Sunday, March 29, 2015


The View from a Con

You know what, muchachos? It’s been cloudy much of the time over the last couple of weeks, but I did get out and snag Jupiter again despite seeing that was about as bad as it gets. I wanted to get some time in with the planet and with a couple of new planetary imaging softs before I brought you part two of my Solar System imaging article. So why isn't this one about that?

Unfortunately, I didn't get that imaging run in until it was almost time to post the week’s entry. So, you get Something Different again this Sunday.  Since I had such a great response to last week’s distinctly non-amateur astronomy oriented post, I am not afraid to do it again.

Out here in the hinterlands, Cons—SF/SciFi/comics conventions for you newbs—are usually pretty consolidated. We don’t get SF Cons and Trek Cons and Whovian Cons and Comic Cons; we get all-in-one Cons (the last Trek convention here was in the freaking early 1990s. I suppose that makes sense due to fan overlap. If you like Trek, you probably like Star Wars and Doctor Who, too, and it’s not unreasonable to assume you occasionally visit the comic book store.  While I prefer Cons that stick to one subject or at least media type, these all-in-one jobs do give me a chance to assess the state of fandom in general.

So it was with the latest edition of one of our local events here on the Gulf Coast, CoastCon 38, held in Biloxi, Mississippi at the Coast Coliseum’s Convention Center. This is a long-running event; it’s been ongoing since 1978, and I don’t believe it’s missed a single year in all those decades. Dorothy and I have been attending for years now, and have always had a great time. We are always planning to spend at least one night in the Convention Hotel and really do things right, but something always intervenes, it seems. This year it would be Saturday only for us. Next year I hope will be at least a two-dayer.

‘Twas a beautiful spring morning with the temperature in the mid-70s and rising when Miss D. and I turned the 4Runner west, got on I-10, and headed for Biloxi. What better to do on the second day of spring than spend it indoors cruising dealer tables, listening to panels, and eating junk food from the concession stands?

When we arrived at the venue about an hour later, I was frankly gobsmacked. The parking lot was nearly full. Would we be able to swing a cat-girl in the Dealer Room? I needn't have worried. Turned out the Convention Center was also hosting an exhibition of the latest in tractor trailer rigs, something that will garner considerable interest in southern Mississippi, you bet. Still, there were plenty of folks queuing up at the CoastCon registration tables when we finally found an unlocked door and made our way inside.

Money paid and name-tags received, next stop, as always, was the Con’s large Dealer Room. There were plenty of vendors in attendance, but after a quick scouting mission, I had to admit to being slightly disappointed. For the first time in memory, there was not a major comics dealer. There was one bunch with a total of four short boxes of overpriced (in my opinion) and not-very-good condition Silver Age books, and one of the gaming dealers had a few current DCs on his table (four for three), and that was freaking it. About six-hundred comics for sale at the whole darned Con. Oh, how I longed for the days of standing over the dollar comics boxes, making like Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, “Got it. Need it. Got it…”

I was surprised. Big changes are afoot this summer in both the DC and Marvel Universes, and I thought that and the explosion of comic/superhero TV shows, good ones like Arrow and Agents of Shield and Flash, would have generated a lot of fan interest and the presence of dealers. Nope. Not even the summer’s upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film was enough to generate panels on comics or dealer tables full of ‘em.

I did see one young woman dressed as Wonder Woman (and looking good). Also spotted a big guy dressed at Bane, with a bang-on costume. There was a dealer selling custom posters/paintings of heroes that seemed somewhat popular. A couple of action figures. A few DVDs of Marvel and DC films. And that was all for us comics fanatics. Well, Dorothy got an incredible looking Guardians of the Galaxy bag, so I that wasn't quite it.

I took four of the current DCs off the dealer’s hands, some of the recent 3D-cover Future’s End books, had one last look at the pricey silver age comics, and moved on to other interests, Trek, Star Wars, Sci-fi, and SF in general. There was plenty of most of those things in the Dealer Room, if not as much as past years. What was there a lot of? Gaming. Steampunk. Anime. Doctor Who.

There’s always been a big emphasis on gaming at CoastCon. And by gaming, I mean strategy games (like updates of the old SSI hex games) as well as role playing games. Actually, the biggest dealers in the room served gaming needs. In a way, that is understandable. Gaming, especially strategy gaming, has long been a big part of most science fiction conventions, and CoastCon began life in 1978 as an SF convention. It has always also catered to Trek and other fan interests, but it’s remained fairly true to its SF roots.

Number two in popularity with the dealers? It was close, but probably Steampunk. You know what that is unless you've been living under a non-fandom rock for the last decade. Steampunk is an SF/SciFi/comics genre that's like a mashup of anime and Jules Verne style Victoriana and science fiction. You know, leather-corseted girls with top hats wearing goggles and carrying steam-powered rayguns.

Somehow, I’d got the mistaken impression that Steampunk isn't as popular now as it was a few years ago. Judging by what I saw at CoastCon, it is just as popular as ever. At least with cosplayers. There are plenty of Steampunk movies (animated ones, especially) and books, but the costuming, the cosplaying aspect of Steampunk, is the most popular thing about it, I think. It not only appeals to older cosplayers, women of all ages seem to love it. After all, almost any woman looks darned good cinched into a corset.

When was the last time you went to a Con of any kind where the place wasn't clogged with anime girls? CoastCon is no different. Frilly-tutued cat-girls were everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. While the anime cosplayers are invariably members of the younger set, there are plenty of them and they obviously spend money. In addition to costume components and DVDs of anime films—Hell, I almost picked up a DVD of Space Battleship Yamato myself—there was plenty of that printed anime, manga, to buy.

Doctor Who items didn't exactly crowd the dealers’ tables as they have at some recent Cons I've been to, but there was still plenty of Doctor stuff for sale. DVDs, books, mugs, t-shirts, etc., etc., etc. Since Dorothy and I are big Whovians, I was happy to see that—Dorothy was absolutely thrilled.

I’d been curious as to whether the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, was popular enough with fans to sustain the series’ momentum. He is not that popular with me, that’s for sure, being tied with my other least favorite Doctor, the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, for last place at this point. Apparently my opinion isn't in the majority, as Doctor Who was big at CoastCon (Dorothy tells me the last episodes of the 8th series, which I haven’t yet watched, have been an improvement).

When it came to dealer offerings, Star Trek definitely brought up the rear. Oh, it was there; there were coffee cups and lanyards and plenty of T-shirts, but it was behind Doctor Who, I thought. Which was about what I expected. There hasn't been any new Trek on TV since the ill-begotten Enterprise went off. The last Trek reboot-movie was putrid and not as popular by far as the first. Trek will endure, but in the past when there hasn't been any good new Trek available, we've always seen a bit of a turndown in fandom. That’s what I thought I saw indicated in the dealer room, anyhow.

Bits and pieces? Some Star Wars merchandise. Not as much as I expected, but that will no doubt change for next year’s Con in the wake of Episode 7. Is Firefly dying? There wasn't much on display from the Browncoat world. Couple of t-shirts, just a couple, and that was all I saw.  Hope fan interest isn't fading, but without a new Firefly something, I am afraid we will see fan numbers shrink.  

And that was purty much it for our shopping. In addition to the aforementioned comics, I picked up a cheap copy of The Dark Knight Rises (did not have it in Blu Ray), a t-shirt from last year’s CoastCon since I somehow missed getting one then (“Revenge of the Red Shirts”), and I was, unfortunately, done.

‘Sup next? Before hitting the main room, where gaming and everything else except the panels goes on, we needed a spot of lunch. A good thing about the Biloxi venue is that the fast-food vendor, ARA, is a known quantity. Not gourmet fare, that’s for sure, but good enough if a little overpriced. 12 bucks got me and the D. two large slices of pepperoni pizza and a single bottle of diet Coke. Could have been worse, I suppose. And since I've been on a health kick for the last couple of months and pizza has not passed my lips in that time, I gotta say that greasy, crunchy, cheesy slice was just heaven.  The ARA was also selling beer and wine, but it was too early in the day for me to be tempted.

After lunch, I cruised the dealer tables again just to be sure, till Dorothy came and dragged me into the next room. I was glad she did. The impressions I got from the dealer room were mostly turned on their heads there. The center of the big space was devoted to gaming tables (and another ARA concession stand; I had a hard time keeping myself from ordering another slice of pepperoni), but around the periphery, all around the outside of this large area, were tables for fan organizations.

Yeah, to look at the dealers you’d a-thought Steampunk and anime is where all the fans are. Next door with the fans, not the dealers? Uh-uh. Biggest representation there was from Trek and Doctor Who. The latter being what had D. fired up. She hurried me over to the display of Louisiana’s Krewe du Who, who had a full sized TARDIS, a Dalek (damn them), and a fully operational K9 on display. The costumed crew members were friendly, and I was much impressed. I noticed at least two more Whovian groups on the floor, and there may have been more than that. Rest assured, Who is still hot.

At least as popular, obviously, was Trek. Whovians had Crew du Who, but Trekkies (OK, Trekkers if you insist) had the Crew of the U.S.S. Neptune, who had a rather elaborate and large presence to include several PCs set up running a Trek game. What particularly reassured me? There was a young woman in Starfleet uniform and wearing Spock ears hanging out at these tables. I know that those of us who came into Trek in the 60s – 90s will stay true to the show, but I was beginning to be concerned younger fans may not be coming into Trekdom. Apparently they are. Most probably thanks to the TNG and STTOS reruns on cable TV seven days a week.

You know what bugs me, though? None of the multitudinous cable networks ever runs anything but TNG and STTOS. I wouldn't mind seeing Deep Space Nine again. Hell, I don’t think I ever watched every single Enterprise episode, and feel somewhat willing to do so now. Amazingly, I am even in a place where I’d like to see Voyager again.

If a Trek show ever left a bad taste in my mount, it was Voyager. Then, a year or two ago, I was at a con. Could even have been CoastCon, but it was probably our home con, MobiCon. At a con, I am no different than I am at a star party. I am going to buy something. Unfortunately, this was one of those times when I was having a hard time finding anything. It could have been one of those periods when my interests had turned esoteric, like to Perry Rhodan or the Lensman. Anyway, there was nothing much that caught my eye. I wasn't leaving a con empty handed, though. What was on the DVD dealer’s table? Season one of Voyager. For ten dollars. I hesitated, but, what the hell?

It took me a while, and I mean weeks, to open that pretty box of DVDs. One boring Sunday afternoon I did, though. Guess what? Voyager was better than I remembered. Oh, sure, sometimes freaking Neelix became a bit much to take, but the other characters, especially Janeway and the doctor, had a lot more appeal than I remembered. It was then that I realized that I do like Voyager. What ruined it for me was the series finale, which was probably the worst series finale of any show, Trek or otherwise, I have ever seen.

We went through the whole series hoping for U.S.S. Voyager to make it home safely, for the crew to be reunited with their families in an uplifting homecoming. The numb-nuts writers on the show at the end robbed us of the satisfaction of seeing that with “Endgame.” It’s a hurried mishmash involving the Borg, and we are deprived of a satisfying conclusion, of actually seeing Voyager make it home. Crap. Craptacular. I will watch the entire series again, but I will skip that one and not risk my blood pressure and hairline.

I digress. What else did I see in the room? Lots of cosplayers in some rather impressive costumes. There was an excellent Princess Leia in Hoth dress, some impressively armored Transformers, and a couple of nicely done but rather tall Jawas. I was most impressed, however, by a young woman’s simple but elegant Maleficent costume. Unfortunately, we needed to head home before the Costume Parade (5:00) and the contest (6:00), so I'm not sure who won. I was impressed by the hard work of all the cosplayers; the care that went into every costume I saw was evident.

There was a display of fan and professional art in one of the adjoining rooms, but, as in the past, in our neck of the woods you go to MobiCon (June) to see lots of great art. What did impress me in the room, which also displayed the items for CoastCon’s charity auction? A fully stocked cash bar. Next year I will no doubt avail myself of that.

Finally, there was a large NASA display set up at one end of the hall that was garnering considerable interest. I couldn't determine who it belonged to, but I assume the nearby Stennis Space Center. I've never acted on it, but I've always thought a con would be a fruitful ground for astronomy club recruiting. Ought to set up a table for our club at one the area cons some day if—if ever get that ambitious again.

After one last loop around the main area, it was time for the final event on our agenda, the late afternoon Doctor Who panel presented by the good folk of Louisiana’s BayouCon, “Attack of the Eyebrows: A Look at the 12th Doctor.” This panel, in one of the three side rooms devoted to that, was a goodun with good audience participation. A surprise? Many of the fans seemed to strongly support Capaldi's Doctor and to dislike his companion, Clara. Which is the opposite of where I am at. Well, there’s room for plenty of opinions in the wild, woolly, and wonderful world of fandom.

That, as they say, was that. Fun is fun, but done is done. One last tour of the dealers where Dorothy and I convinced ourselves she really could not live without that Guardians of the Galaxy bag, and it was, sadly, time to head for the New Manse. I’d had a great, great time at CoastCon 38 as I always do at Biloxi’s con, and very much appreciate the tremendously hard work of the organizers and volunteers. Naturally, nothing is perfect, but there is little I would improve, with only two things coming to mind:  a film room, and COMICS.

A room playing genre films round the clock is just a necessity at any con in my opinion, and CoastCon needs one, muchachos. Comics? Yes, maybe I’m being a little selfish concerning one of my major interests, but I can’t help but think appealing to comics fans would bring in new faces, dealers, and dollars, something every con needs. Still, this is a good one and if you ont he coast this time of year, don’t ask questions, just go to CoastCon.

Nota Bene:  You can see more pictures from CoastCon on my Facebook page, under "Albums."

Next Time:  Planetary Imaging Part II…

Hey, Uncle Rod, who's your friend posing with you - the brown conical fellow with all the bumps?

OK, even I know a Dalek when I see one even if I've never seen one second of Dr. Who. But having wandered into the Santa Rosa erstwhile OctoCon in the very early '80s I can understand your enjoyment.

Best to you and Miss Dorothy!
Never seen one second of Doctor Who? We need to rectify THAT. :-)
Unk! I have recently gotten into your blogs and because i just bought a Mallincam jr pro, i searched and studied every word you wrote about video astronomy. I have watched the Almost Heaven 2013 video, and seeing the image of you back then compared to now was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Good to see so much less of you!
Didn't know you were a con attendee. So awesome to know another fellow astronomer who is into comic like I am!
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