Last weekend was Comicpalooza, and I had a blast. The convention was a mashup of a media convention and literary con, and it was a peanut-butter-and-chocolate amalgam of fan goodness.

The dealers room was a huge expanse of comics, books, geek toys, and props from movies, and more. Cosplayers everywhere, in the most amazing costumes. The amount of creativity and love and passion that goes into costumes was inspiring. The panels were well-attended, and the fact that the Aspiring Writers panel (called by Larry Dixon the Perspiring Writers panel) was full even though Chewbacca was doing a Q&A in another hall, was just crazy. I got to hear half of Peter Mayhew‘s talk before I had to sprint over to Aspiring Writers, and as I told the crowd, “What are you doing here?! Chewbacca is talking down the hall!”

But they stayed, and I think we enlightened them.

The panels were great. The dealers room was great. All of the things that bring geeks together — all right there, enjoyed by thousands of my tribe.

Media cons are the future of fandom. Not everyone agrees with this: just read Oscar Bernie‘s take on the same question. He comes to the opposite conclusion.

I just spent a weekend with my kids at CONduit 2015, a regional fan convention in Utah.  And driving home, I had a startling revelation – Comic-Cons are going to ruin EVERYTHING.

He goes on to say that his kids had an excellent experience at a small regional con, and I get that, I really do. Small cons are truly wonderful. My favorite is my hometown convention, ArmadilloCon. I love seeing my friends and taking part in a traditional SF geekfest, with all of the convention traditions. But you hardly ever see children at a con anymore, and the programming for them is thin gruel.

Comicpalooza was exploding with children. There were kids everywhere, dressed up, playing games, arms full of loot. At the booth of Bone artist Jeff Smith, I almost couldn’t get my book signed because the line was so long. I bought Smith’s collection RASL for my son, who is 20 now but grew up loving Bone, and I stood in line behind a family of small people, who were new fans of Bone.

Yes, at a media con you can stand in line if you want to get a celebrity to scrawl his or her name across a photo, and you can pay dearly for the privilege. Or you can dress up with your friends and wander the halls, taking part in a ritual of display, geeking out with your buds, and going to panels and wrestling matches, and concerts and films, and even literary panels, if you’re lucky enough to go to Comicpalooza.

Is it more expensive? Yes. That is true — it’s an expensive weekend. And to be sure, the con traditions of low-cost convention tickets and the welcome-to-all con suite, are traditions that will be sadly missed, if media cons take over the con-space, as Oscar Bernie fears. And I fear that too, because the history of cons goes back to the dawning of fandom, and it’s truly a great thing. However, the old ways are dying out, and if the next generation is not interested in the old traditions, then they have to make their own fun.

I’m a tad more optimistic though. Although the graying of fandom was starkly apparent at the last WorldCon I went to, the 2013 LoneStarCon, I think both media cons and traditional conventions can co-exist. I think traditional cons might find themselves taking on some of the glitz of media cons, and I like the idea of a literary track at the media extravaganzas. Cross-pollination is never a bad thing — evolution, after all, is not just the survival of the fittest, but adaptation.

Anyway. I had a fantastic time at Comicpalooza and can’t wait for next year. And I’m looking forward to ArmadilloCon too, as well as FenCon and ConDFW next year. In my world anyway, media cons and regional conventions happily co-exist.

So I’ll see you at the con — you know, the one with all the geeks letting their geek flag fly.


Amy Sisson · May 29, 2015 at 12:20 am

Yes! I agree completely. I had a great time, in a different way than I do at small traditional cons. And that was awesome.

Patrice Sarath · May 29, 2015 at 5:36 am

Me too. There was so much energy and happiness. I really want traditional cons to flourish and I think organizers can learn a few things from these “new-fangled” conventions.

Amy Sisson · May 29, 2015 at 9:59 am

I think one barrier is that fan-run cons are almost always registered non-profits or not-for-profits, and therefore they have no money to bring in media guests, who at the very least usually require first-class airline tickets, and usually either want an upfront fee or a guaranteed level of autograph sales. ApolloCon has brought in a couple of media guests from time to time, but I think was only able to when a fan group got together and sponsored the cost. And at the risk of using an obnoxious Hollywood term, they weren’t A-listers or the fan groups wouldn’t have been able to afford them. I don’t think they brought in a lot of attendees who weren’t going to be there anyway, but then of course part of that may be lack of effective marketing.

I still agree with you; I just suspect it’s pretty difficult for fan-run cons to instill that glitz.

Patrice Sarath · May 29, 2015 at 11:11 am

That is very true and it’s a real issue. It will be a roadblock to getting the high-level celebrities whose presence bring in a lot of fans. But, at the risk of hurting feelings, I also think that regional cons have lost some energy in the last decade or so, and have become complacent. There’s not been a lot of effort to bring in new blood, whether that’s different guests or younger fans.

As someone who loves cons and would like to expand my market, that’s frustrating.

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