I just got back from MAGFest (The Music and Gaming Festival) and have some longer thoughts I’m going to post on it, but before I do that, I felt I’d bring a BRAND NEW convention/conference to everyone’s attention.
An acquaintance of mine, Zoya Street, is starting up Critical Proximity, a conference focused on video game criticism. You can learn more about it here:
If you’re local to San Francisco or can get there easily, I heartily recommend signing up. Even if you’re not a games critic, the conference needs new and unique voices.
More on MAGFest soon!
I don’t normally use this blog for personal things, but I wanted a permanent record of this, and Conventioneering is my most formal-ish blog, and it’s a nice place to have a permanent record of Stuff.
This year was amazing. It was also hell. It contained heights I’d never dreamed of reaching and also falls of unimaginable magnitude. I’m still not sure how to feel about everything. So much happened that in some ways it feels like four years packed into one.
As a warning, there’d discussion of death in this post, and also some vivid talk about a severe case of stomach flu. You’ve been warned.
I recently attended the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, and felt that I should revive this blog to report my observations. The book is still on hold. I am currently unemployed and in that place where I’m thinking wow, I’m probably going to have to take a terrible minimum wage job just to make ends meet.
Anyway, this isn’t about me and my life, save in a tangential manner — it’s about conventions, and going to them, and what they’re like.
So! The Small Press Expo.
First off, the good things:
This was BY FAR one of the most diverse conventions I’ve ever been to. There was a sizable population of people who were neither white nor male, both among the exhibitors and attendees. There was also the largest openly trans*/genderqueer presence I’ve seen at pretty much any convention. Obviously I cannot quote numbers because hey, it’s impossible to tell sometimes, but in many other cases there were people who were openly proclaiming their status as trans* persons, which I’ve… actually never seen at a geek convention before. Meaning: I have met trans* people at conventions, but they generally didn’t proclaim their identity loudly and in fact took great pains to be invisible (PAX was an especial case in which an individual I had met had to be constantly re-assured that everything was okay and we were here to help him).
On top of that, there was a great diversity in the materials being offered. The comics at SPX ran the gamut from goofy weirdness like the one about the boy who turns into a boat, to quite deeply serious autobiographical pieces, to hand-painted children’s comics, to straight up porn.
The Ignatz awards were what I feel the Hugo awards SHOULD be like. The Hugos used to be (as far as I can tell) a fan-run award, with the idea being that the fans of science fiction and fantasy would choose the awards. I feel quite strongly that this is no longer the case; the Hugos are chosen now by the few who can 1. afford to go to the convention in the first place (which locks out people under the age of 40, people who aren’t white, and many LGBTQ persons), 2. who actually remember to bloody vote and 3. have the time to read up on the nominees / watch the shows / whatever (which locks out people with day jobs). SPX, meanwhile, has a much lower barrier of entry, being cheap to attend and, as I said, already drawing a huge variety of different individuals.
Ballot gathering was a good deal more egalitarian as well. My own method was this:
I walked around the floor with that box on my head telling people to cast their ballots. It worked pretty darn well! It got people’s attention and got them excited about voting, even if they might not have otherwise voted. Efficient? No, not really. Fun? Heck yes!
The award ceremony itself was mercifully short and free of too much pomp and circumstance. ALL the presenters were women, which, again, in an industry that at times seems so very male focused was a breath of fresh air.
The not so good things:
There were a number of big problems with organization. I was volunteering, and first off, there was no real effort made to properly coordinate volunteers or make sure volunteers were fed to the appropriate areas. I was never really told what to do, and though I’d signed up for line management I ended up just kind of hovering around the front desk, waiting to be told what to do. I did get to collect ballots, but other than that it all felt much too ad-hoc, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I wish there’d at least been a small pamphlet explaining what to do, or more volunteer coordinators on the floor, as well as a more official meeting place for volunteers to go to get assigned than “I guess… over there? or something?”
While panel times were listed in the program, there was no hotel map indicating where those panels were located, so we had a lot of guests going “Where are the panels?” The show floor map was confusing and difficult to read. There was no schedule for official book signings, and we had a lot of questions about that too, but no schedule to give anyone to indicate when those signings were.
The main afterparty was MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH too crowded for the space it was being held in, and how / where people got drink tickets was entirely unclear. I managed to escape the party to go hang out with friends elsewhere, but the party was seriously less a party and more a mad mob descending upon chocolate fountains. I think a party suite system like what most SF cons I go to use might be a better way to spread people out, but that’d require people on the floor to figure things out rather than the con comm, which might go badly…
Overall, I think SPX is a wonderful small to mid-sized con, and a true celebration of comic arts and the people who make them. I hope it continues to be so even as it grows larger. I wish I could have bought everything in the exhibit hall, curse my lack of funds! And the best thing about that, though, is that I felt as though every dollar I spent was going to supporting a fellow creative artist who genuinely needed it, rather than some faceless megacorp, as is the case at some of the larger conventions.
A+ would attend again.
This project is on hold, for a number of reasons. The biggest is… actually, okay, not even going to lie, it’s depression.
Depression’s a serious thing, if you didn’t know; it sucks out all your motivation to do and be and exist and live. And I have it. I have it bad. I can still function, day to day, but keeping my mind focused on large projects like this is pretty much impossible. I’m stuck, that’s the long and short of it, I’ve lost track of my research and how I’m organizing this thing and… everything.
I won’t be able to finish this in time for my thesis, that’s for sure. I’m not abandoning it entirely, of course—I’ve come too far for that. But I do know that I can’t continue at the pace that I was, not if I want to keep a day job (which I kind of have to. This project doesn’t exactly pay the bills)
I completely dropped the ball on writing about PhilCon, which is truly unfortunate, because I learned a lot there and had a lot of my suspicions about SF fan culture re-confirmed. I also failed to write about Arisia, but that’s mostly because Arisia hit when my depression was at its worst: I could barely get out of bed in the morning, and I spent most of the con in a barely functional haze, feeling like someone else was doing the smiling and talking.
* Probably going to skip out on Boskone. I really can’t handle it right now, I feel sick and angry at myself. I may show up one or two days, but mostly I think I may spend this weekend sleeping. Sorry.
* PAXEast. I’m an Enforcer. This is intimidating.
* Gamefest! This is a tiny, brand-new event run by the Smithsonian. It’s probably only happening once. You should go!
* SanDiego Comic Con. I still haven’t bought a plane ticket…
* Chicon 7
And… that may be it, for a very long time. My life becomes increasingly complicated year by year. I have no idea where I’m going to be in 2013, if I’ll even have a job, if I’ll even have graduated. I’ll keep fighting, though, and I still love this subject, even when it hurts me. Cons are such vibrant, strange, impossible places, regardless of genre, and the more I look at them the more I can see that gossamer thread connecting them all… and, at the same time, the more I start to feel that many cons are going to need to go through some drastic changes if they’re going to survive the coming century. But I think as a cultural phenomenon they will survive, and grow. Science fiction and fantasy have gone mainstream, even if the fandom hasn’t, this is an ingraned, integral part of our culture now. As long as that’s true, people will want to gather and talk about it.
Anyway. Got a headache and a pile of writing to do for grad school (NOT about conventions, sadly), so, signing off.
I’ve been quietly lately because I’ve been extremely busy. School is taking its toll on me, and I haven’t had much time to write anything that isn’t for class. I know, I still (STILL) need to do those last Kickstarter essays, but they will happen, I just need a little more free time to research them properly.
I’m getting super burned out, actually. It’s frustrating. I’m trying to find some way to keep this all fresh and immediate, but the truth is there’s only so many fanzines and memoirs I can slog through before I want to put my head through a wall. That, and it’s hard to figure out which fanzines I need to read, and even harder to get access to them (I can’t exactly fly out to California to see that collection at… I forget which school, even. I know it’s there.) And MIT’s collection is in a closet, badly organized, and only goes back through the 70s.
I really need to think about reorganizing the book. I don’t think a straight chronological treatment is working. I still need to research this way, I think, in order to build my foundation and get a sense of the full scope, but it doesn’t read well. Not sure what my structure should ultimately comprise, though. I’m debating if I should focus on cons by type, do chapters by anatomy (ie, a chapter on logistics, on hotel stuff, etc), or to focus on the really big cons and trace back the history of how they came into being. The latter means I’d end up talking less about the really cool local cons, but it’d be easier to research and I think more marketable.
I don’t know. It’s tough, man, writing a nonfiction book.
In a few weeks, I’ll be attending Philcon. I hope to see some of you regular readers there; I know it’ll be a good time. If you want to meet up and talk, just drop me a line. If there’s also anything you think I should report on in particular, let me know and I’ll do my best to see it. I will sadly not be able to be at the con for long, as my bus arrives at 1:30 PM on Friday and I leave at 4:30 PM on Sunday. Still, I think it’ll be enough.
For some time on the Help Out page, I’ve talked about adding a PayPal button so you can donate.
Well, now it exists! If you have ever for any reason wanted to send me money to help out with the project, now you can. Observe:
You may click yon button! And then send me money! This will motivate me to keep working, as I will feel I owe you!
I can’t give you anything in return right now save sparse updates and the promise that yes, hell or high water, there will be some sort of book about conventions, eventually. Seriously. But I appreciate any and all help.
I could especially use the money right now. Last month, my phone died, and I’ve had to buy tickets for SDCC and PAXEast, both of which are quite expensive. As it’s November and my day job is at a college, I’m losing out on a lot of work hours due to Thanksgiving, not to mention losing more due to Philcon. Even a little bit helps.
Thanks, everyone. Expect more meaty updates after Philcon. Alternately, if you like, ask me a question in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post.
So first, I’d like to say welcome to all the new visitors to the blog! I’ve read all of your comments, but I’ve been a bit too busy to reply to them all. Either way, welcome, and thank you for your thoughts, every last one of you. I admit I was a bit startled when my hits counter started to go up, but it’s nice to see people interested.
Second, an explanation. As you all know, I am a graduate student, and it is now school time. This means I am often in class for up to six hours at a time (No, seriously. I have one day a week when I have six consecutive hours of class, and another that is four. This is me, quietly screaming inside.) As such, updates will be, ah, limited, as will my responses to your emails and comments. For truly vital emails I will try to respond as soon as I can, but it may be a while, so be patient.
Third, and unrelatedly, I have found an excellent article on another site about the Penny Arcade Expo, my personal favorite convention (I consider myself first and foremost a gamer, primarily of the tabletop variety and secondarily of the PC variety and then occasionally of the console variety; as such I am more than a little biased in my tastes). It’s a really wonderful example of not just why PAX is such a great con, but I think of the general atmosphere of nerd cons in general and why they’re so wonderful. PAX though I find unique as always because despite it being in the same heavyweight category as DragonCon and Otakon, it still feels intimate and friendly. Anyway, the article speaks for itself, so take a look:
Again, thank you all. I will now continue to attempt to detangle myself from the giant pile of homework assignments I seem to have found myself beneath! Hopefully in a few days I will be able to post a small clarification in regards to my Worldcon post (But today is not that day.)
So I just completed my registration to Chicon 7, next year’s Worldcon.
“But Jensen,” you say, “You just said in your LAST post that Worldcon wasn’t really your thing!”
First, that’s more that Renovation wasn’t my thing. Chicon is a different city, a different administrative team, a different thing entirely. Second, well, I have to go, next fall is going to be my big thesis, and while I want to go to DragonCon, Chicon is going to be way more useful for networking than DragonCon will be.
That’s not the important thing, however. The important thing is that I’d like to invite all of you to go.
Yes, you. And you, and also you. All of you!
“Yeah but uh, why?” you ask.
Many of my problems with Renovation were because there was too little representation from my age group, my people, and my interests. If I invite my friends to go, well, that solves that problem, doesn’t it? We can kick in the door, open a dialogue, and cause some real change here. And Worldcon really is a valuable experience, in my opinion. You should go at least once, just for the history, just to see that hey, this is where your culture came from (well, if you’re a nerd, anyway), this is the great granddaddy of all cons.
So what am I offering to entice you?
Thing about Chicon is that they’re offering a con rate of $150 a night… for rooms of up to quads. So here’s the thing. If I get five people to buy tickets and commit to rooming with me by January 1st, I can reduce that cost to $150 per person, total. And there’s still four beds! For con space, that’s pretty awesome. And if we’re willing to squeeze in and get friendly with eight people (2 people per bed, or we can sleep on the floor. It’s con time, come on, you should be used to this kind of thing), I can drop that cost to under $100 a person.
Come on guys. We can Make This Happen. And I assure you, it really is a good time. Not my favorite con, sure. But it is an extremely educational con, a piece of history, and something you have to see at least once in your lifetime.
Tickets to Chicon will stay at $170 (ie, semi-reasonable; for comparison this is about the same as SDCC’s cost) until September 30th. So get them while they last.
In other news! The next con I am absolutely attending is Philcon, which just so happens to be the oldest SF convention in the world (founded in 1936, ladies and gents). Looking forward to it! If you’re going, drop me a line.