2015 WizardWorld Madison Comic-Con Report (with PICTURES!)

So Wizard World finally decided to stick a Comic-con in Madison and see how it goes. Now mind–I’ve been going to cons since 2008, butI’ve never been to Comic-con, so seeing that there’s one now pretty much in my backyard. I had no excuse. I had to go see it. I also took my 10 year old son and his friend, because kids 10 and under were free. Couldn’t pass that up.

 Boys at Pokemon booth

Size: So, obviously, Comic-con is larger. Much, MUCH larger. I don’t know what the final total was, but I can easily see 10,000 people alone being at the con. 

Venue: They held most of Comic-con in the large Alliant Center exhibit hall, which is pretty big until you realize what it really is: A gigantic Dealer’s Room. I mean, big, big biiiiiiiiiiiiig Dealer’s room. And I’ve been to Chicon, and that was pretty huge. But at the same time, they had things in there that you wouldn’t necessarily find at a regular con’s dealer’s room. For instance, they had a gaming area towards the back where you could do board and card games. I had read in the programming that they would have Pokemon card battles, but I didn’t see anyone playing it, so I was disappointed. But the boys and I had a rousing game of Clue, so it actually turned out all right. 

The rest of the floor was devoted to dealers, comics…and celebrities.

Celebrities: So this is something that I absolutely have not experienced before. When I first started going to cons, most were all literary, so there were many places that had my favorite authors right there. In fact, the very first person I met at my very first con was Nisi Shawl, where I proceeded to have my very first fangirl experience (and startling her in the process, I’m sure). But most of the cons I’ve been to have been literary, and my celebrities–famous authors–were mostly down to earth folk who were easy to approach, and love hanging out in bars. 

Comic-con is so very different. It’s a pop-culture con, so no literary folk. Heavily media oriented, particularly film and TV shows. And they had stars. William Shatner and Edward James Olmos stars. And we saw them all from a distance. Because the difference between authors and celebrites are a good $50 to get even close to a celebrity. 

That had to suck for them. Because for the most part, you had to pay to even get in line to talk to them. Which worked I guess if people are watching your show, or if people still love you. But if you’re a nobody, or worse, a has been, well, no one pays to see you. I saw a lot of celebrities sitting there, looking bored, playing on their phones. (Omigosh, George Wendt. For the longest time I was trying to figure out why the heck George Wendt from Cheers was there. I learned that he had actually done a lot of cartoon voices, but come on. George Wendt? Really?)

That said, I was able to wave at Ernie Hudson. And shoot, I totally missed Billy Dee Williams. But really, ain’t no way was I going to pay to get up close to them. Which is sort of sad.  But I did get to see Shatner and Olmos.

Panels: So Panels were held in the meeting room portion of the Alliant Center–meaning one large room and two smaller rooms. Which means the panels were pretty much held one after another. I actually liked that. Single panel programming made it easier to attend. The panels with the celebrites were short–only 1/2 hour long. 

We got in line for the first panel, which was Edward James Olmos. I was thinking that would be packed, but surprisingly, all of us was able to get in with room to spare. I really enjoyed Olmos’s session. He talked about not just Battlestar Galactica, but also Blade Runner, West Wing, and other shows. And he also talked about the value of diversity in shows and even a bit about how BSG was used to explore racial tensions, which could be used in Ferguson (I was deeply, deeply impressed by that. Even Olmos gets it).

After Olmos’s time was up, Shatner was next in the same room, so we basically stayed put. Which was awesome. Okay, yeah, I did feel a litttle bit sorry because I heard the line for Shatner coming into the room was twice as long. But NOT SORRY ENOUGH.

Besides, they showed Shatner’s session on a big screen TV in the food area, so it all worked out in the end.

Shatner. Well. What can I saw. With Olmos, he and another guy sat on stage across from each other and talked in an interview format and also took questions from the audience. Shatner came out and dragged a stool out to center stage, where he talked to the audience–well, monologued the audience for most of the session. But he’s a showman, first and foremost, so while it wasn’t much about Star Trek, and more about this motorcycle he’s building he still had us rolling in laughter.

There was a moment thought that I considered to be my favorite part of the day. As I mentioned, I had brought along my son and his friend. So whereever I went, they had to go with me. This included Olmos, which neither of them had heard of (because no I did not to show my son the rebooted BSG. What’s wrong with you?). So while I was listened to an engaging, thoughtful commentary on race in media, they were bored as rocks.

My son, on the other hand, did know Shatner from watching the old episodes, so he was quite excited. So he clapped and cheered when Shatner came. Then he started talking, and he’s talking about UFOs and riding his motorcycle in the desert and hallucinations and quantum physics and so on, and at about a good seven minutes into his monologue my son, my beautiful, darling son, heaves a sigh and says in a whisper loud enough for everyone around us to hear: “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT.”

Which, let’s face it, we were all thinking that.

The evening panels were more indicative of ones I was used to. Attended a hilarious comedy show put on by Cthulu’s Comedy Collective, and I checked out the costume contest, which was fun. Speaking of which:

Costumes: I like this part of science fiction cons. The ones I go to are usually geared towards serious discussion (and there are a few who outright discourage wearing costumes). So was neat to go to Madison Comic-con and satisfy that part of my inner geek. Not just seeing all the awesome costumes, but participating in it myself along with my son. It’s not everyday that I get to dress up as a delinquent catholic school cat girl.

  

But the costumes were phenomenal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, many selfies:

 

And of course, Dr Who. 

The boy was in heaven. There was a moment when we came to an intersection in the exhibition hall right at the same time as two other Dr Whos and a walking Tardis. My son and the other Dr Whos all looked at each other, then whipped out their sonic screwdrivers and pointed them at each other. I’m still trying to decide if that was a geeky Dr. Who thing or a male thing in general.

 

Also, for some reason, a whole lot of Harlequinns. Which is interesting, because none of the movies have featured Harlequinn. But a lot of women apparently like dressing up as her. Huh.

Overall: I had gone to Comic-com with low expectations and left pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had. Would I do it again? Hmm. I don’t know. The steep membership (or weekend pass, however they call it) and all the add-ons you have to pay for to get like VIP access to events to me wasn’t that much worth it. I’m not a big TV person, so I didn’t care much about the celebrities who were there, and the ones I did know, I was like ‘meh’ (well okay, I was bummed I missed seeing Billy Dee Williams, but even there I would’ve seen him from a distance.) Also, there was the fact that there were TOO MUCH PEOPLE. There were no quiet places for introverts like me to go and recharge. I also missed my standard author hangout at Barcon. In fact, the Comic-con pretty much shut down after 9pm. There were several bars that hosted afterparties where you could get in free with your wristband, but by then, I was so burnt out, I didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of other strangers at a bar blasting loud music. I just wanted to go home. And finally, yeah, the comic-con felt pretty…commercial. Many of the emcees were obviously not from Madison, and they were pretty blatant about it. It got irritating after a while. Most of the panels were celebrity based. There were only a few panels that had local people–the aforementioned comedy troupe from Milwaukee, for instance. (Okay, Milwaukee isn’t considered local to Madison, but I’m not complaining).

That last reason, though, is something that absolutely can be fixed. I think the good thing about the WizardWorld comic-cons is that they conform to whatever cities they’re in by the use of local volunteers. For instance, I know at the Chicago Comic-con, there is a whole group of authors who appear as special guests, and the panels are more numerous and diverse–heck, they even had a few panels that discuss diversity in fandom. So if I do go back, I wouldn’t mind going in as a volunteer panelist or something. The thing I liked about Madison Comic-con was that it pulled in a bunch of people who aren’t necessarily into the local con scene, but want that con experience. And if they come back next year, that might actually boost attendance at the local cons. Win all around. So yeah, I’d go back to WizardWorld Madison Comic-con in 2016.

Especially if Jesus comes again.

 

 

ICON 39 Schedule

This Thursday (that’s tomorrow), I’ll be heading over to Cedar Rapids, IA to attend ICON 39. Most of the time I’ll be attending Paradise ICON, the writer’s workshop portion of the con, but you’ll still be able to see me off and on throughout the con.

One of the things I’ll also be doing is attending the Barnes and Noble Book Signing Event Thursday evening, 6:30p to 8:30p, at the B&N located at (333 Collins Rd NE Bldg 1, Northland Square SC, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402). I will have copies of What Fates Impose anthology, edited by Nayad Monroe and which has my story “There are No Wrong Answers”.  

What Fates Impose

(BTW…did you know Nayad’s got a new anthology coming out? It’s called “Not Our Kind” and the Kickstarter for it is happening now. Check it out!)

Here’s the rest of my schedule for ICON:

Friday, 10/31

9am – 5pm Paradise ICON

After dinner I should be wandering around the con and/or hanging out at BarCon.

Saturday, 11/1

9am – 10am Paradise ICON

10 am – 12 pm Author Meet and Greet 

1 pm – 3 pm Paradise ICON
 
4pm – 7pm Free time
 
7pm – 9 pm, Rapid Fire Reading, Chestnut Room
 
9pm — Barcon!
 
Sunday, 11/2
Open
 
If you’re coming to ICON, if you can catch me, say hi!

My Wiscon 37 schedule

Due to a wedding I won’t be joining Wiscon until Friday evening, so I’ll probably miss out on the Gathering. But here’s what I’ll be doing when I do get there.

Friday, May 24 9pm Oxford Comma Bonfire Reading, Michaelango’s

I’ll be joining Vylar Kaftan, Michael Underwood and Nancy Hightower for a reading at Michaelangelo’s. I’ll be reading my story poem from Dark Faith: Invocations “All This Pure Light Leaking In”. This is open to the public, so if you’re around, stop by!

Sunday, May 26 8:30am Intimate vs. Remote Gods, Senate A

Is it faith if you run into the god in question while doing your grocery shopping? What is the nature of a god whose existence you don’t have to take on faith? What does believing in an unseen god signify? I’ll be joining Heidi Waterhouse, Rose Hayes, Janice Mynchenberg, and Judy Peterson to discuss examples from recent and older literature, including N.K. Jemisin, Mary Doria Russell, Phillip Pullman, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Monday, May 27 11:30am Sign Out, Capitol/Wisconsin

If you have a copy of Dark Faith: Invocations, bring it by for me to sign. Or just come by to chat, because, really, this being my first signing, I have no clue how to do these things.

IV Arts & SALT 2013 (con) Report

So remember in my last post where I said I should go to a Christian con in 2013? Funny how I mentioned that….

A week after I wrote that post, I learned about a consultation that the organization I work for, InterVarsity, was doing to help support their arts ministry. Any staff who either worked with art students, or who were artists themselves, were invited to attend. I’ll report on the consultation in a bit, but wanted to write about the couple of weeks before the consultation.

You see, before I went, I experienced the worst imposter syndrome ever. So much so that I nearly did not go.

Not that this was visible to anyone. I told people I was going and they were excited. My coworkers thought it was a perfect fit. My husband thought it would be a good way to nurture the writer side of me in a Christian setting. Everyone felt I should go to this. And the fact that hotel and meal expenses were paid, I would have been stupid not to go. But I struggled with it. I really did. I really, really did.

There were many reasons, but the main one I want to write about here as that up to that point, I saw genre writing as separate from, “Christian art”. Seriously, when have someone gotten up in church to read a page from Harry Potter during the sermon? Well, uh okay, nevermind, apparently I’m at the wrong church…but that’s besides the point. The point is, the Christian arts seem to only promote those that are done corporately.

I remember last year, I learned there was an Arts seminar thing being held at one of the churches around here. I thought it was cool…until I took a look at the actual workshops. They had panels for worship leaders. Ones for musicians. They had an art gallery for those who painted. For writing, they had a “drama category for writing skits to incorporate into worship”….

…and that was pretty much it.

And then there was last year, where my small group did a study of spiritual gifts. My gift came up as (duh) writing:

“How do you plan to use your gift?” asked the leader.

I said, “Well, I use it a lot when I’m writing stories. I tend to put in a lot of faith elements–”

“No, I mean, how do you plan to use it for the church?”

“……………”

When writing is incorporated into worship, it’s more along the lines of spoken word/poetry that had to refer to God. I remember back at Urbana 09, I read an excerpt from “She’s All Light” during the black lounge open mic. All the other acts were pretty much gospel songs/spoken word/rap that was pretty much psalms. A lot of people liked my reading, true, but still, it made me feel sort of weird, like my science fiction story was the oddball out.

From my experience, singing, playing instruments or performing in drama skits, all worship skills, are valued higher in the church than, well, writing stories. Wait, let me change that–writing speculative stories. Granted, I could write and/or edit church bulletins. Heck, I can even write drama skits if I wanted to. At best, I can write worship poetry, and that’s a whole different set of neuroses. I remember a long time back, before I’d started writing, when a worship leader at our church asked me and my friend to write spoken word pieces to read during worship (because this was an awesome church that had the creativity to do that). This was before I started professional writing, and I had very little experience with poetry, so I pulled some stuff together from a journal and threw in a bunch of “God make stars, made mountains, is awesome, blahblahblah” sentences. And then I read it straight, because, well, it was poetry. It was okay. On the next song, though, my friend came up and read hers. She did spoken word. With attitude. And it was awesome.

And at that point, I realized–I don’t have a gift for writing spoken word poetry. I deeply appreciate it, moreso now than I did back then, but it’s a different set of writing skills altogether.

Here’s the thing. I love stories. I love wrestling with deep truth in them. I love tales of growth, tales of woe, tales that would have you on the edge of your seat. Even my poetry are stories–just in a different format. Stories are my way of having deep conversations with people disguised as narrative. Plus, my characters get to do awesome stuff. I just had one of my main characters in Willow do a flip off the side of a building and nail a bad guy between the eyes with a knife.

That…probably won’t hold up too well if that’s read before a sermon.

I’ve come to terms that my writing life, at least the story part, and my church life, would be pretty much kept separate. Notice I didn’t say Christian life–I’ve have many good conversations in fandom with atheists, feminists, what the church would consider “secular”. I also am quite blessed to work at an religious organization that has as many geeks as it does, so I’m not hurting for that. It’s just that with the actual church, I pretty much have to check my writer side at the door. And that was one of the reasons why I really struggled with going to the IV Arts conference. If it was just going to be a bunch of worship leaders there talking about church stuff, then I didn’t belong.

But luckily, it wasn’t that.To go to the conference, you either had to be a staff worker who ministered to arts students, or you were a staff worker who was an artist.And that included writers. Even genre fiction writers.So I went.

The consultation was two days, and was a more like a Christian retreat, than a con. The third day was called SALT, and was more of a day seminar, where Christian student artists met on Wheaton campus to discuss being an artist and Christian at the same time. I got to meet many other artists–graphic artists, filmmakers, opera singers, tap dancers, harpists, small theater actors, costume designers—all who worked in Christian and secular settings. And I even got to connect with a student who drove up from Urbana because she had written several fantasy novels, but haven’t sent any out yet because she’s constantly revising them. And she had never been to a con before. At that point, I think I went supernova, I was so happy. I dare say this was the first time that my InterVarsity staffworker side and my writing side intersected.

Of course I told her about Wiscon and Viable Paradise. Who do you think I am?!

So in the end, I’m really, really glad I went. It was exactly what I needed. And I came away with my creative meter/spiritual meter refilled. And it got me rethinking the question how do I plan to use my writing for the church? Part of it may involve blogging more about my spiritual journey. As for the church, perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking in corporate worship terms but in relational terms. I happen to know there are a couple of fans who like to play RPGs. I could start up a gamer group at our church.

After all, if there was one takeaway I got from the conference, it was this: artists are bridges between the church world and the secular world. Evangelism works both ways.

===

Edit: And it appears that the arts conference at that church I wrote about earlier is coming back again in April. Again, the workshops appear to be more worship oriented. Hmmm…should I go and represent anyway?

And before you say, “OHYOUSHOULDGOJARSOFCLAYWILLBE THERE”…um, I never was a fan of Jars of Clay. I heard their songs, and they’ve never really stuck with me, so, meh. And this does happen a week after Oddcon. I dunno…

Urbana 12 con report

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Readers to this blog will know that I have two day jobs of sorts–besides being a speculative writer, I work in the HR department for a Christian non-profit called InterVarsity, a ministry on college campuses throughout the United States. Every three years, InterVarsity does a huge missions conference called Urbana (though it’s nowadays held in St. Louis, MO) where thousands of students go to hear speakers, attend seminars and get information of going into missions, whether overseas or in their own backyards. Because it is such a huge event, many campus staff come to serve at the conference, and that includes us in the national office.

I’ve never attended Urbana as a student, so I don’t know the full experience, but having been to science fiction cons for about four years now, I couldn’t help but compare Urbana to a gigantic con of sorts. I mean, I didn’t see a single person doing cosplay.  The entire conference was geared towards missions, which would probably set many of my non-Christian friends to twitching. And…no alcohol, so no Barcon, which would send many of my writer friends (myself included) screaming. Oh, and the job they had for me was working for Urbana.org, so I had the strange, disorientating experience of spending most of my time at the conference not networking, but writing.

But I learned a lot at the conference that I realized that I wanted to…no…needed to do a con report.

Urbana 12 had a huuuuuuge concom.
You think the concom at Wiscon or any other large con is big? We hire people to work on the conference a couple of years before the conference. And that doesn’t include the production staff, the set up crew, registrar, communications. This Urbana, they had a social media team whose sole purpose was to tweet, Facebook, tumblr, Hootsuite, the conference around the clock. Because I was with Urbana.org, I got to be backstage, so I was able to catch a small glimpse of the work done to put together the main sessions in the morning and evening. And that in itself was a small glimpse of the whole.

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Views from backstage

 

Urbana 12 had safe spaces for POC.
When I served at my first Urbana in 2008, they had me working the BCM lounge (Black Campus Ministry). For four days, 6 hours per day, I would feed students, talk to students, play games and basically hang out. It was a lot of fun, though by the end of the conference, I couldn’t talk to people, I was so peopled out (I was not the extrovert I thought I was.)

In 2009, I went to my first full Wiscon and attended the POC dinner. When they were talking about the safe space that POC could go to decompress and have a safe place to talk about the Wiscon experience, I was like, dude, it’s just like the black lounge at Urbana!

Urbana had several lounges in fact–they also had an artist lounge, an international student lounge, and an InterVarsity Staff lounge. But still, the ethnic lounges (they had one for black students, Latino, Asian, and Native American) stood out to me as awesome spaces for people of color to sit, process, and hang out with other people of color. I liked how they were all next to each other, so you could visit them (and I saw a few non-ethnics wandering about as well). This year, the black lounge also had panels and roundtable talks of their own. I sat in on a roundtable about being black in an predominately white setting. Very interesting discussion–I wished I stayed longer. I also missed the open mic, the dancing, the games…

My only complaint is that I wish there was an easier way to get to the lounges. They were located in the Ramada on the west side of the America Center, and there was no quick way to get to it except go all the way around the block…which in winter, made for quite the trek. (Interestingly, the POC safe space for Wiscon was also in a hard to find, out of the way spot, but at least it was still inside the Concourse Hotel.)

Urbana 12 had a con suite.
That first night after doing registration, I was pretty exhausted, but my body had gone into con mode–which meant that had this been an actual con, I would go and hang out with other writers. And where else did all the writers go but to the bar–or if the hotel had no bar, some place where the writers could sit, drink, and bemoan the whole writing business.

But Urbana was a Christian conference, so there wasn’t a bar to hang out (not one I would tell you about anyway). However, there was the aforementioned staff lounge, so I went there instead, and found it to be comparable to a con suite. There was snacks. There were games. And there were plenty of writersInterVarsity Staff, bemoandiscussing campus ministry.

So the time I wasn’t working or wandering about, I hung out in the staff lounge. Got to meet new people, and I even learned how to play Dominion–which satisfied my geek fix.

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Urbana 12 helped hone my writing.
So I was given a job at Urbana–helping out with line direction during registration, and helping out with the Urbana.org site. Since all that was involved with line direction was repeatedly yelling "WELCOME TO URBANA! IF YOU ARE A STUDENT AND PAID IN FULL, GO STRAIGHT! IF YOU HAVE NOT PAID IN FULL, GO TO THE RIGHT! IF YOU ARE AN EXHIBITOR, GO TO THE LEFT!" I’ll just spare my vocal cords and talk about the Urbana.org job.

I had the pleasure to work with Kurt Bullis and Mark Breneman on the Urbana.org website. This basically meant I got to put my writing skills to work mainly through editing and formatting articles and writing blurbs. I also got to perform and transcribe an interview, which I hadn’t done in years. And I pulled quotes from blogs to give to the social media team to tweet.

While working on Willow, I’ve been learning how to utelize placeholders in my writing. I used that to help me in writing the blurbs–when I couldn’t think of anything to write, I put down something I’d would like for it to say, like <some sort of description about Bibles here> and moved on to the next blurb–then I would rework it the next time I came back to it. I also had to write fast, which meant I couldn’t spend a few days working on something. I had to write fast, take a break, proofread, then give what I had to Kurt, who could use it as is or completely rework it.

It was an interesting process. I didn’t have time to make things completely perfect, so I had to make placeholders work for me fast. And that’s something I want to bring to my novel revision. So, in a way, Urbana helped with my writing skills. Also, as you can see, I know how to write headlines within an article now. WRITING SKILL POINTS GAINED!!

Urbana 12’s spiritual side
Urbana still is, though, a Christian conference, and one thing I don’t get from cons is nourishing the spiritual side of me. Though I didn’t go to any of the seminars, I did get to see the speakers in the plenary sessions and participate in the worship. And let me tell you, the worship was awesome. Not the average ‘let’s-get-a-guitar-and-sing-kumbayah’. It was worship in many different languages, with many different instruments. Very diverse, plus, doing it with 16,000 other people made it fun. They had drama pieces which ran from ballet to stomp dancing to rap. They also showed videos, which I may have taken part in.

I truly enjoyed listening to the speakers. And it also confirmed that I’m right where God wants me to be, though I am also being challenged on a number of things (most of what I’m still processing). And having communion on New Year’s Eve with 16,000 people was a phenomenal.

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Plus there were other perks, but I’m not going to go into that.

So, all in all, Urbana 12 may have not been a con, but I got a lot out of it. And I’m not as exhausted or stressed out at the end the last Urbana (oh, a whole number of factors went into that). That said, it did make me eager to start working on my con schedule for 2013.

Maybe I’ll include a Christian con this year…