Nerds are passionate people. We adore discussing our favorite fandoms, genres, and media with like-minded individuals. And the Nerd Capitol of America is no exception.
The PNW is a giant hub of conventions large and small. You like comic books? You’re covered. Sailor Moon? A day devoted. Gaming? *chortle* DONE.
Amid nerd culture, however, there’s always something to complain about. Sometimes it’s complicated issues, like feminism or representation. More often it’s canon, writing choices, or portrayals of specific characters. But geeky conventions are a different animal altogether. Since the dawn of fandom events, everyone has chimed in with whatever opinions they could muster.
I “con” pretty hard. There are plenty I have yet to attend, but I’ve been around enough to observe the ups and downs. Some have been run extremely well while others flop miserably. For instance, Emerald City Comic Con is actually pulled off nicely despite the politics surrounding it. Most attendees seem to leave happy, regardless of poor swag bags or long lines. Star Trek conventions, run by Creation Entertainment, are by contrast poorly managed and should return to the hands of the fans.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending Steamposium. Put on by a team led by Zeon Kitty (Director of Operations) and The Emerald Lady, the Conference Center at WSCC saw a fabulous turnout dressed to the nines. Attendance topped out near 1,000 for the weekend, which is “small” compared to the likes of PAX, ECCC, or even Geek Girl Con. Still, the entire shebang ran seamlessly (so it appeared), the guests were poised and gracious, and there was plenty of fun to be had. But it got me thinking about the pros of a smaller con versus the mass orgies of the aforementioned.
- Smaller convention means more quality time with celebrity guests. Isaac C. Singleton, Jr. from Pirates of the Caribbean looked like he had a blast! He sat in the front row for Shake That Brass, surprised everyone as a model in the fashion show, and helped judge the costume contest. Tony Curran (Doctor Who) and Hélène Joy (Murdoch Mysteries) were also amiable and charming, indulging fans’ questions and photo ops. Conventions can put celebrities through the ringer with programming, but as long as fans are courteous and follow the directions of the staff, everyone can have a much more pleasurable experience. The schedule for Steamposium included plenty of autograph and photo op times, as well as two celebrity panels. Without the pressure of insane crowds, guests and patrons alike felt much more at ease and much less “handled” or “herded.” It’s nice to relax, and speak leisurely with your favorite people, isn’t it? And the better a guest feels about the convention, the more likely they are to return. Case in point: I met the goth nerd rock star Aurelio Voltaire, we shot the shit about New York and The Mercury, and I completely fangirled over his John Fluevogs! (He said he has twelve pairs of shoes, and they’re all Fluevogs. #lifegoals) Were the con huge, I probably wouldn’t have gotten near him. Next point:
- LINES ARE SHORTER. ‘NUFF SAID.
- Likewise, less “people-y” means even introverts can enjoy themselves. Some con-goers complained this weekend that Steamposium seemed smaller than usual, with the varying particulars held in the sprawling Conference Center. The past two years had been hosted at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center at Pier 66, but due to renovations, the ladies in charge were forced to move elsewhere. The space at the pier was much more preferable, but the WSCC was available as a last resort. As a result, the convention looked even littler, and feats of ingenuity helped make the rooms full of life and commerce. Long story short: more nooks and crannies available for folks to take a breather and get away from the hubbub.
- Can we say NETWORKING? Just like you get more intimate, quality time with guests, you also get the chance to connect with fellow professionals in your line of work. Instead of eyeing someone’s table to look for a way to chat with them while they’re busy selling their stuff, you have ample opportunity to walk right up and say “hello.”
- And hey guess what. Fewer people means fewer assholes. Gasp! The hell you say! Fewer people bumping into each other, fewer people trying to “out-nerd” you, and fewer people taking pictures without consent. Everyone at Steamposium, Anglicon, and Crypticon this year were paragons of politeness.
- By the same token, it may be argued that less of a crowd equals more willingness to cosplay. This weekend it looked like about 98% of the attendees showed up in costume. Simply glorious! Perhaps it was just the nature of the steampunk realm, but there’s something to be said for waking up on Convention Day, expecting a hall with 10,000 people or more, and deciding not to dress in leather, layers, props, and headgear. Hail to the people who do that regardless.
- Some folks complain that littler cons don’t often get bigger stars. To that I’d like to mention that I spoke with The Emerald Lady, the woman responsible for resurrecting Steamposium. After spewing ideas for other celeb guests, she said, “Oh, we can get bigger names than that.” I asked, “Was there anyone you wanted to get for this year who couldn’t make it?” Her reply: “We tried for Nathan Fillion, and the entire cast of Firefly, but they had prior engagements. We asked Robert Downey, Jr. but he was filming. So was Tom Hiddleston.” To any organizers reading, I say shoot for as high a star as you can go. It never hurts to try! Who knows? If the actors hadn’t been otherwise committed, they probably would’ve been glad to meet you.
Basically, it’s like the difference between using the airport versus the train station. The airport is always a pain in the ass, constantly crowded, and everything from the ticketing counter to the gate can be riddled with stress. Taking a train, however, is positively zen by comparison—there’s barely a luggage ordeal, no complicated security checks, and the lines are usually shorter.
That’s not to say large cons are worthless. They draw bigger numbers because they have the money to pay A-list celebrities. Many of them have been established for more than a decade, and because of that fans expect more from them. But for those who like a chance to breathe, to converse with their icons in a less rushed setting, or to appreciate the hard work and dedication local community members and sponsors put into their shows, smaller cons are the way to go.
Check out Steamposium, OrcaCon, Seattle Retro Gaming Expo, MythicWorlds, Anglicon, Norwescon, Geek Girl Con, or any other gatherings of interest in our surrounding cities. Do you geek out about anything? There’s a convention for you, I promise.
“I think fan conventions are the epitome of what is fantastic about the internet. And probably why they’ve become so much more popular in the last several years. You’re never weird when you’re surrounded by people who are weird like you, right?”
― Felicia Day,