Tagged: Dragon Con

Michael Davis: The Truth About Harlan Ellison And The Lie He Told Us All

Note number 1: I wrote this first part in 2014. What’s below took me two weeks as I’ve been battling depression blah blah blah blah poor me etc.

Twenty minutes after I first met Harlan Ellison he handed me a signed blank check.

I’ll get back to that.

I found out what kind of friend Harlan was, and it’s essential to me people know the type of sway his friendship carries with it.

When I was very young, in the summertime my sister and I were sent to Alabama to stay with my stepfather’s parents. My stepfather would drive us from New York, and I looked forward to that two-day trip until one night I will never forget made me never want to go south again.

In thirty years of baring my soul as a writer, I have never written about that experience. I do so now to underscore the importance of Harlan’s influence in my life.

My stepfather Robert Lawrence was an alcoholic well before it was designated an illness. At six years old I would not have cared if it was an illness or a ring given to him from The Guardians of the Universe. Robert (yes I called him Robert, it’s a Black thing) could do no wrong— he was my idol. It’s astonishing we were not killed during those sometimes 100 mph trips to Dalton, Alabama.  Robert was always drinking, and driving two kids cross country was just another thing to do for him.

We had just entered North Carolina sometime after midnight. Robert had stopped to take a nap. My sister and I were in and out of sleep, and for years the following seemed like a bad dream. The taps on the windshields were loud but the voices— “WAKE UP NIGGER!” were more emphatic.

Surrounding the car were six huge white men. Robert woke up.


Robert opened the door and stepped out.

Although he wasn’t hit, he was none the less beaten badly. Those men said the kind of things that put Robert on his knees. The one thing I’ll repeat was this: “Boy, we the Klan.”  They had no robes or hood, but we all knew it was true. My hero was reduced to what I thought then was a coward. As I got older, I realized he wasn’t.  He did what he had to do to save my sister and I. It was years before I understand this event wasn’t a bad dream.

I didn’t know what a vow was, but I made up my mind never to go south again. However against my better judgment and fears, I went back to the south twice the second time I wrote about in the 2014 article linked above.

Both times, something terrible happened to me— both times, Harlan made it OK.

I was asked to be the auctioneer at a function to benefit battered women at Dragon Con in 1995.  Giving myself the “oh I was a child it couldn’t have bad” talk, I arrived in Atlanta early so I could go to the Civil War Museum. I am a big fan of American history, and I’m sure the Civil War Museum in Atlanta is all I heard it was.

I may never know.

My then girlfriend at the time and I got as far as the parking lot when it was made clear we should keep on getting on. I’ll spare you the details, but note to Black men who love history, here’s a tip: if you’re planning a trip to the museum leave your white girlfriend home.

To be fair, that was 1995, things may be different now that Trump is Presiden…shit. Just don’t go.

After the events in the parking lot, both my girlfriend and I were severely shaken.  I was determined to just go back to New York, but I owed the benefit organizers an in-person explanation at least.

Nothing was going to stop me from getting on a plane, or so I thought.

Harlan did.

He heard I was bowing out found me and did the second kindest thing ever done for me. He co-auctioned the event and in doing so showed me the people of Atlanta were terrific kind folk unlike those who tore into me with such hatred earlier that day.

The two hours Harlan and I spent going at each other trying to get bidders to go higher and higher is why Dragon Con is my single favorite convention experience.


I love San Diego Comic-Con and would take a bullet for any staff member, but the single best time I’ve ever had at a convention was Dragon Con, and I’ve only been there once.

A lot has been written about Harlan’s brash in your face attitude. Many think that as a famous writer he was playing a role. His antics more ‘character’ than real.

Some even going so far as to say he believed little of what he preached.

I wish some people were smart enough to realize how stupid they are.

Harlan Ellison was a 20-year-old brand new writer in Hollywood when the biggest star in the world got in his face. Nobody and I mean nobody fucked with Frank Sinatra.  Frank got in Harlan’s face, Harlan  got right back into his.

Sinatra was the most powerful man in Hollywood at the time; Harlan was a writer and didn’t care. Give that a long hard thought. That as they say in the hood is ‘gangsta.’ Read the article “Frank Sinatra has a cold” and you’ll learn something about being true to yourself.  It’s all talk for most, not Harlan.

I mentioned what Harlan did for me at Dragon Con was the second kindest thing ever done for me, here’s the first: when I met Harlan he was leaving a party at Len Wein’s house; I had just gotten there.

We hit it off immediately.

“Give me a call, let’s grab a bite,” Harlan  said. “That would be great!” I responded and gave him my card. Harlan  looked at the card then gave it back. “You’re calling me, remember?”  For a moment I thought he was pissed, but I managed to utter, “Card?”

“Man, I don’t do cards.” He half yelled while digging around in his briefcase.

He produced a checkbook ripped out a check and gave it to me. “Whoa!” I stammered while looking at his name address and phone number printed on the front.  “Don’t you want to write void or something on this?”

He grabbed the check from me making a show of writing something on it. “Man, you’re like a little girl.” He tosses the check back to me and says in a much lower voice; “I’m sure I can trust you, but just in case you ever need help with anything…”

I didn’t get that at all, I folded the check and put it in my wallet. Something stopped me from returning my billfold to my back pocket. Instead, I unfolded the check and looked at what Harlan had written.

He signed the check.

I’d known the man for twenty minutes, and he had given me a signed blank check.

I ran after him with the intent of giving back the check. I reached him in about 30 seconds deciding at that moment to keep it realizing the message behind the gesture, this man wanted me in his life and wanted me to know he’s not fucking around. “I could be homeless and hungry; I’ll never cash it.”  Harlan  made a look like he had no idea who I was but before the front door closed, he hit me with a smile.

I had the check framed the day I heard Harlan passed.

The truth about Harlan is he was exactly who he said he always told the truth— except for this massive lie. He once wrote, “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”

Bullshit, nope, nada, bullshit again.

Harlan Ellison will always matter.

Note number 2: To my loyal fans (both of you) I’ll try and stick around this time, but the thing about depression is it’s depressing so there. Harlan’s article I hope will be the last shared by all the outlets that carries my bi-line.


That last one was for you, Harlan.

Marc Alan Fishman: Facing My Fears

As I noted last week, Unshaven Comics’ trek to Hotlanta for the annual Dragon Con had me face down several fears all at once. As Unshaven Matt Wright was sidelined due to a babysitting emergency, the biggest fear for me was knowing that our terrific trio was reduced to a dingy duo. Beyond that, there was the continual fear that our little shtick will finally reach the point that it doesn’t garner the excitement we count on to close sales. Add that ennui to the more concrete fear that a ten-hour trip in the car while completing the Whole 30 diet – one that forced me to give up everything but lean protein, fruits and vegetables – would make what is normally a doable drive become something more akin to the trek undertaken by a ragtag fellowship of adventurers trying to ditch a silly ring.

Backup just a wee bit further and I was dealing with the fear of finishing our comic. In what was our second year without a new book to bring out to shows, the creeping horror of attending a show yet again without anything new to our names had forced me to use vacation time from my day job – and then working 12 hours a day to ensure we limped across the finish line. But once production was done on the digital end? Well, then came all the tiny nightmares: getting gigs of data over to our printer intact, checking proofs, correcting errors, and then awaiting the full order for Atlanta to be printed, cut, and stapled.

All of those fears aside, I also decided that life isn’t worth living unless you’re burning the candle at every conceivable end. Upon our return from Dragon Con, the awesome editors of Mine!, Joe Corollo and Molly Jackson were kind enough to allow me a chance to contribute to the book. I had a plan in place – to work hand in hand with a friend of mine very close to the cause, to produce something original and funny (a specific request by said editors). But life never works exactly as we plan, right? My collaborator went on an impromptu vacation, and I felt the pinch to produce my script sans net. This, above production woes or travelling drudgery scared the bejesus out of me.

For the last five years or so my comic series The Samurnauts has been a comfortable and fruitful universe to play in. The rules had been well defined by myself and my Unshaven cohorts. Our stories had been written and everything stayed right in my wheelhouse. That house, you ask? Taking those things I loved growing up, and putting a new twist on them to produce something that kids would enjoy, but adults could appreciate the layers built below the surface of the shiny comic action. But Mine! is a beast far outside the realm of immortal Kung-Fu monkeys and zombie-cyborg space pirates.

So there I sat with the blank screen blinding me. No collaborator to bounce ideas off of. A deadline perilously perched at the precipice of my palms. And no alliterative allegories alerting me to an able-bodied antiphon. If Sinestro were real? I could charge his ring from the sweat forming on my brow. Here, with this opportunity to be a part of a book alongside living legends (too many to mention), did I actually have a leg to stand on… or was I destined to tuck my tail between my legs and just scamper off to make some toys tussle with one-another.

In all of these situations, I am lucky now to be a father. To see in my two sons how fear (and the reaction to it) molds who we are. Be it my younger, Colton, timid and terrified of a two-foot tall Domo I was making wave, or my older, Bennett, scared to even open his mouth for a patient dental hygienist. In both of them, I see myself. Scared, and frozen as I try to check-down the possibilities. Would Unshaven Comics not sell well? Would Samurnauts simply remain forever incomplete? Would I have an original idea to sit in the same book with the likes of Mark Waid, Neil Gaiman, John Ostrander, or Brian Azzarello?

The answer came from one of the biggest mentors in my high school days. Dean Auriemma, my fine arts teacher, instilled in me the keys to overcoming my fear. Sadly, he didn’t know Hal Jordan from Michael Jordan, but I digress. The memory here is preserved like the dino DNA in Jurassic Park. There I was, sitting, mouth agape, at my drawing board. Before me strewn a hastily fastened together still life from which we were to create our work. Mr. A sauntered up behind me, and gruffly asked “What are you doing? Waiting for it to draw itself, buddy?”

I stammered back (not unlike Bennett when asked about the evil dentist) “I… I don’t know.”

Mr. A leaned back on his heels, and dropped a truth bomb that has resonated with me ever since:

“Just start doing what you know. If you wait for the answer to come, you’ll be waiting forever.”

And so too did every recent fear in my life fell before me. I put my head down and finished our comic. I stood up, and sold to every passerby in Atlanta. And damn it all, I started writing my script for Mine! By leaning in to what I knew, and soon thereafter, my script came together – as did Molly and Joe’s approval and acknowledgment.

It turns out we have nothing to fear but fear itself – in our brightest days … and darkest nights.

Marc Alan Fishman: Dragon Con is for Lovers


This past weekend, Unshaven Kyle Gnepper and I braved a 10-hour car ride from Chicago to Atlanta to present our wares at the annual Dragon Con. While I could spend my article telling all of you the harrowing tale of how our booth was stolen and then how it turned out to be a simple clerical error, I figure it’s easier to spare you the banal details. Long story short, it always pays off to be flexible, kind, and eager to make the best out of any situation.

Since our table-saga is off the table, I could discuss how for the first time in now our tenth year of presenting at cons I finally bit the bullet to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Kyle and remain in pitch mode the entire duration of the con in order to see our goals be met. I could wax poetic about how it felt to step outside my comfort zone and really connect with complete strangers without fear. Long story short, we met our goals. I was tired every night, but feel like Kyle and I found our brotherly bond again after too-long a time. It will remain something I’ll fondly talk about for cons to come.

No table woes. No astonishing sales lecture. What’s left? The most important part of the con: The people.

As I’ve said before, Dragon Con is the con I would personally go to as a fan. The sheer amount of programming they offer in addition to a fantastic vendor floor and artist alley adds up to an experience that truly celebrates pop culture in nearly every form and facet. From our vantage point in the alley – thanks in part to Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s sad cancellation (which in turn landed us their spot) Kyle and I were privy to just about every single con goer who made their way onto the show floor. To be clear: we heard rumor of tens of thousands of people attending the con, of which, I’d feign a guess that a solid half made their way into our portion of the America Mart in downtown Atlanta.

Beyond the amazing cosplay, happy families, and great geeks on-the-hunt-for-wares, something caught my eye. As wave after wave of people passed by, I noted gay couples, Lesbian couples, transgendered folks, asexual folks. Literally every race, creed, and color. And nary a one of them without a smile plastered across their maws. It was, above all else: inspiring.

And it hit me right in the cockles, I tells ya. Here, amidst the aisles of the Artist Alley, a procession of positivity parlayed publications and posters devoid of anything but an untethered celebration of pop-culture. It reminded me that while there’s plenty of nerd-rage between specific sects of fans – be it western comics versus manga, Trek versus Wars, or steampunk versus whatever group fears gears – there is a commonality that binds all folks who clip a comic con badge to their person. An acceptance of everyone’s right to be themselves. Because, where else but a Comic Con can we unabashedly declare not only our love for some specific nerdy-milieu, and meet nothing but acceptance to it by all who surround us. Because we too are different, and we too want this place to remain a sacred space where all are allowed to let our freak flags fly.

After four solid days of seeing every gender, sexual orientation, and science fiction fandom stroll past our twelve-foot storefront, Kyle and I left Atlanta tired but accomplished. Between the two of us, over 500 books crossed the border from our racks to the hands of happy fans. We sold every single poster we brought. And I personally sold out of every pre-made Pokémon card I packed. As Kyle and traversed the interstate from Georgia through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana, our minds darted through the memories logged. But none stick out more for me (save perhaps that one customer who demanded one of every book we had on the table) then the cavalcade of comradery I saw at the show. A reaffirmation that the ties that bind me to comic books help me ground myself surrounded by like-minded people who celebrate our world in every way it presents itself. Amidst all the insanity our current overlords spew from on high… it was worth it to have four days devoid of hate; all hail Dragon Con, as it truly is for love.

Marc Alan Fishman: A Con-nundrum

This weekend finds the Unshaven lads amidst the fine folks adjacent to our hometown at the Anime Midwest convention at Rosemont’s always-lovely Donald E. Stephens Center. The show itself marks our fourth time attending. I’d be lying if I said this particular anime show was our top choice; Anime Central for all intents and purposes is a bit larger fish by comparison to this mid-summer affair. Getting a table at A-Cen however, is like getting a job with the city of Chicago. As my Uncle Howard once lamented: “You have to know someone, owe them a favor, and then hold on to it for dear life.”

Uncle Howard’s version of that quote was far dirtier than presented. But I digress.

This show itself is fine and dandy – boasting an always energetic crowd who attend with money in their pockets and a song (that we can’t identify) in their hearts. That it’s our fourth year attending should no doubt quell any lingering fear of us being tepid on purchasing a table. And with no small press areas to be dubiously placed you won’t hear me complain about any sundry logistic issues.

No, instead you’ll hear me complain about an issue brought to our attention that has me in a dilly of a pickle.

Anime Midwest, along with a collection of several other mid-sized similarly themed conventions are helmed by one Ryan Kopf. I would like for you to go ahead and google “Anime Midwest Ryan Kopf.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

See where things get prickly?

For those too lazy to google, I want to tread lightly here. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kopf sets off more than a few alarm bells when placed into the ole’ search engine. He is connected to a large trail of word salad the includes creep, stalker, and several more I choose not to repeat here. Neither I nor anyone in Unshaven Comics knows Mr. Kopf personally. None of us, to our knowledge, have even met him. The folks we’ve worked with in conjunction with the con have always been genial and easy to work with. As attendees, they have given us access to a con suite with free ramen noodles, and their volunteer staff has always been helpful and friendly. But beyond those niceties comes now this blow to our decision to attend the show.

The sheer amount of anecdotal evidence that places Kopf in a litany of angry and spiteful feelings are enough to make Unshaven Comics think twice about attending this show – be it this year or any other in the future. Sadly, the table is paid for, the books ordered, and merch ready to go; to not attend is to derail necessary cash flow into our always-by-the-bootstraps-budget of our li’l studio. We have to be here, and you better believe we’ll sell the hell out of our wares until the show floor closes tomorrow afternoon.

But beyond that? We’ll be ghosts in the wind. Next year, when it comes to Chicago-based Anime Conventions, it’s A-Cen or bust.

The conundrum to this all… what irks me most… is the Devil’s Advocate that sits on my shoulder. Kopf is merely a piece to a puzzle that works without him. And should all that surrounds him be as accurate as my gut tells me it is (suffice it to say whilst doing research this week, several folks I know who know the man are quite clear in their agreement with much that Google identifies), well, can’t Unshaven Comics enjoy a good show in spite of him?

Certainly, the attending public either don’t know or don’t care. Converging with one another to enjoy a convention is one of the truest joys in comic bookery. Take Dragon Con; despite plenty of now-documented-and-accurate police action taken on the former leader of that Con, Atlanta’s crown jewel of geek fun continues to be a dominant gem for conventioneers abroad. One man, no matter the level of entrenchment he has at an event, necessarily sullies the entire show. The show goes on. Attendees come, revel, make memories, and leave without a single worry of who necessarily takes home the bag of cash at the registration desk.

It is my hope that Anime Midwest may seek to oust their would-be show-runner in much the same fashion as the aforementioned Dragon Con. There’s a gaggle of good people connected to this show Unshaven Comics absolutely wants to see happy and throwing one heck of a show every year. Conventions are hard business. It would be a shame to see one fall because a single bad apple sits at the top of an otherwise fine tree.

But as I said above: between my personal connections to those who vouch for the nature of Kopf, and the, shall we say, Bill Cosby-level of indictment that swirls around the man, Unshaven Comics need not argue with the Devil to make up our minds. There are plenty more fish in the sea. And until this particular piece of chum is removed from the hull of the show he created, our lines will be cast in cleaner waters elsewhere.

Marc Alan Fishman: Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way … To Fail


For those following along with the never-ending struggle in my attempt to finish The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts #4, it becomes clear that when I declare “Each comic takes about 250 hours to complete from concept to final print,” I’m being very serious. And with this, the last issue of the mini-series, 250 hours is a massive understatement. As I was lamenting on my social feeds how I was without topic this week – because I figured no one wants to really know my lengthy thoughts about Arrow given I just started on Season 3 last night on Netflix – the consensus spoke.

Chicago’s Resident King of Nerds, Elliot Serrano, made the pitch:

Dude, you’ve been going through all these trials with life and creating your book, talk about that. Talk about the process and what drives you to keep going.

And his suggestion was liked by numerous compatriots of mine. Who am I to argue when the masses (exactly three people) demand I share the secret inner workings of Unshaven Comics?

So, let’s start at the top, shall we? This issue was supposed to be done last November. December if I was being lazy. Here we are in August of the following year, and we’re still inking pages. I myself have three left. Matt has four or five. And then the whole thing needs to be colored, have special effects added, lettered, proofed, and then printed. Shortly thereafter, the whole mini-series needs to be compiled, bonus materials built, and the graphic novel (that 125 very very very patient fans have awaited) will be done too.

So what happened?

Well, Elliot, the answer comes in two parts as you suggest. First, the quality of the final issue. Issue 1 of the series was all about the setup. For me personally, the only challenge was a cold-open action sequence, and having to learn how best to draw my Samurai-Astronauts panel after panel. While, yes, I’d completed Samurnauts: Genesis the year prior to Curse, the truth is I used as many cheats as I could to get to the final panel. Speedlines instead of a background? Sure! But I digress. By issue 4, there’s no more room to hide. Every page is the last of major sequences. Major fights. Transforming Zombie-Cyborg space pirates. Super move after super move. And probably a story somewhere in there. For Matt? It’s page after page of giant robots fighting. Suffice to say, we’d bitten more off than we could chew, but would be damned if we let it beat us.

But if our own stipulation of making the final issue be as good as we want it to be wasn’t enough, life gets in the way. As detailed before, in several columns, both Matt and I each brought another child into the world some five months ago. While we didn’t carry the children in our beer guts (thank Rao…), it was no less stressful. Another mouth to feed is another blessing on your home (yes, indeed, Rabbi Krustofsky), it’s also not fed for free. Both Matt Wright and I have more than doubled our efforts in the work-a-day world; Matt has taken to Uber’ing for secondary sources of income, whilst I have taken on massive amounts of freelance web and print design. Both of us work solid 18 hour days, minus some of the weekend when we just get to play dad and husband. Somewhere without those 18 hours, we scrape, scratch, and claw to complete panels. We still meet every Friday night to work together. We still attend conventions – with Dragon Con coming in about a week, and the New York Comic Con a month later.

So, what of the process, and what drives us to keep going? Well, it’s perhaps a bit rote to say it, but it bears stating it anyways. What drives us is the same thing we assume all other indie creators; the thrill of selling our wares to complete strangers who get what we do and want to support us. We create because we can’t exist without creating. Since our friendship blossomed in the sixth grade (with the unmentioned-until-now-but-still-just-as-important Kyle Gnepper), we’ve spend decades creating and destroying creation after creation. It’s simply part of what gets each of us up in the morning. I could work 25 hours a day, and still need to make my own work before my head hit a pillow. And to that point, the process itself is even more predictable. We work. We don’t stop working. We second guess how deep the undertaking was every damned week. But then we look at the pile of pages of the best-rendered, best-written ideas of our young careers, and we yearn to see it in the hands of those who supported us.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest of answers that drive home the most salient points. We do what we do, because we simply couldn’t be ourselves if we didn’t. And while we’re not punctual, the proof will exist in print soon enough.

Please note that Unshaven Comics is declaring that issue 4 of Curse of the Dreadnuts will be debuting at the 2016 New York Comic Con this October, even if Marc and Matt end up working 25 hours a day until then to ensure it happens.

Marc Alan Fishman: Slaying the Dragon Con

John BarrowmanAs you read these words, my Unshaven brethren and I will be in “Cincinnati” for CincyComiCon – Tony Moore’s comic book convention that takes place in the Northern Kentucky Convention Center (which is, funny enough, not in Cincinnati proper). A week ago we were in Atlanta for the famed Dragon Con. The show itself had been promoted to us as “A license to make money,”Nerd Mardi Gras,” and “The biggest and best fan-run comic convention in the nation.” We were told the absolute truth.

Dragon Con exists not in a behemoth convention center but a gaggle of interconnected hotels and venues in downtown Atlanta. Each building either hosts a litany of programming or contains an artist alley, an art show, a celebrity row, or dealer’s room. Anyone within a square mile of any of these venues is likely to get the feeling that the entire city itself has been usurped wholly by the geek world at large. This fact was compounded to me personally when upon entering the hotel that housed the Artist Alley the night before the show actually started, we had to cut through what could only be described as a cosplay raver that choked the Hyatt Regency’s lobby to the rafters with costumed partiers, and their menagerie of fans and onlookers. Nerd Mardi Gras indeed.

From Unshaven Comics’ perspective, the show felt far more like an intimate Anime show than the MegaCons that are C2E2, New York Comic Con, or any of the Wizard Cons. Because the alley itself was housed in a single ballroom (split, in-fact, with a fantasy fine-art show), everything felt small. This in and of itself turned out to be a boon for our business.

The reason, as best as I could ascertain, was due entirely to the fans themselves. Unlike the cold and lifeless MegaCons whose corporate masters anchor their shows on exhibitors and celebrity guests, Dragon Con is clearly a fan-driven affair first and foremost. The staples of the con circuit – the aforementioned celebs and exhibitors, the artists, small publishers, and vendors – are secondary to the programming and atmosphere. Furthermore, the Alley itself was juried, built to ensure that amidst some well-recognized names there was an emphasis on showcasing that which was new and off-the-beaten-path.

Because each bit of Dragon con existed in its own ecosystem, there was no fighting for a fan’s attention. Unshaven Comics is used to competing with marked-down maquettes, bins of bootlegs, the appeal of autographs, and the untz-untz throb of expensive exhibitor booths. In lieu of that, our particular Alley was served up as an experience unto itself. Within our handful of aisles were the skilled craftspeopleartists alone selling their crafts, prints, canvases, and comic books. And with that atmosphere cultivated without the aforementioned competition, the fans came without any larger agenda beyond appreciating the specificity of the Alley. That appreciation bore the sweetest fruit an indie table could dine on… great sales.

To get analytical about it, by the end of four solid days of shilling we limped out of Atlanta 600 books lighter. For those playing along at home, that’s better than our first year showing at NYCC. Our closing rate has never been this high, peaking at 60% on Saturday and Sunday. We also had the largest rate of return purchasers; fantastic fans willing to pick up the first issue in our Samurnauts series early in the show, and make their way back to us to scoop up any other issues on our rack. In addition, both Matt (Wright, Unshaven artist extraordinaire) and myself saw a plethora of commission requests. This required us to bring home homework every night, in order to satisfy the masses. Forget Sid Caesar, kiddos. This was the Show of Shows.

As we took to the 12-hour car trip home, it became evident to us that Dragon Con was not a convention. Truly, it was a celebration. Beyond the curtained walls of our show-space, we’d later find out there were over 30 tracks of programming to peruse. There was a literal parade for Cosplayers. There were 4 unending nights of after-parties. We were left baffled in the wake of it all. That feeling of a larger company perched on high-tented fingers over a pile of reports and stacks of cash was nowhere to be found. Instead, there were passionate promoters trying to put together a cacophony of fan-driven fun. They did it in style. They did it in epic fashion. And they did it in a manner that served up that mass of fandom to our little table, with an open wallet, and an ear-to-ear smile.

Smaug be damned… Dragon Con decimated my idea of what a comic con could be.

Emily S. Whitten: Oh, Dragon Con!

Dragon ConOh, Dragon Con, how I adore you! Let me count the ways…

They include:

  1. 1. The fact that even the airline losing my luggage until 3 a.m. on arrival Thursday feels like something I can roll with, since, after all, the minute I walk in I find old friends (and new) to greet me and take my mind off of things – and to commiserate, and hope with me that all of my toiletries and hand-made costume items are not lost forever in the bowels of Reagan National. Thankfully they weren’t.
  2. 2. The costumes, oh the costumes. Including my own! This year, a Harley Quinn / Jake the Dog mash-up (with hand-painted grenades, and my partner-in-crime Poison Ivy / Princess Bubblegum and bonus convertible-to-party-time skirt); Pinky from Pinky & the Brain (with my friend Chicken Boo, who is definitely not a chicken); and Helena from Orphan Black (complete with bloody fortune-teller). Great costumes I saw on others included Gadget & Monterey Jack from Rescue Rangers; the Mockingjay wedding dress; a walking game of Cards Against Humanity; two versions of Bender from Futurama; and a tiny Cthulhu.
  3. The parade of Deadpools, which deserves its own number because it was epic. It included everything from Chef Deadpool to Wolverine Deadpool, and delighted my Deadpool-loving soul. And I managed to get a couple of segments on video (there was more, oh, so much more).
  4. Meeting the amazingly talented and nice Randy Rogel, who is clearly a kindred spirit as well as the man responsible for many of my favorite Animaniacs songs, and getting a copy of his original music charts for my sister the musician & teacher of children’s music classes.
  5. Getting to see and hear Randy Rogel and voice actor Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky, Doctor Scratchansniff, and more) perform a slew of great Animaniacs songs live (seriously a huge highlight of my weekend, possibly my overall favorite thing). I’m Mad was a special favorite, and they received two standing ovations for the panel. They do a show that travels around, and I really hope to see it come to Washington DC someday. If they come your way, don’t miss them!
  6. Watching the Voice Acting with the Pros panel with wise and funny voice actors Bill Farmer, William Salyers, Carey S. Means, Sam Marin, and Rob Paulsen, with excellent moderator Brian Prince. (And seeing a life-sized Dot Warner in the audience.)
  7. Going to the Hannibal Fannibal Panel, in which my roommate Cleolinda and friend Damien participated (and seeing all of the flower crowns).
  8. Attending the Friday Hannibal Q & A panel with guests (and informal comedy duo) Aaron Abrams and Scott Thompson, who were so hilarious that I went back to see the Sunday panel as well (although, alas, I missed the Saturday panel where the intrepid guests chased a squadron of Stormtroopers out of the room). Highlights of the panels included Scott Thompson narrating his interminable trips to the water pitcher at the far end of the table; Aaron Abrams “borrowing” a black drape from the stage to wrap up in because he was cold and then discovering that it smelled and was all wet (which resulted in him retaining a wet spot in a fairly unfortunate location); Scott being completely inappropriate all the time; Aaron constantly talking with his hands; Scott and Aaron doing their best Will and Hannibal impressions; and, of course, the actual answering of questions. (The Friday panel was also notable as the first time I’ve ever cosplayed three fandoms at once, thanks to wearing a Hannibal-fandom flower crown on top of my Harley Quinn and Jake the Dog!)
  9. Gifting Aaron Abrams with my hand-made flower crown (last worn at Dragon Con 2014 by J. August Richards, who is also a fan of Hannibal), which resulted in this fantastic picture. (Well, he did say in the panel that he’d like to get a flower crown. So, y’know.)
  10. Catching up with great Walk of Fame guests like Bill Farmer; Rob Paulsen; Bill Corbett; and Clay Croker, and meeting delightful guests like the aforementioned Randy Rogel (and the awesome Pat Brady); Aaron Abrams; Scott Thompson; Aaron Douglas; Vanessa Marshall; Carey S. Means, and William Salyers.
  11. Catching up with Comics guests like Georges Jeanty (and getting a sweet Firefly tee and a signed hardcover trade of Serenity: Leaves on the Wind); Andrew Aydin; and the Unshaven crew.
  12. Having a laugh at a Startled Cat picture waiting to stare in an alarmed manner at me when I entered the Hilton elevator (thanks, Dragon Con attendees with meme-friendly senses of humor).
  13. Delicious dinners and fun parties and chilling at the bars and lounges with friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and meeting Twitter friends who I’ve only known via computer or cell phone screen until now, or brand-new friends who may one day be old friends.
  14. Playing a completely inappropriate and hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity (the only kind of CAH game possible!) in the lounge late at night with a bottle of wine and good friends.
  15. Robots! Droids! Woohoo! A.k.a. the big interactive talking robot that was outside of the Walk of Fame for some time (my favorite interaction was when it made fun of a Headless Horseman cosplayer walking by), and the tiny Star Wars BB-8 Droid that just went on sale and was being demonstrated at a party by one of the fellas working with Peter Mayhew (it’s so cool).
  16. The calm Monday of the con, just chillin’ with friends and watching the thinning crowd and the bubbles drift by from the Marriott Loft (although our chill Monday was interrupted by an almost-fistfight (a dramatic one!) as we were going down an elevator). Hey, it’s not Dragon Con without a few stories about crazy people, right? (I guess? Seriously – elevators are for everybody, guys.)
  17. The Aftermath of Con (not to be confused with the Wrath of Khan), where everyone sits around together staring companionably at nothing and wondering if they’ve actually ever slept before or if that was just an imagined state.
  18. The Even Later Than Aftermath of Con, when most people have left and it’s time to wrap up with dessert and cocktails with your roomie (because otherwise, you just aren’t doing it right).
  19. So many other things I’m probably forgetting because conventions are crazy and no one sleeps much at Dragon Con; but they may be on my Instagram or my roomie Cleolinda’s Twitter or LiveJournal recap.
  20. And finally, arriving home after a really great Dragon Con (with all of my luggage intact!) to the sweetest l’il hamsterlet in the world, Wee Mini Squish. Ahh, home and tiny cute creatures.

So there you have it! It was an amazing Dragon Con, and I hope you enjoyed the recap as much as I enjoyed the trip. Stay tuned for next week, when I will have my Dragon Con interview with Randy Rogel up for everyone to see!

And until then, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Dragon Con, Here I Come

Dragoncon2015aHappy upcoming Labor Day Weekend, everyone! I hope you’re all celebrating with a nice break from your usual labors.

Of course, for convention-goers, Labor Day Weekend also means celebrating with Dragon Con a.k.a. (unofficially) the Mardi Gras of fandom cons. There’s a lot to love about Dragon Con. One of those things is the variety of fandom experiences it offers – including the robust schedule of panels featuring everyone from celebrities to fans, the Walk of Fame where you can stroll around and say hello to guests (and purchase photos or autographs if desired), the excellent and varied Dealers Room, the Artist Alley and Art Show, the stellar costume contest and parade, the workshops, the music, and more.

Another thing to love is definitely the vibe of the Con, which I’d describe as a 24-hour hang-out/party with organized events. One contributor to the vibe is that it’s set up as a hotel con, which gives it a convivial, “let’s all hang out during after hours” feel (as opposed to a convention center con where people all wander off in different directions after the exhibit hall and main events close). Another thing is that it’s able to stay a hotel convention despite its size (with over 57,000 attendees in recent years) due to spreading out over five main hotels, three of which are so close they are connected by walkways. And, of course, its reputation as a big con for costumers, and as a place where some of the costumers’ creations literally rival the real thing, means the backdrop of the individual con experience has a continual festival-like air. Add to that the room parties and late-night congregation around centrally-located hotel bars (which also make it easier to catch up with more friends in a short period of time), and Dragon Con TV for when you’re in need of some down-time but still want your con experience to be going on in the background, and Dragon Con really is a 24-hour fandom Mardi Gras.

That’s why it’s one of my favorite cons, and why I’m so hyper-excited right now, as I look forward to all the great panels, guests, and friends I plan to see. It’s also a con that takes significant prep (especially if you plan to do three…wait, scratch that, five costumes over the course of the con), and so that’s why I must leave you all now to attempt the monumental task of figuring out my schedule and packing everything without exceeding flight weight limits. (Eep!)

So until next time, enjoy your long weekend, say hi if you see me at Dragon Con, and Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: A Female Gamer in the Maelstrom of #Gamergate

For today’s column I was going to write about fan conventions. I’ve been covering fan conventions pretty non-stop since the con season really kicked into gear, and I’ve still got a plethora of great pictures, videos, and interviews to share. I’ve got interviews from Dragon Con with Bill Farmer, the cast of Arrow, and Mary McDonnell. I’ve got a report on the Harvey Awards and Baltimore Comic Con and all the great comics creators who were there. Heck, I’m not even done writing about SDCC panels, even though July seems like a distant memory now.

But instead of writing about all of that fun stuff, I’m going to be writing about something entirely different and much more distressing. And that is my thoughts as generated by the current state of the gaming community, in the wake of a series of events and attacks that is so widespread, nebulous, and in some instances so based on hearsay that it is difficult to condense into one comprehensive and reliable article with accompanying links. Instead of trying to cover every corner of what’s been going on, I’d like to address my own ruminations on what I’ve seen. But before I do that, here is one of the best summaries I’ve read of “Gamergate” and the events leading up to it.

Let’s move on to why I’m writing about this. At the heart of much of the animosity spewing forth from the various factions involved in Gamergate is the issue of the place of females in the gaming community. There are people being attacked as hateful misogynists, and people being attacked as whiny feminists (and their “dimwitted knights in shining armor”). Some of this is cloaked in “concerns” over journalistic integrity in the gaming journalism community (spurred by an airing of dirty laundry between exes in the community). But I’ve read as much as I can stomach of the Twitter hashtags, news write-ups, etc. as I can for now, and mostly what I’m seeing is gender hatred, skewing heavily in the direction of hating on or negating the views of female gamers. And frankly, it’s horrifying and depressing to read.

I am female, and I am a gamer. I self-identify as a gamer because I love playing video games and have spent countless hours doing it; I’ve participated heavily and vocally in a months-long beta for a game I was excited about and wanted to see done well, including discussing game mechanics and story and character design directly with developers; I review video games when the spirit moves me; and at Dragon Con a couple of weekends ago I was super-excited to finally cosplay as Chell from Portal 2 (not the first video game costume I’ve done, either). And even all of the above is only part of my life-long involvement and interest in gaming. I call myself a gamer by choice, and (this is key) no one can tell me I am not a gamer, because it is my choice to be one, and it is not anyone else’s right to tell me what or who I am.

And yet (a) more than a few times in various fora, in conjunction with someone being aware of or finding out that I am a female, my identity as a “real” gamer and my opinions about gaming have been called into question; and (b) due to the ugliness surrounding the current state of the gaming community, the positive feeling I would ordinarily have in discussing games with someone else who plays video games and telling them that I am a gamer too is tainted and tarnished. And that’s very sad, and why I feel the need to address this subject now.

I want to talk first about point (a), because some people in the current discussion are using the gamer/not a gamer delineation as a way to negate others’ opinions on how things should be in the industry, and who has the right to say how things should be; and coupling that in many instances with gender. This is a classic example of something I’ve written about in detail before, i.e. geeklitism, and it’s just as invalid a stance to take in gaming discussions as it is in all other arenas of fandom.

The first reason is that like any other area of fandom or enthusiasm (whether it be geeky, sports-related, carpeteering, or any other avocation or vocation), identifying as a gamer is a choice of self, not of others. The person identifying as a gamer is the one who knows what makes them feel like one of the group, whether it be hours and hours of play, vociferous discussions about game developing, actual paid work in the industry, or any number of other things that make up what someone with a love of video games might do with their time. (Note: it is never simply “because I am a dude” or “because I am a gal.” So why do we keep bringing that into it at all?) No one else has the right to tell them they are or are not a gamer, and so basing a disagreement on this delineation negates the validity of the disagreement.

The second is that whether someone is a “gamer” or not does not determine whether they have a valid opinion on what is happening. Granted, if someone opines about things they literally know nothing about, then their opinion isn’t worth much. But if anyone out there does their research in the form of seeing and understanding what is going on and what everyone is saying about it, then they are entirely capable of forming and expressing a valid opinion on the issues. It might not be your opinion, but that doesn’t make it invalid or wrong, nor does their position of not being as into gaming as some other person out there (or being of a different gender, or whatever) negate its importance.

The third is that life is a fluid, fluid thing, and we grow, develop, discover new things, and change our lives constantly. So whether someone is at the same exact stage of their identification with a particular group as someone else is always going to be in flux, and some people are always going to be ahead or behind the median. But that doesn’t mean that those who are “ahead” are more in some way than those who are “behind,” or that this makes their opinions more valid. There is no one point on the graph where all fans or enthusiasts of something fall, because we are all different people.

As an example of what I’m talking about here, I’d like to look at one of my own geek loves – the Discworld, created by the wonderfully talented Sir Terry Pratchett. I’ve been a Discworld fan since approximately 1999. There are people who have been fans much longer than I; there are people out there who have just recently discovered and are delighting in the Discworld books or Discworld fan community. There are people who only know me from my Discworld fandom; and there are people who have known me for years and have no idea who Terry Pratchett is or that I have read all of his books numerous times. When I first started out as a reader of Pratchett, I literally had no idea there were fan communities online, or fan conventions in the U.K. for the Discworld series. Fast-forward to today, and I am known in much of the Discworld fan community for having co-founded and helped to run successful Discworld fan conventions, and for a period of time ran the website and social media for those conventions as well. Over the course of a number of years, I got more and more involved in the community of fans surrounding this particular body of literature; but at no point in my involvement did I actually feel like more or less of a fan. Once I started loving Discworld, I considered myself a fan, and that was that. And being a fan, there is no reason that my opinions on Discworld are more or less valid than any other fan’s.

Now let’s look at the effect of trying to use the geek/not a geek (and by extention, gamer/not a gamer) argument on someone to make a point. Are there any benefits to the geek community from taking the geeklitist stance? None that I can see. The only result of excluding someone’s opinion through this argument is to ostracize a person who identifies with you in some way, and to potentially lose their contribution to the community. Imagine if someone had said to me, once I’d identified as a fan but not yet really become heavily involved in the larger fan community, that I was not a Discworld fan because I didn’t post a lot on message boards; or because I hadn’t gone to the Discworld conventions; or because I’d never analyzed a Discworld book from an academic standpoint; or because I am a woman; or some other random category of geeklitist thought. It is entirely possible that I would have been discouraged from continuing to embrace the fan community, despite being a fan of the books. The North American Discworld Convention of 2009 might never have happened (although that’s not to imply that it was anything like a singlehanded accomplishment on my part, obviously.).  And that would have been pretty sad for everyone, because that was a great con at which over 1,000 Discworld fans had a great time.

To move this back into the arena of “gamers,” each person who identifies as a gamer has gone through some variation of the arc I just described above, or is in the process of going through it. But once they are into gaming enough to consider themselves a gamer, what makes any of us a better judge than the person themselves of whether that is accurate or not, or what criteria is valid? Nothing. And more importantly, what benefit is there for gamers who hold themselves up as judges of another person’s identity and passion and the validity of their opinions? All we are doing, when we do that, is alienating a potential friend or discussion partner, and stepping in the way of someone’s path on their journey of discovery into a thing we all purport to love, and into the possible positive consequences this could have for the community as a whole. Imagine if someone did that to you when you were first discovering your passion for gaming – and consider seriously whether it would have curtailed your pursuit of that interest, at the very least in the communal sense. Every time a member of a community questions or attacks someone else’s identification as a member of that community, or their opinion as such, they are hurting the community, and acting in a way I am sure they would have decried if it were done to them. Which brings me back to the point that geeklitism is not a valid or productive stance to take when having a discussion about gaming.

Now let’s look at point (b), of the current ugliness that is circling the internet rounds about gamers and the gaming community, and the effect it has. Whether the rumors related to one couple’s imploded relationship, and its impact on gaming journalism, are true or not, they have served as an ignition point for an enormous amount of hate, much of it aimed at females in the gaming community (a common form of geeklitism). After reading through what I see being posted on Twitter and blog posts, I expect that just by writing this piece I am inviting people to accuse me of things like lying about something, whiny feminism, or lumping all gamers into the same group (the #notallgamers tag on Twitter has been in part misused to try to downplay the misogyny that’s out there, by saying it’s only some gamers that are like that, like that makes it something we shouldn’t decry). I sincerely hope that I am not bringing down upon myself more personal attacks, like those aimed at Games Journalism Prize-winner Jenn Frank, Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and others. I don’t deny that some small part of me fears that writing about this topic is going to result in harassment or abuse, despite there being no reason for that result in a fair and logical world. But right now, after reading about “Gamergate,” the gaming community doesn’t seem to me to be a fair and logical world. It seems to be a world full of unreasoning finger-pointing and blame and hate, aimed at women who are trying to follow their passion.

Whatever percentage of gamers or the gaming community are engaging in the behavior of misogyny, sexuality shaming, hatred, harassment, and abuse, they are the loudest voices in this debacle, and are making the entire community look absolutely terrible. I know for a fact that not all gamers are like that, because I am a gamer with gamer friends. But when I read this stuff, that terribleness is the part that I see. And it’s not even unique. It’s the same terrible behavior I’ve seen aimed at women in costumes and in comics fandom – of treating females as less valid than male peers, or as objects there just for male enjoyment or abuse. The gaming community, while it has its own unique flavor, is not a special snowflake that needs to be defended or it will fall to pieces. It is, like other geek arenas, a group of people that, to date, has clearly not done enough to root out hatred towards a portion of its population, or has even actively participated in that hatred. It is also a group that could be made stronger by taking a hard look at itself and its treatment of a portion of its membership. And it is a group that runs the risk of losing people who make a valuable contribution to its growth and development if it doesn’t do so. I fail to see the upside of that, and that’s something the folks spreading hate should stop and think about.

As a female geek, I move through the world of geekdom being aware that I may be belittled, dismissed, harassed, or attacked in some manner, whether verbally or physically, for engaging in geek fandom. Why do I know this? Because I’ve already experienced these things. Multiple times. In ways that I have never seen happen to my male counterparts. And although I continue to participate in fandom and express my love for the geek things I love, I would be lying if I said each time I see things like Gamergate, or am personally and negatively affected by the attitudes I’m seeing in Gamergate, it doesn’t make me a little less likely to want to engage, and also a little less likely to want to have a reasoned discourse to try to resolve the underlying issues that cause the ugliness.

It makes me more likely to want to say that all I see around me is hatred and misogyny, and that it just ain’t worth it. I both identify with and dread the possibility of winding up in the position of Jenn Frank, who reached the point where enough was enough and simply quit. I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of so much harassment that I am forced to give up a part of my identity and passion in order to feel safe and not hated by the world. I feel sad that she was forced to that point, and that the world of geekdom, in all its fiefdoms, is still not a safe place for women. I hope we can change that; because if we don’t, no matter what the haters might think, the reality is that everybody loses.

Until next time, Servo Lectio.


Emily S. Whitten: ComicCon Prep 101

SoldierConvention season is upon us, y’all! Well actually, convention season is sort of year round these days. As Jim Zub observed recently, “There are now so many conventions that you can’t even attend the ‘best’ ones. Too many great shows.” Too true. And technically for me, convention season started with Awesome Con DC, for which I was on the ConCom. But convention reporting season for me really starts with San Diego Comic Con and wraps up with New York Comic Con (because yes, I love HeroesCon, and I know I totally have to try one year, and C2E2 would undoubtedly be great, and OMG ECCC always has so many good voice actor guests so why haven’t I gone yet – but I just can’t do it all, you know? Much as I’d like to).

So for me, it’s now time to Get Serious about prepping for conventions because SDCC is about a month away (eep!). And when I prep for cons, I ain’t kidding around – I arm myself for cons like a general going into battle, because no matter how much you plan for a con, when you get there things are not going to go as planned (kind of like how “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” y’know?). And since I’m not the only one who might feel overwhelmed by the wonderful chaos of a con if unprepared, I thought I’d share some of my methods (and madness? and complete OCD?) with you. So here’s how I do things. It may not be how you decide to do things, but at least it might give you a jumping off point.

Step 1: The Spreadsheet

Okay, so depending on how many cons you attend (and how OCD you are) you may not need a spreadsheet. But if you go to several cons a year, like me, a spreadsheet can help you keep track of all of the important stuff for each con. Like, for instance, the dates of the con, when badges go on sale, what you still need to do well beforehand (like booking your travel and hotel), and particular events or plans you want to ensure you don’t miss (like dinner with friends, or, for reporters, interviews you’ve set). Also which friends might be going to the same con (because if I don’t note this somewhere I will forget who’s at which cons), or what costumes you want to wear (and if they still need work before they’re con-ready), your expenses or budget, and anything important that you really don’t want to forget to pack.

So if you want an easy way to keep track of all this stuff, be a spreadsheet nerrrrrd like me. Trust me, it really can help. And you can use other tabs to keep track of other handy stuff you need to prep for.


Step 2: The Schedule

So once you get your badge and travel and hotel figured out (try to get those nailed down first and as soon as you can to ensure you get a badge and hotel, since some sell out quickly; and to get better travel prices), you’re going to want to start thinking about allllll of the amazing things you can see and do at a con. The con’s website should have everything you need to start planning all that out, with guests you might want to meet (and get photos with, or autographs from, or commissions from, or even just tell them how awesome you think they are); and panels you might want to see; and all that jazz. Explore the whole website because hey, it’s fun to look forward to stuff by learning about it, and also you might discover some things you didn’t realize they had (like how Dragon Con lists each fan track they have, what each entails, and what they have featured on each track in the past).

Once you decide what’s going on your con Wish List of Excitement, you might want to keep track of some of it on your spreadsheet. Also for scheduling, you might want to download and use the con’s scheduling app if they have one and once it’s available (many of them use apps now, including at least Awesome Con, San Diego, Dragon Con, and NYCC). It will take some time, but it’s worth going through the whole app and adding things to your schedule or favoriting guests you want to see; and you can generally even set reminders to go off prior to panels. Note that inevitably if you’re going to a good con, you’ll end up with like, five conflicting things in the same slots on your schedule much of the time. That’s okay! You can decide later which (if any) you actually want to attend. Just throw ‘em all on there and see what sticks.

And now that you’ve got your potential schedule figured out, you can also think about:

Step 3: Costumes

(Note that this step can run concurrent with the first two, because it can take a while to get a good costume together.) If you are a costumer like me (sometimes), you may want up to three or more costumes for one con. These may require gathering of pieces, sewing, crafting, and more. I’ve talked before about how I make a convention costume so check that piece out if you want some tips on the finer points of how I do it (which is not to say there aren’t folks out there who do it with a lot more complexity and expertise than me). But generally, you may want to decide on a few costume goals, get your photo references or inspirations together, decide on your wardrobe pieces, and then (if you’re me and you just love making lists) list out all of the moving parts so you don’t forget to pack or wear any of them for the con. Again: add it to the spreadsheet! It’s good for so many things.


Step 4: Packing

Along with your costumes, there are some other things you don’t want to forget to pack for cons. Obviously this is going to depend in part on your own needs, but here are some things I recommend you wear or carry with you at the con:

• A decent-sized shoulder bag or small backpack with many pockets. The pockets are great for keeping your stuff in separate, easy to find places for if you need quick access to something.

• One of those lightweight cloth shopping bags that folds up into another tiny bag, which can later be used to carry whatever you end up buying (because if you are me, you will totally end up buying things.) I found one in the checkout line at an Office Max. You can probably also get one at The Container Store or similar.

• Comfortable socks and shooooes!!!!! And clothes, generally. But especially socks and shoes. You will be walking and standing around a lot.

• A hoodie or light sweater if you tend to get cold. If you are a gal like me, and you want something lightweight that rolls up fairly small and doesn’t wrinkle, I recommend the SeV Ladies Cardigan from ThinkGeek. I love that thing.

• Deodorant? No, seriously. Some of y’all may smell like springtime roses all day and all night long, but if you are at a con for 8+ hours, bustling through warm crowds, rushing to panels, and generally hanging out with a million other people, you might consider taking along a little travel stick of deodorant to use, because you might in fact find yourself being a gradual contributor to the dreaded con funk. And nobody wants to be that person.

• Snax! Ranging from bottled water to granola bars, trail mix, or whatever else your little snacky heart desires. It’s very important to stay hydrated and keep that blood sugar up during the go-go-go of a con. I tend to like chewy granola bars and those little applesauce pouches that look kind of like Capri Suns (which are also handy, by the way) because they aren’t crinkly or messy and are super-easy to eat while trying to be quiet in a panel or while in a hurry and barreling through a crowd on the way to your next fun event. I recommend keeping gum or mints on hand as well. Also, of course, it’s good to have some cash on hand for food and shopping.

• Your badge or badge confirmation, and ID. Seriously, don’t go all the way to the con and then realize you don’t have these. Also any medications you might need.

• Your camera, smartphone, charger, extra battery or on-the-go charging device, or any other tech you may need to communicate and memorialize your fun. Also consider an iPod if you are going to be waiting in line by yourself a lot and don’t always feel like talking to strangers.

• A small notepad, a couple of pens, and a Sharpie or two. They just come in handy, you know? Also anything you might want to get signed.

• Business cards, if you intend to make connections with folks for any reason.

• Aaaaand… anything else you can’t live without. Having all of these things, and having done the other steps prior to the con, will prepare you for the ultimate end game of…

Step 5: Having A Great Time, Even If Nothing Turns Out As Planned

Like I said, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and no con plan actually works out the way you expect. You will miss panels you want to see or people you want to meet, you may discover that your costume is way less easy to navigate through a crowd than you would have hoped (oops!), and other things will turn topsy-turvy. But being prepared will minimize any panic, stress, or issues that you might have with all of that.

And after all, things not going as planned may turn out to be the best thing that could happen. Because cons are magical and wonderful things full of fun and excitement, and missing that first panel may mean you run into your favorite actor in an elevator, or step into a less-full panel that turns out to be epically awesome, or decide to roam Artists Alley or the con floor and discover a new favorite artist or an exciting piece of con merch. So if you want to have a good time, it’s great to be prepared; but also, to be flexible – be both and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Got some other prep tips that help you out at a con? Feel free to share them in the comments!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!