Con View

Tips for Things to Not Do as a Panelist at a Fan Convention

I deleted my first draft because I thought it too negative. I began with a list of “DON’T”s and thought it might be less informative than writing out helpful, constructive hints for participating in a panel or roundtable discussion.   As I sat there reflecting on what you SHOULD do, I kept thinking back to the last ten years and things I’ve seen that, frankly, piss me off when I’m on a panel. I am about to recreate that first draft because it needs to be shared.

First, There’s no place for racism, sexism, or classist bullshit on a panel about fandom. Abusing “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades” books, however, is permissible. Not really. That was a joke.


Observations for panelists, in general and in no particular order.

Don’t be these people.

  1.   The Gloryhore.
    Unless you and your work are the subject of the panel, don’t make it about you all the time. We’re all there to promote, sure, but we’re also there to inform and entertain. Turning the panel into an infomercial for yourself, your company, or services, makes you a gloryhore, especially if you are the moderator. Bring your books and business cards for props at the table. Be brief in the introduction and farewell about where you can be found online and in the meatverse. If you must reference your work, keep it in the context of the question. Career experience is the exception. If you are sharing your experience, that’s different from “This book talk about elves and sexy witches, so check it out if you want to learn how to write them.”
  2. The Carny Barker.
    I don’t care if you won 50 Hugos and a Rory Award for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Fuck” in a Serious Screenplay. You are in an ensemble. Let the other panelists talk. Do not use the excuse of a weak or non-existent moderator to dominate the conversation. In a standard hour panel of four, each participant has about 15 minutes of speaking time, minus any time set aside for questions. A panel of six? Ten minutes. See how that works? If you find yourself proselytizing on the subject of your glorious belly button for more than five minutes, you HAVE to deduct that from your time and let other people jump on a question. Yeah, others may be there to bask in the glow of the awesome that beams from your gilded rectum, but everyone else is there to contribute. Take your one-person show to the main ballroom.
  3. The Unequivocal Generalist.
    Do not present yourself as an expert who cannot speak to specific situations and then answer an audience member’s general question with “That’s too vague; I can’t answer hypotheticals.” I understand that lawyers must limit their liability when speaking on a legal subject. If this is the case, restrict your talk to providing information and interpreting it into layperson terms. Perhaps you can create a hypothetical for context. But setting up an audience member who is trying to be respectful of your limit to a non-answer is unfair.
  4. The Facetimer.
    If you aren’t something of an expert in the subject, don’t ask to be on that panel. If you end up on a panel that doesn’t fit your skill sets, either ask the programming lead to take you off or get to work studying. Don’t fake it. Some people in the audience will know more than you and somehow YOU ended up on the expert list. Not cool and not fair. If you did it for face time and you plan on being the Generalist, Gloryhore, or Carny Barker, I hope someone outs you in that hour and you leave red-faced and ashamed.
  5. The Bully.
    AM Talk Radio and political chat shows create a formula that mixes information with conflict. By design, dry or complicated topics are made entertaining by putting outgoing personalities with opposing views together. Sometimes, a panelist thinks he’s Bill Maher or Sean Hannity and tries to turn a panel into a scrap session. This person will pick on a relatively uninformed, inexperienced, or maybe just a calmer person and bully them with ideas and opinions, making it a personal and gladiatorial thing. Try hard not to argue with other panelists. Debate is fine and even livens things up. But to get into a personal territory dispute over your expertise in Northeastern Steampunk filk bands serves no one but Huckfinster, the hipster god of pedantic cretins. If you are skilled in sarcasm or roast skills, hold them back for the nuclear option and violators of Rules #1-#5.
  6. The Ass.
    If a participant is late, for whatever reason, don’t stop the show to address it when that person shows up. If you interrupt someone to launch into the stale stage humor of “THERE HE IS!” or ask where they were, you’re an ass. I won’t even dress you up with a fancy name. You are just an off-the-rack, garden-grown ass. Don’t be an ass. Conversely, if you are the one who is late, don’t make a big deal about it. Join the panel and sit down like you don’t want the pastor to see you getting to church late. We get it and you’ve arrived. Let’s move on.
  7. The Reverse Heckler/Stand-Up.
    If you interrupt someone’s point because you absolutely need to need to make a joke or a pop culture reference, consider not. If you still think it is the funniest thing ever, consider, again, not doing it. If you still think it needs to be said, don’t fucking talk over someone to grab the laugh. Wait until there’s a natural pause. If you’re not clever enough to find the right, respectful moment, you are not clever enough to pull off the joke. Shut up.
  8. The Sidebars.
    Don’t sidebar. Just. Don’t. Even if your side conversation is more interesting than the dullard with the Talk Stick, you’re still being rude. Shut up.
  9. The Troll.
    Please don’t feed the audience trolls. Some audience members like to play panelist and, for the most part, they can contribute valuable insight as experts when handled properly. The moderator should provide a voice, but be mindful that the panelists are there for a reason and limit audience participation. Moderators should also throw themselves on the grenade when it comes to dealing with a heckler or unruly audience member. Scorn and Shaming are powerful tools here. Hecklers should be roasted and punted to the hallway. Participants should avoid engaging unless you can keep the audience on your side with roast battle-worthy insults and superior wit. Remember that these are paying customers who can cause headaches for you (and Ops) if they can dish it out but melt like snowflakes when confronted.
  10. The Self-Described Noob/Wallflower.
    If you are an introvert or shy, you must learn to speak up. I respect you, but this is public speaking. It’s a discussion and you are a participant. You’re in a seat for a reason. Work on it. It won’t be easy at first, but focus on the subject and sharing your knowledge. Public speaking can suck, but sitting quietly for an hour will only lead to regret and a reinforcement of your inhibitions. A good moderator will help this so be prepared to be put – lightly – on the spot. If you don’t speak, the Carny Barker and the Gloryhore will eat up your time.

For Moderators:

  1. For the love of Saint Bubbles the Chimp, control the dancing monkeys on your panel. If it’s a coin toss at the top of the hour to decide who is moderating or the moderator says, “This is a topic I know NOTHING about, so we’re all gonna learn something tonight”, something went wrong. Set the ground rules at the top (how much time for questions or can they be asked during the talk; the general topics, etc.), especially if there are more than four people talking. Reach out to the participants ahead of time and find out what they want to promote or focus on and help them make it an informative and organized talk. If you don’t know the subject, focus on asking intelligent questions. Encourage the quiet ones to speak up, especially if you get some carny barker from Rules #2 or #3 chiming in. Best practice? Target specific questions to each participant. Keep it moving and on track. Keep the audience in line, too (see Rule #7).
  2. It doesn’t matter if the panel outnumbers the audience or one or more panelists didn’t show on time. Get things started within five minutes of the start time. However, please provide some preliminary content to keep the audience engaged from go-time. Remember that you were a choice made by the people in the room and they could go down the hall to the Wiccan Dating Tips panel because no one is talking. Introductions can start on time and if that eats five minutes, great! If the audience swells during the hour (The Wiccan Dating Tips panel was populated by jackholes violating previous rules) let the panelists wrap up with another round of introductions so the panelists can plug themselves.
  3. Don’t go over your time. Fifty minutes should include All The Things™ and give folks a chance to clear out for the next group of navel-gazing nerds to set-up. Take the fantalk and sidebars out into the hall.

Finally: After a while, you will create a list of people you like working with and some you’d rather serve rat poison in a bedpan from an Ebola quarantine. Don’t worry. Someone will feel the same about you. Many convention surveys will ask you about this. Do NOT be shy about telling them about both categories. If you gel with a panelist, it serves the panel. If you are going to look like life is one painful bowel movement while sitting next to another, you should direct your energies elsewhere. If you’re the recognized expert over such a dillweed, you will still end up on the panel. It isn’t personal (well, in a way it is), but helping the convention programmers find the right mix of voices is important.

by Jay Smith


New York Comic Con 2017

This year I had the pleasure of getting to go with a friend to the Javits Center in New York City and participating in my first ever Comic Con. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from my point of view.

The good: Public transportation. Between the buses, trains, and subway you can get there from the Central PA area with little trouble. The facilities people at the train were nice even when we got off at Penn Station New Jersey and not Penn Station New York. Yes, there are two and they are not in the same direction. They didn’t charge us to get back on and go the right direction and didn’t make us feel any more stupid than we already did. Also, in keeping with my personal experience, New Yorkers are friendly and helpful. People in the city willing to point you in the right direction and offer friendly advice. Everyone and everything you can think of related to geekdom are represented to some extent in one place. I’m a huge Hawkeye fan and he’s not the easiest character to find merchandise for. Not an issue at Comic Con. They got all the swag! Books, comics, art, artists, media stars, authors, games, big names, little names, toys, accessories, clothing, you name it and it was probably there somewhere. The staff was very nice and pretty darn well organized considering the size of the convention and number of people to handle. The convention space is nice and open. It’s not too hard to navigate. The programming is interesting and varied. The artist area is huge and crammed full of the most amazing talent you’ll see. If art is your thing you could spend the whole con just looking at the artwork, talking to the artists, and watching them work right there on the floor. They allow you to bring your own food and beverage which surprised me but was a lifesaver. Particularly, if you’re on a budget or have any dietary restrictions. They have a bag check which I urge you to use. We didn’t find it till way late in the day. It was something like $3 per bag and totally worth not lugging bags of books and stuff around because the place is big. My understanding is that all of the facility wasn’t even able to be used because of construction? Remodeling? Something.

This brings us to the bad: Because of the entire facility not being available some things were held off-site. For us, this was a problem as we only had one day at the convention and the time to go back and forth, especially when you aren’t familiar with the city, isn’t worth the travel and missing things at the main venue. Still, even with that to consider it’s huge. You can in no way see it in a single day. You want at minimum two days to even get over the entire main floor. There is so much to see that just seeing the presenters and dealers will take a day’s worth of time. I honestly encourage you to plan for as many days as you can swing and to just stay close enough to come into the city if you can’t get somewhere in NYC itself. If you don’t bring your own food bear in mind that just like any closed environment it’s expensive to eat at an event. Being New York it’s also expensive to go out to eat. It was also hot. You don’t get that many people with that much lighting and not end up with an upper ring of Hell. I drank bottles of water (refilled at the water fountains outside the bathrooms) and was literally sopping wet from about 1/2 hr in until about 2 hours after. I looked down at one point wondering what I’d gotten on my shirt only to realize it was salt across my chest where the shirt had dried. My back was still sodden at this time. Gross, folks. Wear your deodorant. I hugged Peter Cappaldi only after warning him I was drenched in sweat and wouldn’t be offended to skip it. That was embarrassing, but the man is apparently going for sainthood and gave me a proper hug anyway. You will go over budget if you are not very careful and have an iron will. If you have a strict budget don’t take a credit card because everyone you see selling something does.

The ugly: We went on Thursday. The least busy day of the convention. It was jam-packed. I mean it was a full day of running into and being run into by people. It was young women pushing and shoving for a manga giveaway. It was trying for someone who, while big enough to split most crowds. does not like to be touched by strangers much. If you have problems with crowding or crowds be forewarned because what I just described was on the best day for those conditions. Expect to be exhausted, sore, and smelly by the end. It took me two days off before my knees didn’t feel inflamed when I got out of bed in the morning. Toting around books, belts, wallets, artwork, and various and sundry clothing items all day in a huge place up and down stairs and vast halls left me with strained muscles and severe fatigue. Now I’m not in great shape, but even the more fit will find it to be a full and tiring day. That is doubly true if you go and try to rush to take it in on a short schedule.

Bottom line: Was it worth it? Oh, hell yeah! Go. Take a friend or two. Have the time of your life because Comic Con NYC? That is geekvana, baby

By Rebecca Hardenbrook



Save Against Fear

This past weekend I had the chance to hit up a local game convention. That’s right – a game convention right here in the Central PA area. The Bodhana Group is a non-profit group that uses games as part of therapy for folks that need it and they created this con.

The best parts for me were twofold. First, the local part. A really large number of conventions I attend or work for (all the rest of them in fact) are an hour or more away from home. I found it really fantastic to be able to attend and not have to worry about the travel, the parking, figuring out where to eat and all the other bits that normally go along with traveling out of town to have some geeky fun. The con was at the Harrisburg Mall in one of the available spaces. The mall has a food court with a number of affordable choices for meals and if you weren’t interested in those there are a number of restaurants in the immediate area. Second, this convention is decidedly family friendly. It’s a game con with tons of accessible games for the whole family. It was great to bring my daughter with me and spend hours and hours digging up new games to play and enjoy.

While the games were the prominent feature, there were also a number of vendors there offering everything a body might need for their games. There were also artists, crafts people and even a bake sale (that had some spectacular rice crispy treats that substituted crunch berry cereal for the crispies – yum). All of the staff (minions wearing red shirts) were super nice and very helpful. There was a mini version of an escape room, life size board games (yes, YOU are the game piece), demonstrations, game developers testing their games, a raffle, a game swap and even a celebrity guest!

There were a few bumps in the weekend. I struggled with the ability to sign up for games or demonstrations. There was an app and I think as an attendee I was supposed to get an e-mail with a link about it? I’m not sure – and neither were the folks at the desk. The schedule was a total fail for me and there was no paper option in any form, even for the staff. It wasn’t a major thing, but it’s an area that could improve. It took me until about half way through the con before I understood the purpose of the “LFG” tags on various tables. IF I had known that was “looking for group” and they wanted you to jump in on the next game I probably would have had a much more fulfilling experience. The entry control was confusing. A second, outside entry to the con would have been very nice. Direct access to the parking lot for dragging games in and out would have been great. The registration table was at the entry on the mall side of the store. There didn’t seem to be much traffic control. At one point I was sitting at a table about 2/3 of the way back into the con and heard a lady stop and ask, “what kind of store is this?”. Somebody was kind enough to help her out and explain what was going on, but it did seem a little absurd. All little things that I’m sure can be improved on, but sometimes the little things make all the difference.

I had a really enjoyable time learning and playing games – even the ones that my daughter totally stomped me at. Between the two of use we swapped 5 old board games for games we didn’t have, got a new game as a registration gift and won 3 more games by way of various raffles. I’m going to be looking out for this group locally and when this convention comes around again next year I will be certain to go back… you should go too!

By Eric V. Hardenbrook



So Many Pickles, So Much Blue Hair

DragonCon 2017 Recap

DragonCon, one of the world’s largest pop culture fan conventions, is the highlight of the year for many nerds. This year Atlanta welcomed over 80,000 attendees over Labor Day weekend, though the 80,000 felt oddly less crushing than last year’s 77,000.  Some speculated the numbers weren’t significantly higher this year because of Hurricane Harvey, or international attendees deciding not to fly to the US under the current political climate, or possibly people getting burned out on the ever-growing crowds (attendance has almost tripled in 7 years) and australopithecine football fans who crash the con and harass us.  Maybe it was a little from each column.  The duration of the Friday-Monday convention has firmly but unofficially stretched to a Wednesday start, so there’s plenty of time to mingle.

Reliably “the quality of the cosplay and costuming distinguishes this one convention from all the others,” as puts it.  Though I didn’t catch as many huge spectacle cosplays this year (I suspect the massive crowds inhibit space for these) people still brought their A game.  The most prominent cosplays this year were “Rick and Morty” (several Pickle Ricks), “Game of Thrones,” and Blizzard’s “Overwatch” game. Surprisingly few Wonder Woman cosplays — I think I saw more Amazons — and our Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia tribute groups consisted of most of the various Leias I saw.  I endeavored to “take it easy” this year and only bring 8 costumes, mostly drawn from my own closet, but after realizing I only spent 2 hours out of costume all weekend I think I may need to revisit the definition of taking it easy.  At least I got to see friends this year.

As is typical of this convention, I didn’t get to see most of what I planned to see even though I kept my list of ambitions extremely short.  Nathan Fillion made a rare appearance this year (instead of just phoning into his former “Firefly” costars’ panels) and I not only missed getting into the panel but DragonCon TV was down during the simulcast AND I missed the rebroadcast later.  Fortunately a new offering is a 30-day DragonCon TV streaming subscription which is accessible to anyone at all who wants to view the main celebrity panels for $35 but is available at the low, low price of $10 to people with a 2017 badge.  I definitely grabbed a streaming code.

I also missed the Friday morning Princess Leia group photo shoot (anything scheduled for AM is tough for all-nighters like me!) but I did make it to the Carrie Fisher memorial gathering.  A group of about 50 “Star Wars” cosplayers gathered at the Marriott 10th floor space to share stories about how Ms. Fisher had inspired them, humorous anecdotes about having met her in person, or what her roles meant to them.  It was very sweet and emotional; many expressed appreciation for her advocacy of mental health support and her example of living boldly.  A great gathering.  I also missed the Twin Peaks meetup but I don’t regret attending a friend’s birthday dinner instead. 🙂

Nightlife at DragonCon is getting regrettably thinner.  The drum circle last year was frustrating as the coordinators insist on the drummers not being in a circle to give more space to dancers, making a cohesive group rhythm impossible, so I skipped that this year.  The 3AM raves keep getting shorter every year.  A few years ago they ended around 7AM and have shrunk by half an hour annually, so in 2017 they average 90 to 120 minutes and by Sunday night you only get an hour of dancing.  It takes longer to get into costume for the rave!  Perhaps this is a sign that daytime programming is so popular that no one stays up all night 3 nights in a row anymore?  Sleep is a great way to stave off con crud, but that’s what Monday is for.  😉

By Stefanie Hackenberg



Con Report – Confluence!


I’ve been going to conventions for a while now. Not as long as some, but longer than many. I’ve moved from pure attendee to invited guest and to staff. In all the years that I’ve been going to conventions I had never before made it to Confluence, so I was very excited to go. I went as an attendee. I had no programming responsibilities and was not one of the workers. I went just to be at the con.

Confluence is a small convention… but that doesn’t really do it justice. Small has a more negative connotation and that’s not at all how I feel about it. I would much rather say that it is an intimate convention. Intimate gives it more of the feel I got while I was there.

I had a little bit of trouble navigating my way to the hotel. When they said “airport” as part of the name of the hotel they were not joking around. More than once while I was on the way in or out of the lobby I felt like I was directly under the flight path of a passenger jet. I saw at least 4 different flight crews coming or going during my stay. Once I was inside – that really went away. The noise from outside didn’t filter in. There was enough room for the convention space that I never felt crowded. There was plenty of seating around the lobby for folks that wanted to sit and have a conversation as well. The elevators never really slowed me down and all my interactions with the staff were fantastic. I can definitely say that portion of the con was one of the best I’ve had in quite some time.

There was a wide variety of panel topics to pick from. Cosplay, book launches, writing advice, fan topics – and all in spaces that really allowed one to hear what was going on. As with any convention, the most difficult part was conflicts between two things going on at the same time. In the end between two things going on at the same time. In the end I only ended up at three or four actual panels. The rest of the time I was reconnecting with friends (with potential shenanigans) or making connections with folks from Parsec and their fan community. As often as not I’d find I was sitting in the lobby or at the bar having a nice chat and would entirely miss the start time for the panel I was supposed to attend.

The vendor / dealer area had a really nice variety of things for sale as well. The nicest part of it all was that I never felt crowded or rushed. I could take my time and really see what was on the shelf or the table. The biggest challenge was not spending all my loot at the same time! The art show was small, but held some interesting stuff.

The one thing I would have to say that I wanted for this con but that didn’t happen was a game room. I don’t know how it would be managed or where it would have ended up, but I think that would really be the sparkle added to this gem of a con.

IF you’re looking for a place where you can really get to know some great fans and have a well rounded and genuinely nice con experience be sure to Confluence on your list for next year!

By Eric V. Hardenbrook




Balticon 52 Announcements:

Guest of Honor—Catherine Asaro

Art Guest of Honor—Galen Dara

Editor Guest of Honor—Neil Clarke

Filk Guest of Honor—Tim Griffin

May 25-28, 2018




 Pittsburgh’s Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

August 4th-6th, Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel

Guests of Honor : Steve Miller and Sharon Lee

Featured Musical Guests : Consortium of Genius

New this year: The Confluence Cosplay/Costume Contest



The Best of Times — DragonCon 2016 Recap

The highpoint of the year for cosplayers and connoisseurs of pop culture and science came in like a lion and went out like a glitter-covered, hungover lion this past Labor Day weekend.  DragonCon’s 30th anniversary pulled in 77,000 attendees over 5 days (though for some of us it’s a 6-7 day extravaganza) with more programming, guests, and vendors than ever before.  The best approach to use in order to get the most out of DragonCon is flexibility — you will never see everything you want to see, attend all the events you are excited for, see all the cosplays everyone is talking about, or meet up with all the friends who similarly converged on Atlanta for the weekend.  Prioritize, accept changes, and have as much fun as you can with whatever you end up making it to.  There are dozens of Ultimate DragonCon Survival Guides out there but after attending for 7 years in a row “flexibility” is my two cents.  At least the five host hotels have gotten this convention down to an efficient, elegant, pleasantly crazy science. Out of the over-crammed schedule and resource app DragonCon distributes for those of us relying at least a little on foresight and not 100% spontaneity I managed to attend maybe 15% of the programming I had bookmarked.  The drum circle, the World of Warcraft cosplay photo shoot, our friend’s panel featuring their exciting upcoming video game Camelot Unchained, our traditional belly dancing and Turkish food outing at Truva, and the three all-night raves were about all I could get to.  I’m disappointed I missed the Sleepy Hollow panel with the ever-charming Tom Mison and my chance to fulfill a 20+ year fangirl wish to see Gillian Anderson, as well as some other interesting lectures, but again one must follow the “flexibility” mantra.

Part of why I missed so much on the schedule was my masochistic inclination to cosplay, and even though I had no time to make any new projects this year even my “closet cosplays” took up most of the space in the car and many hours to get into and out of — sadly since the car randomly broke down on the way down to Atlanta we arrived at the end of the night Thursday and I didn’t even get to wear one of the costumes I had packed.  So for me even a cosplay-lite year included Garona Halforcen from the Warcraft movie, Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice (the only book I could find that would fit in the Handbook for the Recently Deceased dummy cover was a bartender’s bible — apropos for this convention!), Medusa from Greek mythology, a Team Mystic leader in a “Pokémon Go” trio, a fairy, and a general gothy costume for the Friday night rave with the legendary DJ Spider.  The sorceress cosplay didn’t make it out of the suitcase.  Some of the most popular cosplays this year were all iterations — Suicide Squad, Bombshells, Animated Series, etc. — of Harley Quinns and Jokers, Rick and Morty from the cartoon of the same name (we passed multiple mobs of Ricks throughout the weekend) and many Game of Thrones characters.  If one participated in a drinking game for the Harley Quinn sightings one may now be on a liver donor waiting list.  Our favorite 2016 cosplay was a perfect re-creation of Prince from Charlie Murphy’s sketch on the Dave Chappelle Show retelling one strange night with him involving pancakes and “blouses vs. shirts” basketball.  If you haven’t seen it, trust me, look it up on YouTube.  Someone also donned a “Purple Rainger” cosplay mashup between Prince and his signature Purple Rain guitar plus a purple Mighty Morphin Power Ranger costume.  It’s this kind of creative genius that makes DragonCon so much fun.

Above all I prioritized the social aspect of DragonCon this year and was able to spend time with at least part of the dozens of friends I’ve made there over the years that I only see while we’re in Atlanta.  As many gleefully declared with a mix of exhaustion and wonder at the end of the weekend, this truly WAS the best DragonCon ever.  346 days until the next one!

By Stefanie Hackenberg


Burlescaperoomcombatcon!  GenCon 2016 Recap

This year’s “best 4 days in gaming” from Aug. 3 to Aug. 7 in Indianapolis, IN was attended by nearly 61,000 people with over 16,500 events, and like most other comic and sci fi fan conventions its size has grown again for several years in a row.  The hot attraction this year was the Escape Room challenges in various environments:  a bank heist, an asylum, a 1930’s Lovecraftian adventure, a cyberpunk adventure, a search for the Hoosier trophy, and others, where you and a group of people must look for clues and solve a puzzle in order to escape an enclosed themed room in 1 hour.  Tickets for these sold out too quickly for many of us in my group to try it out but by the end of the weekend the hosts were selling

2-for-1 tickets to unbooked scenarios.  Though pricier than the average GenCon event, they were still much more affordable and enjoyable than loud-as-a-dance-club True Dungeon where your group makeup can make or break your experience.

Cosplay was scarce in 2016 compared to the last couple of years, although if you traveled to Lucas Oil Stadium down the street from the Indianapolis Convention Center (ICC) you could find the Cosplay and Anime tracks and relevant fan bases.  Compared to last year my cosplay panels for Studio Cosplay saw less than half the attendance of last year’s, though they still seemed to draw three times the crowd as some of the other panels despite a surprising amount of overlap with programming subject matter.  Regardless, the “Bring Your Epics to Life – Prop-Making From Games” and “Cosplay With a Spin: Crossplay, Rule 63, and Mashups” presentations were well received, and the latter especially received feedback that it was very inclusive and respectful.  I myself did not end up cosplaying this year as the new brand of body makeup for my “Warcraft” movie Garona Halforcen cosplay, though finally the right color, had awful coverage … inspiring me to break down and invest in an airbrush kit.  Hey, it’s for props and armor too.

Our group — several friends from Canada and a few of us from various parts of the US — never had a dull moment all weekend.  Some enjoyed marathon National Security Decision Making (NSDM) Games and demo’d a variety of new games from indie and major game companies.  I spend a little quiet time in a workshop where I learned to make ornate, pointy, wire, Elven ear cuffs while my boyfriend competed in a national Hearthstone tournament.  He was eliminated early on by close friends so it was not a bitter defeat, and he was freed up to join the rest of us in fun activities.  Several of us (including the guys) attended Burlesque 101 and 102 classes taught by Glitter Guild Nerdlesque troupe’s own Ms. Pixy, who is as hilarious off-stage as she is in her mysteriously-accented MC role.  The music was of the classic ba-bom-ba-bom-bom style and we could probably still remember all of our moves if asked.  Glitter Guild’s Thursday night performance definitely gave us plenty to aspire to.  Other activities for the weekend included swing dancing lessons, K-Pop aerobics, bo staff fighting and hand-to-hand combat lessons, and a performance by our long-beloved D20 Burlesque (“Where our Charisma is matched only by our Dexterity!”) troupe.  Like most GenCon-goers we ended the weekend with loot, victories, new skills, bellies full of delicious food truck fare, smiles, and new friends.

By Stefanie Hackenberg

Exploring Strange New Worlds

Escape Velocity 2016


Escape Velocity, the first convention hosted by the new Museum of Science Fiction, launched July 1-3, 2016 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor. The convention was crowdfunded earlier in the year, and while the lineup and content for this nascent event were quite ambitious the execution was a tremendous success. Representatives from the realm of science and popular stars from science fiction shared their experiences with attendees of all ages. NASA, robotics firms, drone enthusiasts, educational organizations, and fan groups had a variety of things to offer. Escape Velocity unequivocally lived up to their objective: “Create a micro futuristic world’s fair to promote STEAM education within the context of Science Fiction using the fun of comic cons and fascination of science and engineering festivals.”

EV attendees could marvel at a new model Tesla, a 3D printed car, a Starship Horizons Bridge Simulator, screen-worthy Star Wars cosplayers from the 501st Legion, hands-on NASA activities for kids, drone races, and clever innovations in the Exhibitor Hall. Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam Nimoy, were the marquis guests for the convention.   In addition to speaking on a number of panels discussing science fiction’s impact on technology and space exploration, Roddenberry was promoting The Roddenberry Foundation’s endeavors to create a prosperous, equal-opportunity, technologically advanced, ecologically-minded world, and Adam Nimoy introduced his upcoming crowdfunded documentary “For the Love of Spock,” an homage to his father and the character he iconicized.

Programming was understandably sparse for a first-year con, but quality certainly made up for lack of quantity.   Subjects included STEAM education, sci-fi movie making, maker & modeling topics, sci-fi classics and their evolution to contemporary entertainment, current and future space programs, robotics and ethics, fight choreography, Klingon and other languages, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, and even how to run a convention. Tee Morris gave a delightful presentation on the evolution of sci-fi film soundtracks with several pivotal examples. Women in science and science fiction were represented as well: Gigi Edgley from “Farscape” and Luvia Peterson of “Continuum”; Astronaut Pam Melroy; Dr. Michelle Thaller, astronomer and research scientist; and Kellie Gerardi, specialist for companies dedicated to furthering exploration of our solar system and commercial human space flight.

Studio Cosplay delivered some cosplay technique demos and panels discussing the cosplay community and cosplay bullying.   We also MC’d the Cosplay Showcase where an impressive number of beginner cosplayers featured their remarkable creations.

The Sci-Fi Burlesque show, hosted by the 501st Legion’s own Kylo Ren, was a hilarious hit for their clever and bawdy takes on sci-fi and video game classics.

From the overwhelmingly positive feedback the convention’s facilitators received it looks like we’ll have a 2017 Escape Velocity as well! The teams delivering Escape Velocity had so much heart — nowhere else would vendors and presenters be so well taken care of.

By Stefanie Hackenberg

Continuing Improvements – AwesomeCon 2016


Though official numbers haven’t been released yet for last weekend’s turnout, AwesomeCon 2016 once again expanded exponentially from the year before. The Walter E. Washington

Convention Center in downtown DC was packed June 3rd to June 5th with sci fi, fantasy, comic book, and pop culture fans; their families; the celebrities they worship; and acres of merchants to sell cool loot. Every year the con outdoes itself with the caliber of guests and number of attendees, every year it learns lessons about adequately preparing for its own popularity, and every year it does better.

This year some of the marquis guests included Kevin Smith,

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, Bill Nye, and John Barrowman in the most adorable baby-doll Darth Vader dress you’ll ever see (look for the video, you’ll be glad you did). Apparently there has been tremendous brouhaha over the Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman Q&A panel, as they arrived quite late and there were insufficient logistics to handle the unprecedented amount of autograph seekers, so the cosplay contest that was supposed to follow was more or less scrapped, and people stood in line for hours to see the guests. Capaldi and Coleman stayed as long as it took until every last person got their autograph. Ben Penrod, who is a co-creator of the con but beginning this year is more of a

facilitator than CEO since handing off the logistical management to the pros who regularly do the megacons, issued a humble apology on AwesomeCon’s FB page. Despite cranky Whovians, most involved handled the kerfuffle quite graciously.

Volunteers and con staff this year seemed to be much more empowered and upbeat than in recent years. During one of our panels we had no power outlet for the laptop we brought for our presentation, and our hands-on workshop was booked in a panel room with no tables. After the first panel an AV tech brought all the cables you could wish for and even returned 15 mins later to confirm everything was a-okay. Later for the workshop the head of programming herself came to rescue us and brought an army of volunteers carrying long tables from Con Ops — with only a 10 minute delay everything worked out well in the end. Another volunteer personally escorted us the entire way across the airport-sized Exhibitor Hall and down the corridors of the convention center to deliver us to Con Ops for our panelist badges. One of the most friendly, helpful, responsive staffs we’ve encountered at local cons.

Another wonderful touch AwesomeCon included this year was designated gender-neutral bathrooms.   The attendee feedback was positive except for a request that next year there be more than two. 🙂

Cosplay was huger than ever and the caliber continues to get more impressive. Studio Cosplay’s booth was popular for our free repair station, and quite a few con-goers won our

social media scavenger hunt (who can resist those cute dragon mascot plushies?). Our three panels/workshops were well attended: a new version of our “Level Up Your Cosplay” panel, “Cosplay 202: New and Improved!” included more off-the-beaten-path and cutting edge tools and materials; the “Say Yes to Capes!” children’s workshop launched the lucrative careers of a dozen young superheroes; and the “Learn How to Make Simple EVA Foam Bracers” workshop was a colorful smash hit. My mom Lynn reprised her award-winning “GoT” Olenna Tyrell cosplay from Balticon and got substantially more practice posing for convention paparazzi. 😉

The increasing spectacle of AwesomeCon is received both positively and negatively by the DC fan community. Many love the local access to big celebrities and diverse programming, but some are turned off by the increasing resemblance to other “Line Cons” that are too big for their own good. The byproduct of both sentiments is beneficial to everyone, as more libraries and grassroots groups are starting more intimate neighborhood “comic-cons.”   More cons for everyone!

By Stefanie Hackenberg

Katsucon 2016 Recap

One of Washington DC’s biggest neighborhood fan conventions, Katsucon, took place over Valentine’s Day Weekend in the glass palace of Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD. Seeing steady growth in attendance in recent years, Katsucon hosted close to 18,000 anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture fans from all over the East Coast. Nicknames for the convention this year included “Katsucold” for the sub-zero wind chill on the Harbor, LineCon for the soul-crushing lines that persisted again this year, and Elevator/EscalatorCon for the usual traffic common at popular conventions. I’ve coined the term “Evacugate” for the fire evacuation excitement that was the most memorable event of this year’s Katsucon.

Around lunchtime on the busiest day (Saturday), and unfortunately just as I left my booth and team for a quick bio break, security began shouting for everyone to “quickly and calmly proceed towards the front exits immediately.” Without a coat, purse, or word to my homies I could only ebb along with the crowd filing through the front halls to the parking garage on the other side of the convention center. Like most people caught in the lava flow I could not get an adequate signal to the people I had been separated from and had been evacuated before I could grab warm attire; I have never been more glad to be cosplaying in a cozy Browncoats outfit instead of the skimpy fairy costume I had worn the day before. The temperature outside was 22 degrees with wind gusts up to 40 mph and a wind chill of 2 degrees. The temperature inside the parking garage when we could eventually press our way in was just 22 degrees. I felt badly for the scantily clad anime cosplayers and tiny young people who clutched to each other shivering violently. Attendees and staff members alike commandeered table cloths, hotel towels, and
blankets to stay warm. Area shops and restaurants welcomed cosplayers into their heated venues (though the neighboring Marriott Residence Inn was rumored to have locked their doors at some point). Some of our party escaped to their respective cars to wait with the heat on, some made futile attempts to locate each other in the mayhem. After what seemed like all day and was probably more like half an hour, con staff gave the all-clear to return to the convention center. Merchants were ushered into the dealer hall before con-goers were permitted back in and everything returned to normal. Studio Cosplay’s cosplay repair station saw a sharp uptick of traffic since many costumes and props were damaged in the melee. Some of the best memes that were hastily posted to the Katsucon social media pages were: “The Song of Fire and Ice”, an image of a frozen Jack Torrance from “The Shining” superimposed in front of a Gaylord Convention Center engulfed in flames, and one coined by a friend: “Katsu 2016 was fun until the Fire Nation attacked.” The emergency apparently began with an electrical fire in the hotel kitchen.

Though all of my time was spent in the Studio Cosplay booth and we weren’t staffed to do panels this year, overall it sounded like a fun con. Many noted how much higher the caliber of cosplay was this year — for a cosplay-heavy con we were extremely impressed by how much detail, skill, and creative materials went into the cosplays that came our way. For us, we had so much cosplay repair traffic that we had little time for the technique demonstrations we had planned and weren’t able to network much, but it was a good problem to have.

Like most anime conventions, if you have no idea what 80% or more of the cosplays around you are from you’re probably in the right place.

It’s over 70,000! DragonCon 2015 Recap

             The biggest fan-driven pop culture convention in the western world is bursting at the seams. What was historically a 5-host-hotel extravaganza with 20,000 (and then 40,000) attendees over 4 days in Atlanta, GA, is now 6 days (Wed. is the new Thurs. that was the new Fri.) of mayhem squeezing 70,000 people into the same space. The dealers’ halls and artists alley have moved again so at least that experience is less harrowing but getting a room at one of the participating hotels has become as difficult as getting tickets for San Diego Comic-Con. Rumors make their regular rounds conjecturing whether will finally cap attendance but the overpopulation issue isn’t just a result of the increasing popularity of nerd fandom, cosplay, and conventions. Three other events crowd the city over Labor Day weekend when DragonCon is held: NASCAR’s Labor Day Race and Chick-fil-A’s college football Kickoff Game draw 2-3 times the amount of people to the city as sci fi and fantasy do. The combination of clashing cultures between these demographics has also led to extreme security measures in recent years (female cosplayers getting groped, male cosplayers getting accosted or beaten up, suite parties getting crashed by drunk jocks, etc.), making overcrowding only one of the many problems reaching a breaking point.

DragonCon is still one of the most fun conventions you can attend; the caliber of cosplay — though noticeably toned down this year, partially due to the overcrowding — is like almost nothing else, and there’s rarely a time when you want to be less than 7 places at the same time. So much going on! The “spring break for nerds” vibe is still going strong and even the celebrities that attend consider it to be vacation for them. For cosplayers particularly, DragonCon used to be where you debut your marquis costume and hook up with some of the best cosplay photographers in North America. This is less so now that more grassroots local conventions are popping up and offering better programming and celebrities. Now you don’t have to schlep 12 costumes 1000 miles once a year.   DragonCon also one of the best places to catch up with friends and acquaintances from all over the world that you rarely see.

A lifeline of DragonCon is the new-and-improved mobile app which allows you to share your schedule with people you Friend, see what they’re doing, see which celebrities are at their tables in the Walk of Fame, look up a map, find local restaurants, locate vendors in the dealer halls, find a game to play, check news DragonCon updates, and link directly to social media.   GroupMe is a communication app you can use just with SMS that also makes coordinating with a large group invaluable.

Since my group has been too busy this year to do much cosplay, I chose to turn it into a positive and attend panels that normally I don’t get to see because I’m in front of a camera most of the time, or in the case of local conventions I’m giving panels or at a booth the whole time.   Rather than schlep a dozen costumes and rave outfits this year I just cosplayed a dark fairy, a casual group cosplay of the cult members from “Eyes Wide Shut” (masks and cloaks, easy!), and unfortunately a thwarted Derek Zoolander “Derelique” cosplay that needed more mobility adjustments before it can be properly worn.

Thurs. was mostly a pre-game day and we went above to the central atrium at the Marriott, the nucleus of DragonCon, for the annual New Year’s Eve-like midnight countdown to the official start of the con.

Friday we started the con programming off at a panel presented by our friends at City State Entertainment previewing their new MMORPG Camelot Unchained. This is an exciting, beautifully designed game that explores the realms of the Arthurians, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Vikings, currently in extended alpha release.   From there I jumped to the Headgear cosplay panel, which was interesting, but a niggling realization I had been avoiding in recent years truly hit home: I should not try to attend cosplay panels anymore. Though we all have plenty to learn no matter our skill level, it is apparent that most of the panels approved for convention programming are intro level or intermediate level, and evidently if you’re chasing people down afterwards to answer their questions that the panelists didn’t know how to answer, you’re probably not at intro or intermediate level anymore. Other Fri. highlights were seeing Doc Hammer from “Venture Bros”, a fan panel “Celebrating 80s Anime Movies such as ‘Fire & Ice’, ‘The Last Unicorn’, and ‘Secret of NIMH’”, a Maker Resources panel given by one of our favorite engineers, Charles Guan. He is a professor at MIT, a “Battlebots” competitor, in charge of the MIT engineering lab, and a huge anime and sci fi fan. Almost all of the engineering and maker panels I attend are for research for Studio Cosplay but this presenter makes them fun. Later that night we finally made it into the Adult Origami workshop where you learn to make exactly what you think you would make out of paper. Afterwards I reconnected with my Mord’Sith sisters and D’Haran brothers at the “Legend of the Seeker” group photo, then ran over to another adult panel that turned out to be surprisingly uninformative, then off to the DJ Engel rave for dancing until dawn.

Saturday I did attend the Electronic Effects for Costuming panel and learned a bit, truly enjoyed the “freaks” actors at the “American Horror Story: Freakshow”, solidified a crush on Tom Mison at the “Sleepy Hollow” panel (the highlight of which was one fan’s question bomb: “Has anyone ever told you your nickname is ‘Super Hot Jesus’?”), a STELLAR performance of popular sci fi and fantasy TV and movie themes by the Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra — the blue alien cosplaying soprano from “The Fifth Element” brought the house down — that made the 2 hour wait in line totally worthwhile, the most amazing Drum Circle I have ever participated in (my hands were bleeding by the time I left hours later), and finally the J-Sin & the Shiny and Chrome rave. Coffee coffee coffee.

Though Sunday is a blur I recall attending catching up on sleep in lieu of learning about Terraflex thermoplastic but I made it to Low-Budget Tech, 3D Modeling, Scanning, Printing for Costuming, a panel of World of Warcraft voice actors (who knew the smooth-jazz-like Hulu announcer is also Zul’Jin, new Warchief of the Horde??), 3D Printing in Motion Pictures & VLX, and even a tour of the dealer room to grab that last piece of my big premier rave outfit for the last rave . . . which I missed entirely because I broke my rule of avoiding alcohol and passed out.

Monday was our usual recovery day though I did squeeze in a wig styling and building panel, and we capped the weekend with a lovely dinner at Truva Turkish restaurant where we saw the entire cast of “Battlestar Galactica” (2009) and danced with the restaurant’s professional bellydancer.

by Stefanie Hackenberg

(Con reviews from all over)

Not Just For Gaming Anymore:  GenCon 2015 Recap

Indianapolis’ biggest annual event next to the Indy 500 race is GenCon, “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” which achieved its 6th attendance record in a row at 61,423 unique attendees, having doubled in size since 2010.  The scope of offerings at GenCon also reached a new maximum with more programming and exhibitors than ever.  This was their inaugural year for an official Cosplay Guest of Honor as well, and the convention welcomed Ejen from Cosplay in America, known for his journalism of cosplayers and con-goers across the US through YouTube video interviews, photography exhibits, and a book which he is currently touring to promote. Ejen was kind enough to reach out to me to do a follow-up interview on Studio Cosplay’s progress since our Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, and we had a pleasant chat discussing both of our projects.  This year’s Media Guests of Honor were Summer Glau of “Firefly” and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”, and Mirina Sirtis, known for the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series and feature films.

This year several members of our group competed in various Collectible Card Game tournaments and some did quite well.  Those of us attending with our significant others enjoyed more offerings from the Spouse Activities track such as Partner Yoga, Beginner Rumba, and 70’s & 80’s dance (convenient way to learn the “Thriller” dance!), which were as entertaining as they were ploys to get our blood moving.  For more of the latter, a couple of us attended an Advanced Japanese Rope Bondage workshop and learned to tie an ornate Double Coin Knot.  The ornamental rope was a nice take-home.  One of the most fun classes we participated in was an Intro to Swordfighting workshop where I quickly mastered the art of offensive and defensive footwork in a short Star Wars dress (choose your attire and your event scheduling wisely, as I did not!), and was being challenged to a duel by several classmates by the end of the hour.  My companion went on to the next workshop to build on his existing skills and described the Advanced Swordfighting class as “very swashbuckly and confusing.”  Regardless, we plan to practice at home with our foam weapons and lightsabers soon; from now on with less flailing.  Nightlife was doubly entertaining this year since we made time to see both burlesque shows:  the Glitter Guild Burlesque show and the D20 Nerdlesque Extravaganza.  Both shows were outstanding, with the Glitter Guild bringing more hilarity from the MC and more passionate spectacles (and diversity — many were “Boylesque” performers) from the dancers, while D20 as always put on the most clever nerd-themed acts you would ever (and sometimes never) want to see.  We chose not to spend the extra money on True Dungeon this year since we were a small group and had had such a terrible experience with a mixed group last year.  Next year our group will be large so we’ll give it another go.

Representing Studio Cosplay I presented a 90-minute education panel “Level Up Your Cosplay” to approximately 130 aspiring cosplayers on topics ranging from thermoplastics to using found objects on a budget to basic photo posing techniques.  It seemed to be well-received.

Though this year’s GenCon was caught in the middle of the “religious freedom” legislation controversy in Indiana, the convention leaders stood by their stance of diversity and acceptance and published messages of reassurance to con attendees.  Rumors have meandered that they plan to relocate when their contract is up in 2020 which, if attendance continues to increase by 9% annually as it has, will be necessary for growth accommodation alone.  All of us felt welcome in the city regardless.  Local businesses put rainbow stickers in their windows to show their support, and many local residents we spoke to expressed disappointment that the press lumped them all in with the hate-mongers.  We’re glad to be returning next year.

by Stefanie Hackenberg

Otaku Explosion – Otakon 2015 Recap

Otaku, or a Japanese term for an avid fan of anime, manga, and general geeky things, is the central theme of Otakon in Baltimore, MD. Though the term has had derogatory connotations in recent years the fandom culture is alive and well, with over 34,000 attendees from all over the continent converging on the Baltimore Convention Center at the end of July. Most of the official guests are voice actors or directors of popular anime shows, or manga artists. Concerts, special anime screenings, an art show, a talent show, and panels are among other popular features there.
Like most conventions, cosplay participation at Otakon has grown exponentially in recent years and the caliber of costumes and props, mostly of characters from animated shows and films, has risen in parallel. Studio Cosplay partnered with Shoestring Scientists, veteran Cosplay Guests of the con, to facilitate a hands-on workshop for over 200 attendees to make wire and craft foam wings from the popular Clamp manga art. Overall the response was positive and many finished projects were spotted among the crowds throughout the weekend.

The registration line was the source of a bit of negative buzz, as has been par for the course at several Mid-Atlantic conventions this year, since the line was quite long and a few con-goers required emergency medical assistance from standing outside in the peak summer temperatures. Having outgrown their current location in Baltimore, Otakon will relocate to Washington DC in 2017.

By Stefanie Hackenberg

They Got a Bigger Boat: AwesomeCon 2015 Recap

In only their second year the creators of AwesomeCon,
Washington DC’s newest local pop culture fan convention, drew 400% more attendees — approximately 40,000 total — than in 2013 when they debuted the event. The infrastructure was not prepared to handle such an overnight success so that year lines for badges were city blocks in length, concession vendors were completely overwhelmed, and content was lite. DC area sci fi, fantasy, comics, and anime fans were wary about how 2015’s
AwesomeCon would operate given the predicted attendance increase even over 2014’s crowd explosion, especially with big-name guests such as William Shatner and George Takei making appearances. In 3 short years it has become one of the East Coast’s largest conventions.
In short, they pulled it off.
(You thought I was going to say “it was awesome”, didn’t ya?)
Many fans paid to see other celebrities such as Michael Biehn; Ralph Macchio; Mark Pellegrino; John Rhys-Davies; Grant Imahara; cast members from “Power Rangers,” “Clerks,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles;” and many others, as well as returning actors such as Sean Astin and Phil LaMarr. There was some grumbling about William Shatner’s abbreviated Q&A but the early exit seemed to be outside of his control. At least he made up for his Sunday cancellation by appearing Friday and Saturday for the (booking) cost of one day. The program featured *pages* of comic book artist guests.
Increased media coverage of the event also contributed to higher attendance with local news crews present and a pre-con NPR
in-studio interview. Fortunately the con coordinators expanded their footprint in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center so even though getting from point A to point B might have required a half-mile or longer walk, the scope of vendors, artists, guests, and panels was beyond anything local DC cons have previously offered. This was also a very kid-friendly con with plenty of children’s activities and a safe, Rated PG environment. One perk AwesomeCon introduced this year was mailing pre-registered badges in advance, which had the opposite result of last year’s endless queues. The food scene was boosted significantly — multiple options in multiple directions. Even the program was cleverly designed to resemble a comic book. Some con-goers have complained that AwesomeCon founders are trying too hard to join the ranks of the mega comic-cons and in doing so diminish the “local con” experience that fans, versus studios and major media outlets, have historically enjoyed. This ambitious endeavor could inspire more local fans to take their own initiative to launch more local conventions. Or the huge cons could swallow up the more quaint, intimate ones. Time and fan behavior will tell.

Naturally a con of this size and youth will encounter issues. Loading areas for Exhibitors were a bit confounding. Many floater
volunteers said they received “slapdash 5-minute training” and
misinformation and lack of empowerment to troubleshoot problems were common (30 mins of projector problems cut into one of our
panels, for example). Some cosplayers lamented about the weapons check station’s seemingly arbitrary choices for what objects were
permitted and what were banned but most found it to be quite
reasonable and efficient. Some felt the event was just too crowded. But all agreed 2015 was light years better than 2014.
Like many conventions across the globe cosplay had an
increased presence this year. The percentage of cosplayers in the crowd was higher and the average caliber of costumes and props were more impressive. Dozens of cosplayers in amazing costumes took advantage of the repair station at Studio Cosplay’s booth and I was extremely pleased to hear from a volunteer that our cosplay education panels had the highest attendance. We presented a panel on 201-level cosplay techniques across a variety of subjects, a panel on prop-making with guest speakers from Steampunk Family, and one on thermoplastics with a live Worbla demo. If you’re curious to see some of the great cosplays from AwesomeCon this year there are quite a few well-done recap videos on YouTube and on AwesomeCon’s social media pages.
Is a giant extravaganza your convention style? Or do you prefer the quiet, specialized cons? Or, do you find there’s a place and purpose for both?

by Stefanie Hackenburg


A couple of weeks ago Watch The Skies did something we’ve never done before. We headed off site and set up a table at a charity event. Any other time in the past 14 years when something was going on, people were coming to us. This was new and exciting.
The event was the Carlisle High School SciFi Saturday. This was the second annual version of the event. I have to say, the turnout and enthusiasm was far, far more than I expected.

The CHS SciFi club was working with a number of charities
raising money and donations. The charities included Project Share,
Community Aid and Furry Friends Network. They lined up a gymnasium full of folks interested in what they had going on and laid out a whole day filled with events.

This was a charity event, but it really seemed more like a mini convention than anything else. The participants spanned all kinds of genres. There was a media star there (no, I’m not saying who it was – you should show up next year and see for yourself) there were artists, costumers, authors, editors, comic book shops, and all kinds of fun stuff. A DJ set up in one corner. I heard the theme to Land of the Lost at one point during the day – how often do you hear that blasting from a DJs speakers? That Game Place was set up and running game demos through the course of the day. There was a lot going on.

The school had club members ready and willing to help carry things in and out. Everyone’s space was laid out on a map. Set up was quick and easy. In terms of logistics, I’m not sure it could have gone

WTS wasn’t actually selling anything. We were there for
promotional purposes only. We donated a couple dozen cans of food to the food drive but that wasn’t the bid deal. The big deal was that we gave away 90 books. That’s right, we were promoting science fiction, fandom and reading by giving away books. I believe there were a lot of folks that didn’t know how to feel about what we were doing. Yes, for free. No, it’s wrapped up so it will be a surprise when you open it. Gave them all away. Many thanks should be given to Jeff Young (our fearless fanzine editor) for organizing the book collection and getting our group all set up. It was a grand success.

In all, the only thing I can say was we didn’t see enough people show up. Sure there were lots of folks in the gym, but it would have been better if it was packed. That’s the part where you come in. If this even runs again next year (and I suspect it will) I plan to be part of
getting WTS there and participating again. What we need is for YOU to be there. I certainly hope you will be.

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

Balticon 50

            It’s obvious with a big anniversary that the Baltimore Science Fiction Society will want to do something a little more extraordinary than they have before. Here is some of what they have planned:

George R.R. Martin is the guest of honor. If this is anything like when Neil Gaiman was the GOH it will cause a large influx of attendees. If it is anything like Capclave when GRRM was their GOH, then there will be a large crowd that gloms onto George and follows him about which may or may not cause its own issues. It’s good news for the con in that it also attracts the audience of the TV show, which despite its detractors, is offering up genre to a number of people who were typically happier watching reality TV. BSFS is not skimping on their artist Guest of Honor either. John Picaccio is a well recognized talent who will also have his own group of interested fans.

Bring back the other Guests of Honor. One of the projects that are in the planning phase is to invite back the guests of prior years. That means big names like Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Gene Wolfe, Allen Steele, Charles Stross and of course Mr. Gaiman. So more star power, hopefully more attendees.

So where do you put all of these people? Well, a new hotel is also on the bill. Balticon is moving to the Renaissance Baltimore Harbor Place Hotel. Now the convention can house 3250 people instead of the 1775 that Hunt Valley could take. Surprisingly, the room rates will remain comparable to those of Hunt Valley. The location is across from Inner Harbor with all of its attractions and offers more food possibilities in easy walking distance. Besides the room cost another big concern is that of parking. BSFS is working to try to come up with a discounted parking plan for attendees. In terms of structure the hotel is ten stories but also has more and larger elevators than Hunt Valley. Finally, the hotel boasts more space for programming and activities at a lower cost than the prior location.

It’s a big project and BSFS is already starting to work on getting their ducks in a row to celebrate 50 years of successful Balticon Conventions.

Regeneration Who – or –Where you should have been

This convention review is different than any of the others I’ve presented here before. It is different both because I got a different perspective and because from many reactions this convention was different than others before.

I don’t work on staff for many conventions. The creators of Regeneration Who are the same folks that put on Intervention Con where I normally lend a hand with the Children’s programming track. Regen didn’t have a dedicated children’s track this year so I became something of a free agent. I phrased it just that way when I was chatting with some of the other staff. I joked that I could now negotiate for double the going rate for staff pay. He came right back with, “I’ll offer you triple to get on my team…”

I should have negotiated better.

I ended up bouncing from place to place, from team to team through this entire convention. I essentially worked from the time I got up and dressed to the time I fell over at the end of the night. I must have walked ten miles each day. I was utterly exhausted by the end of the whole thing. Spent.

What all my travels afforded me was a chance to see much, much more of the convention than I might have otherwise. There were huge things going on here – Tom Baker Skyped in and answered questions from the attendees. The line for that was immense. There were funny things going on. The sort of things that stop conversations cold – like Sylvester McCoy and Sophie (Aldred) Henderson (the 7th Doctor and companion) riding a bell-hop cart down the hall. There were crazy moments like guiding the life size special weapons Dalek into the middle of the vendor room and opening it up so that actors could sign the inside of it. There were little moments that didn’t matter to anyone other than the very few people involved, like being able to pull a pink back pack full of “My

Little Ponies” out of the lost and found bin to help fix up a weekend for a sobbing little girl.

The hope for the weekend was to be able to draw a few hundred folks and cover the expenses so the show would go on again next year. By all accounts the attendance was more than triple the expectation. There were flaws. There were issues. They were handled. I can’t say that’s been the case with every con I’ve gone to. Yes, being on the staff and spending more than a little of my time running for operations to try to help solve some of these issues I got to see and hear more than the attendees. Yes, I’m biased because I was helping. You know who wasn’t? The standing ovation from the attendees that came to the last panel of the convention called, “how’d we do?”.

Even seeing the issues behind the scenes, or perhaps because of seeing the issues behind the scenes, I’m going to recommend that if you’re a fan of Doctor Who you make it a point to get to this convention next year. I’m already on board.

By Eric V. Hardenbrook

Anime Extravaganza!

Katsucon Recap


Katsucon 2015 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, MD hosted over 13,000 anime, manga, and Japanese culture fans from Feb. 13-15, celebrating its 20th year as the DC area’s largest anime convention.  Registration lines exceeding several hours were the most talked-about aspect of the convention this year, as well as some stumbling during planning and coordination by the new management staff.  Much like the first season of most sci fi shows new management takes a little while to get their sea legs, so fans look forward to some improvements in 2016.

Cosplay is the central appeal at Katsucon with approximately 80-90% of the attendees appearing in costume, from the simple and cute to the stunningly elaborate.  The famous Katsucon Gazebo on the Gaylord’s mezzanine is where most of the photography action happens.  Another popular attraction at Katsucon is the maid café, a trend that began in Japan where waitresses cosplay as maids and serve patrons with a much more personal touch than is typical with standard dining out.  Panels and anime series screenings draw much of the con-goers, and the masquerade and formal ball are high points of the weekend.  Of course, no one can resist the expansive merchant room and artist alley full of delightful goodies to spend your paycheck on!

Fans of specific anime shows and movies have scheduled gatherings throughout Katsucon, from photo shoots to parties.  In one example, fans who cosplayed characters from Rooster Teeth’s “RWBY” animated web series gathered for a wake to honor the show’s beloved creator Monty Oum who passed away two weeks before the convention.  Marvel sent representation to do photo shoots of cosplayers from their vast comic book and movie franchises.  Lucky for me I happened to be cosplaying Agent Victoria Hand from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that day!  Unfortunately I did not happen to be wearing my Ruby Rose cosplay from “RWBY” on the day of the fan gathering — it would have been a fulfilling way to commemorate Oum, the loss of whom was a terrible shock.

For my non-profit organization Studio Cosplay it was a momentous weekend.  We successfully presented four cosplay panels:  our “Mashup Mixer” and cosplay mashup contest, a “Lights, Camera … Cosplay!” photography discussion, “Level Up Your Cosplay” educational presentation on intro- to advanced-level materials and techniques, and an “Intro to Studio Cosplay” discussion about who we are and the Kickstarter campaign we launched that weekend to fund the first year’s expenses for a groundbreaking cosplay-centered makerspace in the DC area.  (The Kickstarter campaign has since completed and we are overwhelmed to announce that 441 backers helped us to reach 131% of our funding goal!)  Part of the services Studio Cosplay provides is emergency repair support at major cosplay conventions and it was a huge hit at our club table at Katsucon.  Dozens of attendees with cosplay SNAFU’s stopped by to take advantage of our sewing kits, glue gun, Super Glue, duct tape, Velcro, wig styling tools, paints, and even our first aid kit.  We were overwhelmed by the amount of support we received, including social media nods from countless cosplay materials vendors, fans, clubs, media outlets, and prominent cosplay guests; a generous donation from Kamui Cosplay of her armor tutorial books for our library; future partnerships or collaboration with Arda Wigs, NOVA Labs, DC Anime Club, and more; and invitations from a few area fan conventions.  Apparently we made a good impression because Katsucon has invited us back for next year!

by Stefanie Hackenburg


Pac Man and Rock n Roll

MAGFest Recap

The 13th annual Music and Gaming Festival, or MAGFest, was held from Jan. 23-26, 2015 at National Harbor, MD in the sprawling Gaylord Hotel & Convention Center.  What once began as the “Mid-Atlantic Gaming Festival” in 2002 hosted by a non-profit organization to bring together gamers and local indie musicians has grown to become a bicoastal 24-hr/4-day party-like celebration of games of all types, live music, and community.  The new West Coast version of MAGFest, Rockage, was held Feb. 6-8, 2015.

At ground level this does look like a typical mid-sized fan-driven convention with approximately 15,000 attendees, video game voice actor guests, a merchants room, artists alley, a film festival, and a broad catalog of events.  What makes it unique is not just 96 straight hours of all types of gaming (you can go to GenCon for that).  Rather there is much less focus on panels and more focus on live music performances and (my favorite part) the giant arcade floor.  What looks like acres of wide open space in a darkened area of the convention center houses hundreds of classic arcade games such as Pac Man, Galaga, & Mortal Kombat; pinball machines; console games going back as far as the Fairchild Channel F and Atari 2600; pc games so old (er, “classic”) that they’re only played by command line in an Apple II-esque, 8-bit, green text interface; and more contemporary Japanese arcade games like Taiko: Drum Master where you and a partner play Japanese drums to a Dance Dance Revolution-like interface.  All games are free and polite turn-taking is de rigueur.  I geeked out when I was gleefully reunited with my childhood arcade favorite Pole Position … my high score is indicative of how much it prepared me for decades of traveling on the NJ Turnpike.  Another highlight for my group was stopping in to see the metal band one of my cosplay colleagues’ husband sings for — we were treated to a kick-ass performance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.

Cosplay hasn’t been a prominent part of MAGFest in past years but there was a significant presence at the festival this year with almost all genres represented.  I wish we could have seen and done more that weekend but we were mostly there to promote our non-profit organization Studio Cosplay, which just launched a Kickstarter campaign to open the first makerspace for cosplayers.  Hopefully we’ll be up and running in the DC area later this year with all the equipment and classes a costume and prop maker could possibly wish for.  At MAGFest we were fortunate to be interviewed by a NYC film team making a TV show pilot featuring the real face of cosplayers (to counter the negative image recent “reality” shows have presented).  Let’s hope a network picks it up!  It’s an excellent example of how community comes together at these gatherings and makes the sum greater than our parts.

by Stefanie Hackenberg

I forgot my socks – or – Philcon 2014

This was the first time I was an invited guest of Philcon. I was very excited to attend. I have attended other conventions, even working on staff, for a number of years but had very little experience with this convention. Being asked to be there as a guest was just fantastic.

It’s good to be lucky in friends – and I am. I was able to hitch a ride with my friend Mary and split a room 4 ways with some other friends. It was nostalgic to get back to that kind of feeling, get to the con on a tight budget. My friends made my convention much more fun than it might have otherwise been. I had a great weekend – even if I did forget my socks. I remembered to do the laundry before I departed, just missed that one little detail on the way out the door.

The folks working the convention were nothing but nice to me. Long before everything got underway I threw myself on the mercy of the program committee. I was rewarded greatly! I was able to be on a technology panel, two art panels, a literary panel, a gaming panel and a fan panel! It was a remarkably diverse set of folks I got to hang out with and I was thrilled to meet some new friends and fellow fans.

There was great conversation and interesting viewpoints. I’m not going to give a panel for panel breakdown here. The best way to get in on these conversations is to attend. Get out there and go to a convention! You might discover an artist or author you like. You could hear how language is being preserved, how long is too long for a book series or where a really good fan fiction site is. You could watch an anime you’ve never had the chance to see or play a game you’ve wanted to try ever since you heard about it from a friend.

IF you’re really lucky you’ll be part of an epic story like the Bridesmaid Brawl… Defend the Pizza!

This great weekend was not without its issues. I was fortunate not to have issues of my own, but many of the folks I know did have problems. I heard complaints about the failings of other guest schedules. There were tracks or topics that had been on program for many years that failed to appear this year. The schedules were delivered late and the web site was terribly slow to update. The actual schedule for things like the opening of the dealer room were in question. Certain events failed to get advertising and died before ever getting off the ground. The con suite seemed to be thin on the snack front. It could have been the times I was there, but for the most part the gaming suite was far better stocked (the bonus being you could jump in on a game while you snacked as well). These sort of things can happen to a convention being run by fans and volunteers. There was one thing I noticed that can’t happen to a convention – at least not often or the convention will fail.

Attendees were few and far between. It might have been timing – world fantasy convention was just a week or two before and it was in Washington DC so many folks that might have gone to Philcon could have blown the budget there and skipped this year. It might have been the proximity to Thanksgiving travel. I could be completely wrong about the number of folks that were there – but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I saw a lot of empty seats at the panels. There certainly weren’t crowds in the hallways. I was on one panel where the panelists outnumbered the audience two to one. It made for a conversational atmosphere while we were sitting there but it worries me for the future. I hope more folks sign up and show up. This con gave me the feeling it was old, possibly dying and that would be a shame.

I hope next year to be invited again. I hope you will sign up and get there too. I also hope I remember my socks next year.


by Eric V. Hardenbrook, originally published November 29th on the Pretend Blog

Kawaii is Everywhere!

Anime USA Recap

by Stefanie Hackenberg

            Anime USA is a three-day celebration of Japanese arts, music, and culture in downtown Washington, DC that takes place in mid-fall.   Though not as large as Otakon or Katsucon, in recent years the attendance has reached several thousand in number and the spirit of “kawaii” (cute lovable) and “otaku” (nerd, geek, obsessed fan — less derogatory than it used to be) are equally represented.

If you’re an anime fan there is plenty to do and see.   Art and cosplay are the more popular draws to this convention, appreciated through the diverse Artist Gallery, Art Show, well-curated Manga Library, Catwalk & Fashion Show, Cosplay Masquerade, and of course Hall Cosplay prevalent throughout the host hotel.   I revived my Ruby Rose cosplay from Rooster Teeth’s animated web series “RWBY” but did not drag her signature 6’ high, 5’ wide cyber-scythe-sniper-rifle weapon with me this time. Many Japanese-themed conventions feature a Maid Café — a restaurant style popular in Japan that offers a limited Japanese menu where the waitresses, who range from adorable, young, usually-Asian women in maid costumes to “crossplayer” young men in maid drag, sit and chat with you periodically during your meal — but Anime USA also boasts a Host Café where fashionably dressed, adorable, young, Asian men can charm you while you dine. The waitstaff are as much a part of the menu as the food: you can either choose from a board of photos & brief descriptions of the hosts or take your chances with whomever is available next.   The lines for both were quite long all weekend. The highlight of the weekend is the masked Formal Ball where attendees can dig out their fanciest fashion and practice formal ballroom dancing all night.   Dance instructors roam the floor to give lessons or pointers. If waltzing is not your thing there is karaoke available . . . in Japanese.

The panels at AUSA are traditionally not the biggest focus but this year attendance seemed to be pretty high. My non-profit startup Studio Cosplay made our convention debut by giving three cosplay educational panels: “Intro to Studio Cosplay” where we presented our organization and our mission to provide a cosplay makerspace to the DC metro area, classroom workshops on costume/prop-making and photography, and mobile repair support at major conventions; “Lights, Camera, Cosplay!” which reviewed the process of engaging cosplay photographers, posing techniques, etiquette, and social media promotion; and lastly “Level Up Your Cosplay” where we discussed advanced costuming techniques and cutting-edge materials. Audience reception was enthusiastic and a majority of the seats were filled so I guess that went well! Some of the other panels one might find at Anime USA range from the light and fun (“Awesomely Bad Japanese Music Videos”) to the practical (how to get into video game design) to the thought-provoking (how anime deals with despair and trauma) to the risqué (“BDSM in Anime, Video Games, Hentai, and Manga: The Things You Can and Can’t Do in Real Life” with ethics discussions and demonstrations). There were many theme-centric tracks that looked very appealing but as always one can never be in all the places they wish to be at a good convention.

My only complaint about the con was the hit-or-miss disposition of the staff.   Obtaining regular badges, obtaining panelist badges, asking for directions, obtaining badge reimbursement forms, or any other interaction was either met with warm, friendly enthusiasm or bitter, condescending dismissal. I am friendly to every person I meet until they exceed a tolerable threshold of nastiness to me, so I’m not sure what made some of these volunteers so rude but it made the mundane aspects of the con harder than they needed to be. I suppose this is common at any con but when you’re having a great time the negativity can be a bit jarring. Regardless, I’m sure we’ll be there again next year with even more “genki” enthusiasm and “kawaii” costumes!

New York Comic Con 2014 – Review

I hate crowds. I tend to be mildly claustrophobic, so being           surrounded on all sides by massive hordes of people doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. So naturally I pick the year New York tops San Diego in attendance to decide it’s time for me to experience the biggest pop culture convention in the East Coast – and now in North America.

To my surprise, the crowds – over 151,000 individuals over four days – did not bother me at all the way I expected them to. In fact, I felt   completely comfortable navigating my way through them on the show floor. Perhaps it was the knowledge that if they really became overwhelming I could retreat the area reserved for press, VIPs and the like, or maybe it was because all these people were just like me – for the first time I was in a large crowd of people and wasn’t worried about being judged. We were all very different – some were superheroes, others villains, some cartoons, some, like me, just plain old human – but we were all there for the same reason: we’re all nerds. And for a nerd, New York Comic Con 2014 was the place to be.

NYCC may not get the high profile guests that SDCC attracts every year, but it did have a lot of great panels and guests. They kicked off the weekend with previews of Super Hero 6 and Tomorrowland – which I hadn’t even heard about until I saw it on the schedule. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was the moment George Clooney walked out on stage during the Tomorrowland panel, and then proceeded to apologize for Batman and Robin.

There were a lot more television panels than film panels and they represented a variety of programs. From Archer and Adult Swim, to Elementary, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sleepy Hollow, Gotham and The Walking Dead. Fans were also treated to first footage from two new Marvel series over the course of the weekend, Agent Carter and Daredevil. While Agent Carter has the same look and feel as the rest of the Marvel franchise, the inspiration for Daredevil is coming from the Frank Miller and Brian Bendis storylines and is therefore darker in tone than we’re accustomed to with Marvel of late, but it looks good so far. Speaking of dark, Constantine was really being hyped this weekend, as the pilot episode was shown twice – the second time followed by a Q&A with the cast, who promise the series has not been tamed for television (and judging from the pilot I’m inclined to agree).

For comics panels they had a variety of writers and artists from multiple publishers. DC is still celebrating 75 years of Batman, and had several panels to that effect and Marvel made several big announcements over the weekend, including the return of Secret Wars.

The NYCC show floor is a maze of vendors and artists selling a wide range of memorabilia and souvenirs. Stepping onto the show floor could easily result in sensory overload, as everywhere you look something is going on; Virtual Reality games, signings, photos, cosplayers, etc. My favorite booth was the Weta Workshop booth, with its life size replicas of Azog from The Hobbit, Gollum, and even Smaug’s head, which would occasionally open his glowing eyes to look down at you as you walked past. The show floor doesn’t seem like that large a space, but you could easily spend hours walking through it and never see anything – especially if you’re not paying attention to where you’re walking and just end up going in circles.

In my wanderings I was able to view the copy of Action Comics #1 which was recently purchased at auction for $3.2 million – the highest price ever paid for a comic book. I also stumbled upon Tor’s table just as John Scalzi was signing books and purchased a copy of Lock In for him to sign. Kim Harrison and Patrick Rothfuss were also scheduled for book signings this weekend, but I never made it to the floor while they were there.

The Block was a section adjacent to the show floor in which housed a lot of artists, collectibles and other unique tables. This area had probably the most unique merchandise on the show floor. I had hoped to find Terry Moore, creator of the comic Rachel Rising, here but never had an opportunity to find his table.

There were a lot of great cosplayers at NYCC. I didn’t get many   photos, partly because my camera broke the first day and I was relying on just my cell phone all weekend and partly because I was too shy to ask for them, but there were a lot I really liked. On Thursday a guy who could already pass for a Gene Simmons look-alike was dressed as one of Joker’s minions from the first Tim Burton Batman movie. There was also a guy dressed as Oberyn Martell who looked so much like the actor from Game of Thrones I actually did a double-take. Harley Quinn was a popular cosplay, as was just about any character from Avatar or Legend of Korra and of course there were countless Doctors and companions. I even saw at least one Twelfth Doctor.

Overall, I’d have to say that my first Comic Con experience was a really good one. I had heard horror stories about waiting in line all night just to get into Hall H at SDCC, but that wasn’t the case here. NYCC instituted a hall clearing and wristband policy for the Main Hall for the first time this year. You had to have a wristband to be allowed in for a certain panel, which meant waiting in line first thing in the morning, but then having freedom to enjoy the rest of the day. I liked knowing that I was definitely going to be able to get in without having to wait all day long – if it wasn’t for their wristband policy I probably never would have made it in to see The Walking Dead panel on Saturday, which was easily the most popular panel of the entire weekend. I spoke to several con-goers who really liked the new wristband policy as compared to how things have worked in the past and while I can’t compare, I think it worked out really well.

Not only was this my first Comic Con, but this was my first     convention period of this scale – the little Supernatural fan convention I attended several years ago was nothing compared to this. I learned quickly that the trick with Comic Con is to accept the fact that you’re probably not going to have time to do or see everything you would like, and you have to expect to spend a large percentage of your day waiting in a line for something – whether it’s a panel, an autograph, a photo op or even just to get food or use the restroom. Comic Con is all about the lines. But if you accept that, come prepared, and are friendly towards those waiting in line around you, it’s not so bad. If an impatient, claustrophobic introvert like me can enjoy Comic Con, then almost anybody can. And I already can’t wait for NYCC 2015.

By Charissa Jeliff

Charissa also writes and reviews for Curiata



DragonCon 2014 —Review

DragonCon is much like The Matrix: you cannot be told what it is, you have to see it for yourself. Some might describe it as Spring Break for nerds. Some might compare it to Halloween in Las Vegas without the gambling (and whatever happens at DragonCon stays at DragonCon). However you define it DragonCon just celebrated its 27th year as the largest multimedia and pop culture fan gathering in the world, hosting a record 63,000 attendees among its 5 host hotels in downtown Atlanta, GA over Labor Day weekend. This annual convention is as much an extravaganza as the better-known San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con but rather than a studio and media dog-and-pony show it is programming by fans for fans, and is considered to be a great vacation to the many celebrities that attend as guests. Spanning 21 hours a day for 5 days (6 for some) DragonCon offers absolutely everything in programming from Sci Fi & fantasy to science & astronomy to literature to gaming to horror and everything in between. If you are into costuming and role playing this is the prime convention for you, as over 85% of the attendees cosplay in some form or another with a full spectrum of skill levels, source material, and creativity. Though the programming is diverse and compelling many go just to be on costume safari to photograph as many amazing and entertaining costumes as possible, and some go just to show off their latest cosplay creation. Among my cosplay friends and me our average number of outfits for a single DragonCon ranges from 4 to 12. This year I wore 7, counting rave outfits.

Each day has its own personality so costuming and activities tend to be planned accordingly. Wednesday is the new “Thursday” which traditionally had been the warm-up eve to first full day of the con, and since the kiddies haven’t arrived yet people often bring out their more risque costumes and get the drinking and debauchery fully underway. Thursday (the new “Friday”) has become much more active in the past couple years with the energy surpassing excited anticipation and spiking into sheer zeal during the crowd’s New Year’s Eve-like midnight countdown to when the con officially kicks off. Though it has become prohibitively crowded of late, the place to be at night is Pulse Lounge in the center atrium of DragonCon’s “hub” hotel, the Marriott Marquis. Friday is packed so while that is the day when you want to wear your masterpiece costume it’s also a day you want to wear something comfortable and compact — wings and crushing crowds don’t mix. Saturday is mayhem and has become so crowded that security bans anyone who doesn’t have a con badge or room key and are militant about traffic flow (photography etiquette has become a survival necessity). People often have parties in their rooms rather than attempt to move about, but if you wish to brave the tide of con-goers you’ll certainly maximize your exposure when showing off a costume. Sunday is typically more low-key and Monday is when most of the crowds return home … though for some of us it’s a day of recuperation so that we are capable of travel by Tuesday.

There are many survival guides for DragonCon newbies but the one I hear the most is the “6x2x1 Rule”: every day try to get at least 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower. It’s a noble goal and surely reduces one’s risk of contracting “con crud” — the cold or flu that attendees at these conventions commonly bring home with them — but is rarely the reality. To manage the chaos attendees can use the DragonCon mobile app which has become impressively sophisticated with a built-in personal calendar fed by a comprehensive list of events and presenters, a friends list that helps you keep track of your buddies’ plans, direct links to FaceBook and Twitter, vendors and their booth locations, maps, photos, videos, guides, alerts, local places to see and where to eat, and private messaging. Though a couple of mobile carriers increased data bandwidth by parking signal boosters near the host hotels this year getting app updates or communicating with friends was still very challenging. The most efficient communication method my friends and I have used so far is GroupMe via SMS, and now we use it at all cons. No one gets left out of group plans and you can broadcast your whereabouts with a simple text message — great for when you’re meeting up for a meal or a group cosplay.

This year’s longest lines for celebrity panels were Sir Patrick Stewart, Karl Urban, Cary Elwes, Ralph Macchio, and Terry Gilliam. I was able to get into none of those but luckily I caught a Star Trek panel rebroadcast with SPS and Gates McFadden on DragonCon TV (a channel at the host hotels dedicated exclusively to con content for the weekend). One of the more interesting celebrity panels I was able to attend was Grant Imahara, until recently from “Mythbusters,” who gracefully addressed his and his 2 co-stars’ recent abrupt dismissal from the show. It is extremely unlikely these 3 young makers of explosions and followers of the Scientific Method will be unemployed for long. One event that received a great deal of coverage was the Marvel character cosplay group photo that often attracts hundreds of cosplayers squeezed onto Olympic-sized bleachers for the shot. This year, closing out a long promotional tour for his successful “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, James Gunn made an appearance for the gathering and was visibly moved by the group’s gesture of dancing to Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” featured in the movie. Unsurprisingly the movie inspired oodles of cosplays this year including homemade miniature potted functional dancing Groots and a stunningly accurate full-size Groot that looked like he stepped right off the screen.   In other highlights, every year the biggest aspect of DragonCon that Atlanta looks forward to is the parade, including thousands of cosplayers walking from Centennial Olympic Park to the Marriott Marquis and attended by over 75,000 spectators. Since it starts at 10AM on Saturday I’ve never seen it!

Regrettably I wasn’t able to get to most of the events I hoped to attend — at DragonCon there never seems to be less than 9 places you want to be at once — but instead sat in on several Engineering and Maker panels to research equipment and processes for our upcoming non-profit cosplay makerspace Studio Cosplay ( I don’t feel much more confident about 3D design software but I’m at least empowered with more 3D printer market knowledge and what to consider when compiling our space and capital budget for our 2015 Kickstarter campaign. In a culmination of several months of costuming and prop-making work my cosplay friends and I were also fortunate to get a few professional photo shoots in over the weekend. After hearing that the vendor room was even more chaotic than last year in its new location I didn’t even make time to go there. Lastly, late-nights were spent at the three 3AM-6AM raves in the Marriott’s large ballroom — these are a spectacle to be seen even if you don’t dance. Up front the stage show is often a delightful distraction of 12-foot dancers onstilts in elaborate headdresses and costumes, a shower of sparks from creatures using a power sander on their fellow performer’s armor, scantily-clad masked go go dancers of either gender, inflatable dolls tossed into the crowd like beach balls to be bounced around the ballroom, a floating shark, or this year a towering Iron Man/My Neighbor Totoro mashup costume bobbing in the background. In the back of the ballroom one can spend hours admiring the dazzling light show from dancers with elaborate glow sticks, poi flowtoy spinning, LED hula hoops and even light sabers. For those with truly epic moves there are occasionally impromptu dance circles where members take turns in the center in a friendly dance-off. Friday this year was somewhat controversial because the traditional popular DJ was replaced by a DJ that did not meet everyone’s expectations but the music on Saturday and Sunday was outstanding.   Next year we may follow the former Friday DJ to her new gig at the Atlanta Aquarium.

If you ever plan to give DragonCon a try keep in mind that though it’s a con like no other its increased popularity has made it very tough. It has vastly overgrown its location and securing a place to stay is like trying to get tickets to a Led Zeppelin reunion concert — 3 of the host hotels sold out their 2015 rooms before the 2014 con was over, and the other 2 sold out within minutes of when registration opened.   Next year attendance is projected to reach close to 70,000. By comparison only 22,000 were recorded at the convention’s 20th anniversary in 2006 and 40,000 attended when I first went in 2010. How this growth will be managed is undetermined. If you want to experience more of DragonCon from afar as I said it’s something that has to be seen rather than explained — do a search on Google or YouTube for “DragonCon Cosplay Gallery” … you may lose hours of your day!

By Stefanie Hackenberg

You can find more of Stefanie’s cosplay adventures


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GenCon Indy 2014

They don’t call it “The Best Four Days in Gaming” for nothing!  Named after its original small gathering in Geneva, WI in 1967 for war game fans, GenCon now hosts over 56,000 gaming aficionados at the Indianapolis Convention Center who attend for everything ranging from table-top Collectible Card Games (CCGs) & Trading Card Games (TCGs) such as “Magic: The Gathering” and “Legend of the Five Rings” (“L5R”) to Role Playing Games (RPGs) such as “Dungeons and Dragons” to video games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone” . . . and everything in between.  Once upon a time one might have been correct to expect this convention to be an enormous hive gathering of poorly-groomed, socially awkward, single, white, heterosexual males (who are lovable too!) hunched over tables littered with empty cans of energy drinks and half-eaten bags of Cheetos, scrutinizing elaborate layouts of cards or miniature armies for 96 hours, taking only brief breaks for unavoidable restroom trips.   While one can still find these hard-core gaming veterans focusing intensely on their marathon tournaments, the activities available and demographic of people engaging in them has vastly diversified in recent years.

Though this could easily dovetail into a mind-boggling chicken-or-the-egg debate over whether the increasing diversification of gaming is luring more women to the culture or whether the emergence of women in gaming who are demanding more relevant and realistic content, style and mechanics in games are finally changing the landscape, the change is indisputably evident in convention programming.  A recent CNN article (published just in time for GenCon! discusses the bigger picture — and the answer is probably “both” — but on the ground at GenCon this manifests most noticeably as “Spousal Activities.”  Want to learn how to make a Rubik’s Cube tissue box holder like the one on “Big Bang Theory” or how to make a “Dr. Who” Tardis night light?  Want to learn how to tie a TRIPLE Windsor knot next time you’re wearing a suit?  Want to learn some chair & floor routine burlesque dance basics?  Want to make your own Foam Fighting Arena weapons?  Want to make bracers or pair of wings out of EVA (craft) foam?  Want to learn how to Waltz?   There are workshops for that!  I don’t know what the “Cthulhu Buttercream Transfer” workshop entailed (apocalyptic monster god baking?) but it sounded entertaining.  There’s even a Family Fun Pavilion for the little ones that includes face painting and puppet shows and there is a daycare center for the littlest ones.  My boyfriend and I attended some of these zany workshops, as well as a dance instructional session on a J-Pop (Japanese pop music) vocaloid video given by the gals who taught us the Waveya (Korean pop dance troupe) version of Psy’s “Gentleman” dance last year.  What a workout!  It was quickly evident that vocaloid dance choreography is as frenetic as it is because the artists are digital and don’t have to obey laws of physics.  Other than that some members of our group who are miniatures hobbyists competed in a Speed Painting Arena and some competed in a several-hour National Security Decision Making (NSDM) Game.  

When the sun goes down there are plenty of events for adults.  Last year we attended a workshop on basic Japanese bondage knots.  This year we attended the Anime Game Show For Adults which featured a human Cards Against Humanity game using audience-chosen contestants wearing t-shirts as the cards (the black “fill in the blank” shirts — and little else than the shirts — were donned by Cosplay Deviants pin-up models), a gals vs guys race to unravel a model’s sweaterdress, and giveaways for audience members who had certain items on their person, such as the largest 20-sided die or the largest representation of a dragon.  Even the videos displayed during seating before the game show began were sheer hilarity . . . where else can you see a clip of an x-rated Japanese anime film overdubbed with the cheesy power-anthem “You’ve Got the Touch” from the 1986 “Transformers” movie?  Another night we met up with a small group of people to play “A Terrible Time: The Game Where Everybody Loses,” which is a twisted twist on the hands-on game “Cranium” and the groan-inducingly inappropriate “Cards Against Humanity.”  If you have a group of uninhibited friends who appreciate creativity and dark humor this is a fabulous party game.  The highlight of after-hours entertainment for the weekend is always the D20 Nerd Burlesque Show provided by the lovely & geeky ladies of NYC’s D20 Burlesque.  I know after this year’s performance we’ll never look at Breakfast Princess from “Adventure Time” or the classic arcade game “Duck Hunt” the same way again.  The Cthulu striptease is something you never forget either!  If only I had a clone I would also have attended the Back to the 80’s Bash dance party.  Too much to see!

Our group’s favorite activity from last year, and by far the most expensive event at GenCon, is “True Dungeon.”  This is a live-action RPG like Dungeons & Dragons where a vast, dimly-lit ballroom is set up with a maze of realistic dungeon rooms complete with background sound effects, costumed actors and animatronic monsters.  Before you begin, each player selects a class (e.g. Druid, Bard, Warrior, etc.) and applies gear tokens that boost his/her stats.  Each room has a Game Master who gives you a time limit and an objective or conflict and your team must work together to solve the puzzle or defeat the enemy in order to continue to the next room.  Casters can memorize shapes and arcane words before the game starts to enhance their spells and heals, and in each encounter melee fighters use a shuffleboard-style format to slide their token coasters to various points-assigned locations on the monster’s image on the board to mimic weapon strikes in battle.  

The final room typically contains a very challenging puzzle with limited clues or an enormous “boss” monster who will require all of your skill and every trick in your bag. It’s challenging enough that we always hit the beer garden *afterwards* and it’s unique & realistic enough to keep it fun. Except for this year, which was as awful as last year’s experience was fantastic.  The dungeon sounds were so loud this time that afterwards kvetching amongst ourselves over post-mortem beers outside we had an EASIER time hearing each other over the food truck generator next to us than we did inside the game, which is problematic when you can’t hear the GM’s instructions or what step in the combat you’re on.  Also we vowed never to split up our group into 2 games ever again — Pick Up Groups in real life are just as bad as Pick Up Groups in video games for a reason:  no one works together and you run a high risk that the strangers you meet have zero skill whatsoever.  Lastly my little 5’5” wizard self was crushed out of most of the combat in tight dungeon spaces by a wall of flesh created by our stereotypical oversized, socially inept, self-important, oblivious nerd co-players, so the player class who deals the highest damage couldn’t participate in most of the fights.  Many of us died horribly in the 5th room and the rest died horrifically in the final room.  I can’t help but wonder how many times Xena the Warrior Princess was in a cave with people she just met facing down a 3-headed creature and was thinking “Ugh, newbs. We’re doomed.”

Cosplaying (costumed role playing) is not a prominent aspect of GenCon but there are a few of us die-hards who would cosplay to go to the grocery store if we were up for the effort.  I wore a rough draft of my Blood Elf Mage from “World of Warcraft” that will be completed in time for Blizzcon, the convention hosted by WoW’s software studio Blizzard.  Of the cosplayers that attended there were some impressive costumes; Lego Batman, a Cthulu made entirely of balloons, and our gang’s classic Nintendo characters to name a few.

If being a spectator is more your thing there are plenty of options for you.  Jim Butcher, also an avid gamer, was the Author Guest of Honor this year … regrettably his panels and writers workshops filled to capacity unsurprisingly quickly so we were not able to listen in. Writers have a lengthy track of lectures and events to attend, from technique classes in Ending the Story and developing Character Backstory to business classes such as Creating Anthologies and Working With a Publisher to author education classes such as Geology For Worldbuilders and hands-on Medieval Armor sessions.  Most gamers also love music so there are live bands, belly dancers, Renaissance instrument performers, traveling bards, and many other shows to see.  There is an art show and art vendor area where you can purchase pieces from the featured artists.  Lastly there is a film festival that runs the entire weekend in all genres.

Some who attend the convention stay in the host hotels for the immediacy of access, but alternatively those of us on a tight budget typically pool together with a group of friends to rent a house within a short cab ride of the convention center for the weekend (plus an extra day for low-key gaming together while we share tales of our con adventures) which saves tons of money not just in hotel costs but food as well. The food trucks parked outside the convention center are delicious and diverse but not ideal for 3 meals a day. Since my boyfriend and I have a full convention schedule this year we chose to drive the 10 hours to Indiana, which saved hundreds in airfare and we were able to schlep large costume pieces and big boxes of games effortlessly.  Next year GenCon will be a couple weeks earlier:  July 30 to Aug 2, 2015.  This recap only scratches the surface — there’s something for everyone!

by Stephanie Hackenburg

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NASFIC – North American Science FICtion is 4 days of fun.  It is only held in the U.S. when the World Science Fiction convention goes over seas.  Such as this year WFS is in London, England.

The Marriott in Detroit, MI. was the place to be.  It was Detroit’s first NASFIC.

Just as every other city, Detroit is no stranger to construction and bad signage.  But within 30 minutes after getting off the wrong ramp and getting out of the line of traffic headed to Canada by the skin of my teeth I made it to the hotel, which has 72 floors plus 1 subfloor.  Lobby is on the 3rd floor.  The hotel was built in a cylindrical shape with the elevators in the middle of the cylinder.  12 elevators. 6 for floors 1-40 (the Low Rise) and 6 for floors 1-5 and 40-72.  So when you got on the wrong bank you switched over on the 40th floor.  None of the 12 went to the subfloor where all the eateries resided.  That could only be reached with stairs, escalators or a separate elevator.  It is habit to look to the right or left when getting off the elevator to see which direction you need to go to find your room.  Well it did not matter here.  The hall to the rooms runs in a circle around the elevators.  Are you dizzy yet?  Keep reading.

During the convention it was arranged with hotel management to deactivate the need to have a room key to access floors 6-72 so everyone could reach the Con Suite.  However, they did not disable the little voice stating to insert your card key to reach the guest room floors.  You got to hear this voice every time you got on the elevator no matter which direction you were going.  Does the phrase “These are not the Floors you are looking for” bring anything to mind?

The convention space was on the 3rd and 5th floors, the Con Suite on the 72nd.  Think of 6 covered wagon wheels stacked on their sides.  Yep you guessed it.  Standing on the 5th floor, you could see all the way down to the subfloor.  Each meeting room had a spoke (bridge) to crossover from the elevator.  The only way to get from 1 room to the next was to traverse the spoke back to the elevators to get to the next spoke.  Fans were comparing it to the Death Star and Logan’s Run.

The panels covered all the usual topics reading, writing, publishing, science, business, artwork and kids.  Every time I noticed the kids at the con they were having a great time.  Artist guess of honor John Picacio played loteria (lo-te-ri-a (Mexican bingo)) at his panel giving away books, note pads and posters to the winners.  Baen was there as usual to give away their books.   Science guest of honor Helen Greiner was very interesting to listen to, talking of the companies she started– the first IRobot, which is the home of the Pack Bot’s for the military.  I think she said she sold that company and then started up CyPhy Works, Inc.  As for the Author guest honor Steven Barnes I did not make it to his panels.  They were packed by the time I got there.  Music guests of honor Bill and Brenda Sutton wrote a great filk song for Detroit.  The title might be “Where are the Flying Cars?” sung at opening and closing ceremonies.

So if you survived the high speed High Rise elevators to the 40-72 floors with your ears popping every trip up and down.  Going in circles from room to room on each floor for panels.  You could not help it but to have fun.  Although I did find going in circles in the hallway for the parties at night made life very easy to poke your head in each one, unless you forgot which party room you started in.

I was disappointed most of the first day not seeing things I expected to see.  But then I realized, this was not a World Con, it is a NASFIC.  And it was Detroit’s first NASFIC.  Looking at through the new perspective for the rest of the convention I had a great time and they did a bang up wonderful job!




Confluence is held in the Pittsburgh area the last weekend in July.  It’s much smaller than Balticon by a factor of 10 or more. They canceled last year due to their hotel was bought by Robert Morris College and renovations into dorm rooms started a week before the convention.

Well they found a new (old) hotel for this year the Four Points Sheraton in Mars, PA.  According to some fans Confluence was held there many years ago.  (Long before I started going to it.)  Panels, movie room, art show, dealers and filking were on first floor.  Readings, Con Suite and parties were on the 5th floor.  Convention was spread out with room to expand.

William H Keith, JR was the author GOH.  William writes under so many pseudonyms he has a pamphlet hand out with all his books listed.  A very handy item after you sat through his GOH talk on his books and contracts did not always match up.  He started two different series.  The Carrier series he wrote the first 7 in the series.  The other 8 – 20 something were written by other people using his name.  Seal Team Seven series William only wrote the first 3 and again the rest written by other authors.  Some series he completed as a trilogy only to get a contract for more.  While others he had to condense because the contract ended.  You can check them all out at his website

Confluence brings in some wonderful filk singers.  It’s great to sit and relax as they sing original or spoofed songs.

It’s a nice little con to enjoy.

 by Patty Yost





     June 27-29, 2014 was the third iteration of Sci-Fi Valley Con, Help in Altoona Pa. This is the last year it will be held at the Jaffa Shrine Center, as they have grown out of this space in 2 years. Next year’s Con will be held at the Blair County Conference Center, May 15-17, 2015.
This was a very vendor heavy event. The two larges spaces within the Jaffa were artist/exhibition/vendor spaces. According to the Facebook page there were 140 vendor/artist tables, there were exhibits of various vehicles from films and TV shows, including: Christine, the Batman TV show, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, and a Tardis. The “Featured Guests” all had tables and were primarily film related. They included Brian O’Halloran (Dante Hicks from Clerks), Scott Schiaffo (also from Clerks), David Madison (Director, Producer, and Writer of Mr. Hush), Michael Dougherty )Director Browncoats Redemption), and several others.
One of the more amusing things about the cars is that the Batmobile has standard PA license plates. Given the age and the value of the automobile, I would have thought it would have “Classic” plates.
The other large component of the Con was the gaming. There were areas for tabletop and video gaming, with demos, open gaming, and tournaments. Both gaming areas were sponsored by Snake Eyes Gaming for the tabletop games and RetroSpect Games for the video games.
There was a dedicated Film Festival room that ran Sci-Fi and Horror films continually during the open hours of the Con. As this was a family friendly event, the films were chosen accordingly.
Probably the weakest part of the Con was the panels. There were only 2 panel rooms, and only one of them was actually holding a panel at any given time. Most of the panels were of the “How To..” variety: “New Writers”, “Making Movies on Pennies”, “Creating Independent Comics”, and “Cosplay 101” are examples. Several of the panels were run twice, but I don’t know if that was
intentional or because they needed to fill space.
For the most part the con was well organized. Staff/Volunteers wore bright gold t-shirts and were both easily identifiable and easy to find, as they were constantly roaming the venue should they be needed. According to the website ( attendance was over 3,000.
Many of the things that could have been done better should be
corrected by the move to the new site, as there will be more space for Con activities.
Would I go again? Yes. I enjoyed myself and I would like to see how the Con evolves with the new site, which should allow for more panels, and a better vendor area layout. The Blair County Conference Center, like the Jaffa Shrine Center, does not include an on site hotel; which does cut down on random party hopping and after hours socialization.
I have a copy of the Con book, if anyone would like to see it.

By Mary Spila


Central PA Comicon – My View

I’ve been going to conventions for a while now but I still wouldn’t consider myself any kind of expert. I’m not really comfortable with the term. I do know the things I do and don’t like about my convention going experience, so that’s how I’m looking at this review. I will probably miss some of the technical issues that other, more seasoned con staff would pick up on but I’m only looking at how if affected my day.

Central PA Comicon actually started back in 2012 (then called Roccon PA). It was a one -day con that had the misfortune of falling on the same weekend as a hurricane. I was there that day along with a few other folks I knew, both local and out of town, that wanted to see what this convention was all about. It seemed like a reasonable first con to me and was looking forward to the 2013 version… except the 2013 version never happened.

Fast forward to 2014. Roccon PA is now Central PA Comicon, is on a new date, at a new location with expanded hours. I almost missed that the convention was happening. I don’t know how you advertise something like this, but it was only chance that made me aware of them. All of those changes were important but I would think work against getting an annual following. I find these things little disappointing because I’m used to fan run conventions. What I’m getting at here is that whenever I’ve gone to the con staff at a fan run con to ask about helping out or helping to spread the word they’ve been very enthusiastic about getting me and/or Watch The Skies involved. The staff at this con seemed harried and lacking a lot of organization – they could have used the volunteer help and I didn’t get the feeling they were interested. Maybe I got the wrong person or asked at the wrong time or… who knows.

Beyond general organization, the convention information had format issues. The stuff on the web site didn’t load well at all. The stuff that was handed out at the con gave me the feeling they made copies at Kinko’s then cut and stapled them at home. It was as hard to read in person as it was on the web. The “badges” gave me the same feel as I attached one with a black binder clip like you see holding a stack of papers together at the office. The programming was pretty good for as small a convention as they are. I didn’t end up going to more than one panel, but others I spoke to seemed to be happy with the ones they attended. The game room and the dealer room had a lot of traffic and people seemed to be doing a lot of business. I actually heard the convention mentioned by a radio DJ on Monday morning. His comments were along the line of, “small, but that didn’t stop me from spending money there”. There were some really well done costumes there as well.

I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression I didn’t like what was going on. It was a convention and a lot of likeminded folks had the chance to get together for a good time. It appears, at least on the surface, to have been a successful weekend. I hope that next year the name and date at least stay the same. It would be great to see a local convention that does well enough to grow in this area. Maybe next year we’ll get an ad in WTS ahead of time and drum up some more business.

by Eric Hardenbrook


Balticon  48

May 23-26

          Balticon is—hundreds of authors, publishers, artists, scientists, musicians and over a thousand fans at the area’s largest & longest running Science Fiction/Fantasy convention. Author panel discussions, readings, podcasting/new media, live SF theater, children’s programming, BSFS Books for Kids charity auction, Steampunk, Medieval and other dances, science briefings, concerts, Masquerade, writers’ workshop, poetry contest and workshop, Film Festival, Art show, dealers’ room, anime, RPG and board gaming, LARP, skill demonstrations and other special events.

Dark Quest books will be launching Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed’s Ali Babi and the Clockwork Djinn: a Steampunk Faerie Tale. Jay Smith will be recording a live episode of the radio play Hidden Harbor Mysteries. Finally, on a lighter note, Fortress Publishing will be launching their anthology TV Gods, which will feature humorous and satirical fiction by some of the Watch the Skies regulars. Take your favorite TV show and your favorite pantheon and mash them together—what could go wrong?

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