It’s that time of year again. San Diego Comic Con was last week, and as it is the premier geek culture event of the year and we are a site that covers geek culture, I am obligated to say something about this year’s event, even though I am not able to attend.
Last year I focused on the problems of just getting to the convention, with record sell-out times. Everything I wrote about that is still relevant this year. The other area I focused on was San Diego Comic Con drifting from its original focus and becoming more of a media show, and in that arena there is more debate this year.
The crux of that complaint is that major portions of the show floor have been bought up by media companies who are pushing their various movies, TV shows, and other non-comic-book-related media. This has pushed out more comic-focused vendors and driven up the price of booth space. To be fair, most of these media companies are focusing on product relevant to geek culture, but not exclusively. An example was a couple of years ago when there was a booth for the NBC show The Playboy Club which, let’s face it, was not geek culture. On the other hand, it was a small booth and the show did bomb.
There is also the complaint that panel time is taken up with shows that have dubious geek credentials, such as How I Met Your Mother and Psych.
But how fair are these complaints?
During the convention prominent comic writer Gail Simone went on twitter to address these concerns and ask some pointed questions.
The first point was to ask if fans were asking for more comic-focused content. If so, she pointed out that every major comic publisher and most minor ones had booths at the convention. She could not think of one that was not there. Also the majority of convention panels were comic industry focused. She said that if you took out all the other media at the convention, you would still have the largest comic convention. So is there really too much other media at San Diego Comic Con, or does it just seem that way because of what other media covers?
She does concede that small vendors and people in artist alley do get marginalized and could use more love. However, this could be said of any comic convention; it is just magnified at San Diego Comic Con.
The feedback from some of the web comic creators at the show illustrates that point. Randy Milholland, creator of Something Positive, commented throughout the show that he was not making enough money to justify the expense of traveling to the convention. He said he lost a few thousand dollars, and of course the time lost that he could have been working, so he says this will be his last year going. I have heard similar tales from Studio Fogilo, but they still attend; although I suspect more for contacts and publicity.
But I think the best summation of what is going on with San Diego Comic Con came from web reviewer Leo Thompson, who hosts the show That Sci Fi Guy. Thompson was explaining the difference between San Diego Comic Con and Dragon*Con. His conclusion is that San Diego Comic Con is a trade show, where Dragon*Con is a fan-focused convention. To build on his point, I would say that this would be like the difference between E3 and PAX in the gaming community . A lot of fans would go to E3 when it was open to the public, but it is acknowledged that it is an industry show; where PAX is very clearly focused on the actual fans.
If we assume that Thompson is right, the question becomes: is this a bad thing? My gut check is that if this were how San Diego Comic Con was openly presented, then no it is not; but right now that is not the case.
I think this bears more analysis, and I will look at it again after Dragon*con happens later this year.
In the meantime, please let me know what you think.
Author John Scalzi has opened a new chapter in the ongoing debate about harassment at fan conventions. Scalzi is a successful science fiction author, and until very recently he was the president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. A week after his tenure as president ended, Scalzi announced what he refers to as his new hard requirement for any convention that wants him as a panelist, participant, or guest of honor. The convention must have a very clear and readily accessible anti-harassment policy. Said policies must include clear guidelines about what is unacceptable behavior, and where attendees can go for help in those circumstances. The policies have to be made available in places such as the program book or the convention website.
This comes in parallel to another recent incident involving Penny Arcade. You can find more specifics here, but in short Penny Arcade co-founder Mike Krahulik got into a fight on twitter over comments involving transgender issues. The commentary got heated and Krahulik made what many people felt were transphobic comments. Taken on its own it is bad enough, but there was also the specter of the “Dickwolf” controversy from a couple of years ago, which had many people starting to look at Penny Arcade and it’s convention PAX as a hostile environment. The irony here is that PAX has one of the strongest anti-harassment policies of any convention out there. Immediately people started distancing themselves from Penny Arcade, including one game company canceling their booth at the event.
During the Dickwolf issue Krahulik stuck to his guns, which turned a lot of people off. In the time between then and now, he and the people around him clearly learned from the experience. The two days after the transgender argument saw Krahulik issue multiple apologies, admit he has an issue of getting hostile when feeling threatened, and a vow to try to work on these issues. He also made a $20,000 donation to the Trevor Project as a sign of contrition. He also acknowledged that his behavior was damaging to the Penny Arcade brand.
So with these events having just happened, we are once again having the conversation of how welcoming the fan community environment is to people. The positive in both these cases is that there is clear recognition that there are issues and that they need to be dealt with. I also feel they show that progress is being made.
In the Penny Arcade case, in the past this issue would have just festered, but now there is acknowledgement that there was a problem and an actual apology. It is a step in the right direction.
In the case of John Scalzi, you have a prominent author using the cred he has built up over the years to attempt to influence positive change. As of this writing, several 100 people, myself included, have co-signed his pledge.
This does put me in a slightly awkward position, of course. My local convention, Norwescon, is one of the conventions currently lacking in such a policy. However, they aren’t ignoring it. They had a discussion forum that I participated in at this year’s convention about adopting such a policy. Also someone connected with the convention posted in Scalzi’s comment section that they are forwarding the discussion to the convention committee for additional consideration. It is all about getting these important conversations started.
Emerald City Comicon is also in the same boat. I expect they will be addressing this soon as well. At least I hope they do.
It is worth noting that San Diego Comic Con also lacks an adequately published policy. They have one apparently, but it is not where you could find it.
If you are looking for a good listing of which conventions do or do not have policies in place, the site Girl Wonder is compiling a database that can be found here.
While it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do, I feel hopeful that we are seeing positive change, and that geek culture is coming around in regards to how it treats everyone.
I’ll be keeping an eye on all of this and I am sure we will be talking about it again in the future.
It’s been 2 years since I started writing Fanboy News Network, and a year since we migrated from BlogSpot to the WordPress site. I figured now would be a good time to take a look at what we are doing and what plans are for the future. I also thought for once I would talk about some other projects I am working on.
Last year I set the goal of posting an article every Saturday. For the most part I have kept to that, with just a few hiccups, and I think that will be the schedule for the foreseeable future. It balances my writing with my work schedule and the rest of my life.
I plan on continuing with the basic format that I have been using, but I want to refine my categories a bit more, as well as set up some article series I want to work on.
Article will still be the category for the general articles I write, and be the general catch-all.
Review will continue to be used for anything I cover where I use a rating system. More on that below.
Geek Capital of the World will still cover any geek culture subjects that are specific to Seattle.
Storytime will be any time I cover an event from my past related to geek culture, with emphasis on my time as an employee of Wizards of the Coast, or when I was part of the Camarilla board of directors.
Podcast will be used for when I repost podcasts that I am part of. More on Podcast plans below.
But I am adding the following new categories.
Horror will be for articles I write covering Universal Horror or related subjects.
Web Series will cover the growing field original web content.
Geek Icons will be for a new series I will be doing on people who were pioneers or significant figures in geek culture.
Conventions will be for articles specifically about geek centric conventions.
Industry will be for articles that cover the various businesses that cater to geek culture such as the comic companies or film studios.
Site news, for stuff like this.
You should see the new categories now.
Now as for what other projects I have in the pipeline.
I am also working on some writing projects that I hope will develop into something more serious. One is a script for a Horror Host-type show based on a line I wrote in my Horror Host article. The other is a short story that keeps growing longer. As a writer, I find I am drawn to urban fantasy. Right now my big goal here is to have a story ready to submit to next year’s Norwescon writer’s workshop.
I am hosting a monthly writing group to help develop more of these skills.
I am also getting involved with voice acting and amateur audio drama. I’ve been posting episodes of the Hermes and Hekate Roadshow already. If all goes according to plan, I will be voicing a character in the second season.
I am working with Julie Hoverson of 19 Nocturne Boulevardon some projects. She has also offered to teach me how to mix an audio drama. This will help with other projects I have in the works, including getting a Fanboy News Network podcast off the ground.
Finally I wanted to clarify the rating system I am using in reviews. I am using an A-F format, but it was pointed out that I should clarify what each grade means. So here is what I will be using going forward:
A: Top flight effort that can be enjoyed by anyone. Fans should go through the roof. If it is a movie, viewable multiple times in the theater. Must own the DVD
B: Superior effort. Fans will enjoy it, and non-fans will at least feel it was not a waste of time. If it is a movie would watch once in the theater. Would buy the DVD
C: An average effort. Fans will like it and not feel it was a waste of time. Non-fans may be lukewarm to it. Decent but flawed. If a movie no problem seeing in the theater. Would pass on buying the DVD
D: A disappointing effort. Serious flaws. No one will make any effort to see it again. Most will feel it is a waste of time. If seen in the theater would feel it was a waste of time. Would not buy the DVD
F: A complete waste of time. A project that should not have been made. Would consider asking for my money back at the theater.
So there you have it; where we stand and some hopes for the upcoming year. Thank you for checking us out and I hope you continue to enjoy what you see.
It’s time for another look back at the early history of the White Wolf fan organization, The Camarilla. Last time I wrote about the circumstances of its birth as I remember them. This time I want to look at a very specific event, the first Camarilla convention, Courageous/NercoCon.
Again, this is going to be based on my memories of events from over 20 years ago, with as much verification as I have been able to get from other people who were there. I am also going to liberally reference events from my previous Camarilla article, so I recommend going here to read that if you have not already.
I want to specify that this is not about any other Camarilla events, such as the kickoff event at Vikingcon, or any of the other early sanctioned events at various Northwest conventions. This is about the first convention that had a Camarilla focus.
The convention started life as just Courageous Con, named after the chapter of STARFLEET International that I was a member of. As this implies, it was to be a Star Trek convention. The head of our chapter had run successful conventions in Canada and wanted to start one in the Seattle area after moving here. This is all well and good.
However, during the time that the convention was being planned, The Camarilla was coming into being. As I said last time a good number of the original board of directors for the Camarilla were also officers in the Courageous. These same people were also involved in putting together Courageous Con.
So let’s just say enthusiasm over multiple projects started bleeding into each other.
Basically the idea started forming to have a Camarilla convention, but a lot of us were already working on Courageous Con. The solution was to combine the two and have a two–in-one convention. But how would you pull that off?
The answer was to run 24 hour programming.
You read that last sentence right.
Twenty-four hour convention programming. During the daytime hours it would be Courageous Con, and be devoted to Star Trek. At night it would be NecroCon, and be devoted to Vampire and the Camarilla.
I’m pretty sure that I am the first person who started referring to it as the Wereconvention, since it would transform after dark.
So we had to come up with 24 hours’ worth of programming, as well as guests for both genres. It turns out the programming wasn’t as hard, since both were different enough. The trick was getting panelists who were willing to stay up late for the NecroCon side, but even that wasn’t that daunting.
As for guests, we actually did pretty well. For Star Trek we secured George Takei, and for Vampire we had Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris from White Wolf.
Everything looked like it was going well. But frankly, I would not be taking the time to write this down if that was how it ended.
The first hurdle came a couple of months before the convention. George Takei had to pull out of the con. George, like almost all Star Trek actors, had a contract with a company that put on Star Trek conventions around the country. The nature of that contract obligated him to go to a convention they were setting up and cancel his appearance at ours. The kicker is that this last minute convention was being held in Seattle, at a hotel only ten minutes away from where we were holding our con, on the exact same weekend.
Yeah, you are probably thinking the same thing I was, but I have no proof.
So there was a scramble to find a replacement Star Trek guest. The new guest ended up being Jonathan Del Arco. These days, you might know him as Dr. Morales from The Closer and its spin off Major Crimes. Back in 1993, he was best known as Hugh the Borg, from Star Trek: the Next Generation.
So we lost the Major Guest and had a competing convention down the road. But we still had the draw of the White Wolf guys, and the Camarilla was up and running at this point, and growing in popularity. So we were going to be fine.
Ok, let’s be honest, this was a pretty ambitious plan, running programming continuously for an entire weekend. Add to that the fact that it was the first time running a convention for a lot of the organizers.
And with that in mind, looking back I can honestly say, it could have been much worse.
When I think back on Courageous/ NercoCon, the first thing that comes to mind is why did the hotel think it was a good idea to book a Star Trek/ Vampire convention the same weekend they were also hosting a gathering of nuns? Not that this caused any real conflict, or led to any problems, it just added to an overall feeling of oddness that permeated the hotel the whole weekend. Okay, there was the one instance where someone who had over indulged saw them and yelled out “penguins!” Fortunately he was prevented from approaching them, and was carted off by friends quickly.
One problem that was just beyond anyone’s control was that the volunteer coordinator came down with the flu and was running a decent fever. This was on top of the lack of sleep we were all already operating under.
The biggest problem was just attendee behavior. To this day I am not sure what the hell was up with this. I have been to some rowdy conventions before, but there was just something in the air at this one, and all evidence points to it being the vampire fans at the heart of it.
First was just out and out damage to the hotel. There was a hole in one of the walls, which who knows, it could have been anyone on that. The graffiti on the walls on the other hand was pretty clearly put there by someone into Vampire.
But really it was the beer slip-and-slide on the 3rd floor that really took the cake. The hole and the graffiti could have been the result of spur of the moment passion or alcohol-fueled bad decision making. On the other hand, someone had to bring the slip and slide to the con, indicating a degree of premeditation. It was also dealt with pretty quickly and quietly, as the perpetrators managed to convince the hotel not to kick them, and basically the convention, out. I’m sure it being 3 AM on Sunday helped, as by this point the hotel was already fed up with us, so they just wanted to get it over with without any added drama. I didn’t even know that this had happened until a month later. The convention chairman didn’t know about it until last month when I went online to confirm details for this article and someone who was there confirmed it.
Needless to say, in light of these events, the convention was a one-time only thing.
But I don’t want to leave you with the idea that it was all bad.
Jonathan Del Arco turned out to be a very engaging guest and everyone who interacted with him really like him. Likewise Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris had a great time hanging out with the Camarilla crowd and the LARP with them went extremely well. I will always cherish the look on Mark’s face when I led the Camarilla members in a rendition of the It’s a Small World After All parody I had written for the World of Darkness. It was a fascinating combination of pride and shame.
For me personally it was the first time I met the White Wolf guys, who in turn introduced me to the Wizards of the Coast crew. Within a week of the convention I started hanging out at the WotC offices at their invite, leading to my 5 year stint working there. That in turn led to my current job and, really, my life in general now.
I think looking back on it that the two-in-one convention was just too much. What we should have done was drop the Star Trek part after losing Takei and just focused on Vampire. We had a competing Trek convention down the road that siphoned off most of that audience anyway. If we had done that we would have had tighter focus, and I believe less chaos.
So that was the first Camarilla convention. There was not another specific Camarilla Con during the rest of the time the Board of Directors was located in Seattle. After the BoD was transferred to Salt Lake City it was attempted again, this time with a proper focus. Since then there have been many Camarilla Cons, and some of them have had memorable stories, such as the time they were in the same hotel as a Players ball, and a drive by shooting (for info on that check out this video). But none were as out there in concept as Courageous/ NecroCon.
As with my previous Camarilla story, if anyone from the original Board of Directors, or the Courageous/ NecroCon staff want to write their point of view of what happened, I will publish it here unedited.