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C2E2 is Still Better than Comic Con

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Yah, I said it.

I used to go do Wizard World Chicago every year, like a religious pilgrimage to the closest shrine of comic geekdom we had. Then, one year, everything changed and it was suddenly Comic Con Chicago. Vendor booths, artist alley tables, and dealer areas were eaten away to make room for roped off and curtained no-go zones for those who paid big bucks to get signatures from celebrities like Bruce Campbell and Patrick Stewart.

Around the second year of that, if memory serves, we also went to C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.  I believe it was their second year, and it was a small convention, but it reminded me of the early years going to Wizard World.  We had a blast and decided that would become our regular yearly stint.

A bonus was that we always had to make the choice between GenCon and Wizard World. WW always won out due to price.  With C2E2 being earlier in the year, that opened up the opportunity to start going to GenCon as well.  We went to Comic Con one more time after starting to go to C2E2 and, if possible, it was worse than the time before.  It wasn’t about comic books and artists anymore.  It was all about getting in to pay ridiculous sums just to get a glossy picture of an actor signed.

C2E2, while mostly about comics and artists, doesn’t pretend that it’s only a comic book convention.  They do dedicate most of the floor space to comic artists and vendors though.  The amazing part is that in just 7 years they’ve gone from a small show with just shy of 28,000 attendees to a juggernaut topping 80K this past year.

McCormick Place is the perfect venue as well.  Where Comic Con is limited in growth by the Rosemont’s (Donald E. Stephens Convention Center) limited space at 840,000 square feet, McCormick Place boasts 2.6 million, 1.2 of which is all on the same floor.  Just three years ago C2E2 topped New York Comic Con in size, with over 670,000 square feet of space used.  It’s safe to say if it exists in the world of geek culture and you can’t find it at C2E2, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Due to its size, I recommend any attendee go for more than a day.  One day used to be enough for us, whether it was Wizard World, Comic Con, or the early years of C2E2. After the 2015 trip though we knew that wasn’t going to be enough. We were there from opening until about an hour before the floor closed and we felt like we only saw half of it.

Even this year, with two days in Chicago, we didn’t see everything, but we ran out of spending money about lunch time on Saturday and the crowd was getting to be a bit much.  Take your time. Don’t rush; and don’t spend all your money right away.  Best practice, see everything you want to see, and if an item you saw earlier in the day is still on your mind, then go back and get it.  Better to have to backtrack than buy something early and find an item you want more later, but have spent yourself out of funds.

Here’s some other tips for anyone new to large cons:

  • Deodorant
  • Comfy shoes – the show floors are hard despite the carpet
  • Backpack with water bottle compartment – water fountains are free
  • More deodorant – halfway through the day, you’ll wish you could jump into the bathroom and refresh with a damp paper towel and application of deodorant
  • Print/poster tube – pick it up early at one of the many booths selling Dick Blick products. You’ll be glad you did if you buy any art.
  • Phone charger/backup battery – Your battery will drain fast if you use your phone for anything inside a steel and concrete building with no signal strength
  • Dress light, even if it’s cold outside – no matter the temp outside it will be hot in the hall. A short cold walk beats a long sweaty day on the show floor.

Of course, C2E2 is also an entertainment con, so it has a long list of celebrity guests, and some of them cost a lot just for one signature.  The convention does a great job of giving the celebrities space without taking away floor from the comics, artists, and vendors.

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Many of the celebs you meet will also vary in price for autographs from free on up to $60.  I would avoid the meet and greets, though, honestly.  My wife did a meet and greet with Wil Wheaton this year. $60 for a picture with him that he didn’t even sign.  Want that signed? Another $40… yeah, a little disappointing for a long-time fan.

Sure, you get to stand next to them for a second, maybe get a, “Hi, how are ya!” but Michael Cudlitz (Walking Dead, Band of Brothers, Southland) was doing autographs and taking a ton of selfies with fans at his table, and actually talking to people.  We watched from the line to meet Timothy Zahn and it was great to see Mr. Cudlitz treating all of his fans like friends.  He didn’t even sit behind his high table they set up for him.  He came around the side, standing right there with the fans, and it was fantastic.  Granted, Cudlitz had far fewer people in line, but damn if he didn’t show the utmost appreciation for every single one of them.

Other than all that, plan ahead.  Make sure you know what you want to see, and prioritize. You can be in line for a signing longer than anticipated, so don’t schedule anything back to back.  Look for things that aren’t at your local shop, or easily ordered cheaper on Amazon.  Really scope out the deals and find those items that you must have and are hard to find.

Make frequent trips to the car to drop off stuff, but also to get out of the crowd and noise for some fresh air.  The population of a decent-sized city descends on that convention hall and sometimes you just need to get away from it to recharge before diving back in. Above all, have fun.  Any convention you go to is ultimately about that.  Sharing your love for geekdom and having fun.  That’s what makes it all worth it.

Uncle Yo

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Stand Up Zenkaikon

I’ve known of Uncle Yo for several years now. He’s been at nearly every convention I’ve been to and the first time I sat in on one of his shows, I was newish to anime and I didn’t understand every reference made and that was fine, I laughed at the ones I understood and sometimes just laughed with everyone else. It was infectious. A crowd of people sat around me, laughing till they cried, huge fans of the man on stage. At that time, he was just a comedian at a convention (my first ever) and a fun part of a hugely overwhelming experience that I was terrified to dip my toe into. Never did I realize I would later do a cannonball screaming like a lunatic later, into that very same nerd pool.

At Too Many Games 2016, I made a new friend and was talking excitedly about my first press pass. How scary it was, how exciting it was but deep down I was so self conscious about what I was doing, who was I talking to. Hell, Doug Walker was there and I’m a big fan of the Nostalgia Critic, I was even too nervous to show that man how much his work meant to me. Instead, I made a stalking joke (like I do). He laughed genuinely and went on his way.

Anyway, I had seen Uncle Yo the night before, like I had many times by now (even watching him online) and my new friend Sean says, “You should interview him! Let’s go find him!” I’m not sure I even agreed to this but off we were to find Uncle Yo, who was playing some retro game in the game room. Sean interrupts his play and says I want to interview him, he says of course and off we go.

Now I’m in full blown panic, I’ve not prepped for an interview… I’ve only done one, ONE IN MY WHOLE LIFE and THAT I was only mostly prepared for. One quiet(ish) room later and I’m sitting there giving the most awkward interview of, I assume, both our lives. My questions are random, not connected and I’m swallowing that panic attack like a champ. After the interview, I must have apologized a dozen times (I even apologized later in the evening) but he never said a negative thing. ‘NOOOO, it was fine!’ I can still hear it in his voice. I sucked it up, put the article up there and moved on.

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Cosplay Masquerade Ball, Zenkaikon 2017

Can you imagine my shock when we became friends on various social platforms? I don’t just mean through Real Women of Gaming, he has seen pictures of my life and I his, we’ve commented back and forth, I’ve seen/read much. He gets married, goes on a honeymoon to make anyone jealous, he creates new characters, goes to many more cons, meets many new people, brings more people to tears of laughter and joy. I’ve even started watching My Little Pony, on his suggestion, with my daughter and we both love it.

Zenkaikon 2017 comes up and we are asked who we want to interview. Of course, I mark down that I want to talk to him again among many other guests that are attending. HA HA, this time I will be prepared. One tweet however, keeps crossing the back of my mind and it’s one I know I will have to ask. I dive into his tweets, google search him and yet on the screen where I am typing up questions to ask, it’s still blank and it stayed blank. I only had one planned question.

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Karl & his wife Catherine

I see him at the opening ceremonies and he gives a loving pinky swear that makes me a bit emotional and he recognizes me as he’s leaving the room, a hug and a few happy words and he is off again to his next thing. I saw him running around throughout the weekend, he did so much you’d swear there was more than one of him running around. Saturday morning, I had a chance to sit down and interview him. This time a bit more properly, but unfortunately somber.  He explains that this is his last year in the convention circuit and this is his last Zenkaikon. He speaks so passionately about Zenkaikon, the community, his fans… it spills out of each laugh, every smile and all of his words. Our interview finishes, I thank him, give him a hug and he is on his way.

I see the second half of his show and at the end he tells everyone that this will be his last Zenkaikon. He expresses his emotions about it and even breaks a little at the end, sending me into waves of tears. However, he said something important that could have been easily missed. He tells people to take his absence in running panels and run their own. Step forward, be all that you are, show it to the whole community. I saw him at least once more before the convention ended. It won’t be the last time I see him, however.

I have to thank Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer. He will always mean a great deal to me.

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Stand Up, Zenkaikon 2017

I, like many others, suffer from a great deal of things, disabilities, disorders, diagnoses, whatever you want to call them. The positive push he gave me after out first interview was everything to me. It helped me not be as hard on myself. Every time I’ve talked to him he always comes across as genuinely interested in anything I have to say and anything I want to ask. He’s caring and helpful. He’s proud of people he doesn’t even know for stepping out of their comfort zone. He believes they can do it and he doesn’t care what size you are. I’ve watched him tell entire rooms of people that it’s okay to be themselves and do it for themselves.

From kids to adults, sometimes we just need to hear that from someone else. I see faces light up when they see him, even if only because he makes them laugh or because he gets it. Karl is a treasure and I am so happy that I was lucky enough to cross paths with him. I hope to take his encouragement with me and I pray I can pass it on to other people.

Most of all, I hope people take all he has given them and pay it forward. I hope they step out of their comfort zone, host a panel, do that cosplay no matter your size. Embrace that new person at their first con and show them how awesome it really can be.

As for Karl, thank you so much. Now, you go get a drink and we will continue this conversation later. We will be right here.

Uncle Yo’s Convention Schedule: AnimeNEXT, ConnectiCON, DekuCon in Denver, Derpycon and AnimeNYC.

Zenkaikon 2017, A Wild Ride

It’s a beautiful Monday in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I sit here listening to birds chirping, Vel playing video games and the pounding of the keys between sips of coffee and I can’t help but feel an empty little spot in my soul, a spot known to well as Post Convention Blues.

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Cosplay Masquerade

We spent three days at Zenkaikon, held at the Lancaster Convention Center in Lancaster, PA. With a star-studded guest line-up, a full schedule of panels and some amazing places to eat nearby, we were excited to go… and a bit nervous, as this was our very first Zenkaikon.

The convention is celebrating its 11th year, which is no small achievement for a growing convention with a highly dedicated fan base (for years, my friends have been screaming at me to go) that will fold you in like family as soon as they realize you’re a newbie. Over the course of those three days, we were so positively overwhelmed that it was exhilarating. Even the local restaurants were happy to see the flood of cosplayers, some embracing the event by giving discounts to con-goers and holding cosplay contests.

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Noodle King

Before I go into more about the convention itself, I want to point out that central Lancaster, surrounding the convention center, is beautiful. Even on the outskirts, I loved the area. It had the center city feel without the center city issues. There were some traffic pattern issues to deal with, of course, the convention was in town and there was a race on Saturday, so some streets were closed. However, I never felt the need to rush back to the car, the walk to the car (there was more than one parking garage within a two block radius) was refreshing and the weather this weekend made it more of a stroll than a rush. Not to mention the diversity in food and food pricing was an added bonus. From The Rabbit and The Dragonfly, a coffee bar with a great theme and amazing food, to The Noodle King, a treasure of Pho that we found thanks to our good friend Paul and even the smoothie shop across the street. We were not disappointed by our eats and the walk to each location was worth it.

Now, Zenkaikon…

I’m not even sure where to start. The lines for registration moved quickly and the staff at the front was not only knowledgeable and friendly, but also confident to tell me when they didn’t know the answer to a question I had. This wasn’t just a theme for the front, but for all of the staff I encountered that weekend. They were friendly, willing to walk with me if I was confused, and quick to go find an answer (if they were in a position in which they could leave their post) or tell me who to speak to. What I appreciated most, besides the friendliness of staff (so many pleases and thank yous), was the admittance of lack of knowledge on a particular subject. I’d rather get an “I don’t know” than several different answers from several different staff. I loved how they handled lines (Cosplay Burlesque’s line spanned two floors) and how, even come Sunday, they were still pleasant in making sure everyone was having fun. I want to thank the whole staff for a wonderful experience.

On to the guests! Charles Dunbar (Author), Cosplay Burlesque (Preforming Arts), Cosplay

The Slants

The Slants

Pro Wrestling (Preforming Arts), Ellen McLain (Actress), Greg ‘Greggo’ Wicker (Game Show Host), John Patrick Lowery (Actor), Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer (Comedian), Keith DeCandido (Author), Kuniko Kanawa (Cultural Presenter), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Actress), Sonny Strait (Actor) who had to cancel last minute due to illness, Steve Blum (Actor), The Slants (Musical Guests). So many guests and so little time. We had the pleasure of speaking with Cosplay Burlesque, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowery, Uncle Yo, Keith DeCandido and The Slants (EPIC CONCERT!). Every one of them was an absolute delight to speak with and I will treasure those experiences forever. Those interviews and insights will come up in other articles as soon as possible.

The chosen theme for the year was ‘Under the Sea,’ so of course we started our Opening Ceremonies with Uncle Yo in… what I can only explain as an octopus corset (complete with tentacles) and swimming goggles being the amazing MC that he is, introducing guests, throwing candy and making jokes with the wonderful Maddy from Staff, who had a squid on her head. They spoke of cosplay contests, LARPing, game rooms, video rooms, events big and small, also panels, 18+, Con Safety from the lovely Princess Kiwi all before Uncle Yo lead us in a beautiful promise pinkie swear to leave the rest at home, be at the con for us, to have fun and make new friends.

Videos included Black Butler, Assassination Classroom, One Punch Man, RWBY, Yuri!!! On Ice, Baka and Test and many, many more. It’s a wonderful time to catch that first episode to see if you are really interested and want to dive in. I now have Yuri!!! On Ice on my list along with Erased, Steins Gate and a few other wonderful recommendations from other con-goers.

18157271_1071751016303094_6028366417503715593_nOf course, gaming was well represented and I don’t just mean THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF OVERWATCH COSPLAYERS (I loved them all) who all looked amazing. Aside from LARPing and a room full of people playing board games was Artemis (which I forgot all about and am so mad at myself), Pokemon Sun and Moon, Mario Kart 8, Rocket League, Smash Brothers U and more. I was impressed by the steady stream of gaming through out the con and a Magic: The Gathering Tournament. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play some video games while I was there, but, alas, I was there as press and not to play games. However, I’m getting a game in next year.

Also, a congratulations to the winners of the Cosplay Contests, Cosplay Masquerade, AMVs and Karaoke. We had the pleasure of seeing thousands of cosplays, witnessing all the entries to the Masquerade and seeing the winning AMVs. Everyone did and incredible job. Even if you cosplayed just a little (such as I did) or a lot, everyone looked wonderful. I was even sandwiched between two doctors in my closet TARDIS cosplay. Most of all, I’m so proud of every one of you. It takes such heart, courage and bravery to step out in the first place, even if it is just presenting the AMVs you’ve worked so hard on, getting up on stage in front of hundreds to preform a skit with your friends or by yourself, or buying a cosplay or making it. I’m so proud and was so honored to be among you. You made the convention and kept it going. It’s your work, your ideas, your dedication, and your patronage that keeps Zenkaikon going each year and makes it so special. I love your love!

The Fan and Guest panels where filled with diversity, fun and interest. From Steven

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Uncle Yo

Universe to Doctor who, Retro Gaming to The K-Pop Dance Challenge, Dungeons and Dragons to Mermaids, virtually no fandom stone was left unturned. There were food panels, game design, make up, paper-craft, Miyazaki (honestly it’s not an anime convention without a Miyazaki panel), Fan Fiction, Orphan Black, Kimono Dressing, Star Trek… the list goes on. One I will note is that as much as Zenkaikon looks like an Anime convention it is so much more than that. It is evolving into an all-out nerd fest and I love it. There are still heavy anime elements, but there was literally something for everyone. From Vendors, Guests and Panels you didn’t have to be Anime savvy (cause I’m certainly not) to have the best time. If you are reading this and ever thought that Zenkaikon isn’t for you, I’m telling you that you are so wrong, just go. If you don’t have a blast, I’ll owe you a milkshake, but it’s an incredible melting pot of the nerd culture and you deserve it as much as it deserves you.

Bring the kids! I saw much more children there than I’m used to seeing at a convention. They were in cosplay and loving life. The con is full of family friendly content! However, if you are a bit twisted like I am, there was plenty of 18+ panels to wet your whistle. I saw my first ever Burlesque show and I got so excited, I accidentally slapped a friend in the face (I promise to tell the story in another article). From Mature Anime to What Did I Just Watch? to Guests Against Humanity (I MISSED IT), there is enough warped to go around and plenty of people who will happily welcome you!

If I haven’t convinced you to go by now, there is no hope for you. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this convention. I honestly can’t. I only wish there were clones of me and my staff so we could have literally been everywhere and seen everything. We are already making game plans for things we should do differently next year, plans to make to be better organized, equipment upgrades and gaming ideas.

To all the friends I’ve made, the friends I found, the people I’ve hung out with and the amazing guests and staff of the convention… thank you for giving me a weekend I will never forget. Thank you, thank you, thank you… and see you next year!

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Real Women of Gaming & CommonGeek.tv

Valentine’s Gifts for Geeks

Ever wonder what to get a geeky significant other? Want to know some gifts we’ve given or received for Valentine’s day? You’ve come to the right place! The Real Women of Gaming staff have come together to tell you what we want, have given or have gotten for Valentine’s Day! Look below to see more!

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Read the rest of this entry

This isn’t the Pop Culture You’re Looking For

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Few other cultural groups are as invested in their particular loves as geekdom, and I use that term in the most loving and proud way, as I am a geek myself. When we fall in love with a movie we don’t just want
to know how it ends, we want to know everything. We often buy the art books, encyclopedias of our favorite fantasy worlds, history books of fictional places, novels, comics, and anything else that expands the universe we love. Many of them have histories, mythologies, and people as diverse and complex as that of the real world. We know these planets, universes, hobbit holes, and starships like they are real places.

The other thing we are is welcoming. Every geek I know would love to sit you down and tell you all about their favorite Jedi, or the best scene in Aliens. We can talk for hours about the differences between Star Wars and Star Trek, and we’d love to give you a rousing rendition of the time our 12th level fighter/mage bit it while swinging across a chasm trying to fight the last great dragon of the depths. Sometimes that can be overwhelming, but believe you me, if you sit and listen to these stories without rolling your eyes, sighing, or talking about how childish it is, you’ll have a friend for life.

I’ve watched this culture grow over the years, sometimes slowly, and recently by leaps and bounds. No longer are geeks reviled…in most areas, and it’s even cool to call oneself a geek in most places. The drawback to this being fashionable, is suddenly you have people doing it because it’s cool, not because they’ve found something they love. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing, being ignorant if you will. There’s nothing at all wrong with dipping your toe in because you liked Avengers, or Star Wars has caught your interest with the new movie. What really gets under our skin, those of us who have been living this our whole lives, been bullied, pushed around, called names, and suddenly seeing people wave a geek flag to be cool, what really flips our asshole switch? Fake. Don’t…be…fake. Don’t pretend you know something, ask. Remember above? There’s not a geek alive that wouldn’t love to tell you all about whatever it is you want to know. If you’re doing it just as a fad, well great, that R2D2 dress looks great on you, but don’t mind me if I go find something more interesting to do. I’m not into fashion trends, clothing or otherwise. I’m a geek remember?

So, the point of all this. Worse than the fashion geeks, who are really harmless people looking for the next thing that will make them cool, are the pop culture writers who couldn’t be bothered to actually learn a little of what they’re writing about. Like a school of pilot fish following the biggest shark, pop culture writers latch onto whatever is trending and write articles that fit whatever narrative their particular outlet is in love with at the time. Sadly, to the general public, and those new to geek culture, these articles often make a lot of sense, and lead to a great deal of ignorance.

Take, for example, this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Please make a Muslim hero character, J. J. Abrams, – we need it. The writer claims to be a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek, but is he? Or does he have just a passing interest in them? The writer would like to see a Muslim hero in a Star Trek or Star Wars movie, one where humans have given up all pretense of religion, and another where Earth, and her religions are a long time in the future and far, far away. How can anyone not expect the geek community to get upset about this? In order to insert such a character into either franchise would be the definition of tokenism. It would just be for the sake of representation, because it would entirely defy the lore of both universes. Now, while Star Wars has real world equivalents, there would be no such thing as Arabic, or Islam. It just isn’t possible. In Star Trek, however, there have been characters of Middle Eastern descent, most notably in DS9’s Julian Bashir, and recently Captain Robau in the new alternate reality movies. Could we see a main character/hero of Arabic descent in Star Trek? Sure. Why not? But Muslim? Or in Star Wars? How would it even make sense without being 100% tokenism?

Another frustration for me as an avid lover of SciFi all these years are all the articles coming out about how Rey, of the new Star Wars: Episode VII is somehow this breath of fresh air in science fiction (Star Wars is fantasy, but I’ll let that slide), and completely erasing all the strong female leads we’ve had since I was a kid. For frak’s sake people, Google is a thing, you know. It takes roughly ten seconds of research to find out that of all the movie genres available, SciFi has been one of the most prolific for female leads. Hell, the top search result, The Top 40 Kick-Ass Female Sci-Fi Characters, is quite honestly a kick-ass list, and not even complete. Rey is awesome, I liked her, and I do not agree with a lot of the criticism, but let’s give it some perspective. She is not the first, and thankfully won’t be the last, kick-ass woman to wield a blaster, or light saber. Even in the Star Wars universe she isn’t the first, and it sucks to see people act as if all those who came before are meaningless.

On a final note of absolutely ignorant clickbait, for the sake of what’s popular…

 

The title of the article doesn’t match the tweet, “Female superhero movie fastest to reach $1 Billion”, but the article itself does say, “TFA’s success is a testament to the storytelling and history of the franchise. But it also should be a nail in the coffin of the myth that a female superhero movie can’t be successful.” First of all…Vox…if you’re going to write about Star Wars, you really should learn that it’s not a superhero movie. If you really want to write commentary on geek culture, geeks will welcome you, but we can spot a fake a mile away. Of course they link to, The Long List of Successful Action Movies Starring Women which is an article about other non-superhero movies staring women that doesn’t at all support if there’s a myth one way or the other. It actually states that some have been successful and some haven’t, so really…not a myth at all. At the end of the day, the entire thing is manufactured, and ignorant. It’s just another example of people trying to cash in on what’s popular, currently geek stuff, and really not knowing what it’s all about.

I can’t say it enough, if you want to explore geek culture, you are very welcome, but if you’re going to treat it with disregard while you’re ‘slumming it,’ no thanks. We love to read about what we love, so take some care and do some research. We’ll watch endless documentaries on actors from our favorite shows going to conventions to talk about those shows we love. What we don’t love is people who clearly have no knowledge about the topic trying to get involved, especially when that involvement turns to politics, shaming, or chest beating for your favorite pet movement.