Yes, Virgin(ia), There Really Is A Safety Clause
So, going to your first con, are you? Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh, my precious, my dear, how little you know and how much there is to teach you – and so little time. Especially as you have fried your attention span for the written word by slammin’ with the X Box 26 hours out of most days, right? I sincerely hope I have misjudged you, Grasshopper, seeing as I do through jaded and cynical eyes. But if I am to give you a few pointers to guide thee in the pursuit of the Righteous Path through the hotel of death and infamy (and eternal shame), increasing thy odds of appearing as one of Kool & His Mighty Gang and not as one of the Overly Geeked Out, you must be able to follow my advice. In writing. Sometimes in run on sentences or fragments.
Of My Credentials
They (my credentials) are in order and you do need to be passingly acquainted with them, not so you will seek to buy and read or look at any paltry thing I have made, but so you will know, in your heart of hearts, your guide has walked the terrible paths, seen and done unspeakable things. Yea, verily, heed my words.
I have seen cons from both sides of the tables; and I have sat up late into the night around many a fire listening to unbelievable tales as told to me by my best friends – true and seasoned con vets if there ever were any. I have done and I have heard.
Sometimes I am a freelance writer and illustrator – I’ve done some RPG work for a couple of companies, I’ve done some editing. I’ve spent many a monotonous hour sitting on my narrow rear end waiting for the fans who never came to show interest in the product they could care less about because Todd McFarlane was signing autographs during my watch. That and because, once, our booth was put beside one featuring these models from a really hip lingerie shop and everyone was really into that one platinum blonde model, Channel; gee whiz, that woman was built like . . . uh, PG, PG, what’s a good PG metaphor here? I know: Jessica Rabbit. I swear. She was really nice to me too since I didn’t get any visitors; I sketched her portrait and she traded me a signed (nude) photo.
NOTE: Sometimes being a down on your luck freelancer at a con is great; others in various branches of the fraternity will show you mercy and pity. Just remember to return the favor – especially if this happens to be your first con as a dealer or guest and you wind up more popular than those worn out vets eyeing your fans like hungry wolves.
Ah, but I was not always a hungry wolf sometimes on the happy side of the table, the side of power (ha ha ha ha). Once I too was that snot nosed kid from rural US of A, more na´ve than you ever were; I was 13, away from home for the first time without parental guidance with two 17 year old buddies. It was Fantasy Fair in Atlanta around ‘79. How excited I was!
In that age before the advent of video games, when Space Invaders was exotic, I had begun playing D&D, that superior form of entertainment which required nothing more than an investment of all your money for the rest of your days, paper, pencils, weird dice, weirder friends, a lot of time, and an overactive imagination. And what, to my amazement, was at this thing called a “con” but people, strangers of all sizes and shapes actually playing D&D. Out in the open!
Back then, gentle reader, nobody played D&D in the “real” world except two or three people here and there. But at the con, lots of folk were playing in the halls. On the floors. Everywhere. Wow. It was as amazing as the cable in the room – there was this “documentary” about Japanese bath house/massage parlors . . . and me 13. I really had to make a hard decision to spend more time being out of the room doing con things than staying in the room gawking. Finally, my older, less hormonally challenged friends reminded me that I was there to play D&D and see some artists and waste my cash on comics. That broke the spell. Otherwise, I’d still be sitting there in the room.
NOTE: You’re young, it’s your first time? Don’t get lured into the sideshow! A con is like a traveling circus, filled with of a ton of things to hold your attention and hustle the cash out of your pockets or time off your life. You, dear one, are what is known in the parlance as a mark, a rube – every con artist (like that inevitable play on words?) is out for what you’ve got, including but not limited to your time and money. And you – your job is to know this. Your job is to go in there wised-up, eyes cold and hard, smiling like a ruthless killer. Why? You know why you’re there. You’ve planned this out ahead of time. You’ve got some kind of schedule or program – a list of what guests you want to see (if any), and a Plan B and C since the lines are often too long and your bladder too small. If you’re there to buy merchandise, you’ve got some kind of idea what you want, a limit on what you’ll pay, and you plan to go when everyone else is at some event everyone else wants to go to – but you don’t want to. Why? Everyone else is there! The only thing you’re going to see or hear at some of those events are people you aren’t there to see or hear, namely, your fellow conventioneers. Think things out. Your intelligence is higher than the average population’s as evidenced by the fact you’re drawn to a con and not NASCAR or an Oak Ridge Boys concert. But your wisdom – feh. Wisdom shmisdom. You don’t have any yet and you’re going to have to stay on your toes to make up for it.
Plus, buy things at the end of the con when the dealers are desperate to break even. Never, never, never go looking for merchandise desperate for it, too eager, and on the first day or two. The prices are worse.
And don’t watch the television in your room, either, or your fondest memory of your first con is liable to consist in exotic images of imaginative uses for soap.
Ok now, where were we?
Alright, you get the point. I’ve been a fan and I’ve been a (minor) purveyor of the sort of stuff fans come to cons to possess. I’ve been to the bottom and I’ve been . . . well, I rose about a foot from the bottom. So here’s my list of “Dos and Don’ts,” in no particular order. (Why should I shoot for imposing a structure on this chaos at this point?)
1. Wearing a costume is great, with a few things kept in mind. It’s a costume, not a uniform. Think about when you go out for Halloween and you see 753 Darth Vaders. How impressive is that? This is a sci-fi con you’re at, a fantasy con. Fantasy and sci-fi require, oh, what’s that word again? Ah – imagination.
Imaginative people don’t dress like one another; no, that’s frat boys or golfers. How many times has your weary servant gone again into the breech and encountered hordes of those people wearing rubber horseshoe crabs glued to their heads to give them the appearance of having the receding hairline a vengeful deity will one day grant unto them for their transgressions against good taste and individuality?
“But I like Klingons,” you protest, “I wanted to dress like one. My best friend’s been going to cons for years and he does it – he even does that pig grunt language thing and I’m learning it, too! Hrmmmgrnnnklll-aw!!! He says everyone thinks it’s so cool.” My child – you have been deceived. The sprit gum by which the horseshoe crab device is attached to the forehead has two detrimental properties: a) it affects the ability to see all those people laughing their guts out at you, and b) it is addictive and requires of you that you continuously apply it to the forehead. My favorite costume I ever wore to a con was when I dressed like Angel Eyes/Lee Van Cleef from the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” It was liberating – I had that wonderful, theatrical feeling of standing out like a sore thumb and yet, no, I did not look like a dork. It kept ‘em guessing and it was a great ice-breaker!
2. Wear a costume that fits. If you’re a young lass in good shape bewtixt ages, oh, 14 and 40, perhaps you may consider wearing that skin-tight green/black/gold spandex Phoenix costume. It could work. And, if you were a guy, maybe you could do the same and make it work for you, too, in a campy, hilarious, “John Waters was here” sort of way. Oh, but you have not lived till you have seen Her – and, lads and lassies, there is and always shall be a Her and get it in you right now that you don’t want to become Her.
She is 50, a chain smoker (always complains she ain’t getting’ Her fix, that’s why she’s chomping the gum); She has hennaed hair, stringy hennaed hair. Don’t get me wrong here: I love redheads, I’m a sucker for red hair. “Red hair covereth a host of sins,” that’s my Scotch-Irish family motto. My beard is red, my hair is reddish. But She, She has a bad dye job. And she’s at least 250 lbs. And she has been poured into the green, black, and golden spandex of Phoenix. She is far closer to a Butterball than a Phoenix, methinks.
She will have children, at least three, no older than 10. All will be dressed as Fajita from “Dragonball Z” and have his sorry attitude. They will spray soda on your copy of “Elfquest” #1 at just the moment you take it out of the bag (NOTE: Don’t take your copy of anything out of the bag near anyone in public at a con; the above episode happened to me and my copy of “X-Men” #111 and I’ve never been right since, as you can doubtless tell).
3. Underage people should never drink at a con (there’s always a few overage people who need to let it alone, too – hence, I don’t touch the stuff anymore).
4. Most tournament games at cons are rip-offs and time wasters unless you are severely into the game in question, and even then, it’s luck of the draw. Once, me and a friend signed up to play in this AD&D tourney. Then we waited around for like an hour for the thing to get started because there were “delays.” I think TSR had to write yet another version of the DMG or something.
Then, after we got rolling, the rolling immediately ceased as one of our more Asberger’s Syndrome afflicted contestants began asking for gratuitous details about the setting, minutiae that had nothing to do with plot, characters, role playing. We literally sat there in stunned silence as this guy went on a Congressional-style fact finding mission to discover the exact origins of the wood used to create a door in a castle because he was, after all, a woodland elf and they “know these things.” But after being (repeatedly) assured his questions weren’t leading anywhere by the exasperated GM, he switched tactics.
He began to discuss the mineralogy of the rocks used to create the walls surrounding yon door we so desperately needed to get through (not jabber about), claiming that rocks are natural, he’s an elf, elves know everything about natural stuff – his character was so old maybe he’d seen the dwarves or humans mine the stuff back in the day, right? Or talked to them? After sitting there listening to this crazed mess for what seemed like, and maybe was, eons, my friend and I had our characters backstab his character more times than Julius Caesar caught it on the Ides. Then the game was over and we lost for poor sportsmanship and not solving the game’s problem (we protested that, indeed, we had slain the monster, to no avail).
Moral of the story: Play nice, be considerate of others, or prepare to go to elf heaven on the 7:15. Also, to reiterate, I would have had a much better time just out people watching during that same period of time, but nooooooo, I had no program of activities and playing in a tourney sounded like fun. Meh.
5. Some guests are rude. Or maybe it’s not that they’re rude, it’s that they feel entitled somehow to take certain liberties. When you become a famous/nearly famous/wannabe famous person in the industry, my young ones, do not follow suit! No one really likes it. It invites conventioneers to return the behavior in kind and, well, that isn’t right either.
Take the Strange Case of Glen Danzig. I don’t know how ol’ Glen’s getting along these days, not my cuppa, but lots of folks like his music and lots of folks like his porno comix. Lot more people like Glen Danzig than will ever like me, darn it, but then again, I’m not all that entertaining.
My friend and I were drunk (to reiterate: some people who are overage need to lay off the sauce at cons) and wandering the hotel halls at Dragon Con, mid 90s, when I was allegedly there as a dealer and he was there to cover the thing with a press badge. We could go pretty much anywhere, which really didn’t set either of us on fire, but we cruised nevertheless hoping to run into someone interesting so we’d have a good memory from the event. Lo and behold, we happened upon this elevator, and lo and behold standing before this elevator was this long, luscious girl in striped hose, high heels and, well, that’s about it. My friend, being single and drunk made a beeline to her and started chatting her up and I, being drunk and stupid, just enjoyed the view and said silly things which she genuinely laughed at. (NOTE: It is not difficult to laugh at a drunk dressed as Lee Van Cleef on some kind of manic tear.).
Ok. So far, so good. No harm done. The usual kind of exchange that happens at some cons. Then around the corner came this really muscular little guy in a tight black tee shirt and leather pants; behind him came this really big. menacing bald dude, similarly dressed. Now, get the picture here, the little guy was about the size of a powerful circus midget next to me and my friend – my buddy is taller than me and I am 6 feet; in the ridiculously high-heeled cowboy boots I was in, though, I was about 7 feet tall. We were both taller than the bodyguard.
Problem #1: I didn’t know who this little guy was, but I sure knew he was being snotty to us boys. Problem #2: My friend did know who he was but said nothing. Problem #3: Neither of us cared who he was because we were drunk, he was short, and the whole scene looked like something out of a Fellini film. That or Shrek with Lord Farquaad.
The little guy, without saying “excuse me” or anything, stepped in and started talking to the girl who was now having to split her attention between us and him, since we didn’t stop cracking jokes. Why should we? We were there first, she hadn’t told us to get lost. That and we hadn’t figured out yet that she had been waiting to meet the short dude and go somewhere for an audience with His Royal Diminutiveness.
To make matters worse, she liked our conversation better. The Lord of Darkness, Jr. was being too darn serious and we were not.
So the elevator comes and we all get in. He stops talking, we stop talking. The girl smiled broadly, nervously. It was one of those awkward moments you have in elevators with drunks who’ve just been sniggering at a little man strong enough to break their backs like twigs. Then, since we were being quiet finally, the guy stepped forward, face towards me but looking up at the tall girl (next to me) and said in his best Count Dracula imitation, “Hi, I’m Glen Danzig.”
At which time I looked down . . . and belched on the guy, really, really loudly. It was an accident, I think. Ok. It wasn’t.
The bodyguard slammed the button on the elevator and the doors slid open at the next floor. “I think it’s time for you to get out,” he said. Laughing loudly, we did, waving good-bye to our young lady, leaving her to her chosen fate, I guess.
Moral of this tale: I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky my body didn’t turn up missing. I am lucky the bodyguard just hit the machine’s buttons and not my button nose. Even if guests are rude to you or just unpleasant, belching on them or laughing at them to their faces is uncalled for and might cost you teeth, friends, your con badge, who knows.
6. Underage people and idiots should never drink at cons. See #5 for details.
7. Con suites: If you are at a con featuring con suites and they have stuff like food and are playing great anime flicks on the DVD and the people running the suite are decent, stay awhile, talk with them. Show some appreciation for the free stuff. If you are underage and they offer you beer, liquor, other stuff, walk out. Young ladies, that is how young ladies get accosted by men with no moral fiber. Young men, that is how young men get accosted by the 50 year old 250 lb. chain smoking woman in green, black, and gold spandex. I and my friends have seen this happen too many times. Beware! Beware! Run away!
8. If you happen upon a group of overly bored, sarcastic con veterans eyeballing people playing LARPs, turn and run. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00. Just leave. It happened like this: Some friends and I were watching people play Live Action “Vampire” (which is, I have to admit in retrospect, a snazzy game) at Dragon Con – hmm, yes, this was that same time I was dressed as Lee Van Cleef . . .. Do you hear that Ennio Morricone music in the background now?
Anyway, I didn’t know what they were doing and one of my acquaintances explained it to me. I saw some goth guy go past with his arms crossed over his chest so I asked what that meant. “It means they’re invisible.” So I got up and held my arms out like I was being crucified, eyes rolled heavenwards with boredom and said, in a really flat, emotionless tone, “Help, I’m apathetic.” Everyone died. It came to me – the idea for “meta-LARPGs.” We could walk around behind the gamers, not interfere with them, but just do goofy things like Monty Python Silly Walks and Marx Brothers insanity. Just see how many people we could make laugh with our mimed commentary on the oh-too-serious goths. A game was born.
We drove to a nearby friend’s house, I whipped out some illustrations while two of my friends took the raw idea and beat it into a rough LARP with rules. We spent the evening trying to sell copies; then we just handed it out and talked conventioneers into playing it; we wound up with a fair sized mob roaming the halls. We also got a security contingent of our very own. Since my friends were wearing jester’s caps, we could hear the con security going nuts calling each other as we ran up and down the stairwells – “Jesters on 5! Jesters on 5! I’ve got jesters on 5!” To make a really long story short, some of our players nearly got tossed out of the con for being stupid, more stupid than we, the creators of this Frankenstein’s monster, were for creating it.
Moral of this story: Stay away from non-con sponsored LARPGs.
9. Thieves are everywhere and so are careless folk. I don’t know how many tales I have heard of people taking their con badges off and losing them; and equally, I’ve heard at least a dozen people tell me that if you hang out in the lobby of a big con and look around, you can find badges, sometimes with several days entrance paid up. Do not go to cons to rip off other people’s badges and get in free – you find a badge, you turn it in. Besides, the badge you steal might have belonged to Ted Bundy II and the authorities might be looking for him. Similarly, you buy a badge, you make sure the thing is bolted to you and you never, never take it off. If you’re ashamed to walk off the con floor with your badge on, you ain’t properly acclimatized. Leave it on.
10. Dianetics and Objectivism: Just Say No. I am a philosopher. Really, with grad degrees and everything. Trust me. N-O. I took the “Objectivism-Defines-You-In-Less-Than-10-Minutes” quiz at a con once and they placed my results on their “all-knowing dartboard of ideologies” and explained to me I believed the same things someone like Stalin did. My response was to give a shrug and say, “I guess several hundred million Russians couldn’t have been totally wrong then.”
11. Church of the Sub-Genius: Maybe. It’s not for everyone.
12. Geeze, have fun! Don’t take it so seriously and don’t make fun of everything you see. Leave that to the professionals. Watch other people, see what looks interesting and see how it works out for others before you jump in with them. Waste your time and cash only on what you want to waste ‘em on.
Your eyes are not jaded and cynical or old – cons are great if you play them right.
Where else could you belch on a goth rock star, listen to a wood elf talk plywood, walk like John Cleese behind a pretty girl with hair blacker than Elvis’, learn that you really, really do not need to drink alcohol, plus buy comics! comics! comics!, meet Harvy Pekar, Larry Weltz – all the underground dudes – pick up freelance work, get artists to look at your art and have them tell you you need to study more Gil Kane and less whoever’s hot right now, see at least 15 women who look kinda like Bettie Page (give or take 25 pounds), and immerse yourself in fandom. For once, you are in a place where you are “normal people” and all the mundanes are, well, mundane. If you pay attention and don’t run amok, it’s one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
“Jesters on 5! Jesters on 5!”
Richard Van Ingram
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