A lot of this post was something I’d intended to write after C2E2 2014, but of course life happened and next thing I knew, it was time to prepare for C2E2 2015. There’s a story my friend and fellow panelist Erin shared that I think encapsulates what my experiences at C2E2 was like last year, and my hopes for this year.
Erin and her sister were walking through Artists Alley when they came upon a booth for a webcast movie review site. They had a board asking people to vote for their favorite upcoming blockbuster movie. There were columns for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Superman vs. Batman, and the new Star Wars, and webcasters were asking people to put orange stickers in the column of the movie they were most excited for. Erin’s a giant scifi movie nerd, but the movie she’s wanted to see on the big screen for ages just kept getting shoved to the backburner because “her story’s just so complicated.” (Warner Bros. didn’t get around to announcing Wonder Woman, slated for a 2017 release date, until October.)
One of the reasons I love Erin so much is that she’s not one to let the opportunity to make a point slip through her fingers. She took one of the stickers, wrote Wonder Woman on it, stuck it to the very top of the board, and began walking away. At which point, one of the guys standing behind her waiting his turn to place a sticker and the guy behind the table saw what she’d done and “lost their shit,” as Erin put it.
By “lost their shit” she meant they started cheering and applauding.
I’ll bet some of you thought that story was going to end differently. I know I did when Erin was telling it to me, and I couldn’t be happier to have been wrong. And this story just about sums up how I felt about C2E2 2014: To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, this was the year the con got it “mostly right,” because just like those webcasters cheered for the mention of a Wonder Woman film but didn’t think to include it on their list to make that point in the first place, there was a lot that C2E2 got right while still leaving room for improvement.
There’s been a tremendous amount of growth since that very first C2E2 in 2010, back when it was small enough to be held in the original east building on the lakefront. Just in terms of space and layout, the switch to the South Building this year was a vast improvement over the previous year. The exhibit floor felt far less cramped and claustrophobic, the signing lines for celebrity autographs was much more efficient, and Artists Alley was HUGE. In fact, I’m pretty sure Artists Alley ate most of my budget and I don’t regret a single cent spent. Given the amount of unused space that was visibly left over, the exhibit floor, celebrity signing area and Artists Alley all have plenty of room to grow into, room which I’m fairly certain they’ll be needing in the coming years if C2E2 continues at their current rate of growth. According to Comics Beat, in 2014 there were 63,000 people at the con, an increase in 10,000 from 2013. I didn’t think it was possible to see more people at C2E2 than 2013, but I was wrong. I can’t even imagine how big attendance numbers will be this year.
Even better, the 2014 crowd was the most diverse I’d ever seen at C2E2. There were families with children on all three days. There were so many people of color, women, and people of all ages at the con that I couldn’t tell what that majority group was. In short, this was a crowd that more accurately reflected the face of geek culture: one that is not overwhelmingly that of white men. As so many other have been saying for quite some time now: those of us who have been referred to as “minorities” in SF/F and fandom, whose “influence” on those worlds is often spoken of as if it’s a new thing? Women, POC, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people – we have ALWAYS been here, and the visible evidence is becoming harder and harder to deny.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at C2E2’s panels. There were three panels on feminism/gender issues in geek culture, including mine, “Glass Ceilings, Missing Stairs and Gatekeepers: Geeks Still Deal With Sexism;” panels on building diverse and inclusive geek communities; Geeks OUT’s panel on “Gay Characters and Creators,” which I just barely made it into thanks to the ginormous line snaking down the hall; panels dealing with bullying, game creation and development, writing and editing. That vast plethora of panel topics and speakers was far more diverse than in previous years, demonstrating that C2E2 was growing, learning, and trying to reflect the demographic of its attendees.
Which is why it stood out that among all those panels, there wasn’t a single one looking specifically at race and racism in geek culture.
That geek culture and fandom has issues with racism isn’t a new revelation, and it’s certainly been in the spotlight continually. From fans crying in outrage over Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot, to the debate over the World Fantasy Award carrying the face of HP Lovecraft despite Lovecraft’s virulent racism, to the shooting of 22-year-old Black cosplayer Darrien Hunt, to Matthew Klickenstein’s complaint about how including characters of color was “shoving diversity” into otherwise quality shows, geeks and nerds are no strangers to racism and racial inequality in the fandoms they otherwise love (and that’s just a snapshot of issues from last year alone, if I listed them all, we’d be here all day).
C2E2 is one of the biggest conventions in the Chicago area that continues to attract not only an impressively large attendance, it attracts an increasingly diverse audience, in part because it’s developed a reputation for being supportive of and encouraging more inclusive and welcoming geek communities. The new and improved anti-harassment policy, which debuted at New York Comic Con last summer and applies to all ReedPOP conventions, is fantastic. I’ve done panels at C2E2 for three years and every year, I’ve been impressed and thankful to see supportive, inquisitive, and engaged audiences attending panels that talk about representation issues in geek media and culture. The overwhelmingly positive reception that the panels I’ve done, which haven’t exactly shied away from some contentious topics (the fake geek girl issue, anyone?), has been one of the most compelling reasons I have for encouraging people to come to C2E2. Not to mention, while many of my panels have been gender-issues-focused, it hasn’t been just women standing in those incredible long lines, waiting for those panels to open. Which goes to show that it’s not just members of particular minority groups that are interested in attending discussions touching on identity politics in geek culture.
So far, it seems as if C2E2 2015 is stepping up its game with panel programming, including more discussions about race in geek culture. One of the three panels I submitted and had accepted will discuss Asian American representation in geek media. I’m also extremely excited for my friend Jennifer Cross, organizer for Just Write Chicago and fellow Leverage nerd, whose panel about the experiences of Black nerd women was also accepted. As a con that’s been supportive of gender- and sexual orientation/identity-related discussions, I’m happy to see C2E2 is addressing the need for race-focused fandom discussions as well. One of my favorite panels from Wizard World Chicago last year was the panel on the history of Black comics and superheroes, run by the organizers of Pocket Con, so I’m happy to see C2E2 will be offering panels of a similar scope this year.
The three panels I submitted and had accepted to the con include:
- From the Top Down: Creating Space for Diverse Voices: The desire for wider representation in geek culture has never been higher, but artists and creators aren’t the only ones who bear responsibility for creating more diverse work. This panel will explore the role of traditional gatekeepers – editors, publishers, and other media professionals – in promoting greater visibility for minority creators and different perspectives, whether you’re creating an anthology, choosing guests for a podcast or panel, or searching for new writers and artists. Panelists: Aaron Amendola (mod), Kate Lansky, Matthew Peters, Caitlin Rosberg, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota
- Fandom, Fun & Frustration: It’s been a rough year for many geeks & nerds, and fandom can be both a source of both fun and frustration. Our favorite shows and characters can be problematic, and our fellow geeks aren’t always as welcoming as we hope. Panelists will discuss how to cope with some of the burn out that comes from merging social awareness with our geeky passions by rediscovering our connections to the fandoms and communities we love, even when the work of making the geek world better becomes frustrating. Panelists: Jennifer Cross, Laura Green (mod), Laura Koroski, Anne Petersen, Erin Tipton, Michi Trota
- Yellow Fever, Yellow Peril, and the Yellow Ranger: Asian Americans in Geek Culture & History: From otaku fan culture to the myth of the “model minority,” there’s a rising interest, enthusiasm, and host of assumptions about Asian Americans in geek culture. How have Asian Americans been represented in popular culture. What effect does this have on creators and fans? How does one’s ethnic identity affect the art we create and the way we consume it? Join Asian American comic writers, geek enthusiasts, bloggers, and musicians for an interactive discussion on Asian Americans in geek history. Panelists: Mary Anne Mohanraj, Dawn Xiana Moon, Kat Tanaka Okopnik (mod), Wesley Sun, Michi Trota
I’m very proud of all of these panel topics, but I’m particularly happy that C2E2 accepted “Yellow Fever, Yellow Peril, and the Yellow Ranger.” Dawn, Kat, Wesley, Brad (who unfortunately won’t be able to join us this time), and I had such a great time doing this panel at Wizard World Chicago last August, and we had barely scratched the surface of the discussion, so we’re really excited to bring this panel to the crowds at C2E2. I’ve written before about the intersections of personal identity, race, and representation in fandom, and what it’s meant to me as an Asian American, and this is a conversation that’s very near and dear to my heart. I’m also excited that Mary Anne Mohanraj is joining us (if you haven’t read The Stars Change, go out and get a copy right now).
I’m also very honored to have been asked to join a panel on writing diversity, organized by Racebending.com. Racebending.com ran one of my favorite panels at C2E2 last year, “Diverse Means for Diverse Worlds” and I’m very much looking forward to participating in what promises to be a fantastic discussion among fellow writers.
C2E2 plans to have its programming line up finalized sometime in February, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store!