff is mostly knowledgeable, although they can sometimes appear overwhelmed. Since the convention is held at a hotel, it makes food slightly less accessible. But, on the plus side, they do provide free water in all locations of the convention. Security doesn’t make their presence strongly known until needed, but things still feel safe. Also, there’s plenty of parking, and they offer a killer after-party that goes on into the late hours of the night. Maybe the coolest part of all, though? AllCon promotes all of its guests — yes, including the local artists and vendors. That’s love, y’all.
Taffeta Darling is a Dallas-based cosplay icon, pin-up model, pop culture obsessive, web host and media personality. She’s been to way more conventions than you have.