I was asked about how BABSCon went by a couple of people, so I’m going to do a full review from my point of view here. It seems to be a valid place. It's going to include more than just the Con itself, because in my opinion the Con was one part of a bigger picture.
I’m an experienced con-goer. I’ve been doing it for decades all over this continent. But I had burned out on cons many years ago. They seemed to have the same vendors, the same panels, the same events over and over and over again. Especially when I moved to the Pacific Northwest and joined the Seattle Knights stage combat acting troupe, where I had to go to a *lot* of cons, renfaires, and the like as a performer, instructor, and vendor. Even now I still go as a vendor as my wife spins wool and stuff to make handcrafts to sell at them, but I rarely join into any of the panels/ events/ whatevers for them anymore as I had gotten tired of all of it. On the rare occasions I do, it’s as a costumer. I’m technically a Journeyman Costumer according to the national costuming association because of the various competitions I’ve placed in. Me, I just like making things.
However, the staff here at Poniverse had been talking to me about going to an actual ponycon at some point, a lot of them were going to BABSCon. And BABSCon had changed its dates this year so it wasn’t happening at the same time as one of the big events my wife likes to sell at, and the con wasn’t *that* far away with an hour or a bit on a plane… so what the heck.
== The Prep ==
Just for the heck of it, I put together a cosplay before leaving. It took longer than I had planned because I kept changing my mind on how I was going to do it. In the middle of the build we got a working embroidery machine, which made some stuff faster to do, but meant I needed to put more effort into figuring out how to retrofit the embroidery onto pieces I had already assembled. I decided to do a collar using a bead loom rather than use fabric, just for the sparkle. And I accidentally found a scrap of hemlock wood in my leftover pile that I could turn into a long but light horn to attach to a hat. My wife thought it was hilarious, as I’m already 6’2”, and the Starswirl hat I had built was ridiculous, making me somewhere around 9’ to the tip of it from the floor. I spent months growing my beard longer than I normally keep it, and it had gone sideways instead of long, so I ended up trimming the sides to give it the long look.Now, this cosplay was not a secret, but Jeric for some reason started asking for hints, so I started to treat it like one. I left hints all over the forum for him to find. Things like 'I'll be there with bells on!' and the like.
I also had to pack some kitchen utensils, as I’m not entirely sure how but I was volunteered to produce cucumber sandwiches for a birthday party that was going to happen at some point during the con. I didn’t really know how many people were going to be there for it, or what I was going to be able to scrounge from the hotel, so I assumed I was going to need to slice up a lot of cucumber and allow for food allergies (I knew of one celiac in the group), so I brought my own sterilized knife, cutting board, and mandolin slicer and just hoped to find the actual foodstuffs there in San Francisco.
== The Trip ==
Everything went fine. Got to the airport in plenty of time Thursday morning. My wife dropped me off after my dog gave me a thorough ear washing. I had my cellphone, laptop, and a 1923 book on Galahad in my carry on in case of delay. Bag checking was self-serve, mostly and was annoyed at the $25 bag fee. I hadn’t realized the airline from Seattle to San Fran that I had picked (Alaska Airlines) didn’t include the first bag. TSA was as tedious as it normally is, though the lines moved fairly well.
The flight itself was relatively uneventful, but the plane left 10-15 minutes late, and the headwind on the way delayed it further, so we landed 45 minutes after we were supposed to be there.
Oh, and the San Fran airport is rather weird. It took forever to reach the baggage claim, which was poorly marked. I spent most of the time just following the people in front of me hoping they knew where they were going. And then I wandered around more looking for the hotel shuttle area, which was on a different floor than the taxi/bus area. Luckily Alaska pulls in on the International Terminal, which means when the shuttle eventually arrived I was one of the first people onto it. By the time the shuttle reached Terminal 2, it was full and the people there (and in the terminal after it) had to wait for the *next* shuttle, which was probably the same shuttle half an hour into the future. Most of the people got off at the Mariott though (including me by mistake, I couldn’t tell what was going on at that time, I got back on again immediately), so the shuttle was mostly empty when we got to the Hyatt.
Checked in, got the cosplay unpacked so I could fluff the hat back up, and Skyped the rest of the Poniverse team to find out what was going on. Not much. The plane delay had put me behind and I had missed going for lunch with Troblems and Husband Horse, but a bunch of others were in Simon’s room and they were handing out the staff t-shirts and cards we had ordered for BABs. Koukatsu, 11th Doctor Whooves, MelonBlitz where there. Jeric and Rusty were still in flight. I’m not entirely sure when Batbrony and Simeon were due, but I knew SFyr and Stitch weren’t going to make it until at least midnight. And Lightwing had planned on coming, but had to cancel at the last minute. (Missed you, Lightwing!) Kou eventually took me to go meet Arty, a former Admin of this site and a friend I chat with on a regular basis, at the hotel bar with a bunch of people I vaguely knew from places but hadn't actually met before.
Eventually Troblems made it back to the hotel. I glanced at the Registration line as we tried to gather people together to get *something* to eat. It was long, and wasn’t moving at all as I don’t think they had actually planned on processing badges until much, much later but people were anticipating it early for some reason. The diner across the road had changed its hours so that it was no longer open for dinner so that put a dent into plans, and it was like herding cats as any group of fans that size turns into. In any case Troblems, Husband Horse, Arty, and I ended up at In And Out Burgers just to get something.
Got back and stood in Registration line. Kou had picked up one of the high-price badges so got shunted into a different line that was supposed to be faster. Somehow, I still ended up with my badge long before Kou did. I saw their line being moved from one side of the table to the other, but it didn’t seem like any of them were actually being processed. Supposedly there was a lot of confusion between them and Vendors or Panellists which ever one needed super-special badge processing and it caused the whole process to go wonky.
Jeric still hadn't made it in yet due to some difficulties with connecting flights as I understand it. I showed the gang my cosplay, and told them that for some reason Jeric was thinking it was a secret, and I was trying to hint at it for him without being obvious. Kou came up with the idea of telling Jeric there was a scavenger hunt going on with pointless clues like 'The next clue is near water, possibly in the hotel' and other nonsense. We all thought that was hilarious, so went with that because Jeric is fun to tease. Other than that, it was just wandering around and getting used to the hotel layout. It’s under construction so it was rather oddly cramped in places.
== Friday ==
Opening Ceremonies was interesting. Being someone who does a bit of acting on the side, I do tend to be over-critical about stagecraft, so I apologize if any of this seems mean-spirited. The con chair himself needs a bit of stage training. He unfortunately presented like a corporate executive in business casual rather than a fellow fan at a convention, just a touch *too* professional. Then there were the mascots. Lots of them, which surprised me more than a little. I liked the fellow playing Andreas, he seemed to be the most ‘on the top’ of his lines and presentation. Unfortunately his costume was a special makeup job that worked close up, but at audience distance it wasn’t clear what was it supposed to represent. The fellow playing Diablo had a bit more trouble with stagecraft as he turned his back to the audience a couple of times during his lines and simultaneously blocked his fellow villain, which are both no-nos. And there weren’t enough microphones to go around so a lot of lines disappeared into the aether. It probably would have been better to turn the entire presentation around so the villains were stage left and the heroes on stage right so that the ‘necromancer’ could lead with his primary hand and keep his front to the audience, but I found out later the stage itself was set up oddly which likely limited what the skit director could do. All that equipment was probably rented, and the budget likely didn’t extend to an additional half-dozen clip-on wireless microphones, a bigger mixing board, and stage monitors. The script they were using was a little strained but it was trying for some silver-age comic feel, so that made sense. The fact they’re even attempting a con storyline was kinda cool. It’s not as common now as it used to be.
Met the rest of the gang that I hadn’t met yet. Stitch and SFyr were a joy. I wanted to kidnap them and bring them home with me. SFyr had buttons he had made for us, including one of my OC.
From there it was grab something vaguely like lunch before the Poniverse Panel. We didn’t plan the panel out much, as we had thought it was going to segue naturally into a Meetup right afterwards, so it was basically going to be ‘Introductions’, ‘What we do here’, ‘Questions’ and then flow into mingling and hanging out. Unfortunately, the Meetup was in a different room on a different floor, so there wasn’t the flow I had been hoping for. So I ended up talking a lot simply because I’m loud. I’m not an extrovert, and I actually suffer from fairly severe stage fright, but I’ve deliberately gone through extensive training for public speaking to cover that particular weakness I have. Walking up on stage still scares the hell out of me, to the point of being physically sick, but once I’m up there I’m good to go. Plus the Con Book had some kind of printing problem so many of the panels (including ours) were missing descriptions or had the descriptions cut off at odd points. Oh well.
Run to the Meetup, and hung around with people talking about movies, both MLP, EQG, and the current batch of superhero movies. Especially about how hard DC is making it to be a fanboy of theirs. From there it was run to Costco to get the stuff for the birthday party. That went well, except for one really, *really* annoying thing. The whole point of me doing these cucumber sandwiches (from my point of view) was because one of our group is coeliac and can’t handle any gluten at all. So I had planned to make the gluten-free version first with my sterilized equipment so he could still join in on the party… And we couldn’t find any gluten free bread that was *actually* gluten free. So much of the so-called ‘gluten’ free products on the market now-a-days actually aren’t. They’re aimed at the silly diet fads, not at the people who are honestly allergic to wheat products, so they still use wheat or rye just in reduced amounts. We ended up with tiny rice crackers, which turned out to be flavoured and ruined that whole thing. Well, cucumber sandwiches still got made, and the people actually having the birthday got lots of cools stuff.
From there I changed into my Starswirl the Bearded cosplay and went to the BABSquerade Dance. Here’s something where my con-going experience caused me to make a mistake. Everyone had been calling it “The Masquerade”, which is the term many big cons use for their costume contest. This was *actually* a masquerade, so I was a bit confused. Lots of people wanted pictures, which was cool. And I was fascinated by a fursuit I saw there. She (assuming) was Vinyl Scratch, doing poi (twirling two lit balls on cables). She was very good at the poi, but what caught my eye was the fabric of the fursuit. It was a very short, tightly woven fur, completely unlike the fun fur I’m used to seeing. The only thing I’ve seen even vaguely like that was some custom-order stuff that was two-way stretch fur and was hideously expensive, or shaved funfur which was still coarser than this stuff seemed to be. She was having a lot of people around her all the time, either for pictures or just to pester her, so I figured she’d be around later to ask about the fabric rather than add to the crowd of people now when she really wanted to just dance and have fun. It's a rule I have: I smile and greet cosplayers and celebrities (both fan and pro) and restrict myself to saying 'I really like your outfit/work'. I don't bother them beyond that unless they start the conversation, I know them already personally, or they are deliberately set up in a picture-taking area (which at this con seemed to be near the registration tables). They want to just go the con just like everyone else and being constantly interrupted, screamed at, and in really bad cases groped gets stressful for many people new to cosplay (and horsefame). At the Opening Ceremonies there was the now-standard announcement that 'Cosplay does not mean consent', and that applies to everyone, even other cosplayers. Now I have no problems with being asked for pictures and the like, but I go into it knowing full well that's what's going to happen because I started costuming as a performer, and many new cosplayers (and celebrities for that matter) don't so I don't want to add to their stress.
I’m not a good dancer myself, so I eventually begged off and went back to the room for the night.
== Saturday ==
I’m awake early, because I’m still on farm hours, but my roommates are unconscious. According to Skype, they were up even earlier and crashed again, so I’m not going to pester them. So I futz around using the hotel wifi, do some mod work on the forums and get caught up on webcomics, youtube and tumblr subscriptions. I start writing some fanfic but I’m having trouble concentrating on any one thing so that doesn’t get far.
Once I’m officially up and about, off to the Gen 1 panel. I have a thing for earlier gens, simply because I was around then as well and I understand the cultural conventions of the time. Some of them aren’t very good (Newborn Cuties), but they were all products of their time. The presenter is having technical difficulties as the projector is unable to do her videos for some reason. Probably something to do with the projector’s refresh rate, as it can handle the slide presentation and the sound of the video clips just fine. I wonder if that stuff is also rented, or if it belongs to the hotel?
I had been telling people I wasn’t going to participate in the costume contest, but I was going to *go* to the costume contest. However, a fellow walking by in a Scorpan costume was having difficulty as some of his straps and fursuit had split on his shoulder. I ran to get my crash kit (a small kit with emergency costuming supplies carried by most costumers). Got back to the room where he was in line for judging and safety pinned him back together, and had people cajole me into entering myself. I was still a bit reluctant as I knew entering into a costume contest is effectively an all-day thing, with entry, judging, and so on, and I hadn’t prepared music or a skit for presentation. But all these little kids were saying I should do it and they wanted Starswirl to join them, so I couldn’t really say no at that point.
The sheer number of entrants was amazing, the quality of the stuff everyone had built was wonderful, and the energy of the room was great. It put many costume cons to shame. When it came to the actual judging, I let the judges know that I was a journeyman costumer and to make sure to judge me at that level rather than as a novice. I also forgot to point out the cutie-marks I had made on my pants, but they were covered by the cloak, so it didn’t matter much. Workmanship judging took forever, but that’s normal.
On the way to the actual costume contest I got waylaid by a group doing interviews. It was the talking head style where the interviewer is not shown or heard, just the interviewee restating the question and answering it. I get the feeling they were aiming for something, but I think I threw them for a loop as I have no fear of revealing my real name or anything like that. I’m too old, and been on the internet too long to keep any of that a secret. It takes like zero effort to figure out who I am and I’m completely open as to my hobbies to everyone I know and work with. Anyone who tries to Dox me is in for a bit of a surprise.
Then it was down to the main hall to get ready for what I thought was going to be the stage walkthrough… and here I was thrown by my prior experience yet again. It was straight to the Presentation, which was walk on, walk off and everyone was lined up in full view of the audience. This is where I learned the stage setup was odd, with one side having the stage steps in view of the audience (far side from the main doors), and the other side the stairs were behind the curtain. So we go backwards from what I’m used to. Climb the stage in view of the audience, and disappear afterwards. And since the stage is right up against the back wall there isn’t really a ‘backstage’ area big enough for all the contestants. The bit behind the curtains on both wings are too small for all of us. So have to leave and go back out into the audience to sit and wait for the judgment where at most costume cons, the contestants are kept sequestered from the moment they put their costumes on to the moment judging is announced. The filly and colt category was first, and then the heroes (which is where I supposedly was) Things got out of order and my name wasn’t being called based on where I was in the line. I ended up chatting with DustyKatt who was doing a Rainbow Rocks Sunset Shimmer, complete with the guitar he had built in his videos. The two of us were wondering if I had gotten missed entirely, but I wasn’t bothered. I was doing this for a lark anyway; I wasn’t in it for the competition. But I did get called, and up I went. As I said, there was no ‘presentation’ here with a skit or music or anything, and everyone I had seen go up just went up, twirled, and walked off. So that’s what I did, as in Rome and all that. Some of the people later did a little more than that, when the villains and group categories were called, but not by much. Some of these costumes were truly impressive. I talked for a bit with a girl who had done up a Vinyl Scratch, completely with a Bass Bazooka and white leather jacket she had made. She ended up winning the Heroes category, and she deserved it. I got picked as Judges Choice by Kara Kosicka, which was more than enough for me. I tried to go up the stage to get my prize (A DHX lanyard) without using the stairs because finding the curtain part was annoying, and tripped on the cloak a bit.
After that was the Charity Auction, which was fun. I got outbid on everything I went for. Oh well again. Then a silversmith panel which got called as the panellist decided he was too ill to do the panel right then. Then Toasty Writers where some panellists *became* too ill to do the panel right then for completely different reasons.
Jeric got me a gift, a Doctor Whooves dogtag, which was exceedingly cool. It was payback for the teasing I had been doing to him all weekend. He’s funny to give gifts to, he goes all spluttery, so we had all joined on it.
== Sunday ==
G.M. Berrow’s panel, which was interesting, I like her books. Despite their intended reading level, she hides fascinating little tidbits throughout them.
And finally get to the Vendors rooms for real. I had done it the day before, but real fast as I ended up in the costume contest unplanned. I think I threw Ambris for a loop, buying a complete set of ‘Adventuring is Magic’ prints. I wanted about four or five of them specifically, but I have this thing that once I reach a certain point I *have* to complete the set. Unfortunately he had two additional pieces that he didn’t have time to get printed before BABS, and he fully intends on doing a Starswirl the Bearded one soon. I’ll have to get those when I can. Very little Fleur de Lis stuff around, unfortunately. Got some fun buttons from a variety of places, a set of Tron/MLP crossover prints, and a selection of nametags. Luckily the nametags didn’t trigger the collector urge for some reason, as the complete set would have ended me.
I missed the Dream Valley Meetup and the Roleplayers Meetup, but somehow caught the Princeless panel *and* most of the Pony Romance panel despite them being on the schedule at the same time? I’m not entirely sure how I did that, but I distinctly remember seeing the ends of both those panels but not the beginnings. Poor Silverquill, he had a few people giving monologues rather than succinct questions and he had to chivy the people along.
Then was the Iron Artist where they convinced four fan-artists to try to do an art piece in a limited amount of time, in tempura (an extremely annoying medium if you’ve never used it, meant for fingerpainting in kindergarten), on a random subject chosen by the pro-artist judges. This time it was Star Trek/pony crossover in honour of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. None of the fan-artists knew Star Trek very well, which was confusing to me, but then I realized how old I am, and how young all of them were. Bleh. They were getting the audience to ask questions of the judges and anyone who asked got to pick something from a toy bin. I got a question in about how much collaboration these particular artists do with the writers during the process (answer, as little as possible. ) and I gave my 'prize' to one of Jeric's kids as I recognized it as something that would trigger my collector problem if I had kept it. In any case, the winning entry was a Luna Redshirt which was surprisingly well done give the medium they were working in. Once the competition was over, they seemed puzzled as to what to do with the entries. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t auction them off right there for the charity this year, but because they hadn’t thought of that beforehand they weren’t sure they could legally do it. Too bad. I would have bid on the Luna piece.
Closing Ceremonies, which went better than Opening Ceremonies. Still issues with microphones, and the main projector was supposed to be showing something that I at least couldn’t see from where I was sitting. The mascot performers seemed to be a bit more comfortable, and working it a bit more, which was cool. I finally clued in to the fact there had been a huge contingent of Australian Bronies who had come as one big group. And all those fine-furred fursuits I had been wondering about? Those were the Japanese Bronies who had also come as a big group. That’s why all the alicorns (they had Celestia, Luna, and Cadance, as well as several others) all followed a similar style with the wings at the small of their back rather than at the shoulder; they were all designed by the same person. I bet you that fabric is relatively common in Japan given the popularity of cosplay there. I never got a chance to ask them what the stuff was called so I could do a targeted websearch for it for my own purposes.
Then it was off to dinner with Troblems, Horse Husband, Arty, and Troblem’s parents. The wind was stupid strong. I’m not used to that, it actually took the button that SFyr gave me as a present right off of my suspenders. Arty managed to spot it, and it was undamaged after skittering across the parking lot.
Got back, visited the room the rest of the Poniverse Staff were hanging in, and said goodbyes to everyone, since I had to be *out* of the hotel at 4 to get on the plane back to SeaTac.
== The Return ==
Not much to report here. Got out of the hotel room without waking Troblems and Husband Horse, and waited for the shuttle. The wind was still stupid. Got to the airport no problem, but the check in desk wasn’t open, so had to sit around for a while. Once that was dealt with the same thing happened with TSA, and had to wait for that. Then it was a short wait, onto the plane, and… arrived at SeaTac *early*. The wind must have been going the right way. My wife and Stig (our dog) were waiting for me, and we went home. With unfortunately enough time to log into work remotely and handle a few meetings so I didn’t have to cash out another vacation day.
== Summary ==
I really enjoyed this. It’s been a long, long time since I enjoyed just being at a con. Most of the people seemed just happy to be there, and were enjoying each other’s company. The competition parts were friendly and not as stressed and angry as it is at other cons. There were lots of technical problems with the various bits of equipment not working at registration, panels and the main stage, but that’s a solvable problem and most people just worked around them. If I had to make one main suggestion: In the Pacific Northwest there are lots of mid-sized cons for various things, SciFi/Fantasy, Furry, Pony, Anime, etc. and at least some of them banded together to share equipment costs. They arrange to be on different weekends, and each gets to use a registration system, stage lights and sound, and panel equipment that an individual con of that size would never be able to afford on their own. It causes a bit of drama on occasion, but overall it seems to work.
I hope I can manage to do this again.