While we’re all still crying ugly tears that Matt Smith (my first Doctor) didn’t make it to Awesome Con this year as originally planned, I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to this Con than the big name celebrities. Here’s my secret sauce to a great convention that isn’t the Main Stage programming:
1) Authentic Representation
Whenever I describe Awesome Con to friends, I usually use the phrase, “it’s like an academic conference, where all the panel sessions analyze superheroes, comics, and science fiction.” Some of the most interesting and empowering sessions that I have attended dive into and emphasize representation in our fandoms.
I kicked off this year with a panel on “Women in Science Fiction,” featuring Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica), Gates McFadden (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Danielle Panabaker (Flash), and Dr. Erin Macdonald (astrophysicist and Awesome Con regular). Science fiction presented the first media depictions of women in leadership roles, such as McDonnell’s President Laura Roslin, before female political leaders became acceptable on primetime television. The panel touched on the bechdel test, mentorship, developing complex female characters, and not standing for stereotypical portrayals of women in media. McFadden attributes her brief departure from The Next Generation to her vocal criticisms of Dr. Crusher’s development. Despite significant strides for women in the last decade, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that leading male characters still outnumber female leads 2:1.
I’ve been to many conferences full of “manels,” panels where all the presenters are men; therefore it was so refreshing to see the panel organized by LGBT HQ that was as representative in gender, orientation, race, and identity, as the “ships” they were discussing. (According to the Geena Davis Institute, less than 1% of main characters are LGBTQIA or of different abilities.)
2) Science (not-so) Fiction
What sets Awesome Con apart for a regular comic con is its emphasis on science, through Future Con and scientific programming. You can find real scientists analyzing the scientific foundations of your favorite fandoms, alongside the NASA Administrator, space explorers, and even the CIA.
Day 2 started with a battle of the sciences between Star Trek and Star Wars nerds… who are actual doctors of physics and biology. Drs Erin Macdonald and Mohamed Noor were in Star Trek’s corner while Drs. Eric Spana and Stephen Granade fought valiantly for Star Wars. Star Trek won on most creative biological diversity of aliens, considering non-carbon based life forms, but failed when aliens were depicted by actors with mediocre makeup and prosthetics (to be fair, early Star Trek had a limited budget). Spana presented his hypothesis that Star Wars midichlorians are actually a virus, because how else would they be transferred across species and planets that evolved separately. Also, don’t get these guys started on lightsabers.
BRB, I’m off to join the Dr. Erin fan club because we definitely need more badass, nerdy, female scientists.
3) Artist’s Alley and Exhibit Hall
So much of my apartment is decorated with pieces and commissions from AwesomeCon, that it’s basically a home goods store. My design aesthetic leans either towards space and science-themed, or goofy illustrations from my favorite fandoms. My go-to science-themed illustrators include Monkey Minion Press and the Chop Shop Store. This year I discovered Svaha, a STEAM-themed apparel company, which must be designed by women because everything has pockets! Also, Billie Claire Handmade made her Awesome Con debut with gorgeous DC prints and slightly profane Harry Potter buttons.
Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with any of these companies, I just LOVE their products.
Final Grade: A+ (There’s a reason this is my 4th consecutive year at this Con.)