The inaugural Geek Girl Con ran last weekend in downtown Seattle, and I was there to check it out. The con focused on female geeks of all stripes. There were panels about gaming, comics, movies, TV, feminism, and gamer culture.
The panel track was the main emphasis of the con, from my perspective anyway. The exhibitor hall and the gaming room were pretty small by comparison, and there wasn’t a big promotional presence. That makes a lot of sense for this con, especially in the first year. The con’s strength is in reinforcing the culture and solidarity of female geeks, and cons are the best way to do that. The first con looked like it was very successful, so it will be interesting to see how the con evolves in years to come.
I was curious what the demographics of the con would look like. Most geek conventions have more men attending than women (though the numbers aren’t nearly as skewed as they used to be). Though Geek Girl Con was focused on women, men were welcome (and welcomed), and my rough estimate is 70% women and 30% men. It looked to me like the concert was about 50–50. In case you’re wondering, Molly Lewis figured out that the female equivalent of a sausage fest is a book club.
Friday Night: Geek Girl Concert
Before the con proper started, they held a tie-in concert at the Great Hall on Green Lake. It was ticketed separately and featured Marian Call, Molly Lewis, and The Doubleclicks, along with skits by the Geek Girl Con staff. Judging from the crowd’s reactions, it was a good mix of invested fans and new people drawn in by the connection to Geek Girl Con. All the acts were wonderful, and they all took the stage for the final song: Marian’s “I’ll Still be a Geek after Nobody Thinks it’s Chic.”
Saturday: Panels and More Panels
I spent most of day one going to panels and catching up with friends. The convention used the Northwest Rooms at Seattle Center for the exhibition hall, gaming area, and panels, plus two theaters at the Experience Music Project for the other half of the panels. This meant a lot of walking back and forth, which was a little annoying—especially when accompanied by a pregnant friend (make sure that baby’s a Scorpio, Erin!). I ran into a bunch of friends, including ex-WotC folks like Erin, Susan Morris, and Michele Carter. Tracy Hurley, aka Sarah Darkmagic, was in town and joined us. There are too many great people to give shout-outs to everyone, but it’s always great to have good company at a con. Reconnecting with the lovely ladies of geekdom I don’t see as often was especially great!
Before I could get in, I had to stand in a pretty long line to get my badge. The line was nonexistent most of the time, but 10:00 on Saturday morning was packed!
The first panel I went to was “Boobies & Blasters: The Women of Star Wars.” It turned out to be populated with members of the 501st, the costuming group. Much of their conversation was pretty far down the costuming rabbit hole, so my companions and I didn’t have much to relate to there. I think Erin compared it to going to a Forgotten Realms panel when you don’t know anything about the Realms.
The next panel (across Seattle Center from the last) was “Feminism, Race, & Geek Culture.” The three panelists and moderator were women of color working in geekdom. Their conversation was interesting, and much of it was about dealing with the defensiveness of geek community when matters of racism, sexism, or gender issues come up. The short version for folks who get defensive: Listen, don’t take it as a personal assault, and don’t think that because someone says a game, movie, or comic has problematic content that he or she doesn’t enjoy it.
The last panel I saw Saturday was “History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman.” The main presenter was Krisy Guevara-Flanagan, who showed clips from her upcoming documentary (with the same title as the panel). The documentary presents a timeline of Wonder Woman and other heroic women in pop culture and how they’ve changed with the times.
After the convention, we went out for dinner with a big group of attendees, and Mike Robles spearheaded a massive session of geek karaoke. At the Spectator, the songbook contains tons of geek-friendly songs. We heard “Still Alive” from Portal, the theme from Enterprise, and “Yakko’s World” from Animaniacs (performed by Molly Lewis and the Doubleclicks).
Sunday: Exhibitors, Music, and a Couple More Panels
I started the day by checking out the dealer hall, which I hadn’t gotten to the day before. It was small but varied. Most of the booths were smaller companies: crafters, comic/game shops, small press publishers, and artists. I’m curious whether an expanded con will bring in bigger companies. Larger cons have a bunch of exhibitors who are essentially there to advertise. Here, the dealer hall really felt like it was all about vendors, and the bazaar atmosphere would be fun with more companies of a smaller scale.
Around noon, the same crew from the Geek Girl Concert—Marian Call, Molly Lewis, and The Doubleclicks—busked/played an impromptu concert outside the Northwest Rooms. They played for over an hour, drew a healthy crowd, and got some extra percussion from the janitor collecting the Seattle Center’s trash.
After the concert, I checked out “Ink-Stained Amazons & Cinematic Warriors,” a panel about the book by Jennifer K. Stuller. She appeared multiple times in the Wonder Woman documentary, and I was interested in hearing more from her. Her presentation was great, with a slideshow and video to supplement her lecture/discussion. She broke down the traits typical of heroes, the ways female characters match or defy those expectations, what that says about how female characters are viewed, and the ways their roles have changed over time. This and the Wonder Woman panel were both great, and it seems like this book and that movie could serve as great companion pieces.
My last panel was about Womanthology, a comics anthology by women authors and artists. They just came off a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. They discussed how Womanthology brought together professionals and amateurs, how its success should prove to the big comics companies how big the female audience is, and the technical side of writing and editing the book. Trina Robbins stole the show with her tale of becoming a real-life superhero.
Along with Liz Smith, I went to the closing ceremony and Labyrinth sing-along. It was sort of a strange event. Ostensibly, it was the end of the con, but they actually played all of Labyrinth after the music video sing-along. We didn’t stick around for the movie, so I’m not sure when the actual “closing ceremonies” part happened. They also brought in Karen Prell, a puppeteer who worked on Labyrinth (and played Red Fraggle in Fraggle Rock, which she announced to massive applause). She showed how to recreate some of the parts of Labyrinth using a hand puppet and gave some behind-the-scenes tips about puppeteering.
The convention sold out! That bodes well for its continued existence. Things seemed to run really smoothly (at least from the attendee side). You never know whether a first-year con will stay on the rails, so kudos to the Geek Girl Con staff for keeping it running well. The only problems I had were with lines: the long line for registration and a weird double line at the Wonder Woman panel that confused us and led to us inadvertently cutting in line.
The panel schedule was filled to the brim, and there were multiple times I had to choose between multiple interesting ones in the same slot. For a first-year con, that’s really impressive. I caught 5–1/2 panels over two days and enjoyed all but one. My friends caught some of the other panels and had great things to say about them, particularly “Killing Cattiness and Creating Community.”
All the great parts about a (relatively) small con were in full force. It was easy to catch up with people and see new folks you’d met over and over again. There wasn’t much advertising, nor were there companies who didn’t “get” the con. That means no bullhorns, no energy drink booths, and no booth babes!
Girl geekdom is on the rise, and you could feel the forward momentum and optimism (both cautious and exuberant) everywhere. Going to a tabletop con feels different: It’s a field that’s declining, and even cons that are growing have a slight undercurrent of pessimism. Geek Girl Con felt like it was taking a trend toward embracing female geekiness that had been spidering through other cons and burgeoning online and putting it into a tangible form. Repeatedly, panelists talked about finding other geek girls online after feeling alone in their geekiness growing up. The number of small children at Geek Girl Con was impressive and encouraging. Hopefully, they’ll be able to embrace their geek sides from an early age!
The Less Good
You’ll notice I didn’t talk much about tabletop gaming at the con. There was a tabletop room, but there wasn’t a whole lot of open gaming, which is what I prefer. To be honest, I didn’t spend a ton of time in the tabletop room, but when I did go in I didn’t get a great sense of how things were scheduled or arranged. It seemed like most of the events were scheduled, or tables dedicated to specific games. I didn’t see any tabletop panels on the schedule or tabletop companies in the vendor area. (That is, game companies with their own booths. There were retailers like Card Kingdom and Fantasium with gaming products.) I’d like to see more tabletop in the future, especially since this seems like a good con for indie publishers and a good place for all companies to find a new audience. And hey, maybe some of the tabletop gamer ladies I hung out this year might want to put a panel on the schedule at the next one (hint hint)!
The walk was also annoying. Having half the panels so far from the main area made the con feel a little more disconnected that it could have been, and felt inefficient. I don’t know if the space they had this year will be able to handle next year’s numbers anyway, so there some wait-and-see on this one.