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San Diego Comicon 2011

Comicon. The word invokes the image of vast masses of comic nerds and SFF geeks as they all perform the annual migration to San Diego to commune with others of their kind and bask in the presence of their grand high poobahs of the comic book, movie and publishing industries with all the merchandise associated with such endeavors. Okay maybe it’s not quite like that, but there are still a lot of people that come every year and even more wish they could go.

Queuing

As with any major convention with a broad range of people attending, the Comicon experience starts with a line. As one continues through, the experience is punctuated by lines. These lines can range from very small to unbelievably long and the time spent waiting in them can daunt even the most dedicated fan. It isn’t unheard of the wait several hours or even overnight to get into the panels appealing to big, enthusiastically dedicated fandoms. One can usually find something to talk to your fellow queue-ers about (everyone’s in line for something after all). There are a lot of decent people who are interested in at least some of the same things you are and if you are going to be spending a long time waiting for something in their company, there’s nothing to lose by striking up a conversation. Failing that, carry a small notebook and pen with you at all times to write or sketch in.

Perhaps you heard of the Twilight fans camping one room for five days at a previous Comicon in order to catch a glimpse of the actors for the recently released film. This resulted in many, many jokes and jibes at their expense, but I suppose the joke is now on everyone else. Camping overnight in the line to get into Hall H or Ballroom 20 (which frequently houses the really big, popular screenings, panels and events) was the norm. The Doctor Who panel also resulted in hopeful Whovians setting up sleeping bags to get into the room. Twitter proved extremely useful in ascertaining how many people were in any given line for those rooms hosting such favorites as the Mythbusters, anything Game of Thrones related, and Torchwood panels.

Line camping wasn’t limited to panels either. Due to changes in how tickets for next year are sold, it was virtually required to start standing in line at hours that should not exist in order to get the limited number the organizers were willing to sell each day. The good news is that there are still four day passes available for next year whenever they get put up for sale. My suggestion for someone who wants to go and can afford the con badge and getting there but can’t afford the hotels? Bring a small tent and sleeping bag, camp overnight in the queue for Hall H, roll it up in the morning, take the tent to the checked bags area and go about your day. Repeat as needed. At least there will be people to talk to.

The Exhibitors Floor: A Brief Survival Guide

The exhibitor’s floor is almost always packed from the time it opens to the time it closes. The aisles soon become cluttered with lines for booth signings and giveaways, people taking pictures of interesting things (of which there are many), browsing shoppers and sightseers, and people setting down stuff to check their cell phones (hearing your phone ring in the Exhibition Hall is a somewhat chancy thing and the vibrate setting isn’t particularly effective if the device isn’t in your pocket).

Unless one has the power to fly, getting from one end of the exhibition hall to the other can be an interesting endeavor in and of itself, due to the crowds in certain areas of the exhibition floor. Doing so without getting distracted by something is a near impossible task on par with following a link to TV Tropes and coming back within 15 minutes. I know a lot of people like to wear costumes for Comicon, but be aware that awesome costumes means being asked to pose for pictures every few feet.

Just try not to jostle other people and for the love of God wear deodorant and bathe. Else I reserve the right to start attaching air fresheners to particularly odoriferous individuals. Keep in mind that I’ve worked in dirty, smelly jobs for the past 7 years. If my nose detects you, it’s pretty bad.

Panels

Panels cover a wide spectrum of interests. If there isn’t at least one panel that interests you at Comicon, then you are well and truly at the wrong convention. Aside from the big popular panels which I’ve already touched on, there are frequently other smaller panels covering academic, educator and industry interests and guest of honor spotlights (to name just a few). I should probably mention that the size of the room doesn’t mean a whit for how many people might be interested in the panel topic.

Anyway, aside from the guest of honor spotlights which usually only have one or two people on them, most panels involve a bunch of people from various backgrounds who presumably have some experience with the topic at hand. Panels usually have a Q&A session with the audience for the last fifteen or twenty minutes which leads me to introduce the dos and don’ts of asking a panel questions.

Panel Don’ts

– Do not ask a question specific to one panelist. It’s rude and disrespectful of the other people sitting on the panel.

– DO NOT RAMBLE. There are other people waiting to ask their questions too. Write your question down if you have to.

– Never ask when [insert name here’s] next book is coming out. This goes double if you are asking George R.R. Martin questions.

– Please don’t ask about random bits of trivia that only you know or care about. There are forums and email and signings for that sort of thing. Also it takes away from people with more relevant questions in the line behind you.

– Never ask how anyone deals with writer’s block. The one exception is if the panel topic is creative writing. Other than that, save it for the Internet or the autograph session.

– Please don’t ask how one gets into an industry unless that is the panel topic. The answer is almost always some combination of luck, persistence and talent.

– Don’t gush about how [insert name here] changed your life. Again, email and signings are a more appropriate (and satisfying) venue for that sort of thing.

– Don’t ask the panelists to badmouth someone. Their editor or agent or that someone might be in the audience and that kind of thing is probably better kept private. If they volunteer the information, that’s a different issue and falls firmly into the “Not My Problem” file.

– Please don’t ask the panelists for a hug. You’d think this would be self evident, but no… Anyway there are frequently con-goers carrying signs that say “Free hugs!” Take them up on it.

Panel Dos

– Whatever question you ask, stay relevant to the main topic of the panel. Even the panelists forget this one sometimes.

– Be brief. There are other people who also want to ask questions. Some of them might be better than yours.

– Have a backup question. No one needs to hear the answer to one question twice.

– Rebuttals are okay, but can eat into the Q&A time. Please be considerate and concise.

– If the timekeeper says it’s almost time to end the panel and there’s a line for the microphone, ask the person behind you what their question is. It might be more interesting than yours.

– If the timekeeper says it’s almost time to end the panel, there’s a line for the microphone and there’s a little kid anywhere in it, let the little kid ask their question. Kids sometimes ask really good (and unexpected) questions. Besides, it takes a lot of guts to get up in front of a bunch of strange adults and ask a question. Such things should be rewarded.

Odds and Ends

Eating is important and the food on the convention site isn’t the best. Bring snacks and a water bottle (every panel room has a water cooler in it). And comfy shoes. Especially the comfy shoes, no matter what you dress up as.

In addition, people watching around the convention center is really quite awesome even if you don’t have a ticket to get inside. I saw someone dressed as the Flash on a Segway outside the venue. I wish I could make up stuff that awesome.

– – –

For my own experiences of this Comicon, I have to say that I had mixed luck with the panels (as is usually the case). “Oh You Sexy Geek” was pretty bad as a few of the panelists decided that any girl who didn’t think a sexy costume was “empowering” were insecure and jealous and they kept talking over anyone who attempted to deconstruct that position. It took Seth Green in the audience (no really, he was there) to point out that the general media image of girl geeks isn’t one that celebrates their brains and cleverness as the awesome sexy attributes they are. Urg.

Fortunately, “Putting the ‘Epic’ in Epic Fantasy” panel was better. With George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderon, K.J. Taylor, Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin J. Anderson and a few others behind the table, I would certainly hope so. Questions ranged from where do you start your worldbuilding to how do you keep going with those door stopper books.

I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson talk before and I have to say that I liked listening to all of the panelists with the exception of Christopher Paolini and GRRM. Paolini talks in circles and doesn’t stop until someone prods him. It was really clear (to me anyway) that GRRM doesn’t sit on panels with a lot of other people on them all that often. The best way I can think of to say this is that he speaks in very deliberate manner. Yes, it was a good talk overall, but I really wanted more about worldbuilding. Actually I really wanted more women on that panel too.

The “Monsters and Magic” talk was something of a letdown despite the lineup of authors there. Their complaint? They feel like they are starting to run out of monsters and that it is getting harder and harder to make one’s vampires, were-critters and zombies stand out. I started having flashbacks to a similar Comicon panel last year, where I got up to the mic and asked, “Well, why don’t you all stop focusing on European ghoulies?” Considering I’ve heard that using non-European creatures of legend doubles your chances of getting noticed in a slush pile, I’m amazed that we aren’t seeing more of them.

I think I slept through the “No Damsels in Distress Here” talk because it seemed that without distress of some kind, you don’t have a good story. I think there was something about redefining “damsel” to mean something other than “helpless girl.” Like I said, I might have slept through this one or been distracted by an ungodly painful knee.

“Epic Literary Adventures” was mostly rooted in modern serial adventure comics and had the worst moderation that I saw all day. Fortunately I don’t mind listening to Jeff Smith (creator of Bone) and I did learn that comics are one of the few narrative mediums where it is possible to make second person perspective work.

“Old Stories in New Boxes” gets my vote as best multimedia presentation. But then I really enjoy anything that talks about the history of motion pictures, particularly the early history of motion pictures. Also, Marshall Vandruff is a really fun speaker to listen to.

I really wish that the “Can Fantasy Survive on Europe Alone?” talk had not been scheduled at the same time as “Girls Gone Genre.” In any case I went to the one concerning non-European fantasy. Totally awesome talk, a nice broad range of panelists and no one hogged the mic until the Q&A. Core of it is that unless stories with non-white protagonists that everyone can care about, get behind and most importantly spend money on, the mainstream machine will likely continue to churn out the same thing they’ve been churning out: minorities in primarily supporting roles. I really liked how they touched on appropriation versus appreciation and how one tries to integrate unfamiliar cultures into a narrative without robbing it of human authenticity.

Yes, I went to the “Steampunk Influences on Mainstream Media” panel. It was easily the best dressed audience of the entire convention. It was perhaps a bit less in depth than what I’ve been used to as of late, but it was still quite fun as it is a subgenre with few caveats on it and a lot of leeway for interpretations of all kinds. In case you were wondering: yes, I got dressed up in a manner my great-grandmothers would heartily approve of and so did one of my friends.

I attempted to go to the panel on “Diversity in Young Adult Works” and snuck out halfway through when half an hour in, they were still discussing what “YA novel” actually meant. I thought it was worth it to get my UK copy of Behemoth (with its gorgeous blue cover) signed by Scott Westerfeld instead. I also debated getting in line to see the Mythbusters, but the line for the room was starting to wrap around the convention center 3 hours before the panel in question. I’m okay with waiting if I think I might get in, but this was not the case this time.

The “Diversity in Fandom” panel was completely awesome. It gets my vote for best moderation and really best overall panel. There was a great deal of discussion of how Star Trek managed to be a set of series that continually reinvented the makeup of its casting choices and how this was both beneficial and problematic. There was a general consensus that if one has a queer woman of color protagonist doing awesome, the focus should probably be more on her doing awesomeness and normalizing, “Why, yes, she can be this, that and the other things and still be awesome.”

There was also note of how the audiences have gotten more vocal about seeing a more meaningfully diverse cast of characters (rather than the more stereotypical supporting roles to which they are frequently slotted into) and more willing to make that opinion known with their wallets. It ended on the note that the medium of storytelling has gotten a lot more democratic than it has been due to the Internet and that if you don’t see what you want coming from the mainstream you can go out there, make it and find an audience for it.

Fangirl that I am, I did go to the “Spotlight on Scott Westerfeld” talk. I thoroughly enjoyed it. He is completely hilarious and I liked seeing the worldbuilding that went on between him and his illustrator for the Leviathan series. The little Lego walker pulling a battery behind it and how it became a really intricate illustration of one of the armored walking tanks was great. It really shows that he’s used to keeping the attention of students and I liked the idea of using steampunk in the classroom to foster a curiosity for history.

I went to the “High School Bites” panel and generally don’t remember all that much about it mostly because it was mid-afternoon on Sunday and I was feeling burned out and tired.

Astute readers will note that there are a lot of things that I missed. Well, all I can say is that the nature of conventions everywhere is that there is always something one misses for whatever reason. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this again next year.

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One Comment

  1. I’ve often considered going to the NY comic con as a dealer. With all the authors in NY I can’t imagine ever getting invited to participate as an author. It sounds a lot like I-Con out on LI, although I-Con doesn’t do as much with authors as it used to.

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