THE BURLINGTON COUNTY LIBRARY FANDOM FEST
AMBER LOVE 10-AUG-2016 It was an incredible honor to be asked to be a guest and host a panel at the Burlington County Library System FANDOM FEST. Download on iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here. (Minor correction: I said it was the first fandom fest, but it was the first with speakers and the second actual festival).
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I was looking forward to speaking at the library all week. I also knew I had a pretty tough (for me) professional schedule last week. I had to drive over an hour to Deadly Ink on Friday and then about an hour-45 the next day, only a few weeks after being the in ER with my herniated discs. Plus, to be frank, my anxiety brought on some symptoms that I couldn’t control like feeling as if my skeleton was vibrating under all my skin and muscles. It was a strange week.
Deadly Ink went well and I staved off major panic attacks (the kind that make me leave a room for a while). I still wasn’t sure how I’d hold it together for Saturday which had an 11-4 commitment. TL;DR – I survived and enjoyed my time even with my symptoms.
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The August 6th mini comic con was held at the Westampton headquarters for the Burlington County Library System. It is probably the largest library I’ve ever seen. My town doesn’t even have its own library. There’s one in each neighboring town and the county branch not terribly far, but still a drive.
Burlington knows all about big things. It’s the largest county in the state and – fun fact – the largest blueberries in the world were developed there. BCLS has grand art deco architecture. Walking in, I was lugging all my stuff (with consideration for my back) and tried to push the handicap accessibility buttons for the doors to open; the first set did but the second set didn’t. And honestly, that’s the only thing that went wrong all day.
I found my librarian friend Adam and got my table set up with what’s left of my inventory of comics and copies of Cardiac Arrest. I was focused on the speaking engagement part and wasn’t concerned with sales. Any at all were a bonus. One woman talked to me for a long time about her dedication to Jesus and the gym and said she wasn’t interested in buying anything of mine, but gave me a seven dollar tip because the number seven has magical Jesus properties for her.
The crowd was steady and they weren’t there specifically for the festival. The library must be busy normally on Saturdays because several people asked me what was going on as they looked at all the vendor tables and people in costumes.
My table was near the lobby’s cafe. Glorious! A library with a cafe! That’s the thing that I’ve long said is missing from most libraries and why people linger at Barnes & Noble. I understand food is messy, but having a dedicated area with tables to get concessions seemed like a no-brainer to me. With my shaky feeling, I wasn’t sure if food would help me and it’s usually the first thing I try so I got a brownie and orange juice around lunch time. It didn’t help, but it was delicious.
Cosplayers roamed around all day including the librarians who were so into it! Other people got into the Pokemon Go spirit. It sounded like there were a lot of scheduled activities to keep people busy.
QUEER CHARACTERS, CREATORS, & FANDOM
My panel was at 2PM though not really a “panel” per se since it was just me. I was mostly nervous that no one would show, or worse, that only two would show and I’d be visibly embarrassed in front of strangers.
In fact, the room was almost completely full — a couple of adults, but mostly older teens. And they were energetic! My plan was to do something I’ve never done before. I’m used to interviewing people and thought the audience would be bored listening to me talk about ways to improve queer representation in comics and entertainment. Since I thought a lecture would put them to sleep, I wanted to try something dynamic and interactive.
I did talk for about fifteen minutes just to warm up and explain about things like lesbian characters still being drawn for the male gaze. And they were old enough that I explained about creators and fans basically turning queer characters into their porn (I was careful to gauge the crowd about this). Then I got the whole group to come up with a protagonist, antagonist, a theme, and a basic plot.
Perhaps my best pieces of advice were:
- Never send a writer death threats no matter what they do to characters you love.
- Follow #StarringJohnCho on Twitter because it’s enlightening to see what a broad spectrum it is to discuss diversity in entertainment. That feed is jokingly about putting Korean-American actor, John Cho, into every starring male role.
The results were funny, yet serious in tone:
- Name: Fujioka
- 34 years old
- Werewolf (lab created)
- FBI Agent
- Name: Anastasia
- Russian President (originally they were going to have them be the US Pres)
The two main characters are exes and have a love child hybrid who was kidnapped and taken to Cuba. The year was 1975. Our hero has incredible tracking skills and wanted to get the child before their ex could. Anastasia and the hive of vampires possess the bloodstone which is the weakness of the lab created werewolves.
A little backstory was filled in for the werewolf character. They were Asian-American who had spent early years with parents in an American interment camp for Japanese-Americans. Their theme reflected this: the dehumanization of immigrants. Pretty epic for kids, right?
There was a lot of chatter amongst the audience members by that point as they got caught up in the creativity. We had a lot of influence from Underworld and other stories that were discussed.
A couple of the kids asked to draw the main characters too so that was another fantastic moment of getting their hands into creating the story.