May 12, 2014

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Kelly Szpara Goes to Awesome Con in Washington, DC

I am that person who prints out a con schedule the second it's posted. Awesome Con was no exception. Multiple colors of highlighters were involved. It was beautiful. Days before my con-cation, I gabbed to all my coworkers about how cons were fun but I also treated them like work. My iPad was charged, stylus packed. I warned my sister--a first time con attendee--that I had a full lineup planned and that she was free to amuse herself, rather than sit through eight hours of literary panels.

But then we saw Sean Astin and I evolved like a backwards Pokemon into my fanboy state.

Awesome Con is only in its second year (disclaimer: I did not attend the first), but it's still the biggest fan-based convention I've attended. My sister, Hilary, and I arrived on Friday so we could get settled in, pick up our badges at a leisurely pace, and check out a few literary panels. I took notes on World Building and Magic (feat. Jon Skovron, Lea Nolan, Stuart Jaffe, Jessica Spotswood, Mindy Klasky, Gail Martin, Matthew Bowman, and Eric Menge) and Part Time Writer, Full Time World (feat. Lindsay Smith, Jean Marie, Ward, Janine K. Spendlove, and panel-crasher Ronald Garner). Friday night energy bounded, anticipation built, and we crashed before midnight like responsible adults.

When we arrived Saturday, a line snaked around the outside of the convention center. And inside to the right. And left. We patted ourselves on the collective back for checking in Friday and hustled up to the Sean Astin Q&A line. This is the point at which I devolved. Astin is literally a Hobbit in both stature and nature. He quoted Smeagol, read The Color of Magic's prologue, and looked like he could be my dad.

After that, I knew I would spend the weekend waiting in line for media guests and I didn't care. While Hilary went to get to her picture taken with Cary Elwes (he told her she smelled good), I attended J. August Richards' Q&A. From angry orphan vampire slayer, to designer suit wearing attorney, I knew him as Charles Gunn, from Angel. Richards is a D.C./Maryland native, and has more veins in his arms than I have in my whole body. He was the most well-spoken, insightful actor I encountered. So much that I was sucked into my first autograph-picture combo.

We finished Saturday with Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead. First actor I heard and thought, "Wow, you are nothing like your character--except that you are both badass." Though she said her weapon of choice would be a blade of any kind, her personal emphasis on international artistic exchange made her seem much less threatening than her zombie-slaying alter ego. I vowed to catch up on the series, as soon as the panel ended.

By Sunday, Hilary and I felt like experts. Billie Piper was first on our list and we knew she'd be packed. So, at 8:45 a.m., we waited in a surprisingly short line for the 10:15 a.m. session. Our day was planned so that we wouldn't have to pee or eat lunch. Shit got real. I recommend protein bars and tiny sips of water. Worth it.

Rose was never my favorite companion (Team Donna!), but Billie Piper was adorable and made me like her on-screen counterpart even more. She hugged a weeping angel, declaring, "I always get more scared of things that could actually be real. Like werewolves." I really wanted to put her in my souvenir bag and take her home--in a non-creepy way.

But no panel could compare to Nicholas Brendon's. By Sunday afternoon, I expected lower attendance, but was shocked that the room not only didn't fill, but that people had time for second questions. In case your childhood was sad and unfulfilling, Brendon played Xander in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In his own description, Brendon played one of "...the holy trinity. Xander, of course, being at the top. No, I actually prefer being on the bottom. Not in a power bottom kind kind of way, but lying back and doing nothing. And there are boobies in your face."

He sang from everyone's favorite Buffy musical episode, Once More With Feeling, quipped about Whedon, and did the Snoopy dance. I couldn't not take a picture with Brendon, who has just as much heart "in real life," as we say, as his Buffy counterpart does. Also, he gives great hugs.

Awesome Con lived up to its name. The media guests pressed all my fandom buttons. The Q&A lines weren't bad. I looted Artist Alley and exhibitors' booths. My favorite find was Smut Peddler: Impeccable Pornoglyphs for Cultivated Ladies (and Men of Exceptional Taste!), by "Various Hands," distributed by Iron Circus Comics. As a creator of character and/or plot driven erotica, I'm always dying to get my hands on some that I didn't have to make for myself. Well, I consumed. The anthology demands its own review, but suffice to say it is a diverse, sex-positive, explicitly "lady-friendly," and unofficially queer-friendly. I should know, I'm a man of exceptional taste.

My main suggestion regarding Awesome Con would be to pick up your badge on Friday, because Saturday morning's line was massive--as in they all missed Sean Astin and probably J. August Richards massive. A recents Facebook post by Ben Penrod, the president of Awesome Conventions, holds promise that next year's lines will be better organized. I, for one, am excited.