Just coming down from the high of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival where we not only found an excited audience for our new graphic novel (we sold 90 copies in two days!) but I got to sit beside my favourite comic maker at the convention, Carla Speed McNeil — who, incidentally, I first heard about through the first TCAF when we were on a self-publishing panel together. I did a quick 20 minute interview with her and we talked about why she creates anachronistic science fiction societies, how she gets around the fact that her work is complex and hard to promote, and the development of her sin-eating aboriginal bad-boy.
Keep reading to hear about the other amazing cons I went to this summer, as well as some tips for enjoying them!
Think GalactiCon is a brand new radical left science fiction conference started by people inspired by Wiscon, a feminist SF con I wrote about a while back. It was held in a grand old university building in downtown Chicago, and the panels were small and less about listening-to-experts and more focused discussion groups, which makes sense given the con’s anarchist leanings. We got to talk about a lot of race/ class/ sex issues but all through the filter of fabulist fiction, which defuses the potential grim seriousness. This heavy/light mix is my idea of fun! Plus it was nice that I was a special guest and people made me feel important.
As a good reality check, at Defcon I was pretty much a nobody. It’s a hacker convention in Las Vegas that attracted 7000 people interested in computer security — both corporate people running defence and those on offence. Craig and I had been invited to present Infest Wisely for movie night, essentially entertainment after the important stuff, but it was awesome to be able to dip into the subculture. It’s a pretty diverse scene, with lockpicking contests, parties you had to solve cryptographic clues to get into, and talks on how to social engineer by overflowing the brain’s buffer.
If you haven’t already tried ’em, conventions are fun. They’re great places to make friends with like-minded people from all over and spend a focused couple of days really getting into what you’re into: call it a thinktank, call it geeking out, whatever you prefer. Here’s some things I’ve figured out since Wiscon got me hooked on going to cons 5 or 6 years ago.
1. The more specific the better. Bigger is not better: I generally find generic cons to be pretty boring. Sure, you should be able to find lots of folks on the same wavelength at a bigger con, but it’s harder to find them.
2. Look at old programs. Panels descriptions from last year’s con is a better reflection of the kind of discussion that goes on than, say, the content on the website. Many great cons have crappy websites, probably because they’re focused on making the real life experience happen.
3. Go with or without friends. Don’t make it the deciding factor of whether you’ll go. Sure, it’s fun to have some folks you know — it can get kind of lonely without them. But the flipside is that you’ll be more approachable and more likely to chat with strangers when you’re alone.
4. Unless your body/mind is saying NO, say YES. It’s easy to feel ambivalent about a trip out of the hotel or an invitation to play a game, but unless you’re exhausted or totally burnt out, just go with the flow — you can be a homebody at home. Things happen that you don’t expect.
5. Read about it. Especially if you’re into anime, check out Svetlana Chmakova‘s Dramacon, which is a manga series based in an anime convention: it does a good job of re-casting conventions in a more nuanced light than the Trekkie cliches.
6. Participate. If you’re creative, you don’t have to be a featured guest to express yourself. Make something to give to people, a minicomic or a zine or whatever is an extension of your self. You will meet people who will nurture and support you.
7. Be conscious of the opportunities away from the con, but don’t feel obliged. I didn’t really care enough to visit Caesar’s Palace, for instance, when we were in Vegas, but the chance of firing machine guns was too good to pass up. I chose an uzi, picked the Canadian guy target, and posed shame-facedly with it afterwards.
It was quite nerve-wracking. Even with the sound cancelling headphones the noise still made me jump, and the recoil was significant (though not nearly as bad as Craig’s AK-47). How did those Columbian drug lords do it? They must have made them quieter back in the ’80s.
8. If you enjoyed yourself, go again. It feels a bit like the first day of school after the summer, except you only have to go to the classes you want and crazy parties are part of the curriculum.