I spent the weekend at WonderCon and, like everything else, my con-going experience consisted of equal parts self-improvement and self-indulgence.
I attended Wonder Con for the first time this year largely because it was free. As part of the Comic-Con triumvirate, WonderCon offered me free passes as a professional and, seeing as it was taking place in the far more convenient Anaheim area, rather than San Francisco, I figured, what the hell. Between the first proper rainstorm of the California winter and unusually onerous work schedules, it ended up being perhaps the least convenient weekend I’ve ever experienced. That being said, my experience of the so-called “Comic-Con lite” was both positive and informative.
I have a strategy when I attend conventions. I love going to them, but I can usually only manage two or three a year, in terms of finances, scheduling, and physical tolerance. I’m an obsessive pre-planner and nothing distresses me more than when a convention only releases the schedule a few days or a week in advance of the event itself. I’m not kidding about the preplanning. There are spreadsheets involved. The only thing separating me from a level of work normally reserved for the people actually running the convention is that I know precisely what I’m looking for.
The first thing I always look for are panels for writers and about writing. These conventions always have programming intended to help people make the transition from fan to professional. That was the concept behind the Goal Setting for Creative Types panel. Put on by Douglas Neff and Toucan Learning Systems, the panel was heavy on audience participation and had a light, fun feel. The material on goal-setting itself–make it specific and measurable, primarily–I had heard before. What I found most helpful was his breakdown on your support team. This is the first time someone explained the importance of having each role (coach, cheerleader, and scorekeeper) filled by different person. It explained the love-hate relationship I had with telling my mother about my projects: what I needed most was a cheerleader and so unanticipated criticisms were unusually debilitating.
I also love panels in which writers talk about their own storytelling process. In Monsters Anonymous, Amber Benson, Mike Mignola, and Christopher Farnsworth talked about world-building choices as they related to public awareness of the monstrous in their respective worlds. Rewriting History featured Naomi Novik, Todd McCaffrey, Rob Reid, and Ernest Cline using and abusing history for their own purposes. I’ve written futuristic fiction and even reimagined the 80s, like Cline, to create an alternate present, but what I’m really hungry to do is follow in Novik’s footsteps. Rather than Napoleonic Wars plus dragons, I’m keen to World War II plus fairies. Finally, Shivers, Shakes, and Swoon gave me another look at my favorite genre I’m not writing in (yet): Young Adult.
I branched out a little more this year, now that I’m getting more heavily involved in self-publishing. Cover Story was a chance to listen to comic book professionals talk about what made good cover art. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll be attempting to make my own covers or hiring someone, but I want to understand either way. Mike Mignola, in particular, was very helpful. While he was mostly willing to write off his own covers as hopeless, he offered concrete commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of others’. To round things out, I attended the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund‘s panel on the history of censorship and comics, which was at once sobering and inspiring.
Arguably my favorite part of any con are the research panels. Conventions are fantastic place to get a primer in subjects about which I know nothing. I saw several fantastic science panels this year. Iron Man, Robopocalypse, and the Future of Humanity and Science in Science Fiction both focused on a combination of physical enhancements and mental integrations through technology. E. Paul Zehr and Daniel H. Wilson presented a delightful image of future Olympic and professional sports enhanced by superhuman prostheses (and the possibility of deliberate-amputation-as-competitive-edge). Kyle Kurpinski and Terry Johnson were great fun to listen to, though I kept spacing out as my Muse started playing with ideas about duplicating human minds as programming and being in two places at once with robotic body doubles. Also, their book, How to Defeat Your Own Clone, is funny enough to injure the unprepared. (Also also, Terry looks smashing in Dr. Who cosplay.) The panels were particularly well-suited to my research for Incognito. Does it worry anyone else that phrases like “Robopocalypse” fill me less with dread and more with giddy anticipation?
Of course, it’s not all business. Sometimes I’m just there because OMG! The people. The things. The other people. Squee! Both the Monsters and History panels were also happy excuses to see people like Amber Benson and Naomi Novik, who make my heart do flip-flops. The Young Adult panel was an excuse to find more people like that. (I didn’t realize it beforehand, but I had previously seen Gretchen McNeil in her other life as a singer in Cirque Berzerk.) Maybe it’s strange to go to panels with authors you’ve never read, but this is one of my favorite ways of finding new books. Listening to authors talk about their books, their inspirations, and their interests, I get a window into who they are as people and how much that might overlap with who I am. A good panel can get me to take the plunge on books outside my normal genres and interests just because I want to spend more time with authors I got to know at a convention. The ultimate indulgence, for me, was the Steampunk 101 panel. The costumes on display all weekend were fantastic and have me itching to get sewing again.
I was more conservative with my spending this time, so I have a little less booty to show off than usual. I’m currently being given the dubious look by Laurie, my disapproving Squid Kid. I have costuming goodies from Crimson Chain Leatherworks and Legendary Costume Works. I bought a few books, including How to Defeat Your Own Clone, from Mysterious Galaxy, the best independent bookstore, period. My favorite thing, by far, is the Transmetropolitan art book, All Around the World, from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth. The book, like the whole comic series, is the perfect combination of gorgeous and appalling.
I make conventions work for me. Each one is a long weekend’s glut of information and inspiration. I might be there for odd reasons, but I leave more with my head filled up than with my wallet emptied.
And like the chocolate-flavored broccoli of the future, I know with every fannish squeal that I’m helping myself get closer to being on the other side of that microphone.
(P.S. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to the artists, writers, and craftspeople in question. However, a few people don’t seem to have websites, which left me scratching my head. Really, folks? Just…nothing? Not an electronic sausage?)