There are few things more fun than spending a weekend at a local geek event. That is just what Therefore I Geek did this past weekend at MarsCon in Williamsburg, VA. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly about this convention:
There was a lot of good at MarsCon. Being a local event makes it much more manageable and relaxed than other, larger events such as NYCC.
One of the first things we did was check out the gaming area and pretty quickly got pulled into a game called Quickfire. Quickfire is a universal tabletop miniature game, meaning that it doesn’t matter what miniature game pieces the players use. The simple rules can get a game going for any number of players in no time. As players go through the game, there are progressively more difficult environmental challenges that appear. There are two major drawback to the game: the need for a GM-esqe person and the high risk of the game dissolving into complete chaos. These issues were only minor, though, and the overall game play was enjoyable.
This was an epic game table, the kind I’ve only dreamed of.
MarsCon also had several good panels, which in my experience is a rarity at local conventions. On Sunday morning I attended a panel on editors and their changing role at someone’s (*cough*Tracy*cough*) urging and it was a fantastic panel. Of the four panelists, two were editors, one was a writer, and one did both. Will McIntosh, Carrie Ryan, Edmund Schubert and Laura Haywood-Cory, along with a moderator Michael Pederson, who also happened to be an editor, were intimately familiar with the subject they were discussing and it showed. This is the kind of panel I want to attend all the time. It was engaging, informative and stacked with experts.
Sunday afternoon I went to “Cult Film: The Atomic 50’s: When Supernatural Horror Went Scientific”, a panel on the scientific turn that B movies took in the 1950’s, which was also amazing. There was so much useful information in this panel. While I am uncertain about the presenter’s credentials, he was incredibly knowledgeable and was so passionate that it was easy to get caught up in his excitement. This was also one of the few panels in which the audience participation was value added. Many of them had seen the movies in question and were able to jump in when the presenter forgot a character or actor, but then quieted down when he started speaking again.
[Tracy: While I sent Andrew off to learn about how much respect and reverence he should have for his editor, I went to a panel called “Beyond the Strong Female Protagonist: Writing Women who are more than ‘Kickass.” I really enjoy this type of discussion anyway, so I was excited to get into it. The panelists were all writers and were led by Jim Hines, author of the Magic Ex Libris series. I enjoyed the conversation and appreciated that the panelists kept order in the room—even shutting down a particularly opinionated fan who attempted to hijack the panel several times.]
(from left) Meriah Crawford, Jim Hines, Alethea Kontis, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and John C. Wright
Of course any event with Mikey Mason is always a blast. Mikey gave us a nice mix of his better known material, plus a couple of songs from his most recent album. If his Facebook page is to be believed, and I think it is, then he wrote a whole new album while he was at MarsCon!
Aside from his duties as entertainer, Mikey was both the best auctioneer and gave the best “Vanna White” impression while working the charity auction for the Heritage Humane Society of Williamsburg. In the end they managed to break last year’s total on just two items. I wish you all could have seen the look on the face of the liason to the Humane Society. He kept getting more and more excited as the auction bids grew. By the end, he looked absolutely stunned. (T: Can confirm. It was adorable!)
No convention is perfect and MarsCon was no exception. Mikey’s concert had an hour of scheduled setup time but it was still forty-five minutes late starting due to “technical difficulties”. We can all understand some minor glitches—lord knows I’ve seen them at NYCC—but a delay of this length due to problems with fundamental things like lighting and sound is not acceptable. I was surprised to see a venue as experienced as this one having issues like this, especially with an artist like Mikey who has a very simple, straightforward setup. Speaking from experience, the rig should have been set up before hand and then just moved into place.
Also, I’ve never been particularly thrilled with events held in hotels. Typically they don’t have large rooms that can serve as a proper exhibit halls. Dealer rooms have to be squeezed into small rooms and tend to spill out into the hallways which leads to traffic flow problems. While that wasn’t an overwhelming issue in the Fort Magruder Hotel & Conference Center, another hundred or so additional people in attendance might have made it much more of a problem. The positive side of the hotel is that it had proper spaces for panels, which other conventions (such as the VA Comicon) do not have.
I’ve mentioned that the panels I went to on Sunday were amazing. Saturday panels were, unfortunately, the complete opposite. In a panel about the “Dark Side of Disney,” panelists started off by asking the audience what the panel was about. It was immediately obvious that the panelists were almost completely unprepared for the topic about which they were supposed to be speaking. One panelist had no specific knowledge on the topic outside of a couple of Google searches and a discussion with her friends. She spent most of her time trying to convince the audience and other panelists that there was a prevalence of mental illnesses in Disney films. I’d love to know what made her think that a Google search provided adequate expertise to diagnose and discuss mental illness. At one point another panelist actually cut her off because she obviously didn’t understand what she was talking about. Needless to say, we bailed out of this particular panel pretty quickly
In a later panel on cosplay, the panelists were significantly better informed, the least experienced having done it for seventeen years, but they were unable to keep the panel on track. I have no problem with audience interaction during a panel. Especially at an event as small as this it’s a great chance to have a more intimate experience with the panelists. Having said that, the panelists are the experts. Attendees want to hear what they have to say, not opinions from the other audience members. This panel would have benefited greatly from a strong moderator with firm control of the room. A good moderator should ask some basic questions, get the panelists discussing the topic and then towards the end take some questions from the audience.
In the end we had a great weekend and I’ve got some great ideas for new content, so keep your eyes open for it. MarsCon will definitely be making an appearance on my 2015 calendar.