If you attended GeekGirlCon 2013, you may have helped a little girl sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to Red Fraggle (and her friend, puppeteer extraordinaire Karen Prell) during a Q&A session. You may have caught a ninja concert by ukulele sensation Molly Lewis or nerdy musical sisters The Doubleclicks. You may have picked up a Con sketch by cartoonist Katie J. Rice, of Penny Arcade’s “Strip Search” fame. You may have sampled Mountain Dew cupcakes by Geeky Hostess Tara Theoharis or made coffee ground fossils and goo in the DIY Science Zone. You may have watched figures from the Marvel universe battling a Dalek. You might have battled the Dalek yourself, for that matter.
GeekGirlCon took place Oct. 19-20 at The Conference Center (8th Ave. at Pike St.), and although only in its third year, it sold out both days and drew well over 4,000 attendees of all ages—roughly 50% more than last year. Why the huge jump in popularity?
Smaller and more intimate than many of Seattle’s other fan conventions, GGC offers all the fun elements that fans expect, from gaming and exhibitors to chances to meet the likes of Jane Espenson, Jen Van Meter and Kelly Sue DeConnick—not to mention it’s another excuse to trot out your night elf costume—in a breathable, relaxed atmosphere. What’s more, with a firm emphasis on inclusiveness and support, not just of girl geeks but of other underrepresented groups in geek culture, GGC creates a truly remarkable community where hilarity abounds, yet where attendees also tackle serious issues about equality, in geekdom and in the world beyond as well.
Case in point: GGC strongly emphasizes professional networking. The GeekGirlConnections area gave attendees the legitimate opportunity to hand a résumé to BioWare while actually dressed as Commander Shepard. Half the panels looked like a training camp for taking over media networks and comic book production.
Yet, the panels proved that professionalism and levity can mix. When a panel on freelancing found itself without a moderator, panelist Bonnie Burton (“The Stars Wars Craft Book”) volunteered her Admiral Sackbar puppet as a stand-in. (Incidentally, it was to be the second panel in a row with a puppet at the podium attended by this reporter.) Without missing a beat, fellow panelist Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows of creative content developer Gorgeous Robot quipped, “Freelancing is all about adaptability.” The panel then proceeded to have the audience alternately rolling with laughter and noting down tax advice and Web addresses.
Fan conventions traditionally bring fans and creators together over shared passions, and at GeekGirlCon panelists repeatedly encouraged audiences to break down the barrier and become creators themselves. Writer/producer Jane Espenson (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Battlestar Galactica”), who broke into screenwriting by producing spec scripts, saw no difference between fans’ fictional tributes to beloved characters and her own line of work: “It’s just fan fiction in script form that you get paid for that goes on the television.” For Espenson, stories by fans round out the fictional worlds she’s created.
Comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (“Captain Marvel”) also urged comic enthusiasts to diversify the industry by getting involved with all aspects of comic book creation: “We need you guys to all start making comics—drawing comics and editing comics and lettering comics!” Moments later, an audience member revealed that she’d heard DeConnick speak at the New York Comic Con the previous week—and had since started her own comic.
The question of building diversity, whether in TV or comic book characters or among the ranks of creators or decision-makers, became a recurring theme throughout the convention. While GeekGirlCon touts itself as “The Celebration of the Female Geek,” the convention links the treatment of women in geek culture to broader issues of inclusiveness. This connection was quite clear to the guests. In regard to her and Brad Bell's award-winning online TV show “Husbands,” Jane Espenson noted, “I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism in the context of writing ‘Husbands,’ which is a show with two male main characters. It’s still a very feminist show, because I think feminism extends beyond the ranks of womanhood to feminized manhood. [...] Feminism goes beyond what is traditionally thought of as feminism.” Espenson added pointedly, “It’s worth a lot of people […] writing about it, because there is ink to be spilled on this topic.”
More voices mean more diversity, but as burlesque star The Shanghai Pearl and cosplayer Chaka Cumberbatch reminded audiences, it can be a painful struggle to make yourself heard. In contrast to the backlash they received for voicing their opinions on race—or simply, in Cumberbatch’s case, dressing up as a character who wasn’t black, as she happens to be—GeekGirlCon provided a safe space to broach topics as fraught as race and gender.
Kelly Sue DeConnick addressed the issue of minority characters in comics with a difficult admission. “When I was creating the Banshee Squadron, this squadron of women air service pilots from World War II [in ‘Captain Marvel’], I considered having a black woman, and I quickly dismissed it,” she explained. In history, black women had been excluded from their sisters’ ranks; yet, DeConnick continued, this decision made no sense in the context of the license she took with those same characters. “Women air service pilots, as far as I know, did not fight aliens in the South Pacific. And so that was an OK place for me to suspend my disbelief, but having a black heroine as part of the group? I blew it. It was small-minded thinking. The whole arc was supposed to be about rewriting history, and I missed an opportunity.”
Her takeaway from this lesson? “It has engendered in me some compassion for dudes who only write stories about dudes, because I have missed opportunities too,” DeConnick mused. “But look, we can do better! So I’m endeavoring to do better.”
Building a truly inclusive geek culture is no simple task and requires just as much self-reflection as it does new paths for more voices and greater diversity. GeekGirlCon isn’t just about geek girls but strives to create “a welcome, inclusive space for everyone” with “a focus not just on women, but other underrepresented populations in geek culture, including geeks of color, geeks with disabilities and LGBT and transgendered people,” according to GCC organizer Susie Rantz.
Rantz was extremely pleased that GGC’s mission has resonated so strongly with attendees: “I love that our community is so willing to attend GeekGirlCon to have a ton of fun and talk about issues related to equality in geek culture. It warms my geeky heart.”
Even if you missed this year’s Con, there are plenty of other ways to experience the GGC community; the GeekGirlCon organizers plan plenty of fun events throughout the year, from gaming at the Wayward Café and screenings at Central Cinema. Passes are also available already for next year's GeekGirlCon, scheduled for Oct. 11-12, 2014. For more information, visit www.geekgirlcon.com.
Next: In the second half of this GeekGirlCon 2013 recap, Jenni Powell, executive producer on YouTube channel Geek & Sundry and Emmy Award-winning web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” talks about the potential of YouTube for aspiring creatives.