Monday, August 24, 2015

Geek on the Street: Reporting Back from Connecticut Comic Con 2015

Symbol for the con,
leading the way!
What is the magic recipe for a perfect convention experience?  Clearly, that show would need to have excellent guests, both from the entertainment and comic book industries; an excellent show floor offering a wide array of vendors and their wares; a kick-ass schedule of panels and events; and an all-around positive energy extending throughout the convention venue.  To be called “TerrifiCon” in 2016, this summer’s Connecticut Comic Con was an excellent example of what happens when all of these elements are brought together into that all-important blend.  The convention offered a little bit of everything and was a joy to attend.

The first thing to consider when attending these smaller conventions, of which we have learned there are many during the summer months, is the venue.  As I have told you previously, even the most unexpected of sites can be transformed into place of magic and fun by the right convention experience.  However, when a show is located in an already cool venue, the possibility of pleasure is all the more heightened.  The Connecticut show took place in Mohegan Sun, a tremendous casino hotel resort.  By being in such lavish digs, there was already a touch of class added to this convention.  The site itself was a destination worth visiting, making attending the show feel even more like a summer getaway than your average convention trek.

Death of Superman Panel,
featuring Mike Carlin, Jerry Ordway,
Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens,
& Jon Bogdanove
This classy atmosphere extended throughout all of the events and was epitomized by the kindness and generosity of all of the celebrity guests.  Consider this: during this one short weekend, we were able to meet John Wesley Shipp, television’s original Flash; Greg Pak, a contemporary comic book creator and pioneer of self-publishing comics via Kickstarter; the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy; and comic book writing legend Roy Thomas.  Because of the convention’s mid-level size, lines remained manageable, making having ALL of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences all the more possible.

In addition, the convention planners took full advantage of their incredible guest list, including many of the talent in Q&A sessions as well as moderated panels.  Sunday, for example, was so chock full of incredible panels that we found ourselves staying in a single panel room for three hours!  Often, convention agendas will have dull periods or lulls, but this show proved that, even without spending an extra dime in the vendor’s room, one can have an amazing convention experience just by taking advantage of what the organizers have planned in the event schedule.

View of the lobby of CT Comic Con
This show was the clearest proof to me of what I have claimed all summer: although the huge conventions will likely always remain the focal points of our geek calendars, it is at the smaller cons where we can maximize the potential of being Geeks on the Street.  We can meet more of our heroes, buy more collectibles (often at more manageable price points), and can bask in the glory of being nerds for more than just a single weekend per year.

Until next time, this is your official Geek on the Street Dr. Kelly wishing you a Glorious Geek Day!

Article by Kelly I. Aliano, PhD

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir

Cover of Day's book
Some celebrities just come to epitomize our geek experience in the public eye.  In the past decade, especially for Geek Girls, no one is perhaps more relevant in this department than Internet sensation and actress/writer/producer Felicia Day.  From her beginnings in The Guild, her self-produced web series, to her recent appearances on Supernatural, a nerd-favorite television program, Day seems to have lived out the geek girl fantasy of branding her geekdom into a marketable commodity.  Additionally, however, her quirky personality and charming sense of humor make her seem approachable, as though she were still just like us.  By reading (and having had the privilege to hear speak about in person) her new memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Touchstone, 2015), Day proves that all to be true.  Her book paints a relatable picture of her experiences as a geek girl, while also chronicling not only her rise to fame but also her personal struggles along the way.

The book is a kind of “tell-all” (without the nastier components often associated with that term) of Day’s childhood, adolescence, and eventual rise to fame.  She does not hold back—she tells anecdotes of the most embarrassing variety, in ways that make them seem familiar and relatable, as though she is a close friend wanting to paint us as a clear a picture of her life as possible.  She includes amazing photos throughout and provides a kind of running commentary on her own experiences, as though she, too, were trying to evaluate them as an outsider.  She takes us on a journey, but also makes the leap to accompany us on that journey, a rare treat when reading someone’s autobiography.  Day never gets caught up in bragging about her own talents or achievements; rather, she is as willing to laugh at herself as anyone else.

Day & Her Book!
The best chapters of the book come at the end, when Day reflects both on her battles with depression as well as on #GamerGate, which affected her directly as someone known to have made her mark as a “gamer girl.”  The chapters are honest and insightful and reassuring to the readers at home.  As geek girls, no matter how alone we might feel, we never are.  There are girls dealing with the same issues—internet trolls, insecurities, fears of failure—even at the levels of prestige that someone like Felicia Day has reached.

All in all, for all of my geek readers out there, this one is a must-read. If you have read, are reading, or do read this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Get out there, geeky gals and guys, and read some books!  Until then, Dr. Kelly is wishing you a Glorious Geek Day!

Article by Kelly I. Aliano, PhD

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Geek on the Street: Reporting Back from BronyCon 2015

Logo for BronyCon, 2015
Did you know that Friendship is Magic?  Well, I certainly do—and so do approximately 10,000 of my friends from around the country and world!  Between August 7th and 9th, we descended on Baltimore, Maryland, rechristened Baltimare for the three-day annual BronyCon convention, to celebrate that idea.  This was the site of a fun-filled convention experience built by the niche fandom surrounding the animated television program, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  For all of you fledgling Geeks on the Street, I want to encourage you to find this sort of specific convention for your particular fandoms.  They are incredible experiences in which you can indulge your fanaticism for the minutia of one geek property instead of being distracted by dozens of things that you love.  Plus, you can meet literally THOUSANDS of other fans who love this one thing as much as you do.

I have attended Pony Conventions, as well BronyCon specifically, in the past, though my motivation to make the trek down to Baltimore (I was only in town for day one of the con) was motivated by the fact that John de Lancie would be appearing at the show.  Famous for his role of Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he has now seemingly struck fandom gold a second time by voicing Discord on MLP:FiM.  He gave a wonderful Q&A style panel, answering fan questions ranging in subject matter from “Who is best pony?” to “How do you prepare for your roles?”  He was charming and kind to all of the fans in attendance.
John de Lancie, as seen on screen during his Friday 8/7 panel at BronyCon, 2015
And boy, did Mr. de Lancie draw a crowd!  We stood in line for his autograph for well over an hour.  To my fellow geeks: this experience taught me the importance of pre-planning a convention experience and of ranking what one’s priorities for the con are.  To make a one-day trip to a con not only possible, but successful in terms of a celebrity meet-and-greet, I needed to spend a number of hours planning out hour-by-hour of my itinerary for the day.  This allowed me to be in the right places at the right times to maximize my chances of getting my John de Lancie autograph.  In addition, knowing that meeting de Lancie was my main goal for the con allowed me not to be distracted by the dozens of other exciting things happening during the hour I spent in that autograph line.  I was here for this experience and therefore waiting in line was the best thing I could be doing with my time.  Being organized and doing a great deal of pre-planning streamlined my convention experience, helped me to avoid con-stress, and allowed me to live out my convention dream in the most complete way possible.
Long Distance View of the Screen during the My Little Pony Writers' Panel

Once I achieved autograph glory, I was able to walk around the vendor’s hall and snag a couple of unique MLP items and take in an excellent show writers’ panel as well as an edition of Match Game played by the convention’s celebrity guests.  Even more special was just being in the convention hall, seeing all of the amazing pony costumes and feeling the energy that emanates from the Brony fandom.  It was a really fun and warm environment, one in which “Friendship is Magic” is not an abstract concept but a real lived part of the fan experience.

Sign at BronyCon's Exit
So check out the smaller conventions, a piece of advice which seems to have emerged as a theme for my blog posts this summer, especially those about the particular things you love the most.  For those of you who have never worn your Geek on the Street badges in public before, these can be a great place to start: you already know you like what the con’s events will be about and you already share something important in common with everyone else in attendance.  Pony conventions never fail to remind me that in my love of My Little Pony is a whole community of others who share this passion; no matter what you love, there is a similar community out there, just waiting for you to join it.

Until next time, this is your official Geek on the Street Dr. Kelly wishing you a Glorious Geek Day!

Article by Kelly I. Aliano, PhD

Book Review: Fangirl

Cover of Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
We all have that one thing that we cannot get enough of: the show we watch over and over, the book we read time and again, the film we saw ten times in the cinema.  Cath, the protagonist of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013), takes this fanatic obsession to the extreme: filling her mind, her free time, and her dorm room with the characters from her favorite novels, the Simon Snow series.  Cath reminds us fans of the fledgling nerds we all once were, trying to find our place in a social structure that does not always privilege our cultural properties with the same enthusiasm that we do.

The story focuses on Cath’s transition from high school to college, depicting her adjusting to dorm life, boy-girl interactions, and a world of individuals who see themselves as having “outgrown” her most beloved character: Simon Snow.  For Cath, Simon is not something you can age out of; his stories are as real, if not more so, than the university life happening around her every day.  To indulge her love of the character, she regularly writes slash[1] fanfiction about him.  Like many of us geeks, Cath struggles with balancing her real world interactions with her overwhelming passion for Simon.  The novel gives us a snapshot of her freshman year, being as much about that experience as it is about the experience of being a fangirl.

Simon & Baz, from the Simon Snow series, the fictional works with which Cath is obsessed
What sets Fangirl apart from a sea of young adult novels about quirky young millennials is its honest representation of what it means to come of age in the twenty-first century.  Cath is, in my opinion, at times over-indulgent of her fandom, letting her anxiety and lack of desire to socialize overcome the need of all young people to interact with their contemporaries.  Yet I also found this aspect of her character one of the most relatable.  I saw a lot of myself in Cath, as I also struggled with interacting with my classmates when all I wanted to do was dive deeper into my favorite fictional worlds.  Rowell gives Cath a clever foil: her twin sister, Wren, who, rather than maintaining her sense of self via fandom, practically alters her whole identity to fit in as one of the Girls, with no mention of the word “fan-”- attached before it.  By including Wren, Rowell gives a complete and thorough picture of the choices facing young woman as they begin college.  Both Cath and Wren have flaws; they seem like real girls making real life choices and learning to make sense of the consequences.

Cath's Kick-Ass Tee, based on her Fanfic
I will admit: as an adult reader whose awkward teen years are far behind her I expected not to enjoy this book all that much.  I feared it would fall into that bizarre genre of novels about these somewhat odd, but ultimately sexually desirable, young women whose whole purpose in life seems to be to save the men with whom they interact.  But Rowell is so clever in her storytelling that she regularly has Cath insult and berate that characterization trope.  In its place, Rowell has created an honest tale of what it means to stay a fangirl—something I still pride myself on being even after completing a PhD—while also becoming a young woman. 

Fangirl will leave its reader thinking about its characters long after she has finished reading it.  I think my younger geek readers out there will find even more in this novel: a reminder that it is hard to grow up, but one thing is for sure: our fandoms will always be there for us. 

If you have read, are reading, or do read this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Get out there, geeky girls, and read some books!  Until then, Dr. Kelly is wishing you a Glorious Geek Day!

Article by Kelly I. Aliano, PhD

[1] According to Wikipedia, “Slash fiction is a genre of fanfiction that focuses on interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same.”