AwesomeCon 2019 – Nate’s Perspective
It’s been 5 years since I had the time and money to go to AwesomeCon in DC (Apr 26-28) and things have certainly changed in that span. Some for the good and some for the bad. I was able to attend with a friend (not yet a part of the PRPG team) and she has only been going since I last did. She’s deep into the Con scene actually and provided some very useful insight. From what she tells me, last year boogered a lot up, perhaps causing many of the differences I experienced. AC18 was apparently scheduled on Easter weekend causing many celebrities, participants, and con-goers to bail. It definitely felt like many of the issues at AC19 were repercussions from that decision. Sadly, due to other commitments neither Beli or Poppa Bear were able to attend.
I guess we’ll get the bad out of the way first. There were limited panels (though we’ll cover some of the good ones later) and a small slice of celebs. Personally, I don’t really go for the famous people. I’m not the kind of guy to pay $50 wait hours in line to get 5 min with someone who won’t remember me an hour later. My friend gets a much different experience in that regard, because she’s deepstate when it comes to the Cons. I won’t fault anyone who does that, it’s just not my thing (nor could I afford it). The main floor was an absolute shitshow. In reaction to people bailing on AC18, it seemed they overcompensated for AC19. There were fewer “makers” and artist (by percent) than previous, and the floor felt like an over packed flea market. I felt bad for the genuine folks who were “creatives” and traditionally belonged. The rush to overfill caused a number of issues; vendors selling bootlegs or illegal goods (some were identified and ejected), poor crowd flow, and confusion. The people coordinating the exhibit floor didn’t coordinate with the panel coordinator, leading too many missed opportunities (will address in the author section).
I did also catch wind of some depressing and concerning, but somewhat believable bullcrap. Ironically, it sounds, like some communities who strive to be considered "inclusive" of previously marginalized segments of society… well they frown on members of their "communities" being supportive of the military or other topics considered aggressive or "violent". I'll stay off my soap-box for those concerned and to keep this devolving into anything divisive (we need less of that, the Russians are winning), but the irony is palpable.
All in all; the managers of AwesomeCon were desperately trying to do everything for everyone and recover from AC18, but overextended themselves. Good intentions, but it negatively impacted the Con. Tighter control and more measured ambition may have improved things.
After all that it might sound like I had a miserable time, but I didn’t. I still had a great time. I probably did myself an injustice as I was business focused for PRPG and might not have enjoyed *as much* as if I just went to go… I digress. There were still quite a few amazing authors, artists, and some genuine celebs. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to attend some of the panels I wanted to, due to some prior commitments. Kevin Sorbo (for Andromeda), the cast of tNG (Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and…. *grumble grumble* Wil Wheaton), Jon Berenthal (Punisher), and Greg Grunberg (TFA) were all present. Some had panels, but most were just doing photo/signature booths. Missed the above sadly on the panels they did do.
I did get to attend Michael Biehn (Navy SEALS, ALIENS, Terminator, etc) and his amazing wife Jennifer Blanc-Biehn’s panel. It did start a little late, cutting the Q&A short. They mostly focused on their current projects, but Michael did delve off on some great stories. Definitely gave the impression he enjoyed a small circle of his Hollywood family (particularly James Cameron and Forrest Whitaker); but rather prefers spending time with military, cops, and the blue collar people outside of the glitz. I was able to quickly snag him after the show, just to pass on the resonance that ALIENS still has in the military community. I briefly mentioned that we had done the ALIENS commentary track on the podcast and he (of his own accord, at no prompting of mine) offered to jump on the podcast. I’m fully aware he’s a very busy man, but will reach out and see what can happen. It was a heck of an ego boost to start the con with an unintended victory.
John Barrowman (Doctor Who, Arrow) was also there and although I did not get a chance to meet him, it might have been nice to broach the topic of military themes in Doctor Who and Captain Jack, along those lines. My friend did get a brief meet and greet and from everything she says of him, he’s an absolutely awesome human.
The voice actors in attendance did the panel they typically do: Voice-a-Palooza. Phil LaMarr remained king of the table with Susan Egan (Disney princess supreme) coming up a narrow second. Zach Callison (Steven Universe) was a fresh face and funny as hell. Wes Johnson, Tara Strong, and Greg Cipes were also in attendance. Funny as always. There was one gag about a hydrophobic lion that went over everyone’s head, save for the brilliant Phil. Oh well.
Aside from the Authors (my main focus later), there were still plenty of original artists (outside the thieves who steal stuff online and reprint it on a shirt of poster for resale, of which I saw a few). A number of tailors had legit, original creations; but most were aimed at women. All good. Not my thing. (or as Timothy Zahn loves saying; “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”) I spent less time with the artists and crafters than I have in the past.
Costumes and CosPlay
I paid less attention to the costumes roving the floor as well. Not to say there wasn’t some legit talent; but the predominance was last minute garage-grade cardboard and duct-tape affairs or store-purchased. People having fun, won’t fault them; but it’s not the “I’m a CosPlayer who sewed this from hand for weeks!” type. There were those folks, but they seemed to be lost in the crowd. At least until you got over to the guilds.
The guilds seemed unfortunately pushed off to a corner and ignored this year. But outside of the well-known Star Wars guilds; I saw a Ghostbusters troop and a batch of ALIENS: Colonial Marines (www.colonialmarines.info). The full range of Star Wars costumers were there, but it felt like a “half-force” so to speak. You had the venerable 501st (Beli is a member in his home state); the Rebel Alliance, the Droid Builders, and the Mandalorian Mercs. Beli has convinced a number of us to try our hand at costuming (though Helo Jay and Poppa Bear already toyed with bits before), so we may be giving the Mandos a go.
This became my focus of the show. I had tried to reach out to Timothy Zahn (creator of fan favorite Grand Admiral Thrawn) and Max Brooks (World War Z, Strategy Strikes Back) prior to the convention; remembering how my time at AC14 went (I had a long, insightful conversation with Mr Zahn back then) and assumed we might be able to squeeze in an interview or two for the podcast, unfortunately, the Con is no longer built for it in any way, shape, or form. I shall not begrudge anyone for that. I did get a chance to introduce myself to 6 authors of note however and we’ll see where that leads.
Timothy Zahn (facebook.com/TimothyZahn)
As previously noted, this was not my first time meeting him, he certainly has been exceedingly busy ever since. In fact, prior to this weekend he’d done back to back Cons (including Star Wars Celebration) and definitely seemed “booked”. I had talked to him briefly to coordinate in advance and we had left it at “we’ll see”. He was far more aware than I what had become of AwesomeCon. The current setup certainly would not have accommodated for a decent interview sadly. We discussed the possibility of something down the road when time permitted, but given the increased popularity of his Star Wars books and a rapid convention circuit, it may be a while. During his panel, he did announce that he has a number of books in the works including revisiting his military scifi series the Conquerors.
Max Brooks (www.maxbrooks.com)
Writer, actor, civil advisor. Max was certainly my deep dive this trip. I attended both his panels, the first on Biological Warfare was illuminating and involved two government experts (Dr Asha M George and Hon. Kenneth Wainstein). The Q&A part was amusing to say the least as we ended up getting the work-history of a few con-goers… at least there was interest.
Later at the table I was able to introduce myself to Max. He was thrilled when I pulled out Strategy Strikes Back and sent a photo to (the now) LtCol Cavanaugh. We discussed the possibility of a future interview and he seemed warm to the idea of either him or the LtCol jumping on. Granted at the moment he’s on a whirlwind tour for all his ongoing efforts (including a lecture on overcoming his childhood dyslexia). He’s a hell of a character with a bit of inherited comedic timing and tactful bluntness that made him a captivating speaker (especially at his second, more-Max-focused panel). I almost felt bad for his agent/manager who tried desperately to contain the energy and enthusiasm to a flight-restricted schedule. During the Q&A he did identify a desire for more books like Strategy Strikes Back and (the newly released) Winning Westeros. I snagged some copies of the informative graphic novel Germ Warfare for the team.
An almost accidental discovery was the Bard’s Tower table with a great crew of writers. I can’t emphasize amazing and supportive the whole team was. And I got the opportunity to chat with most of them and well…
Kevin J. Anderson (wordfire.com) This was a blast from my past. I had been digging through the bookshelf for my copy of World War Z or the Zombie Survival Guide (both were missing and I only replaced WWZ) and refreshed the rest of my library in my mind fortunately. Well, I had no idea KJA was there on Friday when I discovered so I asked if I could bring in my Star Wars novels Saturday for signature. He absolutely agreed and I lugged up 7 different books that he took the time to personalize. These books were dated in the 95/96 timeframe, just for reference. I also picked up a book from his newer (c.2014) series the Saga of Shadows (the Dark Between the Stars). My teenage self would have never believed it.
Charles E Gannon (charlesegannon.com)
Author and RPG designer, Charles and I talked at length about the Caine Riordan Series; which involves an intel analyst thrust into a galactic conflict. I picked up the first two books Fire with Fire and Trial by Fire. We also discussed the aspects of gaming strategy and his personal family ties to the military. He was (and the others were) greatly supportive of the military scifi podcast concept and some of their questions and comments led me to think they might want to roger up for an interview or two down the road and the definitely said they were going to help me network with other authors with a military focus.
Keith R.A. DeCandido (DeCandido.net)
New York native Keith has written for multiple novels, comics, and short fiction for Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, StarGate, StarCraft, FarScape, and Alien. In the last venture, he a forthcoming novel Alien: Isolation based on the tales of Ripley’s daughter Amanda. The man has a deep library of EU material for a number of major IPs. I suggest you dig thru his site at your earliest.
Quincy Allen (QuincyAllen.com)
Built like a biker, spoken like a scholar. Quincy said most of his universe were genera-blends; be it steampunk/fantasy or scifi/noir. I’m probably going to look into the pulp scifi/assassin romp Shadow of Ruin or Chemical Burn, his scifi/noir story about an alien detective stuck and hiding in modern Los Angeles.
D.J. Butler (davidjohnbutler.com)
DJ writes both children’s adventure stories and more mature horror and fantasy tales. Though most of his works are not in the military scifi vein we tend to look at, that’s no reason not to plug him. And outside of scfi, but still military, his City of the Saints is a steampunk military tale focused on a reshaping of the Civil War around a steampunk alternate history.