Convention(al) wisdom

Dear diaryI did five shows in 2012, and had fun at each one to some degree. I’ve also learned a lot of stuff. Did you know that, prior to 2012, I’d never been to a sci-fi or comics convention… ever? Seems kind of odd when one’s as big a fan of nearly everything as I am, until you factor in my aversion to crowds, nervousness at awkward social situations (to me, just introducing myself to people I don’t know is awkward)… basically, typical introvert. And instead of being able to zip around and See All The Stuff, never staying in one place for long, I’m rooted to one spot, because this is work.

Last year’s schedule went something like this:

  • June – Oklahoma Video Gaming Exhibition (Tulsa, OK)
  • Early August – GlitchCon (Bentonville, AR)
  • Mid August – Konsplosion (Fort Smith, AR)
  • Early November – Darkon Expo (Tulsa, OK)
  • Mid November – ComiCon-Way (Conway, AR)

Whew! And yet I’m sure there are folks whose schedules dwarf that. My schedule was dictated by What I Could Afford To Go To By Car, and to some extent, what kind of table space I could afford.

It’s worth going over a bit of con lingo here: generally, a vendor table lets you sell whatever you want, whether you made it or you’ve stocked it from another source. An artist table means that you can only sell stuff that you’ve made. I had a self-published book going into the 2012 con season, so I was safe with either one.

OVGE – OVGE makes no distinctions between vendors, people selling self-made stuff, or people who just brought cool stuff to show off (I usually hit all three categories). OVGE is also a retro-leaning video game convention rather than a sci-fi show.

Kent has a last name, guys, really.

Therefore, debuting a book about a sci-fi series at a video game convention was a really weird choice – it didn’t sell terribly well. I should’ve anticipated that, but I was wishfully thinking there would be a healthy “geek crossover” between the two hobbies. Bad call on my part; what’s more, I’d also spent quite a bit of money on a lot of books that I had to bring home with me. Fair ’nuff. The books stared at me all through July and, nervous about how well they hadn’t sold at a non-sci-fi show, I plunked down for a vendor table at Glitchcon. I had action figures that were otherwise destined for lowball offers on eBay, and quite a few other items to sell.


Glitchcon was my first sci-fi convention. No, really, it was. It was an eye-opener, and for a while I still wasn’t sure that I’d matched up show with primary product. I sold some Doctor Who books, but still wound up bringing many of them home. The show was quite steampunk-heavy, and while there’s some crossover between that crowd and the Doctor Who crowd, I didn’t move as many books as I thought I would. Met lots of great people, however, and the convention staff were top-notch. Nothing against OVGE, which is basically a husband-and-wife operation, but I had gotten so used to hauling my own gear in and setting everything up and then packing out at the end of the day, I almost didn’t know what to do with the notion of leaving my tables full of stuff for the night.

Because, you know, the Borg might assimilate it while I was sleeping.

Needless to say, security simply wasn’t an issue.

I found myself sharing the vendors’ room with costumiers, Vintage Stock (the only real competition in terms of the kind of swag I had for sale), and several other authors, including Kevin J. Anderson of – eh, I don’t want to say Dune fame, but he was kind enough to sign several issues of Tales Of The Jedi for me when he spotted them at my table. (As a result, call me crazy, but those silently slid off of the “for sale” pile after that, and went home with me…)

Glitchcon was a real blast. If I gained anything from that show, it was the ability to grant myself permission to relax a bit. I’m awkward enough socially that I don’t know if I even fit in with other fans of various things; the result is usually that I clam up a bit unless I’m addressed directly. Probably not the best way to sell something. That being said, I did break even on the table and the trip. My biggest Glitchcon error was not sticking around for the rest of the show – I didn’t attend any panels or, really, move very far from my table at all. (In my defense, I was flying solo for most of the show, so I really couldn’t move very far from my table.)

Konsplosion was a different beast entirely; for whatever reason, there were difficulties in getting in touch with the organizers, and their vendor and artist tables seemed awfully high for a first-time event. (Glitchcon had a track record behind them; Konsplosion was charging nearly as much as Glitchcon for tables.) In the end, having failed to make contact with anyone regarding a table anyway, they got back to me with days to spare to float the idea of me being a guest speaker. Sure, I’ll sign up to be on a panel to discuss Doctor Who. I even signed myself up to be on a panel to discuss the early history of video games.

I started outlining my talking points, thinking there’d probably be other people on each panel. Boy, was I wrong! I was the panel in each case. Worse yet, there were some last-minute holdups in getting my son to his grandparents’ house so I could drive into Fort Smith to host my back-to-back panels, and I arrived late, again flying solo, hauling a ridiculously heavy box of books and DVDs around, and lurched into the room where my panels were being held, all sweaty and panting (and not for any particularly fun reason, either).

I sat my stuff on the table, apologized for running behind, and opened up my printed notes/outline…

OOOOOH NOOOOOO…and saw that only half of them had printed.

No, not the first half.

No, not the last half.

The left half.

Everything cut off in mid sentence.

At this point, I had a whole new supply of sweat breaking out on my forehead, I laughed a giddy little laugh, and launched into what was almost certainly the most unhinged, unrehearsed discussion of Doctor Who ever. Now, since I had written the notes, I had a rough idea of what was in them, but it was hard not to be in a panic. The topic was “how much more Doctor Who is there if all you’ve seen is the new series?” (The answer, of course, is heaps: classic series DVDs and audio CDs, Big Finish, novels…) I fielded some really good questions on how essential any of it was, or which starting-points or “representative specimens” I could recommend. I lucked out and wound up with a great crowd – if anything, they deserved a much better guest speaker! Books were sold once again, I made a few contacts, and probably made a first impression that no one was going Oh, you lotto forget. (Midway through my ramble, a fully-costumed angel robot from the Titanic episode got up and left the room. On the upside, it didn’t decapitate me with its golden Xena chakram before leaving.)

I want Konsplosion to keep happening and get better at the organizing (and I could use some getting better at the organizing too, said the guy whose inkjet printer totally betrayed him). Fort Smith could use something that, quite frankly, isn’t just for the people whose families are steeped in decades of local history. Fort Smith has a college now that’s bringing in kids from all over who may not care about the city’s storied history. Fort Smtih needs more stuff that’s like this. As long as Konsplosion is around, or any other similar events that spring up to compete with or replace it any point in the future, I want to be there. When I was those kids’ age, I had no social outlet, and I was awkward and I was weird. And I still am awkward and I still am weird as a result. I want them to have a better time of it than I did, even if they have to suffer through the train wreck of me trying to address a crowd (talk about doing something that scares the hell out of you).

I have no pictures of Konsplosion, either taken by me or taken of me. Imagine me sweating through my clothes and looking panicked. That should be more than you need right there.

Darkon was put on by the organizers of Tulsa Trek Expo, which happens in June most years (but not 2013, sadly). It was intended to be a horror-focused con, with guest speakers such as Matt Frewer, Veronica Cartwright of Alien fame, and numerous others. I technically had an artist table only for Darkon, so it was cheaper, but I was limited to what I could bring. (On the flipside, however, my artist table was in the vendors’ room, so I don’t know if anyone but me was holding me to the “only bring stuff you’ve made” rule, but stick to it I did. Could I have made more money bringing Glitchcon leftovers? Possibly. But I didn’t want to be a rule-breaking asshole either.)

Me at Darkon
Darkon photo by Scott Metzger

The setup was simple: me, books I’ve written/published, DVDs I’ve produced/published, the usual props (the Daleks are like catnip at these conventions, but Darkon was their last appearance; it’s a 50/50 coin toss as to whether one’s prospective customer is going to leave your table pissed off, not spending a dime there, upon finding out that the Daleks aren’t for sale), and some scarves that a friend of mine had knitted and was trying to sell.

Just listening in on the scuttlebutt around the room from the people running the show and the other vendors was the first clue of trouble: the hotel had come under new management shortly after Darkon was announced, and started making major changes to the ground rules established between the show organizers and the previous management. This meant there was no signage or display material outside the hotel drawing people’s attention to it, and in fact I drove past the damn place four times before I realized that this was where I was supposed to go. And of course, this meant less foot traffic.

On the upside: a small, friendly crowd, consisting primarily of Trek Expo regulars. Great folks, all; sold quite a few books. You also had pretty easy access to just start talking to the guests, many of whom had tables in the vendors’ room where they were selling autographed photos and so on. So one could – and indeed did – just walk up to Matt Frewer and start chatting with him about his storied career.

And this was where the convention-going became a family affair. On the second day, my wife and my son came with me, reassured by my report that, for something billed as a horror-themed show, things were pretty low-key: no zombies lurching around in makeup that would’ve made George Romero’s jaw drop in sheer admiration. It was safe for all ages. There was a vendor selling Super Mario and assorted anime goodies a short walk from my table; you can guess where our money was spent on Little E’s behalf. It was actually quite a hoot to have them along.

Luckily, Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim of Star Trek: Voyager fame) thought so too; Evan crashed an impromptu and very informal Q&A that Garrett held to fill in for Rick Worthy, who had to cancel at the last minute due to work commitments. Since it was very off-the-cuff, I’m not sure anyone had any great expectations – but even so, I’m sure they weren’t expecting a five-year-old to offer to sing Garrett a song about the planets in the solar system!

Little E sings!
Little E gives a repeat performance in the vendors’ room after the Q&A – he also does weddings and parties, folks. Just send his booking agent dad an e-mail.

The great thing about this was that Garrett resisted any effort on anybody’s part to bring this even-more-off-the-cuff performance to an end. “Don’t shut him down!” he said. “He could be a future astronaut!”

For an encore, Little E later facilitated my introduction to Matt Frewer by careening right into the man while dancing around the room (that is to say Little E was dancing around the room, not Matt Frewer, but you know, when it’s that close to closing time on the last day of the convention…).

The thing about being a vendor is that your butt is parked in the chair from the start of the day to the close of show, especially if you’re flying solo. The fear of losing a sale because the table is unmanned is a powerful deterrent to that nagging feeling that you need to go pee. Don’t get me wrong, at both Glitchcon and Darkon, the con staff would watch your wares if you needed to go, and I availed myself of that option when I absolutely had to. But I also missed every panel, every presentation, every Q&A… if I wasn’t talking to folks who were interested in the book (or at least the subject matter), I usually fired up my MobilePro and started writing a chunk of the next book.

But since Darkon was turning out to be even smaller than its organizers intended, there were delightful things like the table next to me, where a group from Texas showed off original screen-used props and replicas from the Alien movies and Prometheus. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that having Veronica Cartwright reunited with a spacesuit in which she claimed to have sweated off about a sixth of her body weight because the costume designers failed to account for the human need for ventilation is probably cooler than anything that happened in her actual panel!

Alien spacesuits
In fact, I’ve no idea how that silver fellow in there is breathing right now

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the whole Alien display was one of the cooler things going on in the vendors’ room. It didn’t hurt me to be right next to that, at all.

Oh, go on, give us a hug

But those weren’t my favorite props in the room! One was for sale, and I dearly loved it, and would’ve needed hundreds more dollars to get it.

If you can’t tell us apart, I’m in red with the shiny round head.

It worked and everything! Broke my heart. I have no idea what I’d use it for either. Until next time, Tom Servo, until next time.


The following weekend’s ComiCon-Way was a family trip from the get-go. It was a first time event and tables were ridiculously affordable, especially since I had once again opted to run an “artist” table. ComiCon-Way was run by – and at – the Faulkner County Library. Great venue.

Little E
My son is visible in this photo as a small happy blue blur at lower center right

I had the good fortune to be across from/next to the Batcave, a Conway comics store of good repute, and wound up with a lot of their foot traffic also glancing at my stuff. Not only did I sell all but five of my books, but some Phosphor Dot Fossils DVDs moved as well.

My modest table

This show had an area especially for children below the age of seven, where they could decorate and wear their own superhero capes and arm themselves with balloon-animal-style “weapons.” I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Little E vs. DV
If you’re going to go after a supervillain, it doesn’t pay to start small

The number of reasonably well-known comic writers and artists in attendance was impressive for a first-year event. Again, I really regretted being rooted to my seat – even though my wife and my son were there, much of her time was spent simply trying to keep up with him. There’s a reason for that, too.

Little E and Big R
Look sir! Droids!

I was so happy that the boy enjoyed himself. There were video game memorabilia vendors, balloon animals, old arcade games, cosplayers…

Take this
It’s dangerous to go alone!

We often have to advise the kid to dial back the video game fixation around the rest of the family: they either don’t get it, or you have a few who just flat-out don’t approve of him being exposed to that medium at his age. I hate having to tell him to throttle his desire to discuss what he’s passionate about because we’re tired of hearing lectures about what he’s passionate about. (He’s also passionate about frogs and cats and penguins and volcanoes and planets. For a few weeks, pink was his favorite color – holy crap, you don’t want to know what kind of stern warnings we got over that, never mind that fact that his “favorite color” changes from time to time, and is now blue once again after having been both green and red. Pink. Whatever. It’s the color of medium rare steak and the color of Kirby. “Which one’s Pink?” Who gives a frak?)

Pink as in Pink Yoshi and little pink bare feet that I didn’t even notice until after I got home and looked at the pictures… the heck?

I was overjoyed to see him enjoying himself in a room full of people with the same interests, and the same intensity of interest, if not more. It’s nice to tell him he doesn’t have to rein it in or keep it hidden. There are other people like him. I didn’t have that when I was his age – there were other kids who were into the same things I was, but I fixated on them to a degree that was considered weird. Abnormal. Unhealthy. And before you know it, you get people telling you that you are those things as well. I don’t want that for him.

Artoo playing Star Wars
This is relevant to my interests

Trophies of the 2012 convention seasonAt any rate, you can bet he’ll be tagging along with me to at least a few of these shows in the coming year:

  • Tokyo In Tulsa* – August 2nd/3rd/4th, Tulsa, OK – web site
  • Glitchcon – August 23rd/24th/25th, Springdale, AR – web site
  • OVGE (Oklahoma Video Gaming Exhibition) – September 21st only, Tulsa, OK – web site
  • Konsplosion – September 20th/21st/22nd, Fort Smith, AR – web site
  • ComiCon-Way – November 9th/10th, Conway, AR – web site

* this one is a “maybe”; I’ve been invited to take part in some panels, but nothing is nailed down as yet.

All of this, really, is in the “maybe” column, since I’m short on funds and have no transport of my own since my car was wrecked in January, hence the very-close-to-home travel radius.

Forceful shopping
There are not the back issues I’m looking for

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.