Heroes and Villains Exposed at Fan Fest in New Jersey

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According to the Heroes and Villans Fan Fest website, they hope to "revolutionize the comic con landscape". Boasting that "it's not just fandom, it's family", the two-day event is full of like-minded fans swarming to one location where their favorite actors and actresses await to meet them.

For a price.

Arriving about an hour after the event started, for non-VIP pass holders, my family and I were eager to get inside. Living in upstate New York, the opportunity to see celebrities doesn't come along very often. So our expectations were pretty high. I've heard stories about how nice the actors are. There's quotes from fans on the website about how they'll just come up to you and start interacting.

Once we were inside we were motioned off to the right of the foyer to pick our tickets up at will-call. Once we were given our wrist-bands we began walking towards a set of open doors, that led into the main floor.

We were greeted by security and immediately directed to walk around to the other side, where the entrance was. These doors were 'exit only'. It seemed odd, given that we had wristbands. Was there no re-admittance to people who leave the venue? So the event organizers put will-call, next to the exit. And there were no signs directing fans to head the other way and no direction was given by will-call.

Not a very good start, but we proceeded because...we were going to see celebrities!

Side note: The kids received blue, rubber wristbands that had the event marked on it. This was a really nice 'souvenir' for kids to get just for attending. Kids are impressionable and they love the little things (keep that in mind as you read on).

As we entered the main hall there was a lot to take in. People were scurrying about, moving from vendor to vendor. Cosplayers were in full force. And the first panel was nearing its end. We were pressed for time to find out where and how to do photo-ops.

Originally we had purchased tickets to see Stephen Amell ("Oliver Queen", ARROW) but due to some scheduling conflicts he wasn't able to attend Saturday until the 'Knocking Point' after party. Disappointed that the main reason for purchasing tickets wasn't going to be there, we opted for Carlos Valdes ("Cisco Ramon", THE FLASH) who was added, a few days before the event.

My daughter was VERY excited to have the chance to meet him.

We walked around and found the line to purchase photo-ops. Once that was done, we got in line and waited. And waited. Valdes was running late, it seemed.

There was plenty to take in while we waited, though. Echo Kellum ("Mr. Terrific/Curtis Holt", ARROW) ran past us and hopped behind a curtain where autographs and selfies were taking place. A few moments later he emerged with a giant smile on his face. He was clearly having fun. Did he just photo bomb a selfie? From where we were standing it was hard to speculate what he was doing, but he wasn't in there long enough for him to be fulfilling autograph duties. And there was no escort nearby.

Many of the actors had 'escorts' to help usher them from one place to another.

Meanwhile, ARROW actor John Barrowman ("Malcolm Merlyn") was jumping in and out of the crowd. Interacting, entertaining and playfully enjoying the hell out of the experience.

He loves being around the fans and interacting with them. If he was assigned an escort, I didn't see one anywhere near him. Either they couldn't find one with the stamina to keep up, or he just declined having one altogether. He walked right by us and took a couple of twizzlers being held by someone in our line. Playfully he began swinging them around his nipples. He was easily the epitome of what I expected when attending a "FanFest".

Finally when the line began to move for our photo-op with Carlos Valdez, we worked our way into the 'tent'. Once we got in there my daughter was overcome with emotion and cried tears of joy to actually be standing in front of "Cisco". We all stood and watched as Carlos wrapped his arms around her and gave her a squeeze. He cracked a few jokes to lighten the mood and one of the event staff gave her a tissue. I whipped out my cell phone to document the moment, but was immediately scolded to put it away. Wanting to be next, my step-daughter leaned in for a hug. Carlos politely accomodated, but one of the event staff decided to make a rude comment about her 'sneaking in a hug.'

Once my daughter regained her composure, we lined up for our picture. Immediately after, they rushed us out the back to keep the line moving. We followed the line of people and picked up our printed copy as they were layed out on a table for people to grab on their way by.

From there we stood around and wondered, what's next? Deciding to check out the autograph booths, we headed over to that side of the convention hall. There was David Mazouz ("Bruce Wayne", GOTHAM) right up front with a line of people waiting to meet him. He was interacting with fans as he signed autographs and took 'selfies'.

I pulled out my cell phone to take a pic of the young actor, but event staff quickly got in my way, arms held out wide shouting, "No cell phones!", "Put your phones away, please!". Shocked, I put my phone in my pocket and looked around to see my son having to do the same. As well as another fan.

This struck me as a bit odd. Don't they realize that this is a FAN FEST in the 21st century, where nearly every adult and child, has a phone with a camera? We aren't paparazzi looking to catch a candid pic and sell it to a gossip magazine. The actors are there, in open space for all to see, wandering through the convention hall. Sure, they aren't stopping to chat with every passerby, but to have event staff shutting people down seemed a bit excessive. Yet there they were, blocking shots and scolding fans to put our phones away.

This was my first experience at Heroes and Villains FanFest and it was becoming clear who the villains were.

Eventually, I learned that you could pay for a selfie with the actors; a fact that isn't clearly marked or posted where the line starts. This would explain why you can't take a picture of a celebrity walking by. They want money for a cell phone pic.

While many of the actors seemed to enjoy the experience, and enjoyed being around their fans, others seemed all business.

Caity Lotz ("White Canary/Sara Lance", LEGENDS of TOMORROW) strolled through the convention fully covered up, to minimize the chance that someone would recognize her as she made a b-line from her photo-op tent to other parts of the convention hall. 

David Ramsey ("John Diggle", ARROW) followed his escort, but stopped to give a fan a one-armed, side hug. The look on his face was almost as if he was thinking, 'remember, it's for the fans'.

Then, there was Candace Patton ("Iris West", THE FLASH), who seemed less-than-thrilled to be there at all. And when we saw her walking through the crowd, her facial expression and body language told the story of someone who just didn't want to be there. She gave a half-smile to acknowledge us as she went by. The event staff, however, continued to display their inability to understand the purpose of the event. As Ms. Patton walked by us, my step-daughter held up her phone to get a picture when a woman, from the event, stuck a hand in her face and exclaimed, "no pictures"!

Re-phrasing for emphasis: She stuck her hand in the face of a 12 year old girl to prevent her from taking a picture.

It wasn't until much later did I notice that in the picture I snuck of Carlos hugging my daughter, there was Candace Patton, sitting with her legs crossed and face buried in her phone.

Body language can tell you a lot.

Outside of the actors and the panels, which was an open stage with big screens that was accessible to everyone, there wasn't much to do unless you're an avid shopper. There were artists selling prints, vendors selling shirts, toys, stickers, jewelry, and all sorts of other everyday items decorated with things that make nerds happy. Pillowcases, pot holders, keychains, purses, air fresheners and so much more.

Cosplayers walked around, happily taking pictures with other fans upon request. Which was nice, but such is the nature of the cosplayer community which we've covered extensively in our monthly 'Bombshell' feature.

Once you're out of money, though, there's no real reason to stay. There are no activities to participate in and clearly they don't like you taking pictures; like every normal person does nowadays. So even though we arrived an hour late, we ended up leaving the event two hours early. Tired of being treated like we weren't supposed to be there, unless we threw money at the celebrities, we made our way out of the event hall.

Feeling unsatisfied, empty, and broke.

In summary, the Heroes and Villains FanFest is an event that makes celebrities accessible for fans, who paid for the opportunity, to pay even more to meet them. Sounds redundant, but it's the only way to properly explain it. Once the money runs out, you get the feeling you have over-stayed your welcome.

Maybe if Stephen Amell showed up, the experience would've been more enjoyable. I hear he's all about the fans and perhaps he would've been more on the level of John Barrowman with his interactions. But if the event staff have anything to do with it, they will foil his plan. I'm not sure if the staff has been instructed to treat people this way, or if it's happening without the actors knowing it. 

Either way it's not a good way to treat fans, at a FAN FEST. The actors deserve to make money for appearing. I'm fine with them charging for autographs and selfies. But to shut down a child and block the view of others who just want a low-quality, blurry pic, to share with their friends back home? That seems petty on another level.

My recommendation: If you want a professional portrait to hang on the wall in your home, buy a ticket for the event and pay for a photo-op. If you just want to document that you met an actor, buy a ticket and pay for a selfie. 

If you don't like that you have to buy tickets so you can pay a celebrity (and get scolded for using your phone), the Heroes and Villains FanFest probably isn't the event for you.

Have you attended a Heroes and Villains FanFest? What was your experience like compared to your expectations?

Stephen visited Heroes and Villains Fan Fest in NJ as a paying customer and is sharing HIS personal experience. He does not suggest that every experience will be the same. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.