Interview: Keystone Comic Con Event Director MK Goodwin on an Inside Look at Conventions
Comic conventions are such an important part of fandom life. It’s where we get to meet like-minded fans. It’s where we get to meet the stars of our favorite shows or movies, or even our favorite artists and writers. It’s a creative hub of everything pop culture has to offer. Memories are made, dreams come true and a lot goes into making these events happen.
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing MK Goodwin, the event director of Keystone Comic Con. She not only gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a show like this (a lot of hard work, and a lot of heart) but also helps readers prepare for the convention.
Nerds and Beyond: Can you take us a little through the process of what it takes to direct a show of this size?
MK Goodwin: It’s pretty incredible to think about how much actually goes into this. On a year round basis, we have a team of about 7 dedicated people that are working on the show. I say year-round, but we’re actually thinking about 2020 right now. So, a little more than a year almost. Leading up to the show, we add more. Maybe up to a dozen, up to 20 to get the last-minute stuff done. On-site, it takes hundreds of people to make this happen. We have a lot of temporary staff that come on-site. From the ones who sell the tickets, to the ones who help you get around the show, to the ones who help with the autographing area, or the main stage. It takes a lot of people to make this happen. It is definitely a year round effort from a smaller group of people, but it’s just amazing how everything comes together at the end of it.
Nerds and Beyond: That was actually my next question, is how far in advance planning takes place? You mentioned you’ve already started planning for 2020.
MK Goodwin: We definitely do. A lot of what informs what we do in the following year is the feedback we get from the prior year. We do a lot of listening. We do it through post-show surveys, we listen through social media year-round, we do talk back panels where we talk to fans face to face and ask them what they want to see. We really use that to plan what we’re doing for next year’s show. A lot of it has to do with fan feedback. We try to listen to fans the best we can about what guests they want at the show. Obviously, Tom Holland came through out of the clear. [We’re] so grateful that he was able to actually free up a day in his schedule to come out and see people in Philly, because they are excited to meet him!
Nerds and Beyond: What is the most challenging aspect you face as a director?
MK Goodwin: It’s a little personal for me, but I would say what keeps me up at night is just the fact is we don’t want to let anybody down. We know that people are emotionally invested in the things that they love. A comic convention is kind of those things come to life. People have high expectations, and they should. They take their hard-earned money and they want to spend it with us, to celebrate it with us over the weekend. All I want to do, and all my team wants to do, is to make sure everyone really has the time of their lives. We never want to come up short on that. So, that’s the one thing I’m always worried about and always trying to make sure happens, is just everyone having an amazing time.
Nerds and Beyond: Which aspect of directing a comic convention do you find the most fun?
MK Goodwin: It’s interesting. It goes back again to the fans and people that come in the doors. The most fun thing is just meeting the fans, talking with them, watching them lose their minds when they get to the front of that autographing line. One of my favorite things to do is when a star comes out onto the main stage, whether it’s Tom Holland or the Star Trek guests we have coming, or the Weasleys [Bonnie Wright, James & Oliver Phelps] that are coming, when they come out on stage everyone’s watching the stage. I don’t actually look at the stage. I turn and I look at the crowd when they walk out on stage. And those are some of my favorite moments over the weekend, to see people go nuts to finally see the people that they’ve loved for the longest time.
I think another part of it is the cosplay, too. People feel so connected to these characters, that they spend months and countless hours working on these intricate costumes. It’s pretty amazing. We have our Crown Championships of Cosplay in Chicago every year, and the winner of each of our cosplay competitions at each show gets to go to Chicago the following year and compete on a global level. So, it’s interesting because the winner of Keystone Comic Con’s competition last year actually went to Chicago, competed and beat out all the other U.S. contestants and all the other international contestants, and they took home the grand prize. She came from Keystone Comic Con. This is where she first came out. So, it was really great to see that happen.
Nerds and Beyond: From a behind-the-scenes perspective, what advice would you give con-goers, or what is something they should absolutely be on the lookout for?
MK Goodwin: For the seasoned con-goer, you kinda know what you’re doing already. But for first-timers, I would say you got to prepare. There is so much to do at any given convention, but especially here at Keystone Comic Con. There is so much to do that you want to make sure you plan. And you want to make sure you’re hitting all the points that you want to hit during the day, because who knows? You might miss an autographing session or you might miss a panel that you really like. So, we really recommend downloading our mobile app, and really being up-to-date and keeping up on the schedule. The mobile app has the most up-to-date information. So, say like Tom Holland’s coming, right? There’s so many other things that we are trying to do to give MCU fans a great time. You can get pictures with costumed characters, with cosplayers, with the Philly Avengers, you can sit on Thanos’ throne for a photo op, and you participate in an infinity stone scavenger hunt. For Harry Potter, you can go see the Weasleys and get their autograph, and Fred, George, and Ginny’s picture. But then you can also get sorted into your Hogwarts house, you can take a photo op with the sorting hat, you can watch some Quidditch demonstrations, and you can do wand dueling. We have all that stuff here to really celebrate this fandom culture, and to really bring that stuff to life.
Nerds and Beyond: Comic conventions often gather comic fans and pop culture fans alike. Is there anything you personally nerd out about?
MK Goodwin: I have to say, lately I think I had withdrawals after Game of Thrones ended this year. Severe withdrawal. I just couldn’t believe it was over, it was awful. And then Endgame came out around the same time, right? I mean it’s not like the end, but I was just like- I was having some heart palpitations. I’ve loved nerdy stuff my whole life. Before I even knew it was nerdy or whatever, the first things I watched and loved were like the ‘66 Batman stuff. You know, with Adam West and Burt Ward. I loved that. I loved Batman and Superman on TV. Loved the cartoon. Sailor Moon was like my gateway anime. I just always loved that stuff. And there was not really a whole lot of other people who loved it, too, and I was made fun of for it sometimes. And it was kind of a lonely existence to really love these things, but not have anyone to share it with. So, now being able to help put together events like this, to connect people who love these types of things. Who hopefully weren’t, but if they were marginalized when they were children for loving it, it’s just something so special to come together and be with people who love things that you love, as much as you do.
The first time I went to a comic con, I was just like “what is this? I need to be a part of this. I need to be here. I need to be making these.” And now I am. I’m so grateful, and so excited. There is definitely a lot of late nights, and you’re up to your neck in spreadsheets sometimes, and working weekends. You see your coworkers more than you see your family because it’s just the nature of events. But to get on-site and be here in this environment with all the fans, it just makes it worth it. Someone got married at Keystone Comic Con last year. That makes it worth it. We are making events that people find that special where they are proposing at these events, or they are getting married. It’s just really, really awesome.
Nerds and Beyond: I noticed there are meetups. Like a Harry Potter meetup, a Doctor Who meetup, and even an LGBTQ meetup. Can you tell me a little bit about them?
MK Goodwin: So, we have our meetup program, and the meetup program is really designed to engage the community. And as I talked about before, to just really connect people, because once you find someone who shares the same passion you do, that in itself is actually pretty magical. We think it’s just so great and there’s so many relationships that have started at these shows. Just by fans who have met other fans, whether it’s lifelong friendships, or marriages, or whatever it is. It’s just something that’s really cool. I know people who have a whole family now because the husband and wife met at one of our shows, and now they have a bunch of kids, and they all come. It’s so great! Meetups accomplish part of that. It’s a very human thing to want to be connected to another person, and that really facilitates that.
Keystone Comic Con has so much to offer guests, and it is clear they truly work hard to make a convention fans will love. Hopefully everyone will have an absolute blast this weekend, and enjoy the celebration of pop culture and fandoms Keystone has to offer!