Imagine if you spent the the last twenty years meeting annually with a group of like-minded friends for a weekend of fun. Sure, these gatherings were comparitively small, but that was the beauty of it. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone had an opportunity to participate in the numerous activities provided. Each year you’d see the same faces and even if you didn’t know their names, they somehow felt like family.
Now imagine your intimate group suddenly becomes four times larger. The comfortable venue you’ve always used swiftly becomes claustrophobic and overheated. Navigating the dealer’s becomes a frustrating fight for survival and finding an empty seat at a popular panel a luxury. Where once you’d stay the entire weekend and feel sad when it ended, now you’re anxious to leave. Such is the plight of my beloved G-FEST (Godzilla Festival); an event that appears to have fallen victim to the Legendary Godzilla, himself.
We arrived early at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont this past Saturday and met up with my friend Don, who manages the hotel. He’s normally pretty jovial but on this day he seemed stressed and was all business. Considering all the frenetic activity permeating the hotel even at this early hour, I could understand why.
We wanted to attend the Akira Takarada panel but even before it began it was standing room only. Since I’d already had the honor of attending one of his Q&A’s before at a less congested G-FEST, I decided to visit the dealer’s room instead. I already knew it would be bedlam, but couldn’t wait to see what they were offering. Unfortunately, it was so crowded we had a difficult time seeing much of anything as it was near impoosible getting close enough to many of the vendor’s tables. At one point, a lady bought a T-shirt and about ten of us had to stand and wait until her credit card transaction was over before we could move a single step forward. Still, there were some pretty neat items, including an actual dorsal scale from the Heisei Godzilla series.
Having survived that ordeal and completely given up on the panels in Ballroom 1, we went downstairs to visit Artist Alley. About five feet in, I realized we’d made a mistake doing so. It was so tight you couldn’t even turn around with everyone moving at a snail’s pace. I turned and saw a custom Creature from the Black Lagoon magnet I really wanted but was too far away to make the purchase without walking around the entire room a second time. I remember when my kids and I would walk into G-FEST wishing we had more money and this year we walked out without spending a dime. Trust me when I say, it had nothing to do with willpower.
Fortunately, things were a lot better next door in the model room. It wasn’t crowded at all and everything looked amazing as usual. Ironically, Godzilla wasn’t the dominant subject matter as many other big screen monsters stole the limelight.
Of course, there were some great renditions of Godzilla, too…
In terms of popularity, the true winner was the “8th Wonder of the World,” King Kong. In the sixteen G-FEST’s I’ve attended, I’ve never seen so many Kong models at once nor as many versions of him. Naturally, I’ll be rooting for Godzilla in next year’s Godzilla vs King Kong (2020), but it looks like many others will be going ape instead.
Another cool entry in this year’s model contest was a bust of Gamera…though I can’t say I’d want that thing staring at me all day.
Our original plan was to spend the day at the panels and go out for a pizza that evening. By noon, our new objective was to sprint back to our nice, air-conditioned car and get the hell out of there. While en route, I saw the creator of G-FAN and G-FEST himself, J.D. Lees, across the hall. Lees is a school teacher whose tireless work and dedication solidified giant Japanese monster fandom in North America back when there was virtually nothing. The impact he’s had on my two boys who’d grown up anticipating G-FEST even more than Christmas itself, is insurmountable. Back before the success of Godzilla 2014, we’d start our weekend attending his welcoming orientations and I remember him often speaking proudly of G-FEST’s 1,000 or so attendees and how it was just the right number. With social media listing this year’s census at over 5,000, I wondered how the poor man was coping. With the aforemention Godzilla vs Kong movie slated for next year, you can bet it’ll be yet another big turnout at G-FEST (especially if this year’s model room is any indication). People are clamoring for a bigger venue and changes without understanding that the event is organized by a group of like-minded fans with day jobs, not a professional convention circuit looking to turn a profit. I’m sorry, folks, but they’re caught in this deluge just like the rest of us.
I guess we old G-Fans can take solice in the Legendary films losing some steam. Thanks to the studio squandering the excitement they’d garnered from last year’s San Diego Comic Con and releasing Godzilla: King of the Monsters nearly a year later, it underperformed at the Box Office. Perhaps in a few years the American “Monsterverse” will end and Godzilla fandom will shrink back to the fringe as it once was. Until then, we diehards can do little else than grab something sturdy and weather the storm. And then, after the Legendary Godzilla has returned to the depths, we can possibly rebuild our humble G-FEST back to the way it once was.