Yes, I know that’s the worst title in the history of forever.
Actually, there are probably worst titles in the history of FOREVER. But this one’s definitely in the top ten. Or fifteen.
Anyways! Back to the point. This, my friends, is part two of my epic quest to chronicle WisCon 36. Part one is back HERE.
In this edition, I’m covering the events of Friday the 26th and Saturday the 27th. you’ll read about (among others) my massive paper-related freakout(s), the joy of “Chicks Dig Comics” and a reading by one of my favorite authors, N.K. Jemisin. There will be bonus appearances by The Other Cat and My Awesome Brother.
I should add that this is a very long post. A very, very long post. I am recapping two super-full days of an incredible convention, and I am a verbose writer at the best of times. So get thee a snack and a coffee (or some booze (unless you’re under 18 in Canada/Europe or under 21 in the USA)) and sit back. Relax. Prepare to experience the Secret Feminist Cabal.
Friday (during the day) I was freaking out. Not surprising, given that I was presenting a paper on Saturday. And that the paper was (naturally) not done. I tend to write my papers out long-hand before typing them up, so my living room was covered with loose-leaf paper, academic textbooks and post-its. My poor mother walked in and had a freakout of her own, which is understandable, since you couldn’t see the floor of the room at all anymore.
Which leads me to wonder what kind of stupid, asinine idiot would turn in a paper proposal to a Con where she was hoping to have FUN?
Oh, right. That idiot would be me.
I skipped The Gathering and the First Timers dinner to keep working on the paper. This turned out to be a terrible idea because by this point, I was freaking out so much that I wasn’t actually getting any work done. Here was the scene:
C.D. paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity
C.D. has a EUREKA moment and writes down a brilliant idea on a piece of paper
C.D. resumes pacing through the house
C.D. then realizes she’s lost her paper. The one with the brilliant idea.
C.D. freaks out and starts looking for the paper
Thirty minutes later, C.D. realizes that finding the paper is a lost cause
She decides to remember the idea instead
C.D. paces through the house, muttering incoherently about monstrosity
And… so on. You get the idea.
I then decided that the only way to “solve” this paper was to barricade myself in my room until 3:45 the next day, when I had to present it. Because obviously the way to break my freakout cycle was to…keep doing exactly the same thing I’d been doing for the past three days.
Even I, in my massively mind-warped state, knew this was a terrible idea. So I threw all my work material in my backpack, jumped on my bike and headed to the Con just in time to catch the opening ceremonies.
Well, after fixing my chain, which fell off my bike while I was crossing a heavily trafficked street. Seriously, what was it about this weekend and the bike problems? I disapprove!
With ease, efficiency and class, I stopped by the registration desk, grabbed my nametag and the program, and found a seat in the ballroom.
[My definition of “ease, efficiency and class,” by the way, is: “covered in bike grease, exhausted and so stressed out that eyelids are twitching maniacally”]
Opening Ceremonies at WisCon are perhaps not the most exciting of all times compared with the rest of the Con, but it was lovely to just bask in the glow of the various con-goers. People are just so darn happy to be there.
Plus, there’s something very relaxing (for me) about watching other people be effective. They have the madness under control. Therefore I too can, perhaps, have the madness under control. I felt my stessed-out nerves melting into a nice, warm puddle of goo as the many hardworking administrators gave critical announcements – a callout for volunteers, a reminder to use microphones, a warning not to take photos without consent (seriously: do not take photos of people at WisCon without asking. This is a good skill to practice in the rest of your life – but at WisCon especially. If you don’t understand why, ask anyone at the Con. Heck, ask me. I wasn’t even there, and I know why), a reminder about the meaning of blue tape (access!) etc.
There were two standout moments in the ceremony for me:
The first began when the wonderful Ellen Klages impersonated WisCon founding mother Karen Joy Fowler (if you’re not a Sci-Fi fan, you know Karen Joy Fowler as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, if you are a Sci-Fi Fan, you know her as the author of Sarah Canary and the Nebula-winning short story “What I Didn’t See”). Ellen Klages is possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met in real life (I mean, we haven’t met per se, but we’ve been in the same room at the same time. Totally counts). She and Karen Joy Fowler look and sound absolutely nothing alike, which explains why most of the con-goers dissolved into laughter when Ellen finally revealed her “true identity.”
I should warn Karen Joy Fowler (who absolutely does not read this blog, but that’s not the point) that after Ellen told us Karen were missing WisCon (*sad face*), she said: “Karen is very apologetic and I want all of you to make her pay for it next year.”
Just. You know. Fair warning. Particularly since I’m sure Ellen Klages can come up with very inventive methods of revenge.
Anyways. Ellen was impersonating Karen Joy Fowler for a very good reason: to present Tiptree Winner Andrea Hairston with her Tiptree tiara. Now, usually the Tiptree Winner gets their tiara during the Tiptree ceremony on Sunday. But because Andrea Hairston was also this year’s Guest of Honor – an unprecedented event – the ConCom had decided that she, exceptionally, would get to wear the Tiara the entire weekend.
Least you fail to understand what a big deal this is, let me present the Tiara:
You see my point. Myriad, who was at WisCon for the first time, decided that, based on the strength of the Tiara alone, one of her life goal was to win the Tiptree Award. Can’t blame her.
I tried to find a picture of Andrea Hairston with the Tiara, by the way, but was sadly incapable. I leave you instead with images of previous winners Geoff Ryman and Catherynne Valente, so you can see how good the Tiara looks on Real Life People.
And Andrea Hairston got to wear the Tiara starting Friday night! Let us all be deeply jealous.
The other crucial Opening Ceremony moment was that Myriad and I met in real life for the first time in… four years? Five?
Whatever. It had been a REALLY long time. Now that I think about it, Myriad and I had very few Real Life Interactions prior to WisCon. Although we went to high school together, we were never in the same classes. Although we were in a writing group together, the writing group was online(well, she was the fearless leader of the writing group, and I was one of the people who kept emailing her asking for extensions and then turning in 20,000 word “short stories” (yes, my problems with brevity started young)). Although we were both in the same theater group, we were never in the same plays… you get the idea. So yeah, this WisCon was one of the first time we spent Real Life Time together. And as it turns out, we (not surprisingly) had a lot to talk about. If you were at WisCon, you probably saw us at some point, because we kept having long discussions about [Power rangers/Digimon/Tamora Pierce/Rape/Sherri Tepper/Sci-Fi Gossip/Insert Other Subject Here]. We usually had these conversations in random places where other people were congregating (like the ConSuite, or in front of the Dessert Salon). So yeah. You probably saw us. And, er, we probably got in your way. Sorry!
[Myriad and I also kept having really hilarious run-ins, because although we never made plans to meet up during the convention, we consistently ended up at the same panels. Great minds think alike!]
Chicks Dig Comics! (panel)
I probably should have gone home to work at this point, but I desperately wanted to go to at least one panel, and I desperately wanted it to be this one. So, forsaking all good thought…I went.
But there was a reason to my madness. You see, when I was young, I watched the X-men and Batman TV series, with the predictable result that I became obsessed with superheroes. You say the word X-men near me and you won’t be able to shut me up for a year. If you’re lucky.
I also read lots of comics. But they weren’t American comics. I read french Bandes Dessinees. I read the European comic W.I.T.C.H. I read Manga. I read Sailor Moon.
And then, when I was around fifteen, I tried reading American comics. I’ll be honest, I didn’t try very hard, and I probably tried in the wrong places – but I had a lot of bad experiences with superhero comics, particularly with the rather rampant sexism. And so I stopped trying.
But I’ve decided to get back into comics. I just love them too much to stop. I must. Have. Superheroes.
And in the spirit of getting back into comics… I went to the Chicks Dig Comics panel (which is based on the book of the same name).
And the panelists had booze. They did not give us the booze. But they had booze. Thus, they were badass. And awesome.
The panel was made up of women who had essays in Chicks Dig Comics (the book): Sigrid Ellis (editor of Chicks Dig Comics), Lynne Thomas (other Editor of Chicks Dig Comics, also and Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Elizabeth Bear (Very Famous Author of, most recently, The Range of Ghosts), Sarah Monette (Very Famous Author of, most recently, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves) Tara O’Shea (Hugo Winning Editor of Chicks Dig Time Lords), Caroline Pruett (a blogger at Fantastic-Fangirls), Delia Sherman (Very Famous and Now Andre Norton Award Winning Author of The Freedom Maze), Jennifer Margaret Smith (a graduate student in Media and Cultural Studies and a blogger at Fantastic Fangirls) and Tammy Garrison (one of the creators of Torchwood Babiez).
They were all, generally, quite awesome. And rather than attempt to summarize their brilliance, I’m just going to write up some particularly relevant (or hilarious) quotes: (I have given attribution where I remembered to note it down, but in the heat of notetaking, names were lost. Apologies!):
Quotes and Stories from Chicks Dig Comics:
“How many [female comic fans] are there?”
“A Fuckmetric ton.”
Lynne Thomas: “I want to know where Black Canary buys her fishnets. Because those have to be some industrial strength Drag Queen fishnets.”
Lynne Thomas: “Also, Nightwing has a mighty fine ass.”
Tara O’Shea: “As a watcher of Teen Titans, I agree.”
Tammy Garrison: “I used to go to a gay pornshop to get Nightwing comics because it was the only place I could get it.”
Elizabeth Bear: *grabs phone* “I’m tweeting it! I’m tweeting it!” (ah, the technology age)
Delia Sherman: “Walking into a comic book store as a 60 year old woman is still difficult.”
Lynne Thomas shared a telling incident. The panel had planned to throw a Chicks Dig Comics party at WisCon the next night, so Thomas went to Party City in Madison, hoping to get some (female) superhero themed decorations. She was specifically thinking of Black Widow, since the Avengers are out right now, and Black Widow is hot property.
There were none. There were no decorations/napkins/whatev’s with Black Widow on them. There were no female superhero themed decorations/napkins/whatev’s at all. There were TONS of decorations/napkins/whatev’s with male superheros on them. When Lynne Thomas asked why, they told her that she should have called to order early, since she wanted a “specialized item.”
Lynne Thomas: “Not one bloody female superhero”
Tara O’Shea: “Well, there are only 150000 items in the store.”
Lynne Thomas: “They think those items won’t sell. I wanted to tell them: “You know you’re losing a fuck-ton of money, right?””
One audience member (who I later found out was Kelly Sue DeConnick, the writer for the upcoming Marvel series Captain Marvel (female superhero! YAY!)) then revealed that according to in-house research at Marvel (and DeConnick works for Marvel, so she would know) the two characters from The Avengers who are testing the best in terms of audience reception are Black Widow and The Hulk.
So yes. They are indeed “losing a fuck-ton of money.”
Oh, and apparently 40% of tickets for The Avengers are being bought by women. But women aren’t interested in superheroes! No duh!
Someone brought up their least favorite topic on internet comic sites – “How do I get my girlfriend into Comics?”
Sigrid Ellis: “Which is like asking “How do I get my girlfriend into TV?”
Lynne Thomas: “Why do you need to ask the internet what your girlfriend will like to read?”
Three panelists, simultaneously: “Have you tried ASKING HER?”
Tara O’Shea : “I have a problem with Catwoman running on rooftops in heels with no bras and Double D breasts –
Elizabeth Bear: “Let’s be honest, those aren’t double D’s. Those are H’s.”
Another panelist talked about her annoyance at comic fans who are mad that Idris Elba – a black man – was cast as Heimdall in Thor. “They say “He’s not norse.” And I say “They’re freaking aliens, you idiots.””
Proving that this was indeed a feminist convention, Lynne Thomas said: “Two things: Alison Bechdel.” and EVERYONE, including the audience, said: ‘YES”
[If you don’t know who Alison Bechdel is, get thee to Google Fu!]
It was all-in-all, an exhilarating, funny panel full of eloquent and passionate speakers. I have more thoughts about it, which I will save for my recap of the Women in Comics panel… (which is later in this post. Yes, there’s more. My posts never end. They NEVER END)
I shall leave my last words to the great Elizabeth Bear, who, contemplating the lack of questions from the audience, said: “We’ve stunned you with our eloquence and our booze.”
Yes. Yes they did. (although I, sadly, was never given any of the booze)
The All-Nighter of Dooooooom:
After the Chicks Dig Comics panel, I hopped on my bike, hightailed it back to the Mansion of Misericorde (ie: home) and…
pulled an all-nighter.
A very efficient all-nighter, I should add. Unlike in the afternoon, when I was pacing around and freaking out, here, I put on Daft Punk (the best writing music) and powered through my draft and a full edit in under eight hours. Which is quite fast for me.
The object lesson here is: when one has entered into a giant cycle of freaking out, break the cycle by getting out of the house. ideally, you would go to a Feminist Sci-Fi conference, but when that’s not available… take a walk? Go to a bookstore? Etc? Because then you will work better.
[Let us note that I will promptly forget this lesson for my next paper…]
I probably would have been working even better if the Other Cat had not insisted I pet her every three seconds, but we can’t have everything.The Other Cat, by the way, is not The Cat, who lives in my home in College. This is The Other Cat, who lives in my… Madison Home. The Other Cat really loves when someone is up at three in the morning, because then someone is up to pet her.
And we all know that my primary purpose in life is to pet cats [for what other reason were humans put on the earth, after all?]
The Other Cat was morally opposed to me taking a nap, but I insisted, and so managed to sleep for about two hours before the start of the convention. Which was good: I would need all my fortitude to face the events of Saturday.
Because on Saturday… my Brother was coming to the convention with me.
Dun. Dun. Duuuuuunnnnn.
As per our usual, it took us a good half hour longer than expected to get out the door, mostly because my brother was glued to his book (Blackout by Mira Grant). And also because we discovered that our printer was out of ink… so my paper was unreadable.
But we arrived with grace and charm (i.e: peeved and annoyed) at the convention, and headed straight to a panel on Women in Comics (are you sensing a theme?)
Women in Comics
This panel was obviously quite similar to Chicks Dig Comics, but it had a focus on more recent events – it was about what the past year had brought for women in comics (including female characters and creators). It also had different panelists – although Tara O’Shea was on both panels, here she was joined by Jessica Plummer (the president of Girl-Wonder.Org), Susan Simensky Bietila (a specialist in independent and alternative comics), Kelly Sue DeConnick (the aforementioned writer for the forthcoming comic Captain Marvel) and Monica Midbon ( a comics and science fiction fan).
It was also filled with a lot of, er, industry gossip, which panel-goers were specifically asked not to tweet or write about. So I have lots of really interesting industry info that I… can’t write about (I know! I am stunning you with my eloquence).
But! There are lots of things I can talk about!
There was a lot – a whole lot – of ranting about the D.C. reboot. And most of the ranting centered around the de-wheelchairing of Barbara Gordon. Barbara Gordon was once Batgirl, but then she was shot and disabled and became a badass crime fighter/computer hacker called “Oracle.” She was one of the most popular handicapped characters of all times. And for the reboot… DC gave her back her legs. Which… how they didn’t anticipate the backlash it would get is beyond me (particularly since it meant getting rid of the very popular batgirl, Stephanie Brown). They didn’t think taking an icon of the handicapped community and fixing her spine was going to cause backlash?
Trust me. The women in both the Chicks Dig Comics and Women in Comics panels had over a year to get over it. They are not over it.
Jessica Plummer summed up her feelings on the situation by saying: “You can corner me at WisCon at any time and I will get angry. I will get very angry.”
Moving beyond Batgirl, Kelly Sue DeConnick confirmed that she was one of the female writers D.C. talked to when planning their reboot. D.C. has widely been criticized for having three female writers and a hundred and fifty seven male ones, so it’s good to know that they at least talked to other women, even if they didn’t hire them (or the women themselves weren’t interested). This, by the way, is not me letting DC off the hook: you should be able to do better than 3%.
DeConnick also argued that the best way to get more women writers in the field was through mentorship. But, as she pointed out, the current mainstream comic book system demands such quick turnaround that it doesn’t support breaking anyone new in, which means only the old guard – (mostly) white men – are trained to write. In other words: if we want more women in comics, we have to train them, and right now, no one has time to train them.
Susan Bietila thought that independent comic books had far more gender equity than mainstream comics, and then apologized (because we’d been complaining so beautifully about misogyny in comics before). To which Jessica Plummer responded. “You’re right. That’s such a disappointing answer. “There’s no sexism.” God! I hate it when that happens!”
There were other rather hilarious moments, like when Kelly Sue DeConnick explained why it was difficult for her to criticize comics writers. She pointed out that she knew one of them, and he was a good guy: “well, maybe he’s a bad guy. He’s not an entirely bad guy… because he likes me. Which proves that he’s a man of taste and breeding.”
Or when Tara O’Shea joked that we should stop talking about Black Widow: “We should save this for the Women in Superhero Films panel… which took place last night.”
Jessica Plummer on censorship: “I’m an American! I demand my right to filth.”
And one panelist described a comic book as “Batman’s Mary Sue Fanfic about himself.”
Finally, Kelly Sue DeConnick had the line of the morning when she talked (again) about creating a space for women in comic books: “I still don’t understand how you support professional women by asking them to do volunteer work. I think you support professional women by getting them jobs and paying them.”
I have to say, Kelly Sue DeConnick was brilliant throughout WisCon, and I intend to follow all her future work. I am also officially following Jessica Plummer’s work because she was hilarious and bright and very incisive. Oh, and also Tara O’Shea and Lynne Thomas, both of whom proved why they (and Sigrid Ellis) have managed to make the Chicks Dig… series such a success.
Going back to the big picture: what struck me the most about both the Chicks Dig Comics panel and the Women in Comics panel was how much love and passion all the panelists – and most of the audience – had for the medium. People were interrupting each other (in the best possible way) and jumping up and down, and finishing each other’s thoughts and cracking jokes, and coming up with example after example of great characters – or horrible business practices. In my notebook I wrote down “So! Much! Passion!’ because it just saturated the room.
And there was also this wonderful group feeling – which is something that you get at WisCon more generally, but that I’ve never felt with regards to comics – where I felt like everyone on the panel (and again, in the audience) wanted to have this dialogue, and wanted to make comics better, and, above all other things, just wanted to geek out. Jessica Plummer passed around dozens of comics from her personal collection, Sigrid Ellis brought Lynne Thomas three giant bags of comic books, we all laughed about the crack fanfiction (crack fanfic is the best). I had to tear the X23 comics out of my brother’s hands for fear he would steal them.
One example of this collective spirit was when Kelly Sue DeConnick said she would help anyone who talked to her find stores where they would feel comfortable buying comics:
DeConnick: “”You have the right to a comic book store where you feel welcome. If you email me, I will help you find a comic book store where – ”
Jessica Plummer: “Girl Wonder actually has a map of girl-friendly stores.”
Kelly Sue DeConnick: “That sounds great! More people should know about that! Let’s talk later.”
Collective spirit! Working together! Women! Comics! Nerds!
God, I love WisCon.
By the way, I was quite worried that my brother would be bored at panels (he doesn’t really read comics (yet)), but as we were leaving he asked me: “”Do you think that for gay people and women and – other people who are discriminated against – do you think it’s getting better in comic books?”
And then we had a big discussion about it.
So! Not bored.
And also generally being awesome. I do so love my brother.
Finally, I have a couple recommendations from the two comics panels that I’ll pass on to my lone readers (ie: the FBI):
Two non-fiction texts that were recommended were The Ten Cent Plague by David Hajdu and Do the Gods Wear Capes? by Ben Saunders.
Various panelists raved about the TV series Young Justice.
Tara O’Shea also raved about a Catwoman series known as Her Sister’s Keeper (by Mindy Newell)
And everyone recommended Paul Cornell’s new series Saucer Country (which was described as “The West Wing” meets “Roswell”)
Are you still with me? Is anyone still with me? (this is the longest post of all times. Seriously).
Memory, Bones and Forbidden Lands
My brother got to choose the next panel, and he, not surprisingly, choose to go see N.K. Jemisin’s reading.
We’re both huge, HUGE N.K. Jemisin fans (we buy her books the millisecond they come out) and this was the only programming N.K. Jemisin was doing all weekend. So we had to go.
I have to be honest and say that I’m not a readings person. I’d rather read someone’s work to myself than discover them through a verbal reading – I have a lot of trouble following “read” texts – but for N.K. Jemisin, I was willing to make an exception.
Now, I should be clear that N.K. Jemisin was not the only author at the readings – she was joined by Saladin Ahmed (author of The Throne of the Crescent Moon), Ibi Zoboi (reading from a YA novel manuscript), Neesha Meminger (author of Shine, Coconut Moon) and Daniel Jose Older (author of Salsa Nocturna). All the readings were great (hey, even I thought so, and I don’t… like readings). And N.K. Jemisin has the perfect voice for her books, which sounds like the weirdest compliment ever, but which makes total sense to me. Her reading was particularly fantastic – she read from The Shadowed Sun, which just came out – and my brother and I were on the edge of our seats, hoping for spoilers.
My brother also wrote one line of what I presume is a Shadowed Sun fanfiction, starring… me. And him. I quote the fanfic in it’s entirety
“Reaper” said R. to C.D. “You’re a Reaper.”
Great, my brother thinks I’m someone who likes to steal souls for fun. Wonderful.
The other standout of the reading was Daniel Jose Older, who read his short story “The Collector,” (which will come out in his collection Salsa Nocturna). The protagonist, a paramedic, faces a classic dilemma: what to do when the woman you’re trying to save is causing the apocalypse. (okay, not so classic). It was a darkly humorous, incisive story, and Older’s interpretation of the voice made it even funnier. I will be on the lookout for his fiction [“The Collector” is also available, read by Older, in a podcast here]
Lunch/Freakout (Part Eleventy Billion)
One of the best parts about WisCon is the Con Suite. The Con Suite has food. Free food. Which means that I didn’t have to buy (or prepare) meals at all for the Con.
Yes, it’s hot dogs and chips and cheese and bananas (and bagels. Let’s not forget the bagels), but it’s edible; you can make a full meal out of it, and it makes the Con that much more affordable. I cannot stress enough how wonderful the Con Suite is. If it hadn’t been there, I would not have survived the weekend.
So during the lunch break (WisCon has a long lunch break with no programming, which I also appreciate, or else I would never stop) my brother and I headed to the Con Suite, grabbed some hot dogs and found a spot in the lobby to eat.
And by “eat” I mean “frantically edit my paper.”
My brother was nice enough to put up with my massive freaking-out/editing/practicing reading aloud. [By the way, if you ever have to read a paper for a conference, a word of advice: always. Always. Always practice reading the paper aloud at least once]
Part of the reason my brother was so accommodating of my freakout was because he had Mira Grant’s new novel Blackout with him. The final volume of the Newsflesh trilogy.
I’m starting to think that Mira Grant should just film my brother reading her books, because it’s perfect advertising. Observe:Brother:”I have butterflies in my stomach. Actual butterflies. I’ve never had that from reading a book before.”
Brother: “Oh my god. Holy shit. How am I ever going to get through this book? It’s like one WTF polar bear after another.”
(WTF Polar Bear being a reference to Lost, of course).
Brother: ‘Oh no. That’s bad. That’s very bad. That’s extremely bad. I don’t want to read on.”
Let us note that every second we weren’t at a panel (or the Tiptree Awards) he was reading the book. He was done with it by the time we left the Con.
So yeah, I think he liked it.
In a moment of good luck, the Hotel actually turned out to have printers of its own (you may remember that our printer ran out of ink), so I was able to get a readable copy of my paper printed out. Hurrah!
Considering the Female Villain
Panelists: Valerie L. Guyant, Richard Chwedyk (Nebula winning writer and poet), Shayla Dunn, Allison Moon (author of Lunatic Fringe, a novel about lesbian werewolves), Rosemary/Sophy
(a lot of the panelists didn’t have bios, and I… took terrible notes. It’s not that I didn’t love them, because this was a fantastic panel!)
Again, a panel chosen by my brother, but one I probably would have chosen for myself as well. I love villains. I love women. Yet I find that so often, female villains fail to be anything other than stereotypes, and worst of all, misogynistic stereotypes. So yes. How can one have a well0rounded female villain? Can one have a feminist depiction of a female villain? Can a female villain actually be a feminist (without being a straw feminist)?
Plus! VILLAINS ARE AWESOME.
That is all.
I took very few notes during this panel, although it convinced me that I need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender. And it reminded me of what how badass Mrs. Coulter is (from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy)
I do, however, have some funny/incisive quotes for your edification:
On female villains who repent and kill themselves: “The Lady always has to sacrifice herself… it’s like an episode of Doctor Who.”
Shayla Dunn:“I have lost my thought. If you find a thought around the room, return it to me.”
On the difference between Sexuality and Sexualization (Allison Moon): “Sexuality is something you define for yourself. Sexualization is something that is done to you.”
On the difference between men and women’s stereotypical motivations for being “crazy” and evil: “When a man goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a science experiment went terribly wrong. When a woman goes crazy and becomes a villain, it’s because a man left her.”
I thought of so many examples for this one – all the male villains in the recent Spiderman movies, for example, are “crazy” because a science experiement went wrong. I can’t think of a single female villain for whom the same is true. Thoughts?
A really great panel – and my brother’s personal favorite from his day at the Con. He would like to add that Micah, the protagonist of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, is a wonderful example of a female villain who gets to define her own motivations and actions (possibly because she’s also the protagonist)
So, the idea, my friends, was that this post would cover ALL of Friday and Saturday. We’re about halfway through Saturday, with my panel and the Tiptree Auction left to go. And I’m already at 5000 words. So… I think I should put the rest of Saturday into the next post, don’t you? Before my faithful readers (such as they are) try to assassinate me in my sleep.
So! Next post! Shall contain: my panel (of doom), the Tiptree Auction (possibly the funniest thing of all times, ever) and the various program items for Sunday… which includes a panel on female contortionists in comic books.
[Space Babe still approves of the Con reports]
So, it’s been a bit silent on the blog front this past week. I know. I am a bad person. But in my defense, I was at WisCon 36.
What is WisCon, you ask?
I believe I will let Andrea Hairston, writer/professor/drama queen and one of WisCon 36’s Guests of Honor, say it for me:
“WisCon is my/our home planet
A moment in great time
Where we dream and scheme, sing and shout
Unravel our torment
Renew our sense of wonder
Burst into the future”
(Impolitic by Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin, Aqueduct Press, pg. 3)
If that’s too esoteric for you, I’ll try again. WisCon is a now-36-year-old Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. There are parties. There are readings. There are panels where people talk about women in comics and racial diversity and de-gaying and privilege and social justice and the Hunger Games and X-Men and the Power Rangers and Buffy the freakin’ Vampire Slayer. As you can no doubt tell, WisCon is full of awesome. It is also the home of the DAMN TIPTREE AWARD.
The DAMN TIPTREE AWARD, also known as the James Tiptree Jr. Award, is an award given to a work of speculative fiction that best expands or explores our understanding of gender. It was created by Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler at WisCon in 1991. It’s the most badass of all badass awards. Trust me. It’s been won by DAMN fine authors like Gwyneth Jones, Geoff Ryman, Mary Doria Russell and Maureen McHugh. It was named for James Tiptree Jr., Sci-Fi author extraordinaire, who was eventually revealed to be Alice Sheldon (a woman writing under a man’s name? GASP). If you win it, you get to wear a Tiara.
[You also get a check for a thousand dollars, a piece of original artwork, lots of chocolate, and you are serenaded by the entire WisCon membership]
Like I said: the most Badass of all Badass awards.
I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerd. I’m also a feminist and a general social justice geek (Have you noticed the blog content? Yes?). So WisCon for me is…indescribably joyful. Your brain explodes with the general brilliance on display. Or, at least, mine does. When I went to WisCon last year for the first time, my reaction was “Where have these people been all my life?” It felt like all the best friends I had never met had just showed up in the same place, and they were all interested in the same things, and they all spoke my language…(let us note that I was too shy to speak to any of my newly found best friends. But they were still my new best friends).
It was rather incredible.
So obviously, I went back this year (WisCon, fortunately, takes place in my hometown, which makes it much easier to get to). And I planned to BLOG from WisCon. Hem. That did not happen. Obviously. Why I believed it would be possible for me to go to the Con for twelve hours a day AND present a paper AND blog at the same time is completely beyond me. Particularly since even my shortest blog posts take two to three hours to write.
Yes, I’m pretty damn delusional, why do you ask?
And then after the con, I was so exhausted that I basically went *SPLAT* on the floor of my bedroom. For three days. And every time I tried to imagine how I was going to fit the enormity of all the con’s awesomeness into a blog post, I started freaking out and just went *SPLAT* on the floor again.
I have a very supportive floor, okay? She and I are very close. She understands my pain.
Actually, you know what? I’m just going to purloin Myriad‘s brilliant analysis of the effects of WisCon:
But I have finally scraped myself off the floor and crawled over to the couch, burning with the desire to write my damn Con report. Because I cannot keep this awesomeness to myself, my friends. It must be shared with the entire world (or my regular readership, otherwise known as the FBI robots who keep the internet safe). For what other purpose have I been put on this earth?
(The Other Cat’s response to this is: “To pet me.”)
Because I would like to avoid going *SPLAT* again anytime soon (I love the floor, but I think she and I need to take a break, if you know what I mean (she’s getting a little clingy…)), I’m going to post my Con report in several parts. The plan is:
Part one: Thursday recap
Part two: Friday and Saturday recap
Part three: Sunday and Monday recap
with a possible
Part four: Conclusions.
YES, it shall be long. But Space-Babe demands it! She thinks that I should leave no detail out, no information un-recorded. The awesomeness of my Con experience, Space Babe proclaims, must be shared with the masses (Space Babe seems unaware that there are no “masses” reading my blog. But at least I’ll keep the FBI and CIA amused!)
By the way, before you ask: Space Babe is the official mascot of the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She flies through the galaxy, fighting injustice, oppression and outdated portrayals of gender roles in speculative fiction. She’s also the fearless leader of the Secret Feminist Cabal (also known as the WisCon membership).
And she’s a BADASS.
So, you know. I do whatever the hell she tells me to do.
Officially, WisCon starts on Friday. Unofficially, it begins on Thursday, when the Guests of Honor give a reading at Madison’s resident feminist bookstore, A Room of One’s Own
I went to the GOH reading last year, and there was no way I was missing it this year. Even if I had a giant paper for the Convention to finish writing.
Because I, like a total idiot, decided to propose a paper for the Academic programming. And then the WisCon programmers accepted the aforesaid paper. To which my reaction was:
“Oh, shoot. I didn’t think that would happen.”
By Thursday, I was freaking the frack out. I had threatened to empty my savings account to run away to the Bahamas (which shows you the extent of my desperation, since I hate the beach). I had already pulled one all-nighter (my mother nearly called the cops when she saw me up at six in the morning). I was frantically re-outlining the second half of the paper while muttering things like “Monsters ugly! Maidens pretty!” and “It’s all about CYBORGS!”
[As you can see, I’m not the brightest Tanning Bulb in the Academic Tanning Bed]
But I was going to go to the GOH reading if it killed me. So I hopped on my bike and proceeded to nearly get run over by a mail truck. Which was fun.
I was also bringing my younger brother (R.) to the GOH reading because he loves A Room of One’s Own and never misses an occasion to go. Also – what else would you do with your younger brother except bring him to a Feminist Sci-Fi fantasy conference?
(You don’t think twelve year old boys would kill to go to WisCon? You need to take some Vitamin DUH, my good sir/ma’am)
Anyways. When I stopped by my father’s house to pick my brother up (divorced parents are a logistical challenge), he was not ready to go. Why, you ask?
He didn’t like the way his pants folded over his shoes.
I’m not kidding. We could not leave the house until the pants problem was solved and I had to spend the next ten minutes reviewing pant options and discussing how to pair pants with shoes to avoid bunching.
As you can see, R. was in the WisCon spirit of defying outdated gender norms. I was very proud.
I was less proud when we arrived at A Room of One’s Own and he tried to make off with the store’s entire stock. Possibly I was annoyed because I was trying to make off with the store’s entire stock myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But let’s get our priorities straight, okay? When it comes to books, there is no family loyalty. Particularly when we saw that N.K. Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun was out.
It’s a minor miracle that R. and I made it to the reading room without either of us emptying our bank accounts. Or offering to do dishes for A Room of One’s Own forever if they let us steal their books. Or killing each other.
The Guests of Honor this year were Debbie Notkin and Andrea Hairston. The Space Babe demands that I give you important background information, so here it is:
Debbie Notkin has been on chair of the WisCon Committee twice, and is the chair of the James Tiptree Jr. Award motherboard. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy, who initiated the award, have both said that it never would have come off the ground without Debbie Notkin’s tireless work behind the scenes. She’s been a Sci-Fi and Fantasy acquisitions editor for Tor Books and a SF/F bookstore owner.
Debbie Notkin also does body image activist work with photographer Laurie Toby Edison: together, they’ve created two books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes. They also run the body image blog Body Impolitic. Some of Notkin and Edison’s favorite posts were reprinted in the book Impolitic! (the Guest of Honor book published for WisCon by Aqueduct Press) and let me tell you, they are brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Here’s a random sampling:
On transgender rights: “The right to live in a body that suits you is surely one of the most basic right a human being can have.”(Impolitic, 122)
On the prevalence of stories about people in wheelchairs who “walk again” on TV: “Our culture desperately tries to believe that if you take care of yourself, you will live a really long time and never get sick. Seeing disabled people makes us afraid that we might not live fit and forever. Wheelchairs and the people in them become the bogeyman, the goblin who will be you if you don’t watch your health. To fight the cultural fear, we build myths about people who “walk again.” (Impolic, 118)
[Start reading Body Impolitic. The Space Babe Commands it.]
I know Debbie Notkin by sight, if not personally, because she’s one of the busiest people at WisCon. I swear, she was everywhere last year – I couldn’t have avoided her if I’d tried. When Ellen Klages was auctioning off a naked photograph of Debbie Notkin this year, she joked: “It shows Debbie naked and asleep. You will never see Debbie like this at WisCon. Naked, yes, but asleep, no. That woman does so much. So for anyone curious: this is what Debbie looks like asleep.”
Since Notkin is not a writer, she decided to read the obituary she wrote for her mother’s funeral. Later, a friend of Notkin remarked how typical it was of her to use the spotlight to talk about someone else rather than herself. Notkin’s reading was lovely and moving and surprisingly funny. I meant to take notes, but was too busy listening.
Con reporter FAIL.
Debbie Notkin was followed by WisCon 36’s other Guest of Honor, Andrea Hairston. Andrea Hairston is the director of Chrysalis Theater and a Professor of theater and Afro-American studies at Smith College. She writes plays that have been produced at Yale Rep, Rites and Reason, the Kennedy Center, StageWest and on Public Radio. She’s received a fuckmetric ton of playwriting and directing awards. In 2011, she received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Art’s Distinguished Scholarship Award. I knew her before WisCon because I read her paper on Octavia Butler (“Octavia Butler: Praise Song to a Prophetic Artist”) when I was preparing an essay for a conference; Hairston is one of those rare breed of people who actually does academic work in speculative fiction (for which I am deeply, deeply grateful).
Her first novel, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Parallex Award, and was on the Phillip K. Dick Award shorlist and the James Tiptree Jr. Award shortlist.
Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, came out last year and promptly won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for 2011. Which makes Andrea Hairston the first person to ever have won the Tiptree award in the same year she was WisCon’s Guest of Honor. The Tiptree Jury and the ConCom are made up of completely different people, so the confluence of events was not planned AT ALL. Which makes it all the more exciting.
Andrea Hairston was wearing the most amazing purple hat/tiara/thing (I don’t know what it was, but I want it), and she read from Redwood and Wildfire with musical accompaniment by Pan Morigan. Redwood and Wildfire is, among other things, about the role of African American performers on the stage and on-screen at the turn of the 20th century. In the section Hairston read from, Redwood, a hoodoo conjure woman and actress, is playing the part of a “savage” in some kind of Safari adventure movie when the lion the studios have hired for the scene breaks out of her cage. As Hairston announced the title of her book, she said:
“If you like what you hear, buy the book”
And someone from the audience shouted:
“If you don’t like what you hear, buy the book.”
Which had everyone laughing.
But frankly, I don’t know how you could help but like what you heard. Hairston’s reading was wildly engaging – she’s a consummate performer, and she draws the audience into her work. She had us roaring with laughter with the slightest raise of her eyebrow. Even my brother, who is usually quite fidgety, leaned forwards in his seat, rapt with attention. At the end, he turned to me and asked: “Can I read it after you?”
To which I said: “As long as you don’t try to steal it.”
(spoiler alert: he did try to steal it)
We made it out of the bookstore without stealing any books (but it was tempting) and then headed back to our house.
And then my brother’s bike broke just as it started raining. And not in a “we can just put that chain back on” sort of way. In a “the handlebars are now turned completely backwards” sort of way.
However, my brother and I are resilient. Resourceful. Romanesque. Resolute. In the spirit of WisCon and working through things, we walked through the damn storm, discussing science fiction and feminism all the way. My brother graciously let me blather on about my paper, and pretended to find my whole discussion of monsters and maidens fascinating.
After dropping R. off at my father’s house, I biked to my mother’s house (ah, the logistics of divorce) and then spent the rest of the night (and I do mean: The rest of the night) freaking the frack out as I tried to write my darn paper.
But that’s a story for another time.
NEXT TIME! More tales of WisCon and the Secret Feminist Cabal! Specifically: the tale of Friday and Saturday, which involves a lot of me freaking out, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and a ton of panels about Women in Comics and Female Villains and other awesome things.
The Other Cat will also make an appearance in my Next Post. Because she helped me write the Damn Paper.