Friday, September 9, 2011

Live and Learn

Well, once again I’m way overdue for another update for this column. I wish I had a good excuse, but honestly I don’t. Since I wrote my last article I’ve gone back to school and work, and since I work at an elementary school, I’ve also gone back to making lesson plans and facilitating lessons for an after school program the school has. This year I’m teaching computers.

I also did one more very important and necessary thing since my last article: I went on a week’s vacation. I visited my mother in Austin TX. I really enjoy Austin. The air is fresher, the people are friendlier, there is artwork on every wall, and the community life is great. There’s always something going on every weekend at a park or at a convention center, and if you’re a geek, people understand you. I went with my mom to visit Amy’s Ice Cream, which is a great regional ice cream parlor, and the girl behind the counter complimented the Super Mario World T-Shirt I was wearing; telling me that the was always a big fan and she didn’t understand “where video games were going these days.” I replied by saying I understood how she felt, even though I enjoy a game of Call of Duty every once in a while myself.

I don’t know what the comic or anime convention scene is like in Austin, but I don’t worry about that one bit. All I gotta do is turn on the morning news to find out that they’re having an ice cream convention at the convention center, a chili pepper convention in the giant organic foods store and a convention in the town hall where artists paint ceramic cows. No bull. Cows. I didn’t actually go to any of those events, but I did check out a local comic shop, where I bought about 30 dollars’ worth of independently published comic books. While the El Paso comics scene often concerns itself with inventing superhero books, gritty real-life dramas, and, surprisingly, horror, the Austin comics scene is filled with works that have intrinsic artistic value in a variety of styles ranging from cartoons to graphic novels that have the same emotional gravity as Maus or Persepolis.

Now, I bet you’re thinking that I’m only saying that the grass is greener on the other side. Well, that might be true, but my occasional visit to Austin is important to me because it reminds me that I am right about one thing when it comes to fandom in El Paso: there’s lots of room for improvement. It’s an improvement that is slowly happening, as evidenced by the grandiose reception of the upcoming El Paso Comic Convention, but despite the admirable success of one convention, a visit to Austin shows me that there could be more done. A lot more.

And it’s an important perspective for me to have since a few years ago, just as I started my first soiree into the fandom with “The Captain_M Show,” I really had no clue.

My first immersion into convention life came with A-Kon. I went there with someone who was once my friend but is now infamous in the local anime community for his naysaying and cynicism. We’ll call him Theo. Theo and I shared a long, stressful, bus ride from El Paso to Dallas to attend the convention. We sweated and snored and when we finally got off the bus, we both noticed the smell of the whole trip had stuck on our shirts. Theo suggested we soak our shirts in a sink using cold water while we went downstairs to get our badges.

As soon as we got to the floor, I was in awe. For the first time in my life, I was transported to Geek Nirvana, a place where all the world’s hopes and joys could be had among throes of people who loved and understood all the same things I did. Then I looked over at Theo who simply sneered and said “This convention has gotten worse in the two years since I started coming here.”

Also, that shirt I soaked in the sink in our hotel room shrunk.

I went back to A-Kon two more years, and then I decided it was time to take a look at what we were doing similarly in our own town. I went to EPAC in 2007 and saw that it had a lot of growing to do if it had to meet up with my A-Kon experience.

But my A-Kon experience was my only experience. Another time I was sitting with my gaming club, having an argument about whether the club should take a trip to A-Kon or Anime Expo I was all for taking a trip to A-Kon, but the other club members, who had already managed to take one trip to California for AX thought that the much bigger convention was worth saving up money for. They downvoted A-Kon, but I ended up going anyway, with a different group of friends. As far as I know, that club has yet to come back to AX.

The idea that the grass is always greener comes into play when we consider the club’s decision not to go A-Kon that year. They’d already been to a bigger convention so the smaller convention didn’t mean as much to them. It’s like being offered hamburger after tasting filet mignon. Me, I don’t have a problem with either. Red meat is red meat, but to others, only the very best will be able to satiate their appetites.

But what’s really unique about the El Paso situation is that the people with the taste for the finer things, are often the ORGANIZERS of these conventions, and with the exception of EPCON and possibly the upcoming Frank N’ Con convention this October, things still turn out pretty mediocre. Never mind hamburger, we settle for whatever the heck’s in the middle of a hot dog. A trip to one of these events always leaves me feeling unsatisfied as if I’d eaten a meal full of empty carbs. (Which I did once when I visited A-Kon.)

All the time I’ve been quietly observing this, I was often accused of not having enough of a viewpoint. I was often told that I only knew the grandeur of one great convention, and there’s no comparing what I know to what I often see in local conventions. What goes on in other cities might be better OR worse.

Well, as true as that is, I can safely tell my detractors that I know what it’s like to be at a truly great convention. One where everyone is friendly, there is art on every wall, and people understand you, even if you are a total geek.

Because I’ve been to Austin.

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