On Friday and Saturday, I attended ConQuesT 46, a long-running local Kansas City convention that I heard about for the first time this year, despite having lived in the area for going on four years now. (Advertising in the Planet Comicon program was a good move.) I’ve only really attended big industry cons in the past; hell, SDCC was my first one, which is kind of saying something. So this is probably the most intimate con I’ve ever attended, which I dug.
A few thoughts:
- The programming was really densely packed. The schedule was organized in hour-long chunks, and each panel ran pretty much from the top of the hour to the bottom. But this leaves no time at all between panels, and that’s a real problem. People were coming and going constantly during the panels, which could get really distracting (especially when panelists were running late). One panel going over in a situation like that has a cascading effect that messes with everything else after it. Most of the panels were on the same floor, but not all, and the elevator situation was kind of a mess. There was very little chance to grab water or take a bathroom break if you didn’t want to miss your programming. And honestly, spending six straight hours in panel discussions is draining as hell even when the panels are all great. If they’re going to stick to a block schedule, I’d have preferred to see the panels limited to 50-55 minutes rather than going the whole 60. Speaking of which…
- Moderation was kind of hit and miss. Some mods were great at keeping things on track and keeping any one panelist from dominating discussion, but for the most part (especially on my Friday panels), things had a tendency to wander. Stronger moderation might have also prevented a couple of unfortunate situations where a random dude in the crowd basically decided that he was on the panel, including talking over the designated panelists. Perhaps some sort of survey system would help the organizers identify who their best moderators are and leverage that information in the future.
- I attended eleven panels over the course of the two days, and every single one was mixed gender! Gender representation on panels is a well-documented problem in the industry, and it seemed like the organizers made a conscious decision to combat that. There was also a clear harassment policy and a phone number for reporting that was listed on the back of every badge. These don’t seem like huge steps, but they’re very important components of making a convention feel safe and welcoming, and the folks in charge deserve recognition and commendation.
- Other kinds of representation, on the other hand… I was really glad that there was a black dude on my final panel, because room after room with just white people was getting a bit awkward. That might be a function of it being a smaller con in the Midwest, so to a certain extent they have to work with who they can get. Still, I’d love to see more development and outreach in that area.
- I was really surprised by the hospitality on offer. As I mentioned, I’d never been to a hotel con, so it wasn’t until opening ceremonies the first evening that I heard about the Consuite, a giant room with couches and free food. My husband had opted not to attend, but said he might have changed his mind had he known about the room parties (which weren’t mentioned on the website). I ended up spending quite a bit of time chilling in Consuite on Saturday when I needed a breather or a sandwich. Definitely a perk of attending a smaller event; no way something like that would be possible for attendees at SDCC.
- Story in a Bag was great! At a convention largely based on writing, it’s nice to have an opportunity to, you know, write. I may be a little biased toward it, since my story, Model Operative, was one of the winners in the sci-fi amateur division. Also, immense gratitude to the Lawrence NaNoWriMo contingent who brought a printer and kindly let me use it, because no one would have been able to read my atrocious handwriting.
Overall, it was a lot of fun. I took loads of notes at the panels and got some good ideas I’m looking forward to applying. I’m definitely planning on going back next year. (Which, given that KC is getting Worldcon and I’m very likely going to New York Comic Con, is going to be a pretty busy year…)