Aug 212007

cons-thumb.jpgJust 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.

Download the MP3 here.

Keep reading to hear about the other amazing cons I went to this summer, as well as some tips for enjoying them!

con-web.jpgThink 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.
Post-automatic-weapon shame.



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.

  13 Responses to “How to Enjoy Conventions”

  1. Thanks for this! TCAF was the first show I’d been to in a good while, and I really enjoyed getting to meet some of the folks behind the stuff I’ve been buying all this time — and far more because they’re for the most part indies trying to get the word out there for themselves. It’s far more interesting than talking to someone who writes Spiderman or Star Trek novels at some ‘big-name’ show.

    It was really cool to chat with you a bit, and I hope I wasn’t too much of a gushing fanboy. I’ve read the graphic novel by now, and I enjoyed it immensely — it was a story that I think worked particularly well in that format, and yet it had enough associations to the novel that I felt smug for having read the back story. 😉 I look forward to whatever you do next!

  2. Yeah, it was nice to meet you too! I didn’t have any gush on my shirt afterwards so you certainly didn’t overdo it.

    I checked out your site and voted Monster.

    Glad you dug the GN! Neat to get feedback this quickly, for prose novels I have to wait weeks…

  3. Well, they generally take longer to read. 😉

    Monster, hmm? You knocked that one into the lead for the week so far … thanks for stopping by there!

  4. …and actually, you’re a good example of the Participate suggestion in the tips — you gave me a card with your Monkey, Monster, Spaceman? project at TCAF. It is very rare I remember anyone by name, or even by face, until I see a project they’ve put out… something clicks then. I checked your website link when you left your comment, and thought, oh yeah, that guy! Otherwise I wouldn’t have had any way to distinguish you.

  5. dude, we went to Caeser’s Palace! for dinner! and we took to monorail! and we were almost late for the screening! and it was your idea!

  6. Whoops! Not CP then, what fabulous place did we give a miss to? I forget. It was almost a MONTH ago.

  7. I wasn’t even sure if that would be too pushy or something — but it’s part of that whole atmosphere, a friend and I were talking about it today. TCAF just made us want to shout out that we were being creative, too. We wanted to be a part of the conversation.

  8. […] Jim Munroe offers a podcast interview with Finder creator Carla Speed McNeil (33.3MB downloadable MP3 […]

  9. Heya,

    I’m going to quibble a bit with the Participate comment. I’ve done this a number of times (at both the Small Press Expo and the Alternative Press Expo) and have had extremely disappointing results. The lack of nurturing and support has actually been quite surprising. So surprising that I wrote a four part piece on it (part four is at and the other three parts are linked in the first sentence of that post).

    Part of the problem, I think, is that con goers (both attendees and exhibitors) are not quite as open as I thought they would be. That, of course, might be a reflection on my own expectations more than anything else, but I’ve attempted to participate quite extensively and have not enjoyed the results. While I suspect this is probably a “your mileage may vary” kinda thing, I thought I would point it out.


  10. Thought you might want to know that Monster wound up winning in the polls. 😉 I’m contemplating what to write even now …

  11. Hey Von Allan–

    Interesting analysis and commentary of your experience at APE. I tend to prefer local fairs, Canzine and TCAF are both great for this, as I tend to hear back from people when I run into them in the street or whatnot. They’re not likely to email me, but I’ll say I’ve got a book coming out, they’ll say oh yeah I loved the sampler, and then they’ll come to the launch.

    That said, the nurture stuff is fairly subjective, so here’s some hard numbers inspired by your approach. I have been thinking a fair bit about why the fuck we sold so many damn books, previously my previous record had been 20 books in one sitting, when we sold 50 on Sat and 40 on Sun at TCAF. Here are some suspicions I have as to why the increase:
    -graphic novels trump prose novels for impulse buy — you can see you like the art, wherein with writing style it’s a bit harder
    -post-Rapture is a catchy premise
    -priced competitively: thanks to my pal Chris at the Beguiling I dropped from my usual $20 to a $16 retail, $15 con price for a 160 page gn
    -we had a whole table in a good location dominated by one book
    -we had a 2/3 page article in eye weekly, 1 of 2 artists featured
    -I had a Neil Gaiman endorsement for a previous book displayed prominently

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!

  12. These are good tips, Jim. I went to practically nothing this year, planning next year though to travel a bit, hit some events.

  13. Wow! You got at the Wiscon 2005 or 2006? I missed you there!

    Nice talking to you at the TCAF.


 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>