The Crying Klingon


Klingon-death-cryI think it is story time again.

When I worked for Wizards of the Coast, part of my job was to travel to gaming conventions to promote the WotC game line. The company had sent me and a co-worker, one J.D., to a gaming convention in the mid-west (I have no idea what it was called anymore). Our job was to man the WotC both, demo games, and sell some product. Basically nothing out of the ordinary. What made this convention special was that the big guest of honor was my good friend Shawn . He was a game designer by this point, and therefore a big shot as far as the convention was concerned. Now let me take a moment to describe Shawn. He is a tall man, maybe 6’2”, broad in build and maybe a bit overweight at the time. He was dark haired and wore a goatee, and was without a doubt the hairiest man I had ever met.

Shawn was also the loudest man on earth as far as I was concerned. We had nicknamed him Captain Volume. Now I have a reputation for being loud, but I suspect that Shawn’s voice could kill small farm animals.

Let’s be clear, I like to think of my self as basically a nice guy. No, Really. But one thing that even nice guys do is prank their friends.

And Shawn had a weakness.

Not that long before the convention Shawn was on a date where he was made to watch a movie called Hopfrog. I have never seen this cinematic gem, but apparently it involves puppets and dwarves. Seeing it traumatized Shawn so much so that saying “Hopfrog” would always make him flinch.

At this point I think it is important to point out that the convention had a PA system, and a convention committee who liked a prank as much as anyone.

After a brief negotiation I arranged for someone to go over the PA and say “Hopfrog” every 10 to 15 minutes. It was a thing of beauty, because no matter where I was in relation to Shawn I could hear his mammoth voice cry out “Damn you Jeff Harris!”

This went on for 2 hours.

Did I mention that the convention had a Klingon jail?

What is a Klingon jail, I hear you ask? Well imagine if you will a charity drive where a bunch of Star Trek fans dressed as Klingons set up a “jail cell” at the convention. For a charitable donation they will go arrest someone and make them stay in the cell for one minute for every dollar you spend. Shawn, it seems, felt he had twenty dollars to spare for the worthy cause of revenge.

A very satisfied-looking Shawn and a very ragged-looking group of Klingons came to the table. I was arrested on the charge of impersonating a professional wrestler (Shawn was part of the infamous wrestling RPG group – Go back and check that story out if you need details)

“Hey guys, I’d love to play, but I have to work the booth.”

“No, I have it covered,” said J.D., damn him.

I had a great debate with myself. I knew that the cosplayers could not make me go off against my will, so I could always just say bugger off, and that would be the end of it. But on the other hand, there was the peer pressure to go along with the gag. And on top of that was the fact that I had been tormenting Shawn for 2 hours and he was due some payback. So off I went to the Klingon jail. They tried to cuff me, but I threatened to break the plastic cuffs if they did.

The “Jail” was about the size of a walk in closet. There were already 4 guys in there and only three chairs. There was no ventilation and so it was hot and smelled of sweat.

Now let me explain a few important facts. I don’t do well with heat. Or cramped spaces. Or sweaty guys I’ve never met. Add to this the fact that at the time I had just recently been diagnosed was diabetes and was probably having a blood sugar issue. The point here is that after just 5 minutes I was pretty pissed off.

I came to the realization (or perhaps rationalization) that I had only agreed to this with much coaxing, and that I saw no reason why I had to play in anyone else’s fantasy if I didn’t want to.

I got up to leave.

And the Klingon at the door went to stop me.

And here is where everything went horribly wrong.

The Klingon guard was a girl who I estimate may have been about 20, but possibly younger. She was maybe 5 feet tall. Rubber Klingon armor, rubber Klingon forehead, tin foil Klingon spear, and coke bottle thick glasses.

“Halt, you shall not pass.”

“Get out of my way little girl.” I said; well past the point of good manners.

She looked at me for a moment, and then burst into tears.

You see, here is what I think I missed at the time. In my very limited assessment, we have a very short young girl, thick glasses, probably not very popular at school, and doubtful that she felt empowered in her day to day life. Now I can see where dressing up as a Klingon warrior would give her a sense of power and importance that is missing from her day-to-day life. And here I am at 6’1”, not lacking in confidence, and frankly being very rude and condescending. I broke her illusion and made her cry.

And now everyone was staring at me. The Guards, the guys in the cell, passersby. And every stare said the same thing….


At the core I like to believe I am an empathic man. I do not like to hurt people. Yet here I have made this girl cry just because I had gotten cranky. So of course I turned around, went back into the cell, and sat in the corner until my sentence was up.

I’m not sure where the girl went. Some burly guy (well burly in the way Chris Farley was burly) took over the guard post. Eventually my sentence was up and I was released. As I left I could actually feel the stares following me.

I got something to drink and went back to the both.

JD was waiting for me.

“Dude, what’s this about you making a Klingon cry?”


“Everyone’s talking about it. What did you do?”

“What do you mean everyone? It was just 15 minutes ago.”

“So you did make a Klingon cry.”

“I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted out of the cell.”

“Yeah, well I think you had better let me handle customer relations for the rest of the weekend.”

Shawn, of course, was not going to let this slip on by.

“So Mr. Harris, you made a Klingon cry. What’s next? Stealing candy from a Ferrengi?”

And years later after repeating this a few times a friend of mine who does a web comic adapted the story. And I am now played by a chain smoking Russian musician.

So what did I learn?

One, that there is no excuse for being an ass to anyone.

Two, that just because I don’t think something is a big deal doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else.

And as for the practical joke war with Shawn, let’s just say I think I came out ahead there. Maybe someday I will share the tale of the Barney incident.

The role of the SMOF


Convention Registration line


I first encountered the term SMOF in the late eighties. I was just getting involved with actually helping run conventions and people would through the term around. Being inquisitive, I asked what a SMOF was. Based on the initial reaction I got from people you would have thought I had asked the Colonel what the elven herbs and spices were. Eventually someone took pity on me and explained that the term stood for Secret Masters Of Fandom. Basically it was a term for the elder statesmen of the convention scene. There were no real criteria for becoming a SMOF, it was basically something that was bestowed on someone based on longevity, activity, and how well-known you were in the community.

Had I not taken a decade long break from conventions I would probably be a SMOF myself.

But what does a SMOF actually do?

That can vary quite a bit. Many of them are convention organizers, so they are the people that provide the meeting ground for other fans. Others are people who were convention organizers but have stepped down, or are just very active members of the community that have been around for years. SMOFs tend to take on the role of advisers, or at least commentators on the goings-on at conventions.

So really what they do is advise, or in some cases kibitz. And recent years have really facilitated this with the advent of mailing lists and message boards.

In some cases this can be useful. These are people who have been around the block in regards to the community. On the other hand, they can be a pain in the butt, as they have been doing it forever and that can make some of them very resistant to change.

An example of this occurred recently when one convention, Norwescon, made a change to its registration process by introducing a new computerized system that would scan barcodes on printed receipts.   A group on the SMOF mailing list got very vocal against this system. They did not just object to the barcode scanning; they felt that convention registration should not even use computers, since conventions were able to run registration for years and years before the advent of personal computers.

At the same time this group of SMOFs were complaining that Norwescon was not a real fannish convention because it covered “Non-Fannish” subjects such as podcasting, gaming, and film making, and ignored the “real fannish” subject of fanzines.

So clearly these SMOFs were not happy that time has marched on and fandom has evolved.

To be fair, there were other members on the SMOF list that were defending Norwescon, and saying that change is not bad.

I think it is important to remember that with a group as loosely defined as SMOFs, you cannot paint them all with the same brush. But like any group, it is the loudest members that come to define it, and for the SMOFs it is the complainers.

And this is unfortunate, because in the end most SMOFs are going to be the best resource the community can hope for.  They are the people who have been in the trenches the longest. They have made the mistakes and learned from them. And those that are afraid of change are not the majority.

The trick is making sure that their knowledge is passed down to the next generation in a useful way. The best SMOFs know that bitching on the sidelines is not the way to do it. Staying engaged with the community is.

At Norwescon, there was one guy I know to be a SMOF. He has been involved with the running of Norwescon as long as I can remember, which means at least 30 years. These days he has to use a walker. But he is also still involved with the convention. When a forum was being held about a major change to the convention’s policy, he spoke up and his statement carried both the weight of his experience and the acknowledgement that a new way was needed.

This is SMOFing at it’s best.

So there you have it, the good and the ill of SMOFs. We as a community are fortunate that the good comes out on top.



Comic conventions growing pains


Crowd at San Deigo Comic Con

One of the most noticeable factors about this year’s Emerald City Comicon is the attendance numbers. It was a recorded breaking year of approximately 64,000 attendees, which was the maximum the Washington State Convention Center could handle. For the first time ever, the convention sold out, with all three day passes being gone about two weeks before the show, and only a handful of day passes available at the door, which were sold quickly. I heard people on the floor saying that it is now the third largest comic convention in the country. This is explosive growth for the show, which only drew 20,000 attendees in 2010.

Clearly there are several factors that play into this. As the show grows it is able to attract higher caliber guests. It also benefits from a good reputation amongst pros, with many saying it is their favorite convention of the year.

But I think another factor may be at play, and it involves San Diego Comic Con and its attendance issues.

To explain this theory I first need to explain the parallel that a friend alerted me to.

This came to me by way of my friend Matt. Matt carpools with me to work every day, formed the writers group I belong to, has worked with me for over a decade, and is my proof reader / editor for my articles here. He is also a ten year veteran of Burning Man.

For those not in the know, Burning Man is an annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It is an Art/Alternate culture/self-expression-driven event that requires high levels of attendee participation.  It started an explosive growth in the late 1990’s that lead to it reaching a max capacity of approximately 56,000. In 2011, for the first time, it sold out before the event. The 2011 sell out included all discount tier tickets selling out in half a day. This now appears to be the norm. Many feel this is due to it catching the attention of mainstream culture. It has also left many veterans feeling disenfranchised from the event.

What Matt says this has done is caused an increase in what is known as regional Burns. These are smaller Burning Man-style events that take place around the country. This started with an event in Texas called Burning Flipside, organized by Burners (the self-applied name for people who attend Burning Man) completely separate from the main organization. The idea spread, and Burners in other places formed organizations to put on their own, similar event in their area. It has even spread to other countries.

They started as events that allowed Burners to have the Burning Man experience if they couldn’t make it to the main Burning Man event. Now, in the wake of increased difficulty in getting to the main event, some Burners are turning to the regional Burns as their main outlet and forgoing the main event all together.

As Matt explained this too me I saw clear parallels with the comic conventions. In 2008 San Diego sold out before the show for the first time ever. The following year the event sold out months ahead of time. By 2011 the event was selling out within hours of tickets becoming available.

Looking at the timeline of Emerald City, you see that it took a major jump in attendance in 2011. So my theory is that because it is becoming impossible for most fans to get tickets to San Diego they are turning to the other comic conventions. I looked at a few other conventions numbers, and those that I could find generally show attendance jumps around the same time. In the interest of fairness, I want to point out that I have no other data to back up my theory, such as surveys.

One other thing that I have been hearing is that both fans and pros like Emerald City, as it is still focused on comics and related media, where San Diego has branched out to the point where it is really a media con focused on TV and movies, be they genre or not. This gives Emerald City and the other regional shows an advantage in reputation.

If I am correct you are going to see growth at other comic cons continue. This does have another issue that needs to be considered: the fact that Emerald City itself sold out this year. Selling out a week or so before the show isn’t too bad, as it did give fans plenty of opportunity to get tickets. But what happens next year? After all, it took a couple of years before the San Diego sell outs were counted in minutes instead of months.

Part of the answer is expansion. This can take two forms. The first is actual space. Right now both San Diego and Emerald City have maxed out their venues. In the case of San Diego, there is always the option of moving to another city with a bigger venue, but pressure from the city and reluctance by the convention committee has prevented that through at least 2015. Emerald City could still use space in nearby hotels if they can negotiate with them. Other than that, there are not a lot of other options for the Seattle show, as it wouldn’t make sense for them to move.

On the upside, Emerald City is exploring the other expansion option, starting a secondary show. Staff from Emerald City are involved in the promotion of a sister show in Portland Oregon called Rose City Comic Con in September. Originally a separate show, Rose City has teamed up with Emerald City to help the show grow. This is a good move, as Rose City is still small but has potential. It is also far enough away from Emerald City both in distance and time of year, to offer up the convention experience without cannibalizing the Seattle show.

Overall this kind of growth is good for geek culture. It shows that there is enough interest to support multiple shows and that the culture is thriving.

In fact the only downside is for San Diego. As the smaller shows grow, more people will not bother with San Diego. At some point this could result in fan abandonment. While not certain by any means it could damage and even potentially kill off the show.  This is also a danger that Burning man could face.

Clearly the lesson here is to manage growth. A challenge when there is so much demand. I will be very curious to see what happens to all of these shows in the next year.

Blackface Cosplay

 Cosplay is a big part of geek culture, especially at conventions. I have mentioned it before in discussing how people react to it and the effort people put in it. I recently attended Emerald City Comicon and of course there were a ton of people cosplaying.

Unfortunately there were a few costumes that caused something of a stir.

I don’t normally refer to the thumbnail pictures I use here, but this is an exception. The picture I chose today is from Emerald City this year. If you are not sure what you are looking at, it is a man dressed as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The man is clearly white, and has (badly) applied make-up to attempt to make himself appear black. There was also a trio of kids dressed as Michonne from The Walking Dead and her two tamed zombies. These kids were also white and wearing make-up and wigs to appear black.

In both cases, when I saw them, I got the impression that none of them understood the history of blackface, and that not one of them were being malicious. This did not stop several people from taking offense, especially on twitter.  As far as I know there were no direct confrontations on the floor.

For those of you confused about why this would be offensive, I suggest you look up the terms “blackface” and “minstrel show.”  The quick version is that there was a theatrical tradition that had white performers put on make-up to appear black, with exaggerated features. These shows are a major source of many negative stereotypes of African-Americans. These shows were common up to the beginning of the civil rights movement. Since then, due to these connections people appearing in blackface are consider a racist insult or at the very least racially insensitive.

I want to be clear that I am not saying you cannot cosplay a character of a different ethnicity. At the show I saw very well done She-Ra, Wonder Woman, and Superman costumes done by African-Americans. The difference is that they did not attempt to make themselves look white. They just showed up in costumes of characters they liked and owned it. In fact there is a great Tumblr site, Cosplaying While Black, that you can check out. This is not completely free of controversy as there are some people not comfortable with seeing their favorite characters being portrayed by a different ethnicity. I do not feel these people have a leg to stand on. Just because you are uncomfortable does not mean the cosplayers needs to conform to your tastes.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people using the exact same argument to defend the blackface cosplay. I do not find these equitable arguments.

Basically it comes down a couple of factors.

One is that while blackface is still viewed as a form of racism I think there are a lot of people that are not familiar with it and so had no idea how offensive they were being.

The other is good old fashion white privilege. I assume that these people did not know it was wrong or even take a moment to consider the ramifications. I think that even the attempts to defend them come down to white privilege. For those not sure what I mean, white privilege is the perceived advantages and attitudes that come with being born white in our culture. It also is used to refer to the inability of people born white to understand the perspective of other ethnicities, such as why a person in blackface would be offensive.

And to be clear, I am a white man of middle class background, so I can fall into this trap myself.  The reason I usually don’t is that I have been educated enough to know the history and to avoid making those mistakes.

In the case of our four unintentional offenders at Emerald City Comicon, I think the man in the thumbnail is just ignorant and will hopefully learn from this to not go there again. In the case of the kids I think their parents let them down by not educating them on how their choices may not go over as well as they hoped.

And if not I think the world will provide the needed education soon enough.

Creative Expression in Fandom

It should go without saying that fandom and geek culture produces a lot of passion. Lately I have been writing about the down side of that passion. While I think it is important to bring those subjects to light, I do not want to lose sight of what it is I and so many others love that brings us together.

So I thought I would talk a bit about the artistic side of being in geek culture.

When you go to a fandom event one thing you will find is that at their heart they are a celebration of some form of art. Be it comic books, film, animation, or literature, they all are based on a form of creative output. And this will carry over to the fans themselves. So let’s take a look at the ways fans will find to express their creative side.

Before I go on I want to make one thing clear: this is more of an overview look at these different creative areas. Each one could support an entire article of its own. In fact I could very possibly do those articles in the future. I am just doing this an overall celebration of creativeness in our community and hopefully as a jumping off point for discussion.

Ok, with that out of the way here we go.

At many conventions there will be an art show, where people will display artwork they have created, usually a painting, often for sale, or as part of a charity auction. Now this art is usually geared towards the specific theme of the event, but not always. Some of it will be what is known as fan art, a piece that is based on an already existing property. Star Trek and Star Wars for years were the dominate fandoms for this, but today it could be anything that has any kind of fandom. While it is easy for some people to dismiss this kind of art since the artist is basing it on something someone else already created, that ignores the time, effort, skill, and passion that go into its creation.  Many successful artists got their start this way.

Fanfiction is another creative activity that is prevalent in the fan community. I know that it gets a lot of flak for the slashfic aspect of it, which for the uninitiated among you is where a story will focus on a romantic pairing, rarely one that appears in canon, and often homosexual in nature. Now a lot of people think Fanfiction is something born of the internet, however writing stories about a favorite character or franchise is a long standing practice. There were published Sherlock Holmes stories at the same time Arthur Conan Doyle was writing.  As for directly fandom based fanfiction, there were homemade zines about Star Trek as in the 70s. Like with the artists there are cases of fanfiction writers making the transition into published authors, and I am not just referencing 50 Shades of Grey. One year at San Diego Comic Con I heard Denny O’Neil say that he gave Devin Grayson a shot at writing for him based on her batman fanfiction.

A variation of fanfiction is the fan film. This is one area where thanks to technical advancements it is no longer the realm of the really passionate fans that can get the resources together to make a film. Now with digital recording, editing programs and the means of online distribution whole groups of fans can get together to make films. I would break fan films down to two categories. The first is the film based on a franchise. There are groups that are dedicated to making fan films based on Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly.  The other type is the film based on a geek friendly premise, such as Gamers: Dorkness Rising, or the Collectibles.  The advantage of the second type is that it is something the creators can generate income from. The first type on the other hand is something that gets made because the people involved love the franchise, love making films, and want to combine them. I will admit this one is near to my heart as I was involved with a group of fan film makers and made films based on Star Trek, Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The one creative area of fandom that has gotten a lot of attention lately is cosplay.  I sometimes think the creative side of this gets lost in all the discussion of how sexy someone is or if the costume was appropriate for the convention. Again cosplayers tend to take two forms. The first is the person who looks at a fan event as a chance to dress up and comes in a costume that was purchased elsewhere. Usually this is a store bought Halloween costume. The second type is the person who takes the time to research the character they are making a costume of, find or make patterns for the costume and then take the time to make the costume. Technically there is a third type, a person whose costume is made for them by someone else, but I tend to think of them as just a variant of the second type.

It should come as no surprise that there are people who are of the type two cosplayers that look down on type one as poseurs. I am of the opinion that if someone wants to dress up as a character and the only way they can do so is to buy from a costume shop, than more power to them.

Getting back to cosplay as art, just go out and look up cosplay and look at all the variations you will see. Sure you will have the faithful reproduction of a Wonder Woman costume, but you will also have steampunk Wonder Woman, Victorian Wonder Woman, or as I saw once, a hybrid Wonder Woman/Slave Girl Leia.

Despite the flak that cosplaying is getting lately, it’s creativity has always been appreciated at conventions through the costume contests. These are often a highlight of most conventions. And again people who are really good at it can go pro. Here in the Seattle area there was a costumer named Dragon Dronet, who use to do elaborate costumes with impressive props. Based on his work at conventions he ended up working in Hollywood and is now a respected Prop maker, having worked on various Star Trek shows, Batman Returns, Alien Nation, and even casting puppets for Jeff Dunham.

I would be remiss if I did not take some time to talk about filking. Filking, or filk music, is basically fandom folk music. While it has never been my cup of tea, it has a huge following. And by huge I mean that there are whole conventions devoted to filking. A filk song can either be a parody of a known song with a fannish twist, or an original composition.

A form of creative that often gets overlooked in fandom is crafting. This is just making things with a geeky slant. You see them in most convention dealer rooms, next to the book stores, and video vendors. These are the people who are selling things they have made themselves. And it can be so many different things. Jeweler, costume pieces and accessories, ceramics, t-shirts, art prints. My wife is part of this, she makes soaps shaped like gaming dice, gelatinous cubes (complete with finger puppet monsters inside), and gems.  I have also seen perfumers, corset makers, and fitted fang makers. Obviously crafters who are vending at a convention are hoping to make a profit and even a living from their work, but this does not take away from their creativity.

The last type of creativity is one that is so close to me that I almost overlooked it for this article. It is the one I practice myself. It’s the people who blog, or make podcasts, or online videos about geek culture. Sure there is an argument that it really isn’t that creative as we are just commenting on what is out there, or reviewing geek friendly media. However it still takes time and effort to put these things together and like all of the above it comes out of a love of the culture and wanting to find ways to participate in it. Again some people are able to take this to the limit and go pro, just look at Chris Hardwick.

One thing I have heard a lot is people saying “I wish I could do that, but I’m not good enough”, to which I so “so what”?

Honestly, I think people should at least give something they want to do a shot.

When I started Fanboy News Network it was out of a need for expression. I had spent some time away from the convention scene and had been working on Community Theatrical productions, mostly behind the scenes. Those productions were great, but I realized that I was missing something, my own voice. I decided to start writing as a creative outlet, and using the old saying “write what you know” decided to focus on geek culture. And let’s face it, there are a lot better writers out there covering the same things I do. But I do not let that stop me. I am doing this because I want to, and I want to get good at it. The only way to do that is to actually write.

In the year and a half I have been writing Fanboy News Network I have learned a lot. I have learned what many of my writing habits, both good and bad, are and am working to improve. I have been able to find a writing voice. I have also joined a writers group, and I am now working on projects not directly related to the site.

So if you want to try any of these things, go for it. Just do not be put off by the idea that you may stumble, or even fail at first. This is part of the learning process.

And go out and try to find other people who share your particular interest. You may find mentors or at least a support network. At worst you’ll make some new friends.

And never forget there is an aspiring writer in Seattle that is pulling for you.

The Fake Nerd Girl Myth.

Here we go again.

While I was off enjoying my honeymoon, the whole fake nerd girl issue roared back to life with a vengeance. This is not to say that it ever went away, but the day I flew out to Disneyland to build some memories to last a lifetime with my wife, veteran comic book artist Tony Harris decided to let loose on the subject.

I’m not going to quote him verbatim, if you want to read exactly what he said go here. What I took from his rant is this: women who cos-play at conventions are just attention whores with no love and appreciation of geek culture and should just accept that their sole purpose is to be lusted after and it is their fault if men act badly around them.

I feel dirty even writing that previous paragraph.

Tony Harris is one of the best artists working in comics today. As an artist I am always going to be a fan of his work. However, after reading his rant it is clear that he has some issues that clearly need to be addressed. And he is not alone, not by a longshot.  It has been going on long enough to spawn a meme and to have become a catchphrase.

What the hell? How did this happen?

It’s a complex question and a lot of people have been discussing this for a while now. As a simple male geek who loves his subculture while at times wanting to throttle it, I will now give my two cents worth.

To start with we have to understand the idea of gatekeeper behavior. This is where someone in a particular social group decides it’s up to them to protect the group by determining what is and isn’t appropriate for that group and attempting to purge that which they deem inappropriate. Pick any type of group that a person could be in, political, religious, social, or professional and you will find people who act as gatekeepers for that group.

By their very nature a gatekeeper is going to be a conservative member of that community as they want to keep it pure.

Now how do we apply this to geek culture?  You have to remember that as we have said before the various subsets that make up geek culture have traditionally been male dominated industries that cater to a male dominate fan base. But smart business owners know that it is good to expand your consumer base and the best way to do that is to appeal to as broad a market as possible. For a male dominated market this means trying to bring in the rest of the human race, in other words females.

While this seems simple on the surface, there is a catch. That catch is that while someone new may enjoy something, they way they enjoy it may be different than how you do.

I think I need to illustrate that last point.

My sister and I, despite both being very geeky, are very different in how we approach it. Both of us love Horror, Disney, and roleplaying. However she is not a comic book fan and I am not into fanfiction. This is not to say that either of us hasn’t read comics or fanfiction, but there are subcultures to both and those are ones that she and I do not share.

So when the Avengers movie came out, as I comics fan I was stoked. What I was not aware of was that the fanfiction community also embraced it. Due to this my sister is now a huge Avengers fan, She loves the movie just as much as I do, but for different reasons. She will never know who D-man and Rage are, and I will never get Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers as a married couple.

Now a gatekeeper is going to say that she is wrong. She needs to appreciate the Avengers for its appeal to the comic fans and that legacy and enjoying stories about Tony and Steve adopting Peter Parker is wrong and should be shunned.

So this is where we have the origin of the issue. Maybe that Cos-player dressing as the Black Widow was inspired by the movie. Her interest is in putting together the costume and after all that hard work she wants to show it off. The best place to do that is at a convention. Does this mean she knows the entire backstory of the character? Who knows? The point is that this is how she has chosen to enjoy the culture. This is fine, and she should be allowed to do so. However the gatekeepers go into hyperventilation. This is the root of the fake nerd girl. The claim that she is a trespasser in our community that needs to be put in her place.

Another part of Harris’ rant was that ok, you have chosen to be here dressed like that, accept that you are going to be treated as an object, not a person.

No, just no. this is not even a little ok. In fact go back and read my article on misogyny in geek culture. Or any article on this subject.

So basically what we have an issue where people are feeling threaten because other people are doing things differently.

And if you scratch beneath the surface you will find it is not just the fake nerd girl meme at play here. I have heard from a friend that right after Harris posted. He had friends of his say that they hate it when people are at an anime convention and their cos-play is not anime specific, and how they want those people banned. I have also heard of a steampunk convention where a member of the convention committee went through the dealer’s hall and kicked out any dealers who they felt did not have merchandise that was “steampunk” enough.

And the worst part is that for every idiot who spews this nonsense, they will have people backing them up. If you read the comments from Harris’ post a lot of people thanked him.

That right there is why I am writing this and why others need to keep at it. We have to point out that this behavior is not right and cannot be condoned. And right now we really need to keep at it as this meme has got legs. This next image is from an ad you can find in DC comic books.

Yes, this got approved by an editor somewhere.

I’m sure I will be writing more about this in the future. In the meantime please keep this issue in mind and let’s do what we can to combat it.


A brief Guide to Convention Etiquette

Its convention time for me again. I will be attending GeekGirlCon this weekend to help at my wife’s vendor booth. Stop by the Twisted Kitten Creations booth and say hi.

As I prep for this con I find myself reflecting on a lot of things I have been noticing about the behavior of convention attendees. As such I would like to take the opportunity to go over some convention etiquette that I feel gets overlooked.

First off I would like to introduce you to a thing called situational awareness. The official definition is “the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.”  That mouthful is a very fancy way of saying being aware of your surroundings, and the people and events in it.

So why am I bringing this up when I want to talk about convention etiquette? It’s because I see a lot of situations at conventions where just a little situational awareness could make things a lot better.  An example is a group having a conversation at the bottom of a staircase blocking it off from people who need to go up or down, a person stopping in the middle of the convention floor to check their backpack and causing all the people behind them to have to stop quickly, or someone in a costume with protruding bits knocking over a vendor’s display. A convention by its very nature is going to be a crowded space, and as such it is really easy to end up tripping over each other. This can be made worse by some people who start to feel some crowd anxiety and start retreating into their own inner world to cope.

I want to be clear, I’m not saying be hyper vigilant. I am just saying make an effort to be aware of what is going and how your actions my impact the people around you.

This next one might seem like a no brainer, but in the environment of a convention can throw it off. The normal social standards of everyday life still apply. I’ll be honest; I am using this one as a catch all for a lot of issues that can crop up at a convention.

Yes, you are at a place where you are surrounded by people who share a particular interest. There are people dressed in a manner you do not normally see. You can meet, talk and bond with people over these shared interests. But these are still normal people and the normal social rules are still in effect.  Basically ask yourself this question, “Would what I am about to do or say be over the line at a mall or grocery store?” If the answer is yes, then it would be best to reconsider your actions. Also remember that people going to the convention may have shared interests, but other than that come from all walks of life. You may all have geek culture in common, but there will be a variety of different social, political, religious, sexual, and ethnic backgrounds.

Vendor and artist booths are another aspect of conventions that are prevalent, and can have some potential issues. Both are there in a business capacity. They are attempting to connect with a cliental that is unique to the convention environment. Unless it is specifically a promotional booth, they are there to make money, and even the promotional booth is trying to drum up business for whatever they are promoting. The one issue that can happen is if someone is really fascinated with whatever the booth is about, and hangs out trying to monopolize the attention of the vendor. It’s fine to come by and chat, just remember that these folks are there with a purpose and don’t distract them from paying customers.

There is one action that I want to point out, because I have seen it at too many conventions, and I do not know why this happens. It is something that if you saw it happen at store you would definitely go “WTF?”

Do not, I repeat do not touch a pregnant woman’s belly.

It feels weird that I had to write that sentence, but as I stated, I have seen it happen on several occasions. One friend while pregnant went so far as to have a shirt made up before a convention that said “You do not have permission to touch my belly.”

And with the topic of inappropriate touching broached, it is time I go right to the elephant in the room.

Harassment has been a subject of a lot of discussion in geek culture lately. When I wrote about misogyny in geek culture I covered some of it. And since then there have been tales of major lines being crossed at conventions. In particular the events at Readercon have brought the subject to the forefront. Go here if you would like to get the details.

Bottom line, don’t be a creeper. Yes there are attractive people at conventions, and yes they may well be wearing costumes that enhance that attractiveness. And if you are at a convention being held at a hotel there might be alcohol available.

None of that is permission to cross boundaries.

With everything I have gone over here the basics are simple. Keep aware of what you are doing. Be mindful of your actions and their consequences. Have a good time, just don’t have it at someone else’s expence.

Some thoughts on San Diego Comic-con

San Diego Comic-con logoIt’s time for San Diego Comic-con again.That time of year. when the title of Geek Capital of the World temporarily moves from Seattle to San Diego.

I’ll admit that I don’t feel as excited about San Diego Comic-con as I use to. Last year I had such great plans about commenting on the news that came out of the convention daily, only for that news to either be rehash of what we already knew, of just hype about upcoming movies and TV shows.

I almost feel I could copy and paste my pre con post from last year and have it be almost as relevant this year.

Once again we will be treated to a focus on Movies and TV shows, many of which have no relationship to geek culture at all. A lot of cos-play will be featured and we will likely get a return of the pictures of guys acting inappropriately at female cos-players. And I am sure there will be plenty of coverage about the Twilight panel since, in theory, this will be the last panel for an upcoming movie.

My biggest cause for apathy however is not due to the content of the convention at all. It is based on the issue of attendance.

When I started going to San Diego Comic-con in the early 90s you could still show up at the convention and buy a membership at the door, or at least get a day pass. Not only are those days long gone, but now it is long odds to get any kind of membership at all. While they have not moved to a lottery system like Burning Man has, you do have to preregister into an online system just to have a shot at registering on line when the registration system goes live. This year they sold out in minutes, not hours, minutes. So basically you have several hurdles to jump to get a badge and if not, you are out of luck.

I understand this is due to a combination of the capacity at the San Diego Convention Center and the popularity of the event, but I still see it as a troubling sign. If people are frustrated in their efforts to go they may start just not bothering. Right now this may not seem like a problem, but if you go back and read my article Food of the Geeks you remember I pointed out that geek themed restaurant the AFK Tavern runs the risk of running off new clients due not having tables available to walk ins. It’s the same theory.  After a while people may start saying “Screw it I’m not going to bother, there are other conventions I can go to that aren’t sold out.” And this is what can lead to an event’s decline.

The simple answer that inevitably crops up is move to a site with more capacity. As simple as that sounds there are complications. At this time San Diego Comic-con is signed to stay at the San Diego Convention Center through 2015. Every time the question of moving to a larger venue comes up the city of San Diego fights vigorously to keep the convention.  Since last year it brought 162.8 million dollars to the local economy it’s not hard to see why. Part of this effort is a drive to expand the convention center, but as that would cost an estimated 750 million dollars it is far from a sure thing.

Anaheim and Las Vegas both are lobbying hard to try to draw the convention away as they do have venues that could accommodate a larger attendance, but they have a strike against them, and that is that they are not San Diego. The convention organizers are located in San Diego, so they have an interest in staying local.

While the attendance issue is a pressing one, there is another factor at play that could also contribute to a decline. The convention has drifted away from its original core. When news comes out of the convention, it is again the big media stories about those Movies and TV shows. Lost in the shuffle are those pesky comic books. Every year I hear stories about how it is harder and harder for comic book vendors to get booth space due to increased costs and competition for space with other better funded media vendors. The name may be Comic-con, but the focus is clearly on movies and TV.

One thing I have been hearing is that comic industry pros prefer shows like Emerald City Comicon as they still have a primary focus on comic books. And these shows are not lacking in attendance. I learned from a staff member at ECCC that this year’s attendance on Saturday was more than the entire weekends last year, and then they surpassed attendance estimations by several thousand. This has led to them securing the use of more of the Washington State Convention Centers facilities for next year.

What this adds up to is the potential for another convention to challenge San Diego Comic-con for the title of geek convention king. I for one this would be a good thing as it would give the fans more opportunities.

So here I sit waiting to see what will happen. I will of course pay close attention to what news comes out of San Diego Comic-con this year. If it is good information I will certainly write about it. If not, well I have other articles I am working on.

Emerald City Comicon the final 2012 update

After a few days rest and the prep for another convention I am ready to look back on Emerald City Comicon.
For any convention after it is over there are two central questions to you need to ask to gauge it’s success: Did I enjoy myself and will I be back next year. For me the answer to both is a clear yes. I had a good time and I look forward to attending again.
With that covered there are a few things I would like to go over.
First is the size of the crowd. As I covered in the day two update attendance was so high on Saturday that the fire marshal shut down registration.  One rumor I heard was that Saturday’s numbers were greater than all of last year’s. I can’t say for sure as I have not seen any officially numbers yet.  ECCC has been a steadily growing convention, and has slowly been using more and more of the Washington State Convention center. Based on this year’s event they will probably need to use even more of the facility next year.
Due to some of the behavior’s I witnessed at the show, after I finish with Norwescon this upcoming weekend I will need to write more on con attending etiquette. Someone suggested I need to write a book on the subject, but let’s start with a couple more articles and see where we go.
The panels still tend to be centered on the comic book industry. Yes you have the media guests and they do get the biggest room, but the majority of the other rooms are used for panels based on the comic book industry. This has certainly given the show a good reputation in the industry and I hope they stay the course on this.
Cosplay was in fine form during the show. The one down side was that the area set aside for cosplay photo ops was right outside the main dealer floor. When the crowding happened on Saturday you could barely move.
And for those who were following my cosplay tally, here are the final numbers for the show.
·         Doctor who: 29
·         Captain America: 18
·         Joker: 14
·         Batman: 14
·         Superman: 14
·         Harley Quinn: 13
·         Poison Ivy: 11
·         Batgirl: 11
·         Robin: 11
·         Wonder Woman: 9
·         The TARDIS:9
·         Supergirl: 7
·         Spider-man: 7
·         Green Lantern: 7
·         Catwoman: 7
·         Riddler: 7
·         Zatanna: 6
·         Black Canary: 4
·         Phoenix: 4
·         Iron Man: 3
·         Nightwing: 3
·         Rogue: 3
·         Death (from Sandman): 3
·         Doctor Octopus: 2
·         Powergirl: 2
·         Hulk: 2
·         Batwoman: 2
·         Green Hornet: 2
·         Dalek: 2
·         Red Ranger: 2
·         Doctor Horrible: 2
·         Captain Hammer: 2
An Honorable mention goes to Hawkman. Only one person went as him, but his wings moved.
That wraps up this show. I will have a new post mid next week after I recover from Norwescon detailing how that show goes.

Emerald City Comicon Day Three

The final day of a convention can be a bitter sweet affair. You have had a great team, you will miss all the experiences, and you are exhausted and just want to get home and soak your poor abused feet.

I only attended two panels, the Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin panels. The Browncoat in me required it. They were fun panels. Summer is obviously a sweet girl and was adorable on stage. Adam is an old veteran who knows how to connect to the crowd.
I spent the rest of the day checking out booths I had not gotten to previously and catching up with old WotC colleagues I had not seen in a while. Towards the end of the day I ended up helping out at the booth my wife was vending at. This led to my awesome moment of the day.
One of the items my wife makes is a bracelet with a heat sensitive stone like an old mood ring at the center. A little girl about 4 or 5 years old was with her parents at the table and I encouraged her to touch the stone. As the stone turned color I could see the gears in her head start working. She was trying to figure out how I was making the color change. She keep looking at her had expecting ink. And she was not going to take this nonsense I was telling her about science and body heat. Somehow I was making the green stone turn blue and she was going to work it out.
And before I give you the tally of today’s cosplay I want to share a revelation I had. My identifying and recording the various costumes I saw was basically the fannish equivalent of trainspotting.
And with that thought firmly in place here are the results for Sunday.
·         Superman: 7 finally knocking Doctor Who out of the top spot.
·         Doctor Who: 6
·         Captain America: 4
·         The TARDIS: 3
·         Supergirl: 3
·         Spider-man: 3
·         Riddler: 3
·         Power Girl: 2
·         Green Lantern: 2
·         Robin: 2
·         Harley Quinn: 2
·         Joker: 2
·         Poison Ivy: 2
·         Wonder Woman: 2
Tomorrow I will do the final review of the convention, after I get a good night’s sleep.