AwesomeCon & SpringCon 2019 – Little Con-goer, Big City

The AwesomeCon and SpringCon experience – going to conventions as a family, going alone, and comparing big and smell cons.

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Writing about AwesomeCon 2019 took me a not insignificant amount of time. Partly because this was the first ‘big’ convention I’d gone to, and trying to keep track of everything was overwhelming, but partly because I didn’t know how to properly articulate how it felt. It was only when I went to my local convention, SpringCon, that I was able to find the words. While AwesomeCon gets close to the six-digit mark in attendance, SpringCon is just a few thousand people throughout its two day run. Where there are panelists and events at AwesomeCon ranging from She-Ra screenings to a fudge stand, SpringCon is entirely focused on comics. And while my brother went with me to SpringCon, he had little to no interest in comics and spent most of his time browsing manga and playtesting a card game.

It’s not that I have anything against an event like AwesomeCon. I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit. The problem is that I live in Minnesota, and SpringCon is the biggest comic convention we’ve got. But in order to talk about my thoughts on either of them, I’m going to have to talk about both of them.

The Comics

My trade paperback collection is going to break the four digit barrier sometime in the next year. Recently, I started working to get a hold of the IDW Transformers Phase 2 series (hey, anyone want to sell me Volume 3?), and one of the biggest signs that Kay and I are as committed to each other as we are is that we’ve generally stopped buying two copies of the same comic if we like it (barring a few exceptions), despite the fact that we live across the country. We’re going to merge our collections once a move is made, making it ‘ours’ rather than hers or mine.

I have never, incidentally, really had something that was an ‘ours’ before. I’m not quite sure how to feel about that just yet, but the initial feeling is good.

So when I went to AwesomeCon, which is ten to twenty times larger than SpringCon, I expected there to be comics everywhere. I could not have been more wrong. Comics weren’t the focus there. Kay’s local store didn’t even have a booth. It took me three days to find a place that sold modern comics, literally at the last hour of the convention. I’m pretty discerning about my picks, and I try to buy at a price that makes sense. To let you know what I was able to find at the two conventions, take a look here:

AwesomeCon

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe

Totally Awesome Hulk Volume 2 – Civil War II

SpringCon

The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus

The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman

Silver Age Justice League of America Omnibus Volume 2

Pound-for-pound, SpringCon got me better books. But conventions aren’t just about comics, even in a place like SpringCon – there are people to see, and things you can’t get anywhere else.

Creator Experiences – SpringCon

Dan Jurgens, one of the biggest Superman writers and artists in the world (and guy who basically blew up my twitter account by QTing this cool poster I found at the Mob Store), had a long line for the convention – maybe five people.

He’s local to Minnesota and an incredibly nice guy. I’ve talked to him maybe ten times over the years, and every time he’s been generous with his time and kind to talk to. My favorite interaction with him was when my dad and I brought our entire Booster Gold run (post-52) and asked if he’d be willing to sign his favorite issue, so we didn’t take up too much of his time. Yes, this is how Minnesota nice works. He agreed, and promptly signed about two thirds of what we brought with us.

When I found out that his original Booster Gold series was getting reprinted, I talked to him about how enthused I was that we’d get a hold of this. The DC Essentials (black and white on crappy paper) was 80 bucks – not ideal in any sense. The new edition promises not only the first half of its 25 issue run, but unseen pages from at least one early issue and bonus art. I was incredibly excited, and talked to him about how much I loved the character and said that for it to get that kind of treatment, it had to be a well loved series.

He took my fanboying with grace, and even seemed happy that I was so excited about a character created before I was born. I’d bought the Superman: The Exile & Other Stories Omnibus from him at a previous convention, and after buying an art print, asked if he had the new Death and Return of Superman Omnibus that came out recently. He had one copy left, and agreed to bring it the next day for me. I bought it on the spot, and asked if he’d be willing to do a head sketch of Superman. He agreed, and man, there’s a reason he’s been an A-lister for so long.

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Dan Jurgens, holy crap.
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Dan Jurgens even gave me, utterly out of the blue, a San Diego ComicCon totebag. It’s enormous and absolutely perfect for an event like this.

I also spoke to Karl Kesel, writer/creator of the 1990s Superboy. While primarily an inker, I asked if he’d be willing to draw Superboy for me on the same page Dan Jurgens did – and despite his concerns, he did so and it turned out excellently. We talked about comics, and I lamented that Superboy wasn’t getting more reprints (my trade has Hawaiians as almost Martian-green, which is pretty insane and hard to look at, particularly because the series takes place in Hawaii.) I backed his recent kickstarter, Impossible Jones, largely because of how nice he was at the convention.

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Superman by Dan Jurgens, Superboy by Karl Kesel

I also had the pleasure of catching up with Steve Bryant, creator of the pulp heroine Athena Voltaire. Steve is a very personable guy, a proponent of creator-owned work. We talked about his comic, about how people tend to misunderstand Watchmen (it’s not a pessimistic book, it’s not really meant to be a deconstruction, and it celebrates the medium of comics through experimentation. Anyone who looks at Dr. Manhattan’s speech about the beauty of humanity and chaos theory at the end of the book and thinks that it’s a dour piece… I don’t know what to tell you.) Mark Stegbauer (Ghoul Scouts artist) even gave me free drawings of Batman, one from last year that he kept all that time (I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to pick it up) in the DCAU style, and one in his own. I was overwhelmed again, but by the generosity of the people involved.

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For those of you who are used to a big convention experience, SpringCon must sound quaint. I couldn’t disagree more – while it’s smaller, the conversations are that much more personal.

Creator Experiences – AwesomeCon

This is where things get complicated. Part of why I could spend so much time talking to individual creators at SpringCon was because I had no reason to hurry – which is not the experience I had at AwesomeCon. Our first day, Kay and I went together to try to get the lay of the land (spoilers: I never knew where anything was, and I don’t think we covered the entire convention even after three days of walking) and to enjoy the convention ourselves. The second day and third day, we went with the girls. We met Jody Houser, who wrote what is probably the best Captain Marvel story ever and one that still makes Kay cry when she thinks about it, and Marguerite Bennett, who wrote the Batwoman (Rebirth) series (and to my particular interest, DC Bombshells and Power Rangers: Beyond the Grid.)

I’ve been to conventions over a period of a decade. Small ones, but conventions nonetheless. Kay’s previous convention experience was finding out the night before that Austin St. John, the Red Ranger himself, was taking pictures and signing autographs at a booth. She went there in a rush and with less of a plan than we had this year, so finding these two wonderful women who wrote such beautiful comics was an emotional experience for her. took pictures of them at their booths, posed with Kay, and I couldn’t have been happier. Being present for that was special, and at times I felt like I was intruding. Getting used to seeing my partner at her most vulnerable is difficult, but really, I prefer it to what I’m used to.

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Batwoman (Rebirth) Issue #9

The only negative, and even then it’s so minor as to be funny, in that entire experience is that Marguerite Bennett almost spoiled the big twist of Power Rangers in Space to Kay, something that we have been building towards watching for an entire year. I’ve seen almost every episode of Power Rangers, but it’s a new experience for Kay and the girls. I’ve gone through insane precautions (short of lying, of course) to keep things spoiler-free, but happily, the convention was so loud Kay couldn’t hear her. She only saw me waving my arms like a lunatic and saying “She doesn’t know!”

God, the looks on their faces when we got through “Countdown to Destruction” was worth a year of setup, starting all the way from “Day of the Dumpster.”

We also spoke to Jeremy Whitley, writer of Princeless, Raven the Pirate Princess, and Unstoppable Wasp. I once again stopped myself from getting some of his My Little Pony trades, knowing that if I got one, I wouldn’t be satisfied until I’d gotten them all. Unlike SpringCon, there was no mess hall for exhibitors (which I uh, wandered into accidentally like a dope), so rather than leave his booth unmanned Kay and I ended up getting him lunch in exchange for a couple of trades. He was wonderful with the girls, and they got My Little Pony comics of their own since they already own everything Princeless-related.

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A Wasp who won’t try to speak to your manager.

But as meeting Jody Houser and Marguerite Bennett was to Kay, so was meeting Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner to me. I only brought books they had worked on to get signed (I could have brought more, but I was afraid of them being damaged. Considering I came home with one less suitcase than I started with, because Delta is, as John Mulaney once said, a fucking nightmare, I was right to only bring what I could keep in my carry-on). Their writing is fantastic, and Amanda Conner is my favorite penciller working today (and one of my top three of all time, tied in no particular order with Don Rosa and George Perez.)

For the next part to make sense, I have to go back a ways. See, I’ve mentioned before that my dad and I read single issues together, and that I stopped not long after he died in favor of trades. I do know the last comic he read before he died: Starfire #12. Considering that Power Girl was our gold standard for comics (and still is for me), a 12-issue miniseries about a character who usually gets relegated to supporting status was exactly what I was hoping for from this creative team. It’s going to be an emotional day when I decide to sell the single issues, but I swore to never let my emotional attachment to my dad decide how I read comics. Which is why I came up to the two with a stack of trades – Terra, Power Girl, and both volumes of Starfire.

It was hard. Kay very kindly took the girls aside, as I was concerned that they might hear something that upset them overmuch – I’m still getting used to the fact that showing them my emotions is a good thing – and I waited behind the autograph flippers with fifty comics. The signature policy was a good one, one free autograph, additional ones cost five dollars apiece. The line was longer for one of the biggest names at this convention – ten people, showing that not all comic conventions are different – but the flippers were making it nightmarish to wait. I was in a state of shock, numb with old hurt, as I tried to figure out how to talk to them, to figure out what I should say, to just find the words to say anything other than incoherent mouth-noises.

I know Jimmy Palmiotti a little from twitter, and he’s a nice guy, but I worried. I worried I’d say something stupid, that he might not be kind, something, anything. I don’t know how much I tripped over my own tongue, but I do know it was remarkable that I managed to get words out. I explained why Starfire was a special comic to me why seeing them meant as much as it did. It was hard to talk, my voice thick and that thing that happens when you are very specifically not crying, but could be if you let go for a minute.

Jimmy in particular seemed very affected by it. We talked about a way that I remember my dad, and about how my dad and I both enjoyed their work so much. I bought a few posters, got things autographed, and tried not to get rushed too much by a very pushy man who was behind their booth.

While there was no indication that there would be sketches allowed, and indeed, Amanda Conner had a sign saying she wouldn’t be doing sketches at all, he offered to draw something for me. I was again stunned, as he doesn’t draw publicly – but I said yes in a heartbeat, though I more sputtered out the words intermixed with various forms of ‘thank you.’ I went to talk to Amanda a little more, where I expressed my surprise that Terra never got a solo series (“I’m not sure why either.”), how much I loved Power Girl, and I think I even managed to say how much I loved the way she draws faces. I don’t remember the words much, but by the time I was done, Jimmy was already talking to someone else. I felt awful, because I really wanted that drawing, but I didn’t want to rudely interrupt when this was something he was in no way obligated to do. In my desperation, I briefly explained it and she said “I can draw something for you.”

Yes. Yes I would like one of my favorite artists of all time to draw something for me. That would be one of the most special experiences of my entire life, and something I’ll treasure until I’m dead. I’m still filled with a sense of stunned humility that she would. She offered to draw it in Power Girl, but I asked if she could draw something in Starfire instead. She was surprised, but when I explained that having her art next to the trade of the last comic my dad read, it made sense in an instant. I watched in absolute awe as she drew nothing but autograph pens, effortless the way only someone masterful can be.

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Amanda Conner, AwesomeCon 2019. It’s beautiful.

I thanked her profusely, and somehow I ended up in a picture with the two of them. I don’t remember what happened, but Kay described it like this:

“Jimmy asked if you wanted a picture. The pushy guy looked annoyed and wanted you to just lean over and make it like a selfie which was clearly going to be a disaster and I was truly worried you’d crash into the table because you were a little visibly shaky. Jimmy snapped no, that you were going to come behind the table, then gestured to me to come take a picture. He told me to make sure I had a good one before he let you leave.”

Unlike the photo with Summer Glau, this felt genuine and memorable.

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After she took the picture and I offered about a thousand thanks, Kay walked me over to a wall where I sat, numb and quiet, talking with her a little. We had been at the convention for six hours at this point, and I just about forgot where I was, so we made a collective decision to go home. I could have stayed longer, but it would have been a bad idea. Folks, pace yourselves at a multi-day convention. A very long first day might mean you can’t do anything on the second day.

We did have one other creator experience that amused me – Amy Mebberson, former Disney animator, Pocket Princesses creator, and all around nerd was someone who I really wanted to bring the girls to meet. Her work isn’t quite to my taste, but I happened to know she worked on Darkwing Duck – Dangerous Currency, the absolute worst arc of the BOOM! Darkwing Duck series. It’s bad to the point where someone on the creative team asked me to put the blame on people with actual creative control, rather than stick with the usual “comics are collaborative” line. The comic really is terrible, but it’s not because of the art. When I found out she’d done uncredited pencils on some of it, I considered bringing it, but I figured it would get damaged. Because again, Delta. The book was not given Disney approval and was illegally printed, which is hilarious because the book is so bad it should be illegal, but its value is ridiculous and won’t be getting reissued anytime soon for obvious reasons.

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Oh Dangerous Currency. You’re such a special comic.

Instead, I told her that I could see her style on some of the pages once I knew what to look for, that she did a fantastic job with the characters, and if she’d been the interior penciler then I would have bought the book based on her art. Upon my saying all of this, her reaction was not dissimilar to someone who was discovered in the end credits of a donkey show. Yes, she’d technically worked on it, but not much, really, it was only two weeks in Hawaii over layouts, but it’s not really her work, it’s more Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani, and even then James is the real artist in this, not her, nope, not her, and hey look at that now it’s time to sell stuff to Kay and the girls and have literally any other conversation than this one.

She was much happier talking about her Sailor Moon pieces, and while I didn’t buy anything, the reaction of sheer terror was free.

Panels – What are they good for?

What is the point of panels? Seriously, I want to know. It’s actually why I went – while my local convention technically has panels some years, they’re usually run by fans.

On the last day, I went to one that had Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (and the pushy guy from the booth moderating it.) It was 45 minutes long, which was twice as many people as there were in the room. It almost had two less people than that: I couldn’t find the panel room, which was somehow in another building. The staffer I asked for help straight up said that taking me was a lot easier than trying to explain it. On the way, I saw the two panelists heading the wrong way. In a rare burst of social activity, I called out, “Hey, are you trying to get to your panel?” They laughed, and the staffer walked the three of us over there in the nick of time, and I had to laugh at the fact that I was able to help someone with directions for once in my life.

Once the panel started, there was a PowerPoint presentation about what their company is and does, and some history of the two writer/artists. The presentation was maybe 15 minutes long, at which point it became a Q&A. There was some interesting stuff there, like their writing process and thoughts behind character creation (“What does this character want, and what is this character afraid of?” is the kind of good shit you go into debt for 20 years to learn at a university, and if I could, I’d tattoo it somewhere. Not on me, but like… somewhere), and the two were clearly good at answering in a way that entertained the fans. It felt like the panel was an hour shorter than it needed to be to go in depth and really understand them as creators, or their more recent projects. No one was able to ask, for example, why Amanda Conner wasn’t doing interior work. For one of the best artists working today, that’s a hell of a misstep. I would rather have something in-depth than shallow any day. It’s why a photo op with Summer Glau was interesting for the purposes of writing, but not actually an experience I liked. Speaking of photo ops, this reminds me of the big experience for the kids…

Photo Ops – AwesomeCon

SpringCon doesn’t have celebrities to do photo ops with, so I can’t compare the two – I can only describe the experience of being at a big convention, and why I can do without this piece of it.

I’ve had a celebrity photo before, with Summer Glau. It was incredibly awkward – I was standing next to an actress who was incredibly sweet (she asked how I was and when I said, in my sleep-deprived state, “Incredibly nervous”, she gave me an “Oh honey.”) and kind of put her arm on my waist. It was perfectly fine, but left me in a bind. Celebrities are, if I may be frank, people who deal with a lot of creepy people who have an inappropriate sense of boundaries. I had no idea where to put my hand, so I just made sure not to touch her. It was a 20 minute wait for a 45-second experience, and the most I got out of that experience was an article on con coverage. I wrote in that article that I had no interest in getting my photo taken with a celebrity again, and I stand by that. The kids, however, saw that Amy Jo Johnson, the original Pink Ranger, was there and were 100% down for getting a photo. I think they expected it to be more like what happened with Austin St. John, which was much more informal. Nope, this was a real, honest to God convention experience, and I hated it.

I knew this would be a rushed experience, but it was pretty novel because while I didn’t cosplay as one, I got to experience what it was like to be cattle. I don’t know who was responsible for running photos, but this was a truly miserable experience for me. There were people screaming “NEXT” every 20 seconds, people were talking over each other to try to move the line along, and there was no chance for them to even say “Hi” to Amy Jo Johnson. They did allow us a retake when one of the girls was blinking during the photo, which was nice, but that was the only thing about it that was bearable. Outside, of course, of the kids enjoying it. They still want to get their pictures taken with the other Rangers (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers through Power Rangers in Space for now, but Dino Thunder is looking like a big one), so I’m glad it was just the outside observer who was frustrated.

Kay and I took photos at the convention, and I’ve taken photos with people at other conventions. I take them with creators whose work means something to me, and it sparks a memory. Usually an embarrassing one, but at least something is nice in it.

Austin St. John provided a memory for the girls, talking to them kindly and really Kay’s article covers it perfectly. AwesomeCon provided… screaming, really. The experience was bitter and sour on my tongue, and I had a headache from all the noise. It certainly didn’t change my mind about the experience, but it did give me a reason to do what I said in my article on Minnesota FanFusion – never, ever take a photo op with a celebrity again. I’ll just take some ibuprofen before I take the kids for theirs.

Poor Organization – Congratulations, I don’t need separate sections for how terrible the two cons were

Thank God for Kay, who could figure out where things were by some sort of magic that I will never understand. This is very important: the map you will be handed by anyone on staff at a convention, whether it’s electronic or not, is actual literal garbage. A tree is dead because of AwesomeCon, and it died a senseless death.

Dear lord are the maps bad at conventions. They were colorcoded by the type of person at the booth (there were five designations, none of them were clearly defined, so I’m not going to bother explaining it) and given a number like G21. The numbers are scattered throughout the convention like a game of 52-card pick-up with five decks. What I later found out was that the rows were organized alphabetically by last name. This made it impossible to just see people who made comics, or people selling comics, or people selling props/toys/whatever. This one thing stuck out as particularly weird – their pamphlet noted members of Pride Alley. But because the place was organized alphabetically, Pride Alley was spread out throughout the entire convention, which isn’t an alley, it’s a Queer Scavenger Hunt. This show was horrendously organized, and trying to get to a panel involved a convention staff member literally walking me to a separate building where the panel was being held – and my catching the two panelists going the wrong way and asking if they wanted help getting to the room.

My local con doesn’t generally have a map at all, requiring that you walk the length of the floor five times (a twenty minute excursion, barely anything compared to AwesomeCon, but still a decent chunk of time). The map we had this year was incredibly difficult to read, with no orientation or proper segregation of creator types. I saw on twitter that the convention staff put all the featured guests in the back so as not to obscure traffic, which left them in the dingiest part of the whole place.

Solo and Co-Op Gameplay – Would you like to continue?

Pretty obviously, going to a convention alone versus going with another person ends up being a different experience. I can be utterly selfish with my time by myself, and I don’t have to conform to anyone’s needs. It’s like anything else you do alone – it’s your time, your needs. In a weird way it felt like I was the only person there, even within the crowd. Part of that, I think, was because AwesomeCon was so loud as to make SpringCon seem muted comparatively.

Here’s the biggest difference between going alone and going with other people. While I was there for pointed experiences first and exploration second (as was Kay, which made our experiences pretty joint), the kids were there for exploration – and Kimberly, of course. We found Pokemon plushes, spinning rings that counted HP for tabletop RPGs, fudge (part of me was horrified by the idea of such a thing near comic books, but damn if it wasn’t tasty), drawing panels, a full body suit Detective Pikachu, a She-Ra booth, and toy stores to sell nerd crack – Funko Pops. Yes, we now have all six of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, helmetless, and Rita Repulsa to top it off.

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The Power Rangers won’t be lonely with Carol Danvers nearby, either.

I’d gone through the list of guests and suggested three of them for the girls (one was never at his table the entire convention, so we only saw two), Amy Mebberson and Jeremy Whitley. They seemed happy to be there, happy to share things, and it struck me how normal conventions must seem to them.

When I grew up, my friend group was largely limited to Me, Myself and I. The things I loved weren’t things I got to share with anyone, and even now there are just a few people who click with my interests as much as I’d hope. It became clear to me as we walked through a place that sold Legend of Zelda swords and shields, homemade toys and Captain Marvel purses that people in Power Rangers in Space uniforms were checking out that this wasn’t, ultimately, a convention for a particular thing, or even particular things. It was a convention that fit this Kirby Krackle song I happen to love.

It’s no longer unusual to talk about the lore with She-Ra, or to stat out your own Pokemon – there was an entire panel dedicated to that last one. The oldest did more than one just for the fun of it, and their Mega Evolutions to boot. The youngest did remarkable work, and I could tell they’d really been paying attention to the drawing lesson rather than just doodling for fun. When I see someone with a Power Rangers in Space costume ten years younger than me, I smile. The world is normalized, because this convention is a place you can go to explore and not feel alone. Kay and I did most of what we wanted at the convention, but the girls, I think, understood how the convention worked. And even though no one really perfectly shares the interest of another person, it will never, ever feel new to have someone like the things that they do.

It was well worth my aching legs.


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