PlayItGrand and I had the pleasure of attending CyphanCon here in Chicago. CyphanCon is a small three-day convention in its second year. Last year PlayItGrand had such a fabulous time I knew I wanted to go with her this year. I haven’t been to many small conventions so I was unsure what to expect.
For a small con Cyphan did the best it could for what it had to work with. This year’s guests included Robert Picardo (Stargate Atlantis, Voyager), Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Jason Carter (Babylon 5), and Battlestar Galactica stars Richard Hatch, Nicki Clyne, Dirk Benedict, Herb Jefferson Jr., and Jack Stauffer. Not being a BSG fan, the BSG stars didn’t interest me much. However, I was interested in seeing Robert Picardo’s panel after all the stories PlayItGrand has told me about him on stage.
Cyphan was held at the beautiful Hyatt Hotel. This hotel was amazing. The panel rooms were very nice, and it looked like Cyphan had a lot of space reserved. The downside was that there was a pyramid scheme conference going on there as well so there was some fighting your way through people in suits to get to the bathroom or the coffee stand. Generally though, aside from their loud music which interrupted the big panels because they were next door, the business scam people stayed out of our way.
As a semi-regular con-goer, I’d like to give a shout out to the CyphanCon volunteers. Every person we spoke with who worked for the con was fantastic. People were very friendly, welcoming and extremely well organized! They really made an effort to make everyone feel at home. It was wonderful to have that feeling of friendship and acceptance from the moment we picked up our badges.
The dealer room was fantastic! I was impressed, that’s for sure. Usually at smaller cons the dealer rooms aren’t anything to write home about. Here, the dealer room had a large variety of vendors and we spent a lot of time looking at all of the booths. I’ll let PlayItGrand tell you what she walked away with, but we did score some pretty sweet stuff. We’ve got some fantastic new movies to watch and review for you and I found an LED Big Daddy from Bioshock to add to my collection. The guests’ tables were located in the vendor room as well, which seemed to work out nicely. You didn’t have to travel to another room to get an autograph. It was like one-stop shopping!
We had the opportunity to sit in on a panel about zombie make-up led by Samantha Daley and Benjamin Holmes of The Image Works FX. This was exactly what a fan-run panel should be like! The two make-up artists went through all of the steps for how to do some pretty amazing zombie makeup. They were informative, funny and incredibly knowledgeable about their craft. Plus, they took time to answer questions from the audience as they went which provided a few extra little tricks of the trade. The Image Works FX has some pretty awesome products so I suggest you check out their website.
PlayItGrand did not lie. Robert Picardo’s panel was FANTASTIC. What an entertaining man! He sang for us and told a lot of great stories and jokes. There were less than 30 people in the panel which made for a fantastically intimate setting. A panel this small is a unique opportunity and something Cyphan really should consider capitalizing on.
Being a small convention has its drawbacks. First was the length of the convention itself. Cyphan was a three day convention when really, it could have succeeded in two days. There simply wasn’t enough programming to span three days. Another programming faux pas was scheduling all of the guest Q&A’s for Saturday morning/afternoon. Spreading the Q&A’s out and breaking them apart (instead of lumping all of the BSG guests together) would have created a lot more programming. By Sunday, while there were still a few interesting panels, sitting up in the registration area we could tell there weren’t a lot of fans going downstairs to the dealer/panel rooms.
The second drawback was the ticket prices. It’s understandable that tickets for a smaller convention may cost a little more than a larger con. It was only CyphanCon’s second year, and with a second year con the goal should be to break even, not make a profit. The single day pass at $30 was reasonable. It was an extra $10 if you wanted to attend the Imperial Ball Saturday night and another $40 extra if you wanted to go to the cash bar cocktail party where some guests were to make an appearance. Personally, if I’m paying $40 for a cocktail party there shouldn’t be a cash bar. At the very least, sodas should be free. The price alone made the cocktail party an instant turn-off.
If you purchased your tickets before the convention you had the option of buying Platinum ($190) or Gold ($125) passes. This is a ticketing option companies like Creation and Wizard World use at their conventions as a way of giving fans some extra perks. The Cyphan Platinum pass got you: a 3 day pass, admittance to the cocktail party with the cash bar, admittance to the Imperial Ball, a VIP swag bag, front row seats at all Q&A sessions, one autograph and one photo op of your choice and a “fast pass” to the front of the autograph lines. The Gold pass gets you everything but the swag bag, photo op and autograph. It sounds good right? Not really.
The problem with the Platinum and Gold passes is this: there weren’t enough fans at the Q&A sessions to warrant the extra money for front row seats. We arrived 5 minutes before Robert Picardo’s panel and were able to sit in the second row…with no one sitting in the Platinum seats in front of us.
There’s also a question of the whole “fast pass” thing. The guests were located in the dealer room. We spent a great deal of time in the dealer room and not once was there a line (or anything even remotely resembling a line really) in front of any of the guests’ tables that would warrant a fast pass. A fast pass for autographs and photo ops would be perfect for a larger convention like C2E2, Wizard World Comic Con, SDCC, and Dragon*Con where there are hundreds of fans waiting in line to get autographs from some pretty big named stars. Fast pass at a smaller convention where you can see some of the guests reading a magazine at their table, is just laughable.
Overall Cyphan is a great little con with a lot of potential. The dealer room was pretty sweet. They’ve got a great staff. They’re well organized and the passion is there. However, there are a few things that could use tweaking. 1) Make it a two day convention and split the guest Q&A’s between both days to encourage fans to attend all weekend, 2) Get rid of the Platinum and Gold ticketing options. These only work if you’re a large convention with big name stars. If I had purchased either of these ticket options I would have been angry. If you’re going to ask $190 for a ticket then there should be at least one really big named star on the list.
I had a great time at CyphanCon and met a lot of interesting people. If CyphanCon returns for a third year, this SpaceGypsy will be in attendance.