By Transmute Jun
I just got back from Walker Stalker Con – San Francisco, held April 15 & 16 at Fort Mason Center. For those who are unfamiliar, Walker Stalker is a series of conventions focusing on The Walking Dead television show. The same company also puts on the Heroes & Villains Fan Fests and other Fan Fest events, so they have a good share of the pop culture convention market. Attendees are able to meet and interact with the stars from their favorite shows by purchasing autographs and photo ops, as well as watching panels put on by the con. The closest comparison I can make to my experience this past weekend is that it was similar to the Star Trek cons put on by Creation Entertainment, especially in terms of the accessibility to actors from the related franchise.
Having never properly experienced a Walker Stalker con before, I was curious to see what it would be like. Relatively speaking, San Francisco is a small event for Walker Stalker, with about 7,000 attendees over the course of the weekend. Even so, the guest lineup was impressive, including current cast members such as Norman Reedus (Daryl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) and Tom Payne (Jesus), as well as the recently departed, such as Michael Cudlitz (Abraham), Michael Rooker (Merle) and Scott Wilson (Herschel), as well as many others.
Of the 7,000 attendees, approximately 100 are gold and platinum VIPs, another 200-300 are regular VIPs, and the remainder is general attendees. The gold and silver VIPs got special treatment, including first entrance into the con, ‘fast pass’ lines for celebrity autographs and dedicated seats up front at the panel stage. These packages also included a set number of autographs and photo ops from the celebrity guests. Regular VIPs had no included autographs or photo ops, nor dedicated seating, but they were let into panels and autographs before general attendees and got to enter the con 90 minutes before general attendees in the morning. So roughly 5% of the attendees had ‘special treatment’. Whether or not it would be worth it to pay extra for such treatment is up to the individual attendee. If you plan on purchasing a lot of autographs and photo ops, or if dedicated seating at the panels is of primary importance, then it might be for you. But most attendees were quite happy with their ‘general’ status, and I heard few complaints about the exhibit hall or the organization of the associated lines. I was very impressed by the efficiency with which the lines were organized, and the way attendees were treated as they moved through the process and interacted with their chosen celebrities.
The Fort Mason venue was interesting and beautiful, but not really suited for a convention of this nature. Due to logistical issues, Walker Stalker was only allowed to use one building, which housed the exhibit hall and some of the autographs. Everything else was outdoors. The remaining autographs and photo ops were under portable tents, but the panel stage (there was only one venue for panels) was minimally covered, with the seating for attendees (even those expensive gold and platinum VIP seats) left completely open to the elements. This was really the only negative of the con for me. On Saturday, the weather was warm by San Francisco standards and many attendees wore shorts, some of them getting sunburn waiting for and attending panels. On Sunday the weather was much worse, as the forecast called for rain, and it delivered in spades. It was typical of a winter storm in San Francisco, with rain falling nearly all day. For those of us waiting for panels and sitting outdoors it made for a miserable experience (although one that was still worth it, thanks to the quality of the panels presented). Surprisingly, no attempt was made to cover the seating on either day, even though the forecast was well known and the weather was not unexpected.
The other negative of the panel experience was the lack of seating. While there were 7,000 attendees, there were only 300 seats in front of the stage. For popular panels, such as Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s appearance, this meant that there were hundreds of people standing behind the seating area, crammed in and blocking walkways, which must surely have been an uncomfortable experience! Then on Sunday, as many attendees waited in a downpour, the staff began removing the chairs, telling everyone that it would be standing room only. No proper explanation was given for this, although my guess is that they simply wanted to accommodate more people in the small ‘seating’ area. However telling this to drenched and tired attendees did not go over well. I would have expected an organization with experience in putting on pop culture cons to have provided a better venue for panels. Hopefully if Walker Stalker holds future conventions at Fort Mason Center, they will have use of more buildings or provide a bigger, covered area for panels.
Overall, it was clear that attendees enjoyed themselves at Walker Stalker San Francisco, and I expect that many of them will return next year. I know that I will be among them. This was my first real Walker Stalker experience, but it whetted my appetite for more.
Have you attended Walker Stalker cons? Join the conversation on FoCC!