Indy PopCon: I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Bright. Rainbow Brite.
Video Games, Panels, and Talking to Famous People - Sara's adventures with her very first press pass.
Indy PopCon 2015 took place in downtown Indianapolis, at the Indiana Convention Center June 26-28. This convention aims to widely represent a more general fandom than more specifically focused anime conventions or comic cons. The media of television, gaming, film, comics, and art were well-represented, with genres from science fiction and fantasy to professional wrestling to reality television covered.
The panels chosen for PopCon were representative of the diversity of fandom, with an excellent balance between light, comedic topics, professional advice, and heavier, more academic subjects. Panels such as, “Beyond Binary – Gender Identities in Media,”, “Women in Fandom,” “The Darker Side of Fandom,” and “Men in Comics, (an all-female parody of the unfortunate all-male Women in Comics panel that took place in Denver) reflect recent issues in fandom and are evidence of Indy PopCon’s commitment to serve the interests of their attendees. And, with the very recent decision on marriage equality, it was a good weekend for diversity in general!
This was my first convention as a press-pass carrier, and I was determined to use that pass to do all of the things. I was invited to play Crashlands, a game that is currently being developed by Butterscotch Shenanigans, and had so much fun doing that on Friday that I attended their panel on the gaming stage the following day. Crashlands is an adventure/crafting game with a female main character named Flux, whose career as a galactic delivery driver is derailed by an alien who wrecks her ship. She must navigate the strange planet Woanope and attempt to craft and explore her way out of her predicament.
The best parts of Crashlands for me were the streamlined, old-Nintendo-ish gameplay, and the truly clever, creative writing. When you die, for example, you can keep your tombstone and start a mobid little death garden, where you can remember all of the terrible times you had. The inventory system is contextually provided to you as you need it, so there is no time-consuming rummaging around in “bags.”Some of the creatures you fight are called Wompits, and they come in Calf, Heifer, and Bull sizes. When I originally played on Friday, I was killing Wompit Calves right and left, and feeling a little bad about it. After all, they were CALVES! Baby Wompits! Cut down in their prime!
Suddenly, the guy casually informs me that all creatures in the game are actually tameable! I’ve been murdering Wompit-babies unnecessarily! Aaaand, then he told me that you can build a skinnery. “Now,” he said, a mad gleam in his eye, “Now, you’re crafting with Wompit parts!” The game system is loosely based on Tomagotchi in that adult creatures can drop an egg that you can then raise as a tame creature. During the presentation on Saturday, an item called the, “Woodmits of Ointment” were created, and their description reads, “For your fat, sausagey fingers.” Later in the presentation, one of the creators answered a question about a creature with, “These are space creatures. They do not live by our rules.” Thanks for a hilariously fun gaming experience, and for naming those awful, fat fly-things that chased me and stole my life, “Glutterflies.” Oh, Crashlands. You had me at “Baconweed,” you clever bastards! And also at “sausagey.”
After playing video games on Friday, I then moved on to attend the “Darker Side of Fandom” panel. The panel was run by Hayley Lipscomb, a veteran of many fandoms, who did a great job of carrying on after the technology in the room failed for the presentation. She handled the technical difficulties in stride and led a discussion of the kinds of things that can happen when fandoms clash. She touched on instances where disagreement can lead to harassment, and made it clear that civility among fans and between fans and creators makes for a better experience for all involved.
On Saturday, my mom came to the convention with me, and proved to be an excellent convention companion. We attended the John de Lancie panel, and I honestly had no idea what to expect, as my own experience with him as an actor was exclusively in his Star Trek role as Q. My mom remembered him from his Days of Our Lives run as Eugene, who was apparently a time traveler. I feel like there have to be some seriously weird fanfiction crossovers out there. And I aim to find them. I like to know these things. Fans lined up to ask questions, and we were pleased to hear that he had enjoyed his tenure as Eugene the Time Traveler, and that he took the role of Discord on My Little Pony because he recognized that it had quality writing. Apparently, Mr. De Lancie embraces the diverse nature of his career choices, and I was sincerely glad to hear it.
Next up, I attended the “Life on YouTube – A Chat with The Completionist, Black Nerd Comedy, and Brizzy!” The panelists are all successful YouTube stars, and they each spoke about what they do, how they were discovered, and the truth about the work that goes into running a popular YouTube channel. They took turns discussing techniques for building an audience and offered advice to panel attendees who seek to become YouTube sensations themselves. I have been a huge fan of Brizzy Voices for a good while. She won me over with her Disney Princess voices, and again with her Adventure Time voices video. I love her Lumpy Space Princess. Almost as much as I love this LSP, who, when I asked her for a picture, asked me, “With or without beans?” To which, I replied, “Yes, beans!”
The “Women in Fandom” panel was moderated by Carmen DeMint, CEO of Ladies of the Round Table (LORT), a non-profit group dedicated to encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM fields via the launching point of gaming and technology. The panelists included Donya Abramo, a podcaster and writer at Hypable; Brooke Allen, the artist for the Lumberjanes comic; Heather M. Decker, Lead Technical Artist at Zynga in Chicago; Sarah Williams, voice actor; and Elspeth Eastman, Twitch gamer and voice actor. Moderator Carmen DeMint asked four questions, and each woman answered each question, and I took notes of their responses.
Question 1: What has your social media experience been like?
Sarah Williams: Mainly uses Twitter. Encourages fans to interact with her there.
Heather Decker: Had a bad experience with a picture that tagged her incorrectly.
Elspeth: YouTube comments are the worst.
Donya: Encourage them to comment about something they want to discuss.
Brooke: Is a bit of a social media hermit. Noelle gets the brunt of the social media attention, for better or for worse.
Question 2: Gamergate: Did you feel affected? If so, what did you do?
Sarah Williams: Had no clue at first, not a huge opinion.
Heather: People she knew had their information put out on the Internet. She made sure that she supported her friends who were affected and sent private messages of support on Twitter. Her advice is to support friends affected.
Elspeth: When she streams games on Twitch, people are always asking to show boobs. When asked if she is a feminist, she says yes. They can leave if they don’t like it! She also supports those friends who are affected.
Donya: Has friends who are worried about being doxxed. Her podcast is very outspoken, and she worries that this might get her doxxed as well. She has sat with friends who are distressed and is supportive. Keep it civil!
Brooke: “Sleep with people AND have opinions as well! What does that have to do with anything? Jesus!”
Question 3: Do you feel it is your job, or part of your brand, etc. to give advice?
Brooke: Wants to make comics a good place for everyone, men and women.
Donya: Because she runs a superhero podcast, and there is so much history in comics that it is hard to know where to begin, feels that part of the purpose of her podcast is to do comic recs, histories of a character, give options for purchasing. Feels that it is definitely her duty to help.
Elspeth: On her Twitch platform, she wants to make it a safe haven for everyone, and she picks and chooses what games to play with respecting others in mind.
Heather: Loves to encourage others, share harassment and safety resources, and is happy to share and help.
Sarah: Moderates a forum for a kids game and wants to teach kids safety. She’s a huge action movie fan, and doesn’t want men to go away, she just wants her stuff out there too. More, not less!
Question 4: The kids’ aisle – pink and unpink. What can we do to ease the tension between male and female?
Brooke: Social media. Big companies take notice when there is an outcry. Use platforms to get things going.
Donya: There was a situation in the U.K. where the Disney Store removed gender tags from its online store due to the efforts of a little girl who wanted to buy a Darth Vader mask, but was distressed to find it categorized for boys. This incident is having a ripple effect – Toys ‘r’ Us has done the same and removed the gender tags.
Elspeth: Money talks. She was unschooled, and was allowed to pick and choose from whatever section she wanted as a child. She also thinks that convention culture with its gender bending cosplay, Bronies, and other dudes who are not hung up on being macho are helping to change this.
Heather: Encourage your kids to do what they like and also adults. Voicing that it’s okay to be non traditional and non binary.
Sarah: Having choices. Girl, boy, neutral – everything should be available to everyone. She got into video games and horror, but also enjoys “girly” things as well. Choices are the most important.
After the panel questions were over, the floor was opened for audience questions, and I asked each panelist what their gateway in to fandom, or not-so-secret obsession was.
Sarah: Anime! She got into voice acting by wanting to find a way to be involved further in anime.
Heather: Video games. Commodore 64 and Nintendo. She realized she could make stuff and decided to do it for a living.
Elspeth: Gamer Grumps. Her parents are an inspiration as well. She wanted to make music for games, and had a microphone and decided to learn to use it. YouTube gave her a platform. She jokingly said, “#giveagirlamic.”
Donya: Harry Potter changed everything. Also, X-Men, Transformers, and LiveJournal. She participated in forums about the characters, discussions of plot, and said that she “grew up with Harry Potter and he grew up with me.”
Brooke: Don Bluth films. The Secret of NIMH, and other darker kids movies that don’t pander to kids. Bizarre cartoons from the ’90s, like Biker Mice from Mars.
On Sunday, I was prepared to wander aimlessly until the “Men in Comics” panel, but I ended up meeting some great people and creators. Among them were the Who North America owners Keith and Jany Bradbury. Who North America is based in Indianapolis, Indiana and brings licensed BBC material to the US. They have a warehouse that is open to the public once a month for Doctor Who fan viewings, meetups, gaming, and merchandise purchasing.
In addition, they bring Doctor Who memorabilia, merchandise, and actors to conventions. Their vending space was large, with an autograph and photo op area for Sophie Aldred, the 7th Doctor’s companion Ace, a few tables with Doctor Who games for attendees to play, a merchandise are with t-shirts, jewelry, books, and DVDs, and a viewing area in a small tent, where convention attendees can find a quiet, dark place to rest while watching episodes of Doctor Who. They also have a Dalek and cutouts of various creatures, companions, and Doctors for free photo opportunities.
The Who North America people gave me permission to ask Sophie Aldred if I could ask her a few questions, and she very kindly agreed! I had to wait around a bit, as she had obligations to the booth and to the convention, but by the end of the convention, she jokingly stated that I must have been waiting all day long, and graciously answered a few questions. It was the end of the convention, and I only asked four questions out of consideration for her schedule.
Me: What is one of your favorite memories from your work on Doctor Who?
Sophie Aldred: My favorite memory would have be going after the Dalek with the baseball bat.
Me: Do you enjoy the convention circuit and interacting with fans?
Sophie Aldred: I really enjoy coming to events like this!
Me: Is there anything you want to share? Anything you want to tell your fans?
Sophie Aldred: It’s such a privilege to be involved! My character was on 27 years ago, and I do a lot of conventions. I enjoy it.
Me: What are you working on currently?
Sophie Aldred: (Hands me a card) I’m working on an audio production called Strangeness in Space.
While I was waiting for Sophie Aldred to have a free moment, I wandered the vendor hall and saw an area full of teens driving robots they had made. Attendees could drive a robot with a computer or remote control, or observe the robots in action. Nikki Hunter, the mother of one of the young women involved, explained to me that the teens were members of an organization called the FRC, which stands for First Robotics Competition. High school students build robots and compete on a national level, and can qualify for over $16 million in scholarships. There was a robot that was launching frisbees, and all I could think of was NEPTR, the Neverending Pie Throwing Robot, from Adventure Time. They should have it cosplay NEPTR!
There is a division of the group specifically for encouraging young women into STEM fields, and Nikki’s daughter Alexis Hunter and her friend Lindsey Fraley are pictured below with one of the robots.
After the robotics demonstration area, I headed back into the artists and vendors area, and encountered an artist table with some really fun Adventure Time art. I stopped there the day before and spoke with Sam Ellis, the lead character designer for Archer, season 1. He was still there on Sunday, and had time to talk a little bit. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Archer, but it turns out that Mr. Ellis also illustrated Adventure Time comic #31, and his sister, Sara Ellis, wrote it. His favorite character is the Earl of Lemongrab, and #31 features a story titled, “Lemongrab’s Makeover.”
I asked him what he was currently working on, and he explained that after designing the characters for Archer, his work there was basically done. He worked on the Adventure Time comic, and is currently involved with storyboarding for a series called The Awesomes, which is available on Hulu. Sam also runs an art program called “SEEDS” (Sam Ellis Entertainment Design School)for people who want to learn professional design in a hands-on environment that is more affordable than traditional art schools. Not only did he pose for a hilarious picture with my mom, he also gave me an autographed Adventure Time comic!
And now, the part we’ve been waiting for! The “Men in Comics” panel! I was intrigued by the concept of this panel when I was informed that it existed by someone at Indy PopCon when I was asking questions about the convention in a Facebook chat. They thought that I would be interested because I write for The Mary Sue and the topic was very relevant, and also because fellow The Mary Sue Contributor Katie Schenkel was on the panel. I’ve read many of her articles and really wanted to meet her.
The full video of the panel has already been posted on this site, so if you want to have the full experience, I highly recommend watching it! The panel was moderated by Taversia, a science fiction author and writer at xojane. On the panel were: Christina Blanch, an instructor at Ball State and comic shop owner, Jackie Crofts, the co-creator of the comic Nutmeg, Ginger Dee, co-creator of Chris and Gin comics, Bri Rudd of Oh No, Bri! Comics, and Katie Schenkel, a contributor at The Mary Sue and Panels. Brooke Allen of The Lumberjanes joined as well. The panel was run as a parody of the Women in Comics panel from the Denver Comic Con, that actually had no women on it. As such, this panel, about men in comics, had no men. These ladies stayed in character the whole time and did not break.
I was impressed at both their skill and their humor, which, while subversive and making a point, was never mean-spirited. I won’t give a play-by-play, because the whole video is available to watch, but here were some of the highlights:
- In response to why there are no Black Widow action figures on the shelves, Taversia responded, “Clearly, she’s selling faster than they can stock her.”
- “I once read a Stan Lee bio, so I know about everything there is to know about men in comics.” – Katie Schenkel
- Also present on stage was one of those terrible body pillows with the fedora guy. At one point, Brooke Allen was tasked with holding him aloft, and asked, “… are we taking a selfie right now?”
- Katie Schenkel spoke about how boys are now relating to feminine characters and attributes this to shows like Steven Universe, and the popularity of cosplay.
- The female gaze-friendly Grayson team were mentioned, and pictures were shown. Butts! Butts for everyone!
- Christina Blanch put on her “retailer hat” for a moment to speculate on the popularity of gender fluid characters like Loki. She said that Loki sells. A lot. (I’m still waiting for the inevitable My Little Pony crossover …)
- A gentleman named Alex in the audience asked when men in comics would start being portrayed as attractive instead of as upside down triangles with biceps as big as their thighs, and remarked on the hairstyles shown for men in comics, “They’re all just Fred from Scooby Doo with different clothes on!”
- Katie Schenkel commented that men should just stop trying so hard to get respresented in comics. “Why don’t you just make your own comics?” She asked.
Come on guys. Just make your own and someday YOUR action figures will “fly off of the shelves” as fast as Black Widow’s. Am I right, ladies?
After the panel, I introduced myself to Katie Schenkel and we talked for a bit about our writing, nerd stuff, and took a pic together. Two contributors, contributing! :-D Thanks for hanging out, and for making me love Bob’s Burgers, and Tina in particular!
This concludes my convention report, and if you needed even further evidence that things can be and are getting better, check out some of the cosplay pictures below! We’ve got Lady Ghostbusters, tiny Dalek girls, and the coolest Luna Lovegood I’ve ever seen.
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.
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