I had to see what the second floor looked like. All I had seen so far were half-attempted costumes and bored looking bike policemen. I went upstairs and the scene was similar to the one downstairs. Only a few costumed kids wandering around, artists packing up their booths and not much else. There was a Brony (dudes who just absolutely love My Little Pony) panel happening in the area of the map deemed the Video Game Room, and ain’t no way I’m walking into a Brony panel. In the Viewing Room was an AMV contest. A room half full of people watching music videos set to different anime shows. No one held papers or ballots to vote, so I can really only assume it was a fun time for people who created these videos to sit, share, and watch all of the submissions. Of everything I saw (or didn’t see, really) this was probably the coolest. The videos were well done and comical.
I left the viewing room and went to the ladies room. If there was one thing I missed the most from last year, it was sitting in the ladies room listening to two teen girls talking about boys and anime things all in one go. Alas, the room was quiet and empty. This day officially sucked. I get that I showed up a little late to the party. If the convention hours go from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., why not utilize the hours to their fullest? Some teens and most adults have jobs and can’t spend daytime hours at an anime convention. Anime Salt Lake is put on by Salt Lake Community College and it gave me the impression that the Anime Club was granted a weekend to demonstrate what they are all about. It felt lazy. Like they had expended all their energy into last year’s gathering and were still recovering.
I sat outside and quietly fumed. This was underwhelming and I was disappointed. The program boasts a list of panels and events that sounded cool, but towards the end of the day the coolness levels lowered and left those of us who couldn’t attend earlier in the day with not much to do. I don’t even like anime and I was envious of my friends who would attend Saturday. Hopefully next year the group behind Anime Salt Lake will have recovered enough from the awesomeness of 2013 to really make 2015 count.
Friday, the second day of Fantasy Con, had the lucky opportunity to occur on a national holiday: Independence Day. The idea of a Con happening on a holiday where people should have nothing better to do had me worried. The floor would be packed. The parade, any parade in the valley, would make getting to the Con difficult, but deciding to stroll into the Salt Palace around mid-afternoon proved surprisingly easy. Salt Lake streets were empty, as everyone was busy (presumably) barbecuing and setting fires. Walking in was quick and, unlike previous nerd-cons, moving was easy. Too easy. Perhaps choosing Independence Day weekend for a convention was a bit of a backfire for attendance, but I was thrilled because I had a chance to really look around and see the floor.
And the floor—Wow. As painful as it is to park at City Creek and walk all the way to the south entrance of the Salt Palace, it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a grand entryway and wow, does it set an awesome first impression. The entryway and floor layout drives home the fact that this is a fantasy con. Not a comic book or pop culture convention, but a place dedicated to bringing all kinds of fantasy fans together. To me, all the lines blur together. But, after walking around, I definitely learned there are distinct fandoms (but no time to learn all of that in one day). I was there to take it all in, and see fantasy as a broad mural instead of focusing on details.
My first stop was the Summer Glau panel in the main ballroom. The stage was set up with a couch and table, and behind it sat a castle and a well-lit backdrop. It started a few minutes late, and I was worried she would be a no-show. I have always had a predisposition to believe Summer Glau was a snotty, stuck-up, bitchy pretty girl. Turns out she is just an amazing actress because she was absolutely the most adorably awkward introvert I have ever seen interviewed. I wish she would eat a sandwich, but she sat up there glowing. Summer answered fan questions with such honest modesty I couldn’t help but adore her and her talent for playing such rough characters. She was very open about her role as River in Firefly and Serenity and how it was a role that changed her life. Her answers were so thought through and articulated, she inspired the hell out of me to work on my vocabulary and consider the way I speak to others. I came in dreading her spotlight and left absolutely enamored.
At the same time as the Summer Glau panel, the Sylvester McCoy panel was happening right next door. I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan (please see all my Doctor Who DVD reviews, they are my forte) so I moseyed on over to the second ballroom to catch the last fifteen minutes of the man who played the seventh Doctor: the last Doctor before the “hiatus.” I walked in and saw the moderator on stage and no Mr. McCoy. His voice echoed through the auditorium and I finally found him after scanning the crowd. Much like me when I’m on the phone, he was moving through the audience and telling stories as he handpicked audience questions. Sylvester McCoy is a rock star—an itty, bitty rock star. He is a short man with a tall personality, and such affection for his fans. I remember seeing him two nights ago at the kickoff party as he stood on stage using a mic stand as a guitar—he was endearing and hilarious. I did, however, almost beat a person as I overheard, “He was in Doctor Who? I don’t remember him.” The plight of new Who fans. I did a few mental stretches, rage tweeted and left to explore the floor as McCoy told the story of how he got started in acting, threatening to go over the time allotment.
The way the floor of FantasyCon is laid out is unlike any con I’ve ever experienced. It focuses on production value and making the trip an experience. Wandering through booths is a journey as you make your way through sections with names like The Hall of Heroes, Kingdom of Emberfire and Drifter Woods. Sure, there is a giant dragon in the middle, but in the lobby there is an immaculate fountain of a dragon and a knight. There is a LARP sponsored battle arena, where you too can yield a foam sword and fight alongside others for … glory? (I think.) I watched a battle for twenty minutes and could not grasp the concept. Two teams fight against each other in some kind of nerdy capture the flag. I ate a plate of Cambodian food while thinking, “Is this what my boyfriend does on the weekends?” (My boyfriend is a LARPer … I don’t want to get into it).
My last panel of the day was the Creator’s Cosplay Contest. Cosplay is an intense artform. Some folks take it so, so seriously and others have a desire to just have fun. It’s easy to discern the competitive from the novice fun-havers, but they have one thing in common: a passion and desire to portray fictional characters as accurately as possible. The contest was judged by five judges, three of whom are professional cosplayers and one is a film costume designer who hand colored all of Ron Perlman’s Hellboy costume. I wanted to shake his hand so bad. The parade of cosplayers featured a few League of Legends video game characters, three Frozen duos and Lord of the Rings characters aplenty. Judges were looking for originality and creativity, characterization and stage presence, character costume description and visual aesthetic.
Costume is only half of a cosplay—acting the part is key to the art as well. As votes were tallied, the host (cosplaying as Rob Stark) was tasked with entertaining the crowd. He used the oldest trick in the book: turning the entertainment duties to the crowd. Audience members told jokes, did stupid human tricks and danced in exchange for Fear Factory tickets. I have to give kudos to the host, I would have dropped the mic once I ran out of fantasy jokes. Spoiler alert: I have none. Prizes were eventually awarded to five different cosplayers. The People’s Choice went to a Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit, the Beginner Award went to a self-created merman with a steampunk apparatus to breathe on land, the Intermediate Award went to Lego Batman—with expandable wings—and the Master Award went to a Predator costume worthy of film work. Best in show was awarded to a pair of angels, one white and ethereal and one black, ominous and beautiful. I was awestruck by their dedication to wings. They won $800, deservedly so.
For its second day, FantasyCon was not as packed as I expect Saturday to be. With Trax running and barbeques done, more people should be readily available to get their geek on.
Click here to check out a complete set of photos from Friday.
My prediction that Saturday would beat Friday in terms of numbers was absolutely correct. What I was not expecting, however, was that the production and glitz aspect of FantasyCon would also beat the previous two days. The spectacle was bigger, as there was more audience to entertain. Plus, the show’s biggest star had arrived for the day. But I’ll get to that later.
My first stop for the day was a panel focusing on females in the geek community. The title and description of the panel—Females in the Geek Community, We All Still Have a Lot to Learn—had me believing the focus would be more on awesome women in geekdom, but strayed toward bullying in cosplay and the gaming community, and of course touched upon the “Fake Geek Girl” meme. I’m a female in the geek community—surprise, surprise—so the panel was nothing I have not heard discussed before. I myself have participated in lengthy conversations about gender inequality and harassment within nerd culture. Why, then, would we need yet another panel about the topic? I sat in the room, listening to the six female panelists (all cosplayers and gamers, save for one illustrator) talk about their personal bullying experiences when it came to me finally: Women need to keep having these panels and discussions because the harassment keeps happening. Repeated education is something we have to keep pushing forward with if we want to make any change.
I left filled with rage and female-empowerment-gumption and went to stand in line for the Simon Pegg panel. I was not risking not getting a seat for the biggest star at FantasyCon. I got there just in time as the line started to wind through the lobby and hall of the convention center. Once the ballroom was filled to capacity with fans, Simon Pegg came out on stage and ignited passionate nerd fervor. Fans immediately lined up to get the opportunity to ask him questions, queuing all to let him know just how big of fans they were. The first few people to the microphone were under the age of 12 (“I’m only accepting questions from people under 10” he joked) and most of the questions focused on the Cornetto trilogy movies, which children under 10 should not be watching anyway. I was filled with glee whenever someone would ask a question about the television work he’s done (Spaced, you guys. It’s on Netflix.) and too soon his panel was over. Much like Summer Glau, he could use a sandwich, but he was a delight to watch on stage.
I spent most of my time today in the main ballroom it seems, because after Simon Pegg’s panel, I left to get a $10 plate of nachos and returned for the Mark Sheppard panel. The man is mostly known for his character Crowley on Supernatural, so fangirls in the line were quick to ask all sorts of Supernatural related questions. I, unfortunately, am only on season 7 of the show’s currently available 9, so I was plagued with spoilers. I can’t complain—it’s the risk I take. He was brisk and rude, but so adoring of his fans. He was lovable in a douchey way, much like many of the characters he plays on television. One girl started to cry, as she got up to talk to him and he hopped off stage to comfort her. Sheppard was surprisingly touchy with his fans but VERY adamant about not having his picture taken, which was a bit bizarre. I brought a friend to the panel with me, one who has not seen an episode of Supernatural, and once the girl started to cry she asked me, “Is Supernatural really that big of a deal?” YES. IT IS. The fandom rivals that of Sherlock and Doctor Who.
I used the rest of my time today to explore the LARP side of FantasyCon. The battle arena held more warriors than the previous days and even showcased more extreme fighters. Featured at FantasyCon were two groups: the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society. Both groups focus more on the physical aspect of live action roleplaying, and can be brutal. I have seen, in the past, the use of real weapons with SCA. During their time in the battle arena, SCA did a small fencing demonstration. I still had no idea how anything was played in the battle arena. So, I made my way over to the Belegarth booth where they had posted rules and their points system. Basically, a point for limbs “cut off” and the torso is worth two. There are striking weapons and piercing weapons. In the arena, two groups converge upon each other and, as far as I could tell, when time is up the team with the most players standing won. It was a bit more extreme than the fighting I saw during the second day and even kind of exciting.
Unfortunately, I noticed a lack of LARP group representation. There were the extremes, SCA and Belegarth, but no groups to talk to about more plot based and easier LARP communities. A group called the LARP City Project had a booth and even put on a three day murder mystery plot that concluded on the final day. The group aims to promote a literal LARP city where one can go to be fully immersed in a roleplaying experience. There was a lack of role playing groups, so if anyone wanted to get involved with LARPing based off what they witnessed in the battle arena, there is a bigger world out there that wasn’t represented at FantasyCon. Finding weapons to purchase was a bit of a challenge too (so I heard). There were only a handful of foam weapons for sale. There were, however, panels about building your own armor and weapons and that knowledge goes a long way when you’re maybe a bit too broke to spend $100 on a sword someone else made.
I wrapped up the end of my day with the final cosplay contest of the convention. The contest started about twenty minutes late and I was already so beat from spending all day at the con that I was ready for a nap by the time it started. This contest was hosted by a pair of radio deejays and featured Doug Jones as a judge. The spectacle of this contest surpassed the previous contest, particularly with individual contestant music. Other than that though, it was poorly put together. Contestants cosplays were not explained so many of the characters I didn’t recognize and was not told the name so I could Google it later. They were also swooped out on stage too fast and in too many numbers. Doug Jones totally didn’t hesitate to call the hosts and coordinators out on their shit and it was amazing. He let everyone know they were going too fast and the numbering system was not put together. I wanted a panel that was just Doug Jones calling people out on bullshit.
The awards ceremony for Filmquest and the cosplay contest would be held an hour after the contest ended, but I was so pooped that I had to leave. Many of the cosplays participated in the previous days contest so I can venture guesses as to who won. Cosplay contests are always spectacular to watch but can be so draining. For people who waited until the third day to attend Fantasy Con, great choice. The celebrities were there, and the performances were spectacular. Saturday, the final day, was an absolute blast: fantasy personified.
When I try to describe the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to people who have not heard it before, I hark back to the times of old radio shows. A time when families would crowd around the radio to listen to stories told strictly through sound, character development and plots that were easy to keep up with. It’s just like that, but it takes place in a town where nothing is as it seems, everything is scary and the government is terrifyingly awful (or awfully terrifying). Welcome to Night Vale, a twice-monthly podcast has grown into something even larger. Enough people have tuned into the weirdness and it’s developed such a fanbase that the creators of the show, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have taken the show on the road to put on live productions of the fictional news report. I had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Fink and Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale and ask them all the fan-girly questions I could think of.
The show, eliciting creepy feelings since 2012, is a small production relying on not much beside imagination, a microphone and some editing software. Going back about four or five years, Fink, Cranor and Baldwin had met in a writing and performing class. The creators have backgrounds in theater, so creating a show and taking it on tour is something everyone enjoys. Podcasting is also a free service, so going on tour is a good way to make money while keeping the show free. Creating a show about a town where conspiracy theories are real and everything is strange allows for a bottomless plot, which allows the creators to write something new for each show. As Fink and Cranor create a new script for each town, they aim to present something the fans have never seen before and not rehash material. As performers, they understand that not everyone will have heard the show before and they want to give the newcomers enough information so that they can enjoy the live show as a standalone production.
There is something about the fandom though. It’s interesting to see the comments online about their opinions on Night Vale, as no two people are alike. I threw out the disastrous word “demographic” and Fink immediately rejected the idea that their podcast needed a demographic. When first creating Night Vale, they only wanted “a small group of people that weren’t friends or family,” he says, insisting they started making episodes for fun. “I hoped that someday, someone we didn’t know would listen. If you write something that is interesting to yourself, people will recognize something in there.” Particularly, though, women between the ages of 14 and 30 seem to be the largest group of listeners. When asked about his reaction to things like fan art and cosplay, Baldwin says “I find it fascinating to see art that inspires people to create art. Something we have put our heart and soul into has inspired someone to create art in their own style.” I should mention that Baldwin has a voice that is deep, soothing, and ominous. While most celebrities will be recognized in public because of their looks, Baldwin will be casually engaged in conversation and someone nearby will turn their head to ask if he is indeed Cecil.
Speaking of fans, celebrities happen to listen to the podcast and voice their opinions on Twitter. This is how Welcome to Night Vale happened to land such incredible celebrity voices like Mara Wilson as the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home and Wil Wheaton who appeared as an intern during a live performance. Interns for Night Vale, by the way, all mysteriously disappear or die horrible deaths while on location (much like the SLUG interns).
The Welcome to Night Vale tour stops in Salt Lake City July 21 at the Jeanne Wagner theater.
If you are a person of the video game persuasion, you have undoubtedly heard about the latest hashtag flooding the Internet: #GamerGate. From reading hashtags alone, however, it is difficult to pin down what exactly #GamerGate is.
The other day, a friend of mine posted a link to an article and wanted to hear feedback from a female perspective. The article was written by a father who, for the first time, takes his seven-year-old daughter to a comic book store. His five-year-old son accompanies them and has no trouble finding books he is interested in. The daughter, however, takes quick notice of the scantily clad women and asks, “Where are the real comics?” The father has an “a-ha” moment. He realizes she notices “sexy” and is upset that he has to have THAT conversation with her, because he shouldn’t—because she’s seven.
It wasn’t an article that pointed out something. It wasn’t an argument. It was an article from a father who actually noticed something that occurs in a girl’s everyday life. Girls are constantly comparing themselves and others. Of course she’s going to notice that the comic books feature curvy, busty women in poses even the most advanced yoga instructor couldn’t do. The situation was a good starting point for the father to help his daughter grow into a secure woman, all while understanding the ridiculousness of the representation of women in comics.
There is a small part in the story, however, that upset me the most. This father went to the store owner, the man who should know his inventory the most, and came back with two options: Hello Kitty and Monster High. What kind of shop is this guy running if he only carries two kid-friendly books? I thought to the store that I frequent, which has a crazy array of books that are suitable for kids and young teens. I know the guy who owns my comic book store would be a wealth of information because he’s helped me find my niche. He’s always recommended books that he thought I would like. This guy could only come up with Hello Kitty?
I commented and ranted on the post my friend had made with this article, getting mad at people who still don’t quite understand the point of feminism, and went on with my day.
My day consisted of hanging out with my eleven-year-old cousin, who is a total geek. She’s the smallest Whovian, a fan of Batman and Deadpool, eager to get into anime and overall pretty dope for an eleven-year-old. She had never been to a comic book store, and I knew a ton of titles I wanted to get her started on to help her grow into a geeky yet strong and confident young woman, so we went to Dr. Volts.
We arrived, and I introduced her to the store owner and two guys who work there. They know me, I know them, so they were awesomely friendly to her. She wandered around, looking at figurines and toys while I talked about the upcoming convention with the guys. I took her over to the books, where she ooh-ed and ahh-ed at books with Harley Quinn on the cover. I immediately thought back to the article I read earlier and noticed just how sexy Harley Quinn was drawn. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the female form and think sexy women on covers is cool, but when I see it all the time, I get mad and want something to be done about the way women are represented in comics. I had a pre-teen with me and I didn’t want her thinking that this is just how things are. Women are more than busty caricatures. I was so in-my-head that I immediately suggested we find the Deadpool trade I wanted her to read because at least Deadpool doesn’t have giant bewbs.
I found the Deadpool I wanted for her, and tried to find something in the DC area for her. She likes Teen Titans and Batman, but I am more of a Marvel gal so I had no idea how to navigate the DC books. I asked the guys for a suggestion of a book that my cousin would be into. They. Went. Crazy. Everyone started throwing out suggestions—the owner grabbed a copy of Marvel’s Runaways and explained the premise of it to her. They all decided Batman: Hush was a good book too, and still accessible for an adolescent. I was so blown away by their knowledge and considerations. We left with Deadpool (I put Hush in my hold to purchase another time) and she was stoked. She even told me as we were driving home that she wanted to remember Dr. Volts so that we could go back. Girl, if only you knew how much time I spend there.
The days before this trip, I was running through my comics inventory and kept finding books I wanted her to read. My Captain Marvel trades, the new Ms. Marvel, Ultimate Spider-Man, this little one shot I read recently called In Real Life. My list goes on. I ran through what I remembered was in the youth section at the store, stuff like Adventure Time and My Little Pony. Books still wacky enough that adults could enjoy but totally aimed at kids. I made a point to thank my store owner, telling him that I was so grateful for his considerations for the youngin’s and for being aware of what I’m into and how to steer my cousin in that same direction. That is how a store should be run. That is how you introduce a young girl to comics. While my cousin was not concerned about the representation of women at the time, if she keeps hanging out with me she will be, and I am so glad for that.