[Today kicked off Gen Con Indy, where enthusiastic hordes of gamers and related geek types have returned to game, and game, and game and game and game. North America’s largest tabletop convention has called Indianapolis home since 2003. In 2008, my wife Anne and I attended for our first time for a special reason.
Despite our recent computer disaster, we’ve recovered many of our photos from four different sources to varying degrees of quality. As my own way of marking the occasion and unearthing unshared items from our personal archives, presented above is a photo of the two of us with someone we knew at the show. More about her in a moment.
The following writeup was previously posted a week later for about ten or fifteen friends. I’ve subjected it to minimal Special Edition-ing to scrub a few in-jokes and satisfy my own fussiness. I also wrote a brief article about the experience for a short-lived wannabe news site, but that’s lost forever and someday I will have my revenge upon those responsible for pulling the plug without giving me a heads-up first. Not that I’m bitter.]
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The following souvenir pics come from our exhausting one-day trip to Gen Con 2008. It’s one of the highest-ranking holy lands for gamers of all stripes worldwide. Not only does the Indiana Convention Center host tens of thousands of incoming geeks, but Gen Con also rented out additional space in seven different downtown hotels nearby for extra event space.
Gen Con has been in Indianapolis since 2003 — a privilege earned after our fair city impressed the con-runners with the way Star Wars Celebration II was handled in the same venue the year before. At least, that’s the story I was told, regardless of some differences of opinion I might have on that subject. I’m just glad the ink was dry on all the contracts before SW Celebration III found new and different ways to make things even worse. They’re slated to be here through at least 2010, so I assume they like something about us.
Despite living mere minutes away from downtown (and I even work downtown), Anne and I had never attended a Gen Con. We’re not gamers. I used to play AD&D and own several TSR games when I was a kid (Star Frontiers, Top Secret!, Marvel Super-Heroes, Mayfair Games’ DC Heroes…), until all my friends moved away and I had no one left to play with. The subject never came up with any other kids in high school, or even during my college stints. After my son was born, I eventually sold off my complete collection of original AD&D hardcover manuals, plus several years’ worth of Dragon Magazine, plus the first year’s worth of Dungeon Adventures (I was a charter subscriber!), through a want ad to a retailer in New Jersey for $100. That low sum may sound as though I was ripped off, but several of the magazines were coverless, and and in my youth I’d thought it’d be brilliant to color all the pics in the hardcovers with colored pencils. Advantage: ME.
So Gen Con has never quite appealed to our specific fandoms. Anne’s more of the hardcore Star Wars fan and Trekker-on-the-wane, whereas I bemoan Indiana’s complete unforgivable lack of any real comic book convention. This time was different, thanks to this woman: Hygena!
Once upon a time in 2006, Sci-Fi had a reality TV series called Who Wants to Be a Super-Hero?, in which the Stan Lee presided over twelve would-be super-heroes competing to win fabulous prizes, including their own comic and an appearance in a Sci-Fi Original Movie. We ignored it because we avoid all reality TV outside The Biggest Loser. Also, that first season looked…um…not quite our cup of tea. My lingering bitterness over Sci-Fi’s years-ago unfair cancellation of Mystery Science Theater 3000 sure didn’t help their case.
Then came season 2, with ten new heroes striving for that top spot once again. This time, we knew one of them. Long before a strange twist of fate bestowed great powers and responsibility upon a young lady named Melody, the three of us were eight-year veterans of the same Star Wars message board. Obviously we as an online community had to unite and be there to see one of ours make good. So we were in for season 2. Even my son watched with us. It was only eight episodes, and sure, sometimes the cheese was thick enough to clog an artery, but our family loved it. We debated it, we argued back and forth over which heroes were worse, and we got a kick out of it all.
Hygena survived elimination after narrow elimination until the final episode…when she lost to this man: The Defuser!
When they were announced as guests for Gen Con, we suddenly had the greatest reason of all to invade gamer turf.
We arrived downtown Saturday at 8 a.m., parked at my workplace for free (sticking it to all those downtown garages charging $20 “event parking” — pffft!), walked the half-mile or so to the Convention Center, then sat for over an hour searching through the Gen Con program that was glossier and thicker than some areas’ phone books. When the Exhibit Hall opened at 10 a.m., we made a beeline for the autograph area and were first in line to meet Hygena. All those gamers ran in the opposite direction for the freebies and the colorful displays and the wicked video-game demos and such, so we had a wide berth for over an hour, just hanging out with a familiar, friendly face. And TV star. The Defuser showed up only a little late, but happens to be more hilarious and charming in person that the shows’ editors ever let on.
An hour later, in came this man: WWtBaSH season one winner Feedback!
(Apparently he’s a gamer. Hence his lateness. Did I mention the Gen Con gaming events run literally around the clock? From Thursday 10 a.m. to closing time Sunday 4 p.m., Gen Con has something happening every single hour. Maybe if I were fifteen years younger…)
Feedback was likewise genial, though we made a point of not mentioning his cameo in the Sci-Fi Original Movie Mega-Snake, in which he delivers sound advice on electrical safety to a group of students, then saves their lives through the power of super-escorting. The guy was a trooper, all the more impressive because his suit is all Latex and the lights in the Convention Center are merciless. He perspired so much, it might’ve killed him if his electric powers were real. Fortunately a Gen Con roadie was on hand to bring him plenty of napkins on demand.
Just for the record, all of the heroes’ spouses were lovely people, too. (Okay, maybe Mr. Hygena would prefer something other than “lovely”, but you know what I mean.) We made sure we got merchandise from each of them. Anne’s favorite may have been the homemade Jawa hairpin from Hygena (check out her Profile or her MySpace page, and you can order your own online!), but mine was one of the Defuser’s more high-ticket items — a WWtBaSH Season 2 press kit that includes a DVD rough copy of their first episode, with added footage and scenes that look plain weird because the FX were unfinished at press time. (Amazingly, Mr. Mitzvah came off even worse before the episode was trimmed down. Just…wow.)
We also bought a Season 1 cast poster autographed by Feedback…but I lost it somewhere on the show floor. The autograph was personalized, so it’s not exactly gonna fetch much on eBay. We even turned in a description at the lost-‘n’-found room, but we never heard from them.
Other celebrities were present, but we met none of them. Peter Mayhew, the original Chewbacca, looked like a wizened Joey Ramone just as he did as SW Celebration II and CIII, but he wanted twenty bucks an autograph, while I wanted more than one autograph per twenty bucks. Two busty wrestling chicks were also there, but I’m not a wrestling fan and I have a wife that I dearly love, especially when I’m not giving her reasons to slug me. Rounding out the guest list was TV’s David Faustino, former child actor from Married…with Children. I can think of absolutely no connection between him and geeks, so I assume he was there because no one told him “no”.
We spent the next several hours just roaming the Exhibit Hall, staring at the dozens of booths and spectacles and doodads and pretty things. I got to see established talents in person such as original DragonLance author Margaret Weis, fantasy illustrator Larry Elmore, and Nodwick and PS238 creator Aaron Williams. I got to meet Mouse Guard creator David Petersen, who was surrounded by stacks of books and looked a little overwhelmed, but he tried to be cordial even as I somehow lost coherence and began to babble like a nervous character from The Office.
I had to appreciate the writer of the webcomic Dire Destiny over in the Artists’ Alley for attempting one of the stubbornest yet most upbeat feats of shameless hucksterism I’ve ever seen at a con…though his product just wasn’t for us. This was much like webcomics, which I almost always avoid, but I applaud his self-promotional gusto. Feel free to look up his creation and check it out. I promised I’d mention it, since I bought nothing from him.
We also saw some strange results from other creative activities. Gaming widows and other hapless attendees had their choice of offbeat activities such as needlework, foam weapon design, scrapbooking, building houses of cards for charity, or carving Spam sculptures. That’s hundreds of dollars’ worth of Spam — somebody better have eaten all that.
After lunch at the McDonald’s inside the crowded Hyatt Regency, we attended the standard Costume Contest across the street at the Westin Hotel, where Hygena had the pleasure of being one of the judges, and the Defuser worked as stage manager. From here we segue into what else this is really about: costumes!
Now we minimize the words and make with the eye candy.
(Please ignore the occasional blurriness. Just keep adding saline drops to your eyes until everything works itself out.)
We start off on the right foot with professional models performing a live demo of the HeroClix game, standing on life-size HeroClix bases. They’re not just statues — Mr. Fantastic, Spidey, Ms. Marvel, and Daredevil moved and strutted and acted all heroic and pompous.
Mandatory Star Wars representation from Jedi Aayla Secura.
Predator! Complete with rubber mask and Garfield custom coloring.
Army of Frankensteins. They performed a spot-on group reenactment of the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number from Young Frankenstein.
A real live Visitor! Anne is a huge fan of the original V. He was a nice fellow who didn’t mind her stopping him dead in his tracks to praise his costume. He regaled us with lots of tidbits about various upcoming V projects, all of which are likely either hypothetical or doomed to die stillborn.
Team Rocket, surrendering now. Here they’re being interviewed by our local ABC affiliate, no doubt to accompany the evening news’ requisite “Downtown Freakshow in Progress” human interest piece. Their friends are standing off to the left, dressed in anime-based Catholic-schoolgirl uniforms. I can’t imagine why they didn’t make it onto the evening news.
Random contestants. Fantasy elf gal on the left, something anime/manga on the right. Take it from me, trained geek authority.
Some princess I don’t know from Avatar: the Last Airbender, and, uh, a shiny armored guy.
Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, though I was confused at first and thought she might be either Rag Doll from the Secret Six or the Patchwork Girl from the Oz books.
Cassandra the Last Human from Doctor Who and her accompanying doctors.
The Costume Contest was not without its problems. The sound system was horrible. The hostess was a lady dressed as Lucius Malfoy (no, I do not mean Narcissa) whose voice tapered off just before every punchline, so I don’t think I laughed once. Anne and I were seated third row from the back in utter darkness, making photography and character recognition mostly impossible. Many cosplayers came and went with little explanation of their identities — either you got it or you didn’t. I must say, this was 100% more colorful than the last time we attended a costume contest — at a Trek convention years ago — so I’ll give it that much credit.
Handy tips for future Costume Contest entrants, based on this experience:
1. If you think there’s even the remotest chance of developing instant stage fright…just don’t.
2. If your child refuses to go onstage without you, and they’re in costume but you’re not…just don’t.
3. Actually resemble your character. Simple, right? Well, some people just need practical advice.
4. If you’re including any kind of performance or catchphrasing onstage, make sure your microphone works before you begin speaking.
5. NO MUMBLING. SPEAK UP. Yes, even if your microphone works. If I want garbled muttering, my old R.E.M. and Jesus and Mary Chain albums are better than you.
6. Would it kill you to have the emcee tell the crowd your character’s name and source material? If only three guys in the entire crowd get you and your in-jokes, bet on not winning.
7. Test out your jokes for funniness prior to your performance. Bombs are never pretty. More than once, I had mental images of Michael Scott standing at the podium and yelling, “JELL-O PUDDING POPS!” in his worst Cosby voice.
8. Don’t leave the building till you’re absolutely certain you lost. At least one young contestant missed out on their moment of glory.
9. Pretty-please don’t chicken out of the after-contest photo ops. If you didn’t want to be seen and appreciated (so to speak), then why were you there? Yes, I’m looking in your respective directions, Impressive Hellboy, Giant Super Mario Goomba from Bowling Green, Axel from Kingdom Hearts 2, Waaay-Out-of-Your-League Spock, and Big Magneto.
After all of this, we ran home, picked up my son (who was enjoying the house and unlimited computer use), then returned to downtown to do dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we got to chat up Hygena, the Defuser, and their spouses until their reserved table was ready. Some local folks from the scifi.com forums had made reservations and gotten to ’em first. Both of ’em still hang out over at Skiffytown on occasion, so I can’t begrudge their members beating us to the punch. It helps that they had much more advance notice than we did.
Our family spent the remainder of the night watching music videos on the Hard Rock’s wall TV and educating my son in musical pop culture from whichever era was onscreen. Bonus points for playing videos by Vampire Weekend, Cake, and BT; major scoldings for thudding performances from too many ’70s geezers. The food was mostly harmless.
After we went home and collapsed after our 14-hour day at Gen Con, then we woke up bright ‘n’ early Sunday at 7 a.m. and spent all that day running ourselves into the ground at the Indiana State Fair. The End.
1. Hygena today remains an active wife, mother, geek, and contributing writer to GeekMom.com.
2. We’ve seen the Defuser at two other cons since 2008 — not as a guest, but supervising convention security. He was a police officer in real life before the show, and certainly has the skills. We didn’t approach him or anything, but it was cool to see him out in the field.
3. Locals and MCC followers are well aware that Indianapolis now has its own comic cons — three in 2014, three so far in 2015. I’ve been doing my best to enjoy the bubble before it bursts.
4. Gen Con today takes up much more than seven mere hotels. The Hyatt Regency remains one of them, though the McDonald’s closed years ago. To this day I have no idea how they messed up the simple job of being a McDonald’s.
5. So I was wrong about the likelihood of a V reboot. I do wonder if our Visitor thought the results were worth it.
6. There is no Number Six.
7. If you don’t remember phone books or a TV channel called “Sci-Fi”, ask your mom or dad.
8. If you don’t know what a MySpace is, ask Grandma or Grandpa.
9. As previously explained at record length, Anne and I are skipping Gen Con this years, but we wish attendees well and strongly recommend they check out nearby Downtown Comics for all their comics needs.
10. At the time we hadn’t watched any Doctor Who; now that we have, we retroactively love Cassandra and her doctors to pieces.]