Huntsville Comic and Pop Culture Expo is an event I find myself attending yearly ever since I first came across it in 2021. It’s one of those events that had a nice balance in size and what it had to offer compared to the number of people walking around to make a rather cohesive experience. This year things were a bit different as the convention grew in popularity but not in size so it experienced what a lot of events go through when it reaches a stage where it’s more popular than what it can currently maintain so this made 2023 a very different experience than what I had in previous years.
To start with the guest list was one of the most interesting ones they’ve had to date. As an anime fan seeing one of the largest Naruto cast reunions in general and one on the east coast is pretty spectacular. Truthfully I would have expected to have to travel to Los Angeles or Houston to get any experience of that level so it was nice to have that opportunity so much closer to home. You had that on top of the wide variety of guests from Power Rangers, Wrestling, Hocus Pocus, Star Trek and so much more. Like always it had a little something for everyone but on a significantly grander scale this year. This also leads to the one, but a significant, problem of this year which I’ll go into detail about when I mention the vendors.
The vendors and artists were all great this year. My wife and I managed to find a lot of great merch to shop around and there was a nice variety of things to get. I got a couple of coins modeled after Gundam and Jujutsu Kaisen while my wife got a Pokeball, a handbag, fudge and surprised me with my own set of Dragonballs. However, all of that happened on Sunday as it felt like too much of a challenge to shop on Saturday. We didn’t attend Friday. On Saturday the crowd was so intense we walked through the vendors but probably noticed less than half of them because we didn’t feel like we were in a position to comfortably make our way to the booths to get a real good look at the items for sale. This problem also affected the autographing area in the same room but to a much greater degree as the crowd there was so intense it was difficult to physically get to the end of an autograph line due to the number of people trying to make their way to various lines themselves. This problem was way less of an issue on Sunday so it’s clear that this year there were just more people there which made less space per person.
The panels were great as you had the usual Q&A panels with the various guests and the different fandoms they represent. The panel rooms had spectacular audio quality and there was more room in the panels for fans to get a spot to sit and enjoy the show. This was a huge improvement to what we had last year which really wasn’t all that bad already so I was really happy to see the effort made here.
I also got to find out some behind-the-scenes stuff which I think really help explain what happened this year in more detail. One of the volunteers who has been working the show twice as long as I’ve attended explained that normally having three stations for checking in will-call tickets was enough but this year they had six and they were still unable to keep up, a first for this event. Another problem the event had was that 15 volunteers just didn’t show up for Saturday. Now this is no fault of the convention at all, to my knowledge, but I’m pointing this out to really applaud the work of the volunteers who were there. The crowd really was difficult so I can only imagine the stress it put on the volunteers who really worked hard to keep things under control as much as possible, especially when they were short so many people on top of that. They have my full respect for the hard work that they did.
Overall Huntsville is an event that really had a nice balance of space to what it had to offer which worked really well for the past two years; however, this balance has shifted now that the event is getting more popular. It was still so much fun and I got to do everything I wanted to do; however, with a boost in guests comes a boost in attendance and we did not get a boost in space to compensate for that which created a rather chaotic Saturday. This is something I’ve seen before at other events only for them to rebound from those issues the following year to come out far better than they’ve ever been. I have a feeling we are seeing the start of something like that happening here as Huntsville just needs to do something to create more space for the growing number of people that love their show and while this did create problems for them this year I think we could really see this rebound to an even bigger Huntsville Comic and Pop Culture Expo in 2024.