Many of my friends and followers on Instagram got a fun look inside my 3rd experience at Emerald City Comic Con this last weekend. While I say "3rd" experience, it really was my first full immersion in the "con" culture. Previously my days were limited to either 1 or 2 of the 4-day convention. This time, I went full-geek and attended with a 4-day pass. Since we're not planning a "big trip" this year, we treated ourselves to a room in Seattle so we could focus on enjoying every last bit of the event - a busy "staycation" if you will...with an extra dose of geek.
In case you aren't aware, ECCC is *the* convention for gamer geeks, superhero fans and comic buffs alike. It's also a place for costume designers, cosplayers, writers, artists and animators. It really runs the gamut as far as main stream media goes. This was ECCC's first year doing 4 full days of events, panels, series' & more. It has grown from an attendance of 2,500 in 2003 to over 90,000 attendees in more recent years.
While all of this seems very geek-culture specific, and potentially overwhelming, I wanted to put a blog up about my experience and some of the more moving moments of ECCC. I think you might be surprised, I certainly was. Don't worry, the following paragraphs contain few, if any, sci-fi references to decipher...
To start, I like many things, but I wouldn't consider myself a full-blown geek, gamer or nerd. I am more of a "dabbler" in science fiction, fantasy and all of the in-between. I love Harry Potter, but have not actually read the books. My husband loves video games, but I long for the days of 4-button controllers and easy-to-understand missions (like save Princess Peach in Mario Brothers circa 1987) I'm a child of the 80's and very much enjoyed classics like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Star Wars and so on. I like to call them, "simpler times" in the world of sci-fi and fantasy today. So, attending a convention like this sometimes has me feeling a little like a "poser" in the world of geek, film & game culture. One of the first things you realize when you walk into ECCC is that, all of this is ok. There is no guard at the door quizzing you on facts from Zelda or the latest anime craze. Everyone is there for different reasons, and just about all attendees seem to share a few common threads...acceptance, camaraderie and kindness.
From the panels I attended to the overall sense of community - acceptance, kindness, a "we are one" feeling kept flowing through me. People dressed up, people did not...any measure in between was ok. There was no pointing of fingers at costume accuracy or rolling of eyes at a "stupid" question. I, myself questioned my costume ideas before heading into Day 2, 3 & 4, wondering if it would be "cool enough" or if someone would call out my lack of actual character representation. But when I got inside each of those days, I was welcomed with kindness, compliments and smiles. I was encouraged (and wanted to!) engage with artists, performers, strangers. I felt completely safe and comfortable in my skin - almost as though being around my own friends or people at the very least, that I would like to be friends with. This feeling amazed me, and truth be told, I am yearning for it a bit as I write this.
Another branch in this theme of "acceptance" was the content of the panels offered. ECCC has really done a great job in expanding the topics and learning opportunities for its guests. You might think there informative seminars on video games or the next Marvel flick, they're not. They have a multitude of seminars from building confidence in your cosplay to actual building of costumes. From this history of comic books as activism to learning from industry designers on how to forge your way in the gaming/movie industry. Many are hosted by multiple professionals so they can speak to many levels of the topic. There are, of course, the celebrity panels too - essentially an hour of "couch-sessions" with a moderator and a big-name-in-the-industry guest. The 5 panels I decided to try were: Wil Wheaton Spotlight, Felicia Day Spotlight, Game to Grow, Be A Nerd Girl Boss and Marketing (Isn't) Magic. I wasn't sure how ANY of them would go, but with 4 days to fill, it seemed easy enough to kill some time.
My first 2 were back to back and included Marketing (Isn't) Magic followed by Be A Nerd Girl Boss. These both seemed moderately appropriate given what I do. The marketing panel included authors, a local start up cosmetic company representative, a woman-owned event planning / PR business and a comic book artist/author. The Nerd Girl Boss panel included some incredible self-starter ladies, several which were on the previous panel, but also a clothing designer, the owner of Espionage cosmetics and an African American film star/writer. The combination of these two panels back-to-back was mind-blowing. Being in a room with empowered women that were going through similar struggles as my business was very comforting. Despite hearing some things I already knew about running my own business, hearing it from others and hearing new takes on solutions got my mind thinking outside of the box. The theme of acceptance and kindness was thick here - in that the overall message was "no matter what you do, be authentically YOU." That makes my heart sing - as often times being a one-girl show has to be many things that stretch her outside of the comfort zone. Many of you know that I just hired an assistant last week (YAY!) but it's a struggle for me to delegate and trust. A few of the women mentioned hiring people but didn't elaborate too much, so I took the opportunity to speak to one of them after the time had ended. Not only did she chat with me one-on-one for over 15 additional minutes, she gave me some great pointers on how I can be the best ME, while also being a great leader for my new hire. Acceptance & kindness...nowhere along the way, in either panel, were people scoffed at for their ideas - in fact, many of the panelists were dying to know what the entrepreneur did and how it was going. This left me pumped for the next round.
Next up were the 2 celebrities, Felicia Day (known for her roles in The Guild, Buffy, as well as an online show with Wil Wheaton called Tabletop) and the always-loved Wil Wheaton (Stand by Me, Star Trek Next Generation, and MANY more things). These panels were attended with friends and in the massive "Main Stage" of the convention. One of the things I loved about them both (they were structured the same way) was that they spent the most time taking Q&A from the audience. While I'm not as familiar with Felicia Day, she seemed like a normal person, not overly full of herself and someone I'd befriend at a social gathering. Wil Wheaton entered to a near-standing ovation. I figured he'd speak mostly about games, what he was up to, etc. But, when the Q&A got going, a man stepped up to the mic that changed the direction of the entire show. He wanted to simply thank Wil Wheaton for his openness about mental and social disorders. He explained how he had suffered from depression and anxiety, and appreciated that a celebrity he looked up to was willing to share his ups and downs with the rest of us. I had no idea that Wil suffered from these, and as a spouse of someone suffering, I immediately had chills. For the remainder of the time, Wil spoke openly about his love for his wife, her support, the support of his fans and how bullying is not something we, as a culture, should take lightly. As we sat there, the room was nearly silent. More and more fans came up to exclaim their struggles and how he had inspired them for the positive through is perseverance, his blog, and his stories. By now I hope you, reader, are realizing how even my expectations were exceeded in this event. I had to look around a few times to see costumes, to see art, to see crowds and realize I was still at something called a "comic convention."
On Saturday, Joe and I decided to see the remainder of things we hadn't yet, and also to attend a panel called "Don't Just Game, Game to Grow!" Based on the description, I assumed it would be more of an exploration on how to include non-gamers in to a gaming world. Maybe how to incorporate learning, etc. As the panel introduced themselves, they explained what they did as a career - guess what? Many of them were licensed mental health counselors as well as marriage therapists. My eyes got kind of big, and I was excited for the remainder of the hour. How apropos given my solid belief in counseling and my experience the last few years in my own life & journey. Our speakers shared with us primarily how they use gaming, whether video or table top, to work with children & adolescents struggling with mental health issues, social anxieties and other types of diagnoses. I was absolutely fascinated in their "a-ha" moments working with a very troubled youth to pin-point issues and therefore solutions. As a non-video gamer it has always been hard for me to understand the pull and the draw, but my husband uses gaming as a release and an escape so we often have conflict in our views. This was very eye opening to me in ways I could be supportive as a spouse and perhaps ways that we could encourage a future child should we decide to start a family. Once again, at the end of the panel, I had a private question and was met with enthusiasm and engagement as I chatted with one of the panelists afterwards.
On my last day, I started off with a panel based on "Activism in Comics," a non-partisan look at how expressionism changed throughout the world's tumultuous years in history. Led by a leader in the Comic Book Legal Defense Foundation, this was a very interesting surface view of how our first amendment has been used to create activism and a voice for change in graphic arts. I very much enjoyed seeing the slides and the commentary on how things changed throughout time and what methods were seen as "risque" throughout the 20th century. I would have loved a deeper dive into some, but the panel was only an hour and there wasn't even time for Q&A at the end.
I spent a little time of my last day picking up art items we had flagged for purchase (a true expert level con attendee: you don't buy things early and then carry them around through 90,000 people in hopes of them making it home unscathed...). I also took some time to just sit and watch the people go by. During our tour through the Artists Alley, I said aloud to Joe "I really wish some of these artists would make coloring books...what a relaxing way to remember ECCC." No sooner did I say that than one of the artists mentioned to me as I perused her prints "I love your style, all that you have going on here..." Remember earlier when I said I was feeling not-so-confident about what I was wearing? I thanked her profusely and in my interaction looked over to the corner of her table only to see a coloring book! I explained what had transpired a few moments prior and she said "well, it's destined for you, it's my last one!" She gave me a discount because it was her display, and I asked her to sign it for me. When I opened the cover to hand it over, I realized it was a "Positive Affirmations" coloring book. Complete with woodland critters and quotes like "You are enough," "Be Strong," and "Value Beyond Measure." It's quite amazing how the universe works sometimes.
I spent Sunday afternoon watching my husband do something he loves (play DnD) while I watched the world go by. I spent a few hours coloring in my new book and reminiscing on how the world could use a few more people like those I met and interacted with at ECCC and a few more acts of kindness, acceptance and "we are one."