Hello Ghouls and Boils,
Tonight we present you with our thoughts on ConCarolinas. Our reports are lengthy, so I will keep this intro short. Sit back, relax, and as always… Enjoy, my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
Here it is, 2012, and I’m writing about my first experience at Con Carolinas.
This Charlotte convention, hosted since 2003, took place from Friday at 3:00 pm to Sunday at 6:00 pm. ConCarolinas began as a strictly sci-fi convention, but now claims to cover multiple genres, including fantasy and horror. Varied events and guests round out this affair, including: costume contests, unique music events and discussion panels. Fan groups like the 501st Stormtroopers and the Starfleet regularly make their appearances.
I appreciate the feeling of connection and camaraderie I got from the crowd. Finding my way around ConCarolinas was pretty easy due to its relatively small size. The whole event fit within two hallways of one hotel floor. Some of the panels were well organized and entertaining, while others seemed thrown together and easily became off-topic. The end result was a bit unbalanced. It felt like there was too much concentration on writing and gaming. If you like anime, for instance, you were out of luck.
The dealer room was somewhat small, but the available merchandise consisted of great, high quality selections. I got to meet several talented artists who seemed to enjoy having a casual chit-chat with me while I perused items on their tables. Hershel A. Brewer and Christopher P. Seckinger, truly unique artists, had some pieces that really spoke to me. One man had quite a few ink drawings of plant-like alien creatures with big eyeballs.
I saw the Blibbering Humdingers perform, a musical filking group who mainly focus on Harry Potter themes. The singers, a husband and wife duo named Kirsten and Scott, are from Cary, NC. Kirsten, whose perky personality compliments her lovely voice, brings balance to her more serious husband. I also talked to them at their table in the dealer room about a “wiz rock” festival to be held later this year. I found their music to be quite humorous and enjoyable.
Here are just a few of the events I attended: sci-fi trivia; steam-punk costuming tips; sci-fi “Whose Line is it”; “Once More With Feeling” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog”; a costume contest and Klingon karaoke. Saturday night I checked out the band Valentine Wolfe, whose musical style could be described as gothic/dark cabaret.
Saturday afternoon, I went to a panel that was the highlight of my Con experience, featuring guest Jack McDevitt. He shared many valuable nuggets of truth gained from his many years of experience.
The first book he ever published, Time Traveler’s Wife, is one of his favorites. When asked what is the most challenging part of dealing with time travel in stories, he answered that it’s definitely keeping the timelines straight. He expressed his long-running dislike for science teachers–because they generally stick to boring topics and not those that would get children intrigued by the universe– and his suspicion that time travel will not likely ever really happen. Someone asked him at some point: “how do you write”? He replied that he preferred stories to novels and that he also thinks that short stories are the best format for sci-fi. Apparently his strategy for beginning a new story is to nail down the conclusion first, and then rest of the narrative falls into place. He noted: “first you have to have a good puzzle.” At one point in the discussion, he began an encouraging pep talk about living one’s dreams. He quoted Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” He talked about being a teacher and getting kids to read by having them read sci-fi and comic books. The comics alone improved students’ vocabulary significantly.
I also enjoyed watching the Whedonverse sing-along Saturday evening. It featured two musicals, “, Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog”. While the musicals were being projected onto the big screen, local actors performed shadow acting, mimicking the movements of the actors on the screen. This presentation was a blast to watch with a large group. Energy filled the room as con goers in the audience yelled familiar “call-outs”, or witty quips in response to the action on screen. I enjoyed singing along. It was pretty well-done and compared nicely to this same performance that I’ve seen done for many years at Dragon Con, a much larger science-fiction/fantasy convention held annually in Atlanta, GA. I believe these local actors did as well as those at Dragon Con.
My overall impression of Con Carolinas was positive. I’m sure the Con was working with a more limited budget than that of larger sci-fi/fantasy conventions. Still, it was a bit disappointing to see only a couple notable names there. If I were to give this Con an overall rating, I’d give it a 3 out of 5 tentacles. Armed with an ample amount of pleasant memories making this weekend an enjoyable one to remember, I can definitely say that I’m glad I attended the convention this year. It’s my hope that some improvements can be made for next year. I’ll be looking forward to going back. See you there!
Angie Bell — Guest Minion (Reporter)
I attended the three-day ConCarolinas on Saturday, June 2 only, and so I missed out on the lion’s share of interesting panels and events. It was my first time at ConCarolinas, so I didn’t really have any expectations as to what it’d be like. I just knew that it would lack the intimacy of FarmerCon, the madness of the San Diego Comic-Con, or the happy medium that I enjoy so much at our yearly Heroes Con here in Charlotte, NC.
So after winding our way through convoluted hallways jammed unto bursting with authors and sundry guests, and patrolled dutifully by Klingons, stormtroopers, and dozens joyfully engaging in cosplay, we hit the dealers’ room. Immediately we were greeted by fellow She Never Slept Minion Trevor Curtis and we gossiped a bit. I had limited funds, which would normally be a gut-wrenching experience in the dealers’ room, but in this case I didn’t find all that much I absolutely had to acquire anyway, so I wasn’t very dejected. There were, however, a couple of items imploring me to join our comic book collection.
Sarah had tipped me off about a gentleman that she’d met the day before who had a fair amount of Marvel and DC Silver Age comics. It turned out that he was really the only comics dealer of note in the room anyway. After ruling out many prime books due to our budget, I came up with the odd pair of Luke Cage, Hero Hire # 9 (in which Luke battles Dr. Doom over a $200.00 loan!) and, best of all, issue # 1 of DC’s Kamandi. This series has long been a favourite of mine and now completes our set of original Kamandis by Jack Kirby (the book’s legendary writer/ artist/ creator). The vendor gave me a great deal for the purchases as well.
There were some nice but pricey movie posters to ogle, and a slew of mass market paperbacks, most of which we didn’t need or want. I was hoping for a revelation or two thumbing the long rows, but went away bereft of one, relieved in a way that I hadn’t blown a crucial buy that would haunt me later.
We stopped for brief sit-ins on two panels. The first was a screening of the work of regional filmmakers The Adrenalin Group, which was slightly interesting; the second, ‘Cleve Hall: Monster Man’, in which special effects designer Hall discussed his storied career with gusto. After a a brief encounter with Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs, our next stop was ‘The Legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘. This panel, moderated by Betty Cross, featured ConCarolinas Guest of Honor Jack DcDevitt and an author long in the vanguard of ‘military science fiction’, David Drake, who also resides in the Carolinas.
I’ve been a fan of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs since I was 10, and was eager to see how the panel unfolded, especially given Disney’s recent colossal failure (critically and financially) of the the film adaptation of the first ERB’s Mars series. Betty Cross was very lively and informative, and was a joy to listen to regarding personal experiences and feelings about first encountering Burroughs at a young age. McDevitt shared his own enthusiasm for Burroughs in clever anecdotes from his upbringing in the era of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and his feelings about the Mars series and about Tarzan (whose name was frequently mispronounced at the panel but I refuse to pick nits).
I concurred with Drake’s appraisal of Tarzan as an archetypal figure, and respected his vast knowledge of all things ERB (though McDevitt was more the top contender in that area). It was wonderful to experience his enthusiasm for his own favourite ERB series, set in the mythical land of Caspak. But I was disappointed that he seemed to hold the Mars series in such low esteem, and was dismissive, almost contemptuous, when discussing them. In general, the panel seemed to make an effort to avoid the pertinent (in my mind) topic of the film John Carter – or, as cynically marketed on promo materials (and oddly reminiscent of Fellini Satyricon), the film called Walt Disney John Carter. Perhaps it was felt that such a topic might swallow the panel’s time and possibly be too divisive or contemptuous. I certainly understand those concerns, but believe such a lively discourse might have injected some energy into the proceedings. So for me the Burroughs panel was welcome, but perhaps wasn’t what it could have been, or at least what I was expecting. My only regret is that I didn’t ask David Drake for his opinion of Philip Jose Farmer’s Tarzan Alive.
We went directly to the ‘Whedonmania’ event from there. This was a two hour session in which rabid aficionados of Joss Whedon’s writing and directorial work indulged in a floor show and sing-a-long a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show that was built around Whedon’s two excursions into Umbrellas of Cherbourg territory. The first of the two offerings is itself an actual sing-a-long: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog. Dr. Horrible posits the eponymous character (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris) as Dr. Horrible, a down on his luck supervillain sadly aspiring to enter the ranks of the Evil League of Evil, but always thwarted by his nemesis – a preening, arrogant, yet immensely popular superhero called Captain Hammer (played by past Whedon collaborator Nathan Filion), who takes a page from the film Mystery Men’s character Captain Amazing. Even more sadly, Dr. Horrible is hopelessly smitten with Penny, a girl who he loves from not very afar in the laundromat they share.
Dr. Horrible yielded quite a robust performance for the guests. It was acted out as a floor show, with performers representing that characters, as with Rocky. Also as with Rocky, audience callbacks were in full force. The appeal of Dr. Horrible lies in Neil Patrick Harris’ hilarious but touching performance (and great pipes – who knew?); Joss Whedon’s whiplash direction that never allows for a dull moment; and, of course, it’s infectious soundtrack, composed by Whedon and his collaborators (who are actually mostly members of his family). Even with the callback chaos, I was extremely entertained (and this was by no means the first time I’ve seen the film), and, as usual, when I view it, a bit touched by the incredibly well-timed final shot.
The second part of ‘Whedonmania’ was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More with Feeling”, which is performed by the entire cast almost entirely in song. This episode was written and directed by Whedon solo, and barrels along with Buffy and her crew becoming self -aware within the story itself that they are suddenly, inexplicably, bursting into song. The upbeat, fast-paced soundtrack has become legendary among Whedon buffs. Good stuff – but essentially a trial run for the superb Dr. Horrible. Who would have thought after these cult gems that Whedon would go to helm the highest grossing film in American history?
After adjourning for a mediocre Mexican dinner with our friends Angie and Chris, we planned to attend the 7:30 ’70s Shock-o-Rama Double Feature: “The Car” and “Killdozer”’. We were informed that the two events prior ran over, and that we could return in two hours. Which would have been a fine time killer before catching the midnight showing of Suicide Club, one of my favourite latter-day “J-Horror” films. We instead rendezvoused with Angie and Chris for the costume contest judging, which was amusing and diverting but held very few stand-outs to me. By the time this event ended, our heavy lunch and recent illnesses made us depart a bit early, around 8:00 pm. Fortunately, we own the Suicide Club DVD and will likely toss it on soon and drink a toast to my single day at ConCarolinas 2012. I’m very interested in returning next year and putting in more time over the entire weekend.
Henry Covert — Minion (Reviewer/Columnist/Reporter)
I have been to a few conventions in my time, from the very large San Diego Comic Convention to the small and charming ConCave in Kentucky. I have only been living in Charlotte, NC for two years now. When I moved here I heard about ConCarolinas but it was on the same weekend as HeroesCon in 2010 and 2011… if I had to make a choice, Heroes would win every time. Luckily this year I did not have to make a choice.
ConCarolinas is still a very young convention and I believe it is in many ways trying to find its feet. It has grown so popular in its nine years that it is now outgrowing the hotel where the convention is held. I am not big on large crowds in small spaces, and though it was convenient to have all of the panels and gaming on one floor, I got bumped around quite a bit and often felt “peopled out”. My hope for CC is that they become profitable enough to move to a larger space (or get another floor in the hotel).
The first day of the convention was a short one for me. I went after work and was walking on a sprained ankle – not a good combo. So for me day one was about getting the lay of the land more than anything else.
My co-worker and Guest Minion (reporter) Angie and I arrived at the hotel and headed straight for Guest Services to get our press passes. I have to say for such a small convention they really did treat the press well. The volunteers were very friendly. Not only did the give us a nice program, but they also gave us a bag of snacks (great to throw in your purse or tote and abate the hunger pangs). The badges were nice and looked just as professional as much larger cons (like SDCC). Our first task was to find SNS’s Guest Minion (photographer) Chris. Being that this is still a burgeoning convention and still in a small space, the task was easy. As soon as we got off the elevator we spotted him and his convention going penguin (see photos).
Our first stop once we hit the convention floor, the dealers’ room! This is almost always my first stop at any convention. I like to check out the wares and it gives me time to go over the map and event list in a relatively peaceful environment. (On day one most ConGoers stay away from the dealers’ room leaving shopping for the final day.) There were many interesting tables, but my favorite was a local artist Jason Basden. His work was somewhere between fantastical and steampunk – the attention to detail in his art is absolutely amazing. He has some of his sculptures at a local coffee/wine shop and art gallery called FABO. On Saturday I ended up buying a bracelet from his table and talking to him a good deal. If you live in Charlotte you should check out his work and if not stop by his website… you won’t regret it.
While wondering around the room we ran into a Stormtrooper from the 501st. It’s not a convention without at least one photo with a member of the local 501st! He gladly posed with me and even jokingly said we’d have to take it over again, he blinked.
He also had to pose with Chris’s penguin. The penguin is a phenomenon I will never understand. People love the little guy and ask to take photos with it (and even sneak photos if he is set down anywhere). But I guess no one is meant to understand the mystery of the penguin…
After walking on a sprained ankle and accruing more pain and swelling by the minute, we decided sitting in on a panel would be a good idea. We stopped in the main hall to listen to Cleve Hall the “Monster Man” talk about his experience with practical fx. He swore like a sailor, which made me a little uncomfortable since there was a child in the room, but he was funny and entertaining and resting my ankle was vital. He had a great slide show full of his work. In a way I am glad my ankle was injured, I would have missed the chance to see him speak otherwise.
We made a stop at the Con Suite before our next event. For those who don’t know what a Con Suite is – it is a spread setup for ConGoers usually with sandwiches, beverages, etc. Usually this phenomenon is only in small to medium sized cons. They run on donations and are manned by volunteers. Like other things run by the staff, the people were friendly. The food was plentiful and they were even willing to accommodate vegetarians! Kudos to the Con Staff once more.
We arrived a bit early and I am glad we did because we got to see the last half of Jonah Knight’s act. Jonah calls himself a “Paranormal Folk” singer and he sings songs in the horror, sci-fi, and steampunk genres. He was charismatic and I enjoyed his music very much. He sent us some CDs to review so look for that and an interview coming soon!
I didn’t enjoy “The Blibbering Humdingers” quite as much. The female vocalist often forgot the lyrics or lost her place. But they had a killer violinist with a kewl electric violin.
We ended the night with the “End of the World Party with DJ Radius”.
As usual Chris, Angie, and I were the first people to dance. (And yes, despite the sprained ankle I had to dance.) DJ Radius spun real vinyl – a dying art form. At first there were some minor snafus. Some children were throwing glow sticks back and forth across the dance space and we got pelted a few times. Chris had a “get off my lawn” moment and soon we had the floor to ourselves. Eventually the floor got overcrowded and my ankle needed resting.
I sat for a while until I spotted our friends DJ Spider and Pet. I had to get up and say hi. Shortly after we left for the night. All-in-all day one was a good experience.
The second day was a bittersweet experience. As I said at the beginning of this Con Report, ConCarolinas has outgrown their space. Between authors, costumed fans, and guests, there was hardly any space to walk. At times it was downright suffocating. The halls were a dizzying labyrinth and more confusing because of the crowds. Add to all of that the fact that my husband and I were both not feeling well and it was a recipe for disaster.
Let me focus first on some of the positive experiences I had outside of panels.
Charlotte is a big city with a small town feel and even though I still don’t know very many people I ran into a few people I knew. It was good to see Amber. She was there to see Jack McDevitt speak. We also ran into Minion Trevor Curtis. Trevor walked around the dealers’ room with Henry and I and we all played the catch-up game (and I bought a great hat!).
Shortly after that I met author James Robert Smith. My husband knew him from a comic shop called “Comics, ‘Nuff Said”. He first met him back in the 80s. Bob (as my husband calls him) had some interesting books that I know the SNS readership will enjoy hearing about. Yes, the reviews will be coming soon!
I also had the opportunity to briefly meet Jeffrey Combs – a mainstay in the Lovecraftian film ‘verse and a Trek alum. Sadly he had to run to a panel so we didn’t really get a chance to talk at length.
Henry and I didn’t have a “must see” panel until 4PM, so we looked through the event schedule. We were initially going to see the Skeptic vs. Believers panel, but it was standing room only. We decided to go to the “The Adrenaline Group” (local filmmakers) panel. This would have been a great panel for those who are looking to get into low budget filmmaking. But if you already had filmmaking experience or were an avid film buff – this panel would have been a complete waste of time. I didn’t learn anything new and was unimpressed with their award winning fart film. The best part of the panel was the opportunity to rest my ankle.
Afterwards we went to see the Cleve Hall panel (for the second time for me) and then popped over to the Con Suite for some food and a bit of a breather. By the time 4pm came around we were ready for the Edgar Rice Burroughs panel… something both Henry and I were very much looking forward to. We did not know what we were in for.
The panel was moderated (if you could call it that) by Betty Cross and the panelists were David Drake and Jack McDevitt. Don’t get me wrong, Betty was an interesting person and had a lot to say… but she had no control over the panelists. Mr. Drake was very rude and interrupted people with cynical unnecessary exchanges. The noises outside the room for another panel was so loud you could barely hear the authors talk. If I were moderator I would have done something about both of these situations. My #1 gripe was the mispronunciation of Tarzan over and over again by the entire panel. My #1 positive comment is that Mr. McDevitt was knowledgeable and interesting. I look forward to reading some of his work. The bottom line was that we did not stay for the whole panel.
Next up was my favorite part of the whole convention, “Whedonmania”. This event was a sing-a-long with Dr. Horrible and the Buffy episode “Once More with Feeling”. Ala Rocky Horror Picture Show there were people shadowing the performances and audience participation. The energy in the room was wonderful. I think we all had a great time
After dinner at a (slightly overpriced – ah the joy of Cons) Mexican joint with Chris and Angie we went back to the Con. They were going to peep in on the costume contest. We were going to watch a couple of bad films, but sadly they were canceled. Henry and I had to wander over to the main hall and meet up with our fellow reporters feeling a bit dejected. There were some clever costumes. But with neither Henry nor I were feeling well, we had to call the evening short.
ConCarolinas had some plusses and some minuses. I am sure my experience was colored by my health to some extent. The convention crew was pretty great. I wish the panels had been better organized. I wish they had more space… but all of that aside I generally had a good time and would definitely like to give them another shot next year. If I had to rate the con I’d give them a 2.5 out of 5 tentacles with room to grow.
Sarah L. Covert —
Evil Overlord/Creator/Editor/Reviewer/Columnist/Monthly Movie Tweet-a-thon Co-host/Reporter