CONquest: Boston Comic Con 2015

Do you like shopping for eclectic toys and comics, big crowds with cosplayers in bigger costumes, and paying to meet actors for 30 seconds? Then do I have the convention for you! For just the low, low cost of $100, you can spend 3 days in the mecca of pay-for-pleasure nerddom that is Boston Comic Con!

Glibness aside, Boston Comic Con 2015 was a mixed bag; started in the early 2010’s, BCC was originally a smaller scale convention located at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center that had a laser focus on comic vendors, creators, and indie and small press titles. My first experience with the con was when I attended in 2012 to do interviews for my senior thesis. The convention was manageable in size, not overcrowded, so it was a wonderful and fairly easy opportunity to speak with big industry names, like Cliff Chiang, Kevin Maguire, and Jamal Igle, for a good amount of time, without feeling like you were hogging them or holding up a line. The convention relished its smallness, running few, but well-topiced and well-attended, panels including the standard Marvel and DC panels, as well as some focused on female creators and non-Big 2 content. BCC was never a convention where announcements were made, unlike SDCC or NYCC, but it was a convention where connections were made, but that didn’t seem to matter to attendees, vendors, or presenters. The biggest problem BCC 2012 had was that they cleared the room after every panel, so people who attended the DC panel could not attend the subsequent Marvel panel.

Boston Comic Con 2013 faced a different set of issues. When the Boston Marathon Bombing happened on April 15, 2013, the convention made an executive decision to cancel the festivities and move them to August, relocating to Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. The creators who had traveled to Boston for the convention in April were supportive, making appearances at local comic shops, who held mini cons in honor of the canceled event. The convention went off without a hitch that August, and saw record attendance that year.

From then on, BCC called the Seaport World Trade Center home, and continued to hold the convention in August, instead of April, and attendance grew steadily.

Along with attendance, the price of admission grew, and luxuries like press passes became increasingly rare and hard to get. For BCC 2015, a number of reporters and bloggers who attend conventions like SDCC and NYCC as press found themselves unable to pass the rigorous (unspecified) specifications that BCC required of its press. And that was only the beginning.

All conventions are going to be crowded; be it anime, Trek, or comic, but Boston Comic Con, at times, felt out of hand. BCC 2014 dealt with fire code violations that cause a number of attendees to have to wait in line for hours in the sun and then discover they would be unable to enter the convention at all; this caused BCC 2015 to cap their ticket sales, some of which sold out even before the event. Even with the ticket cap, the convention was packed. It was hard to navigate the crowds, and even harder to participate in classic convention activities, like shopping, talking, and taking photos, without being swept away in a sea of people.

Of course, because of the crowd, getting pictures of cosplayers was also a difficulty. Cosplayers are often viewed by some as car wrecks: a spectacle, hard to look away from and the cause clogged walkways. That much is true, to some extent, but most cosplayers and photographers barely had the room to take the pictures they wanted, making it difficult for some to fully enjoy the experience.

The convention also had a strict no loitering rule this year, rumored to be caused by the fact that paramedics couldn’t make it to a child who’s leg was broken in the convention center in 2014, but this caused problems for a number of individuals with medical issues that precluded them from being able to stand for long periods of time. Simply getting an open chair in the convention food court was a task in and of itself, and the no loitering, no sitting rule extended to such extremes that chairs available in the upper levels of the convention were actually turned upside down and pushed against the wall by con staff.

The location is a bit of a pill, as well. Much like NYCC’s location of choice, the Javits Center, Seaport is not located near any sort of public transportation. One can only get there by foot, by cab, or by car, and if you don’t know your way around Boston parking lots, you’ll likely end up paying upwards of $20 to park for a few hours. Seaport is a necessity due to the size of the convention, but even expanding to include all three levels of the building, the space felt too small and restrictive for the number of people in attendance.

I had a chance to talk to a friend who’s been an indie art dealer at BCC for the past 3 years. Each year, she said, it seems like the convention has more artist tables and more attendees, but her sales go down. Talking to many dealers, it’s difficult to make back the cost of a vending space at BCC if you don’t have the exact right spread of whatever is popular that year. Comics sell less, and less well, as the convention goes on, and BCC seems to become more about the paid photo ops with celebs (which often cost an exorbitant amount), than comic books and creators.

Also instituted this year was a ticketing system for panels; the week before the convention, popular panels had free tickets offered up online through EventBrite. I made an attempt to get tickets to the Marvel panel, but each time I refreshed my browser, the tickets were listed as “unavailable” until, 15 minutes after they purportedly went on “sale,” they were listed as sold out. I email both BCC and EventBrite about this issue, telling them simply that the system made it difficult, and I never even had the opportunity to try and get a ticket to the panel. I still have yet to hear back.

There were some bright spots in BCC, like the fact that they offered East Coast debuts of  new indie documentaries like Archie’s Betty and Doomed (a stellar film on the never-released Fantastic Four movie of the 90’s), and that they improved the in line system outside of the convention, but overall, BCC 2015 was a disappointment. I was unable to attend the panels I wanted to see (of a paltry few, most of which were celebrity panels), unable to see the people I wanted to see due to lines, and unable to experience the con the way I had in past years.

BCC started as one of my favorite local conventions; a place where I could spend quality time with close friends and enjoy shared interests with other great people.

This year, I left Boston Comic Con feeling unsatisfied, and unsure if I want to return again.

 

Additional reporting provided by Bobby D.

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She Can Fly: Forever the First

Captain Marvel, 2018. Wonder Woman, 2017. Elektra, 2005. Catwoman, 2004. Tank Girl, 1995. Supergirl, 1984. Secrets of Isis, 1975-1976. Wonder Woman, 1975-1979. But before all of those women (and many others), there was Batgirl, played by the marvelous Yvonne Craig, who died this week at the age of 78.

Yvonne Craig is a pioneer. One of the first women to play a superheroine on screen, Craig’s Batgirl, who appeared in the last season of the cult classic 1960’s Batman television series, was a far cry from the damsels in distress of superhero-media-past. Instead of helplessly hoping for heroes to save her, Craig’s Barbara Gordon took matters into her own hands; donning cape and cowl to defeat villains just as handily on her own as with Batman and Robin.

Though some posited that the introduction of Batgirl was a desperate attempt by ABC to increase the show’s poor ratings, the character also subverted a number of traditional expectations, as Craig did herself. A trained dancer, the youngest member of her ballet company before she went into film; she did all her own stunts, and played a number of smart, strong, and unusual female characters, including assassins, femme fatals, and a very memorable Orion slave girl, Marta, in classic episode of Star Trek, whose aim was to kill Captain Kirk. She inspired young women and empowered them, being one of the first to prove that women could kick just as much butt as men.

Tripping (or, perhaps, dancing) into acting by accident, she started out as a romantic lead in a variety of films, costarring with a number of popular actors, from Patrick Wayne to Elvis Presley. Then, the opportunity to play Batgirl in a Batman short appeared, and Yvonne Craig was eager to seize the opportunity. In the short, smart librarian Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon, reveals she has a secret of her own: she has created a Batcave of her very own, and uses it to become her secret, heroic identity Batgirl. In the short, she ultimately defeats the Killer Moth and his henchmen alongside Batman and Robin before leaving them to ponder the mystery of their new cape cohort.

This short, which is sometimes erroneously considered a pilot for a Batgirl tv series, is actually what helped Batman get the funding for its third, and final, season with ABC–although the show is now a cult classic, it was in constant danger of cancellation from the first season. Craig’s Batgirl appeared in all 26 episode of the season and remained enigmatic to the dynamic duo, with only the stalwart butler Alfred aware of her true identity as sweet, strong-minded Babs.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Craig said in an interview with CNN earlier in 2015. “The crew liked one another, the cast liked one another. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s a joy to go to work every day. I got to work with people that I would never have the chance to work with. We had Ethel Merman, I would never have met Milton Berle, I got to work with him, and he was a delight.”

Craig had also stated multiple times that she felt a close kinship with the character of Barbara Gordon, and even expressed displeasure in interviews about DC’s 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, which included the abuse and paralyzation of Babara at the hands of the Joker.

Creators and fans alike cite seeing Yvonne Craig as Batgirl as an inspiration; “my first real life hero,” Batgirl and Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone said of Craig.

Yvonne Craig wasn’t just an on-screen hero. Off-screen she supported women’s rights, wage equality, and healthcare such as mammograms for women who couldn’t afford them. She even wore the Batgirl costume one last time for a 1972 PSA about equal rights for women:

Craig passed away after a two year long battle with breast cancer, and is survived by her husband, her two sisters, and two nephews. Her family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the cancer research and treatment center, the Angeles Clinic Foundation.
Although Yvonne Craig has passed on, her legacy will forever be remember by budding superheroines everywhere. She is an icon, and her voice, her strength, and her energy will be sorely missed.

 

Kickstart My Heart: Playing Musical Broken Telephone

As great as language is, sometimes communication causes more confusion than help. Peter Chiykowski, of the webcomic Rock Paper Cynic, mused on this very concept, and expanded on it to create Borken Telephone, an album and musical collaboration being Kickstarted right now! The record is both Chiykowski’s first studio album, after years of providing free music through his website, and features, among other great tracks, a game of musical telephone featuring some of geek music’s biggest stars right now. The concept is simple: each artist listens to a track once before recreating it themselves and passing it along to another musician, who repeats the process.

With just 5 days left in the Kickstarter, we here at Acts of Geek had a chance to sit down with Peter and find out more about the album, the music, and how exactly you can get a carrier pigeon to deliver Borken Telephone to you!

Acts of Geek: So, tell me a little bit about the Kickstarter. What inspired this concept of this album?

Peter Chiykowski: The album was the geeky lovechild of a few different influences. One was definitely my love of oddball collaborations. In the last few years there’s been a wonderful explosion of geek musicians and I’ve always wanted to work with them. But a standard album only has so many songs, and I didn’t want the collaboration side of things to drown out my own voice as a songwriter.

So I went back to the drawing board and circled back to what the album was really about. There were a lot of geeky themes in my songs, but one of the ones that really stood out to me was the notion of miscommunication, of how messages get mangled and mutate each time they’re shared. That’s when the broken telephone songwriting chain hit as an idea. It was definitely also influenced on some level by my interest in Ryan Estrada’s Broken Telephone comic storytelling Kickstarter last year.

AoG: You have a lot of great artists signed up, including some who are stretch goals, like MC Lars and MC Frontalot. How did you get so many geek music icons involved?

PC: There were a few musicians that I had some connection to beforehand, but for the most part I was just a fan who had an idea to pitch them. So I tried to make sure I could present my plan for the album as being something that was organized, interesting, and more than anything: fun! I’m sure they get a lot of requests for collaboration, and I figured that if I could make this project into a game, into something they wanted to play (even if just to see how it ends), they’d be more likely to get involved.

AoG: What makes this Kickstarter really unique?

PC: I’d say there’s a few things that make Borken Telephone stand out:

1) There’s a typo in the title! That’s bad proofreading!

2) But seriously, the extent of the musical collaboration in this project is something I don’t think we’ve seen before in crowdfunding. And the fact that the alubm is DRM-free means that the results of the experiment will be pretty accessible.

3) Rewards. I spent a lot of time looking for interesting rewards that tied into the theme of the history of miscommunication. As far as I know, music has never before been distributed by carrier pigeons, messages in bottles, puzzle amulets and cave paintings.

AoG: This isn’t your first Kickstarter; how do you think your last experience is informing this one?

PC: I’ve done three projects now: one for a fake non-fiction book called Half-Cat. One for collaborative comic anthology of “anti-self-help” comics called The HMS Bad Idea. And then this thing. And what I’ve realized is that you are kind of starting from square one every time, and the strategies that work on one project won’t necessarily work on another. So while I’ve picked up a few lessons from my previous campaigns, there’s a lot that I’m learning as I go. For one thing  music Kickstarters are a tougher row to hoe than publishing ones–that or I’m just having a harder time.

For another, the Kickstarter platform gets more and more competitive year after year as more artists turn to it for funding. I see this as a good thing, ultimately, because it enriches the marketplace of ideas on the Internet. But it also does mean that there is a growing number of artists asking for the time, attention and investment of backers. I’m curious to see how the growth curves of those two groups progress.

AoG: You’ve being doing music and webcomics from years, what inspired you to make an actual studio album?

PC: In the past year I’ve been writing more songs and playing more shows than ever before. I’ve been finding my voice as a songwriter and a humourist and I wanted the chance to step forward and show people, “This isn’t just a hobby anymore. This is something I’m taking seriously. Well, not too seriously.” I think the quality of the recordings we’ve put together for this record really does show that.”

AoG: Some of your rewards are pretty out there! Where did you get the idea for them to be delivered by carrier pigeon?

PC: Back when I was brainstorming names for the album, one that really stuck with me was Enigma Machine, which eventually turned into a track on the album. That name got me thinking a lot about ciphers and covert messages and codes. I’d been planning to distribute the album by download code, and so I let myself daydream about unique ways to conceal or convey those codes. I started researching carrier pigeons. I found a service that claimed to laser-beam messages into outer space. I even thought about doing download codes in fortune cookies. Eventually I scaled back to focus on communications history, and whose services I had confidence could actually deliver what they were promising.

AoG: Can you give people a five word reason to support the Kickstarter?

PC: Pigeons, pigeons, pigeons, pigeons, pigeons!

You can support Borken Telephone HERE!