Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ConReport: ConTemporal 2012

Can I just start out saying – North Carolina is really distinguishing itself this year with conventions! Not only do we have our longstanding faves –WTHCon, StellarCon, ConCarolinas, HeroesConMACE, CarolinaRenaissance Faire – but we are coming up with a whole new crop of first year conventions (illogicon, ConTemporal, Festival of Legends) and quite a few fantastic one day events. It's so cool to be a part of this thriving community! And ConTemporal really brought their A-game to this past weekend; it was a spectacular show. As I wasn’t vending, I can’t say whether or not it was a profitable show for folks (I know some people made out like bandits), but the atmosphere of the convention was wonderful.

Thursday night was mostly just checking into the hotel and chilling, as well as the guest dinner. It was a nice way to start the convention, sitting down and talking with people. Also cheesecake. Conventions, if you’re ever wondering how to win the love of your guests, food is definitely not a bad way to go about it. Two of my roommates and I sat down at a random table and soon befriended/traumatized the two guys who sat with us, an artist named Ruben and Wookie, one of the security guys. 

Friday morning we got our schedules. I decided to hold off on the bikini’ing until the Nerdiquette panel, so I spent the afternoon roaming around in total disguise.

"total disguise" of course meaning "wearing clothes." Photo by Chris Burnside
It’s amazing how many convention goers do not panic when they think a total stranger has just run up and tackle-hugged them.

My first panel was a body paint panel with my friend Mary. Unfortunately for us, the girl who was supposed to be heading the panel was also on the cast, and so she had to attend opening ceremonies, leaving us to improvise our way through the panel. But between Mary and I, we spend almost as much time in paint as we do in our natural colors, so we were able to give a pretty thorough review of our different approaches and techniques. Mary uses Ben Nye and brushes, while I prefer alcohol based paint such as Kustom Kolor and an airbrush! Just goes to show you there’s not one right way to go about doing your costume J

*Disclaimer – which is to say, there are plenty of right ways. And also a lot of wrong ways. Do your research!

Nerdiquette was next up – for those not familiar with it, some friends and I started a small group called Nerdiquette 101, dedicated to promoting social skills on the con scene. We discuss everything from personal space to approaching strangers to getting out of awkward situations, and we also did an offshoot panel Saturday night about Geek Dating (how to meet geeks! How to flirt with them! How to maintain your relationship with your prize catch!)

Since Jennie Breeden was at the con, it wouldn’t be complete without a kilt blowing! A kilt blowing, for those not in the know, is when kilts are made to flutter and fly up (but hopefully not *too* far up, lest it become an X-rated event) through the strategic use of a leaf blower. Many daring gentlemen (and one HELLA BALLSY LADY) volunteered to be blown, and we audience members were appropriately appreciative of everyone’s efforts – especially when poor Jennie got the tables turned on her by the emcee!

I am starting to think panels at or after 10pm don’t do so well. (unless they’re dating or adult themed)  Friday night, we had “What Judges Want”, a panel about how to dominate a costume contest, which was attended by almost nobody who actually entered the contest (alas) and then after that, “Costuming for every body type”, about how to plan a costume to your best advantage (which was slightly better attended but not really). 

Costuming is tricky to begin with, and the more extreme your proportions are (super skinny, super curvy, very tall, or quite short), the more you have to finagle to make a costume look right for you. The wrong cut dress on me, for example, makes me look rather boxy and stumpy, because I’m so short and busty. Our recommendations included: tailoring, shapewear, making your own version of a costume (like Steampunk Slave Leia, for example), and not giving and damn and making an awesome costume and having a great time regardless.

I think there was a dance or something going on Friday night, but after my panels, I was about ready for sleep. And by sleep, I mean staying up to use our room’s wifi connection to get my gaming fix for the weekend. *like a nerd!*

And suddenly Saturday! Matt and Cord arrived Saturday morning and dragged me and Kelly out to the parking lot to help them armor up. Which, given that it was roughly the temperature of the surface of the sun, was a terrible idea (neither black leather or metal are particularly cooling). Once we got them suited up and rehydrated, and I played around with my new found green hair sufficiently, we went exploring around the con floor. We saw the renowned Penny Dreadful Productions, promoting their new post apocalyptic project, Remnant, as well as the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron, who were a little hindered in their efforts by the fact that one of the children at the con took it upon himself to warn all potential pirates about the Squadron.

 There was lots of cool stuff in the dealer room, everything from jewelry to books to steampunk comics/graphic novels to (of course) chainmail to leatherwork! I got to chat with Kaja and Cheyenne of Girl Genius, and they complimented my Zeetha/Skifander inspired get up. *fangirl squee moment*

nothing builds friendships like chainmail! Photo by Chris Burnside

We also stopped by Brute Force Studios to check out Thomas’ AMAZING leatherwork. I have to admit, as a novice leatherworker, I am *dreadfully* jealous of his laser cutter. He was happy to show off all of his neat goodies, including a steampunk gauntlet with working Bluetooth compatible keyboard:

And…the very arm that Nathan Fillion wore on the steampunk episode of Castle!

I don't care that it's way too big for me, I feel like a  pretty steampunk princess!

Also Nathan’s hat.

If this expression doesn't scream crazed fangirl...

As part of our wandering around, we tracked down photographer Paul Cory and did some impromptu shooting with him. While Matt was getting his pictures done, Cord and I had a little photoshoot of our own…
the little known musical side of bounty hunters
We spent a lot of time talking to different craftspeople and costumers, and I definitely came home with a ton of ideas that I want to try out. One of the really neat things about the con was that they had dedicated staff members in costume as specific characters created for the convention, as well as people whose job it was to build set pieces and decorate the hotel walls. The end result was a very immersive environment that really did make you feel like you’d temporarily stepped into a different world. James Christopher Hill's designs featured prominently on several walls

 and the fabulous machinery and costumes of HattonCrossSteampunk caught everyone's attention! 

At 4pm, Angela and I had a panel about cosplay modeling, which went pretty well. We covered differences in body language and posing between men and women, how to fool the camera into flattering you, and what to do/not to do at a photoshoot (both for models and photographers)

Later that evening was the costume contest, and I have to say, it was one of the most difficult ones I’ve judged yet. There were so many high quality costumes, and such excellent craftsmanship! One of the things I love about steampunk is how it encourages people to incorporate a wide variety of talents (wood work, metal work, electronics, leather work) in their costumes, whereas in other genres, you’re a bit more limited in what you can use. 

John Strangeway, or Steampunk Boba Fett as many people know him, was our delightful MC, and he kept the audience from rebelling suitably entertained while the judges frantically deliberated.

one of these things is not like the others! clue: it's GIANT and RED.
After the costume contest, we sprinted away to get food, only to have to immediately sprint back for my 10pm panel on Geek Dating. I sat on the panel and shoveled food into my mouth like a maniac, and yet, somehow, people still listened to my advice. The panel was slightly derailed by two pretty boys kissing

...uh...what was I typing about?
But we mostly stayed on track and talked about the hurdles of navigating the dating pool as a single, the challenges of resolving issues once you were in a relationship, and the benefits of improving your communication overall. We also discussed general issues of self esteem, and how they relate to your dateability. Really, 50 minutes was not enough time to talk about everything, and I'd love to see this turn into a two part panel.

Saturday night was also room party night! There were several good ones to choose from (and some yummy cider and brownies, thanks illogicon!) so we ended up migrating a lot, and finally just found a little lobby area to hang out and talk. We also met Blaise, an ENORMOUS purebred Alaskan Malamute – they look like super sized huskies, very intelligent – and he won all of us over by being the sweetest and most cuddle friendly dog. All us girls went nuts over him and I kind of want one now. (Yes, animal lovers, I know they are a lot of work! I have no plans of getting a dog until I’m really really really certain I’ll be able to care for it properly)

Despite our best intentions to be reasonably responsible, we all went to bed around 4ish, and when I crawled out of bed around 10:30am on Sunday, I was deeply repentant. We packed up and loaded the cars, then went to do our round of goodbyes (which, as everyone knows, takes several hours). I fully intended to corset up for the last day but was overcome with a tremendous case of not giving two sh*ts about how sleek my waist looked and took it off so I could hug people better.

Overall, the programming needed a bit of fine tuning (such as my friend’s conflict that I mentioned earlier) but the staff was tremendously helpful and friendly, and thanks to the combined efforts of the Green Room and the consuite, I did not starve to death over the weekend. Congratulations to all the staff and volunteers for their hard work and a job well done! I can't wait to see what ConTemporal does next year!

(Unless they do zombies. F*ck zombies.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Con report: illogicon

This past weekend, I kicked off my con season with a convention in my former haunting grounds, Raleigh NC. It was a first year con, very small, but tons of fun. In some ways, I like small cons better than huge ones, just because you actually get to hang out and connect with people, as opposed to the big cons, where you have to have drive-by-conversations. It’s like the difference between going to Mardi Gras, and having a dinner party with a bunch of good friends. I will admit that despite being a tiny weekend event, it completely kicked my ass, and I was so exhausted by Sunday night that I couldn’t even stay awake enough to play a button-mashing side scroller on the Xbox with my sister. In gamer speak, that's pretty freakin' exhausted.

Technically, my illogicon started on Thursday night, when Matt and I drove down early so I could shoot with my dear friend and mentor Alan Welch, of Reverie Realm. We’ve been planning an image as an homage to Frank Frazetta’s “Egyptian Queen”, and finally got a chance to shoot it, using our friend’s large garage/workshop area. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Little Miss Egyptian Queen is wearing some kind of gold pasties, and a long blue loin cloth, and….nothing else. Oh, she has a fancy Egyptian hat. Which is all well and good when you are lounging about warm, sunny, well heated Egypt, but holy cow it’s January and we’re practically outdoors and why couldn't he paint her in a nice cashmere sweater or something. Thank god for set assistants and fluffy bathrobes is all I have to say. The pictures turned out great, though, and hopefully I’ll be posting the finished image soon!

On Friday, Matt and I headed over to the hotel to set up. We were nicely tucked into a corner with Shaun, my chainmail guy, and GarthGraham, a really unfairly cute webcomic writer and artist. Every year at WTHCon I bid on him at the geek auction, and every year I get outbid because he can do the David-Bowie-in-Labyrinth-glass-ball-thing. Pro tip, fellas, the ladies just love that. Also in the dealer’s room were the artists of Firetower Studios, a Jedi Academy (where you can learn to fight with lightsabers!), and some cool vendors selling books, jewelry, and art. I finally got to meet (officially in person) two of my con buddies, Animaze Guy, whose awesome pictures I will be linking throughout this blog, and Mike Penny, who does videography.

I had a record (for me) EIGHT panels, including the Zen Scavenger Hunt (the panelists bring 10 random items, then the audience makes a scavenger hunt by calling out what they want us to “find”, and we have to explain why one of the random things we brought is what they want. It’s like an awesome exercise in BSing, because you have to explain how a typewriter is really like a bass guitar. Unfortunately, I kinda skimmed the explanatory email, and brought nothing besides my jazz hands, so I was designated scorekeeper), Trivia for Chocolate (answer geeky trivia questions, receive chocolate for correct responses), a couple panels about modeling, costuming, and art (with the aforementioned Firetower Studios guys, who are very funny).

Friday night also saw a very fun dance party thrown by the infamous Formal Vader (with his beautiful wife as Formal Leia, making them a very-well-dressed-but-exceedingly-weird-to-think-about-in-canonical terms couple). 
Just before the Father-Daughter dance!
As it was a winter formal, I endeavored to find something appropriate to wear.

Clearly I failed.
We had Mandalorians and Master Chief (in a pinstripe suit), raver girls, elves, lots of people in formal wear, and Matt even got down on the dance floor in his full armor.

In addition to enabling people to dance their butts off, there was also a fundraising and support effort for Baby Leah, affectionately known in the fan community as “Princess Leah.” Leah is the infant daughter of two Star Wars fans, Zev and Fran Esquenazi, and she suffers from a very serious condition that has baffled doctors. As anyone who’s ever had a family member go to the hospital… those bills get kinda scary. So the fan community has banded together to help raise money for her family, and so far has sent $65,000 to her family to help them out. You can check out their facebook page and blog if you're interested in helping out! This time, we also took turns recording video messages of hope and encouragement, so hopefully the Esquenazis will be getting their video of all of us NC geeks wishing them the best soon.

Saturday saw the debut of my newest outfit for conventions: my fleece? Pikachu onesie. Oh, I can sense your jealousy from here. My dear friends Cord and Kelly came up with it for my Christmas present, and it’s the perfect thing for wintery conventions, warm and soft and fuzzy. Also, it’s the best way ever to one-up someone’s Pikachu hat/tshirt/shoes/whatever. “Oh, you’re wearing a Pikachu? I AM PIKACHU, BITCHES.” (I may have a small Pikachu one-up-manship contest going on with my friend SpaceJesus) Words can’t describe the amazingness of this outfit, so I think these pictures will have to:


Back view... yes, it has a tail!
Me, clearly about to kick some Mandalorian's ass
There were more panels….and more parties! ConTemporal, a Chapel Hill based steampunk convention, threw an excellent party which was promptly shut down by the hotel, then discreetly reopened by the ConTemporal staff, and was very fun, especially for a party that periodically had to shush itself. For all the Whovians out there, we taped an episode of GallifreyPirate Radio (which you can watch here). I also helped host Trivia for Chocolate, as the self-designated Chocolate Girl. Like Vanna White, but handing out M&Ms. Is it true that I was caught sneaking a few M&Ms? At this time I can neither confirm nor deny such allegations…

Sunday is always a very laid back day at conventions, partly because everyone is leaving to get home and get ready for the week to start again, but mostly because everyone is dead tired from partying/gaming the night before. In a cruel twist of fate, Sunday is actually when I had the most panels, so I was forced to feign coherence and wittiness. I confess, I couldn’t even bring myself to get into the bikini, and spent the entire day as The Pajama Chick, and now I’m strongly considering lining my bikini with some flannel.

By Sunday afternoon, I was falling asleep in the lobby waiting for my last panel to start. The panel, named “See I’m So Pretty,” was not actually a panel about stunning good looks, but rather how to get great pictures of your costume. You might be surprised to know how much sorcery is involved with this process, so it was a pretty informative panel, but we also forced the audience to preface any comment or question with a compliment about the panelists, preferably related to how pretty we were. Our very creative audience complimented the sturdiness of our noses, our lack of split ends, and how nice our relatives were. Next time I’ll have to be a lot more specific with the wording.

We capped off our Raleigh visit with a trip to Brewmasters, to sample their famous burgers, which were ungodly delicious and probably totally unhealthy. And then I slept for 14 hours straight.
I hear illogicon was a success this year, so there will be another next year, and I’m looking forward to it! Congratulations to the illogicon team for putting together such a fun event :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My year of conventions

All right, so I’ve been doing this convention/cosplay/modeling thing for about a year and a half. I’m not a supermodel, and Dragon*con hasn’t sent me an email begging for my attendance. I made a bit of money this year, most of which went straight back into costumes and travel expenses. I moved twice, pulled off the most difficult cosplay on my “to do” list, got into a minor internet scuffle over an ill-conceived gaming company’s marketing scheme, and I did more paid photoshoots this year than since I started modeling. I met a lot of amazing people, and got to know many acquaintances better. Several people made artwork of me, including this badasslittle statuette I am now referring to as my action figure. I drove a 22 hour round trip by myself, I started selling my own pictures, and I began guesting at conventions.

I also made a mess of my personal life and my (now ex) boyfriend and I separated. I occasionally offended people by not knowing their names (names and faces have *always* been a weak spot of mine). I stammered at dinner parties when nice, normal adults asked me what I did for a living because "professional bikini wearer" did not seem like a respectable response (default answer: I do…freelance…sales?). I lost a few friends for not being more in touch.

So…what did I learn? Was it worth it? Should I keep pursuing this crazy career? Let’s do some Q&A, which is really just me talking to myself, and figure it out.