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THIS Is Why Small Conventions Rock

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yesterday I went to a little tiny sci-fi convention here in Orlando. Most of the entire con was held in two mid-sized ballrooms: one a vendor/autograph room, and the other with a stage for panels and auctions. There were maybe 30 or 40 vendor tables. The celebrity autograph tables were placed unassumingly at the end of the room, so that I literally almost bumped into the table where Dwight Schultz sat.

It was awesome.

Now, you have to understand, these little conventions were my gateway into geekdom in my teen years. My mom would drop me and my friend Chris off at the hotel doors, and we'd spend the day learning about warp drive theory in tiny rooms equipped with 50 chairs and an overhead projector, or watching someone get made up as a Klingon, or playing sci-fi Trivia. Then we'd gather with everyone else in the main ballroom to see John De Lancie or Leonard Nimoy (Yes! We got Nimoy one year!), followed by a trip to the vendor room where we'd buy Bajoran earrings and bootlegged copies of Star Trek bloopers.  

In fact, I think some of those same venders were there yesterday. Except now the bootlegged copies are on DVD instead of VHS.

You see, back in MY day, whippersnappers, the whole room lined up after a panel to get the star's autograph, which was included in the price of admission. Also, no one ever looked at cameras back then. We all looked in different directions, and we LIKED IT. 

(Yes, that's me as a teenager. BEHOLD THE AWKWARD.)

(This photo was taken sometime in the early 90s, btw, and John De Lance hasn't aged a day since. It's positively unnatural.)


There's a very different atmosphere at a small convention, and for people like John who are only used to big cons like MegaCon and massive cons like Dragon*Con, it's a bit...confusing. John walked into the vendor room yesterday and actually started laughing. Then he looked around wide-eyed and asked if this was really all there was:

 The vendor room, looking in from one of the doors. The autograph tables are on the far wall.

Meanwhile I was nose-deep in a pile of old action figures and musty-smelling Star Trek books, talking a mile a minute to my friend Julianne (a life-long Trek fan who'd tagged along) about how I had some of these trading cards at home, and I once bought a plaque like that with Q's picture on it, and ohmygosh she should totally buy a Klingon forehead.

By the time I came up for air John was playing Teeny Wings on his phone. The heathen. 

The people at small cons are different, too. They're a more laid-back bunch, and will happily yell out remarks or questions during a panel or auction, and the moderator on stage will most likely joke right back with them.

Greetings from the auction. (We were the peanut gallery in the last row.)

You might think the vendors would be desperate for business, but I didn't feel the slightest pressure shopping. And since there was no one else around, we even stopped to chat with several sellers for a while. I also met an awesome new (well, new to me) artist, Nathan Szerdy.

Of course, the best part of small cons is rubbing elbows with the actors - sometimes literally. When we arrived Sunday afternoon the con was winding down, so most of the celebs had no one waiting at their tables. They chatted freely with each other and anyone who wandered by. Some, like Robert Duncan McNeil, even strolled out to chat with the vendors and people in the aisles.

Even that small crowd on the right dissipated within an hour of our arrival. At the table behind them is Colin Ferguson (the Sheriff on Eureka) and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko, DS9). On the left you can just see Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay on TNG & Murdock on the A Team.)

We walked right up to Colin Ferguson - who impresses me more every time I see him, he's so genuine and approachable - and talked for a bit about some mutual friends of ours. There was no pressure at all to buy an autograph, since no one else was around and Colin seems to really love just chatting with fans. He's also totally real with you, talking about personal stuff in his life pretty openly, and for every person that comes up to him he sticks out his hand and says warmly, "Hi, I'm Colin."

Our friend Julianne was excited to see Robin Curtis, who played Lt. Saavik in Search for Spock, but Julianne was really shy about approaching her. So we waited for an opening, and then I led our little trio up to the table. As we made our way over John said under his breath, "You know you're doing the talking, right, Jen?"

Now, I don't know if you guys remember my post about losing the ability for coherent speech when I meet celebs, but I used to get majorly wigged out. Like, meeting the guy in the Darth Vader suit at Disney reduced me to a shaking sweat-factory. I can't say what changed exactly, but this past year I've found I'm a bit better at it. Maybe it was the last book tour. Of course, it helps when the people you're meeting are so sweet, like Colin or Robin.

And Robin, let me say, was astoundingly sweet. I walked up with Julianne & John on either side of me, and said I was a fan of her work and just wanted to say hello. She immediately lit up with this big beautiful smile and reached for my hand, saying how kind it was of me to say, and the next thing I knew I'd gotten Julianne into the conversation and we all ended up chatting for a good ten minutes or more. (It helped that Julianne's mother went to high school with Robin.) Again, no pressure to buy the autograph; just a group of people chatting.

The convention closed out with a panel with Colin. The room was less than a third filled, and before they got started the coordinator played the Klingon parody of Gangnam Style and had everyone in the audience do the horsey dance... for the entire 4-minute video. Yes, really. It was...painful. And hilarious. Thankfully he invited anyone who wanted to record the spectacle up on stage, though, so I crowded up there with my camera. Oh, and they made Colin Ferguson dance right in the middle of the crowd, too, poor guy. He was a great sport about it, though, so if you want to revel in the nerdy hilarity, here's about two and a half minutes of it:

See? Painful AND hilarious.

After that was the Q&A panel, which was far more entertaining:


At one point I literally had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard over a story about Colin building (digging?) his own pond. Good times.



Colin insisted on taking more questions than they technically had time for, so he had to dash straight from this room to get in a waiting car. Since we were in the last row, though, he paused to shake my hand again and say how nice it was to finally meet us. Then he high-fived a baby in a stroller. D'awww.

And that, my friends, is why every geek should attend a small convention at least once: to soak up the crazy geeky fun in a super casual and relaxed environment. And maybe make a memory or two. Or record a room full of geeks horsey-dancing - and then post it on the internet. (Mwuah. Ha. Haaaa.)

Posted by Jen at 10:02 PM Labels: , ,

63 comments:

  1. This post if FULL of awesome! I loved how the people in the video were so into it! And nobody even batted an eye that a ceLEBrity was kickin it with them.

    <3

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  2. We have a really fun, small reader con in Calgary - the highlight of this year was watching a late-night thunder and lightening storm from a balcony with Kevin J. Anderson and Robert J. Sawyer, and only about 40 other people. I MAY have been geeking out a 'little' bit. :)

    And I love the picture of you and di Lancie...he is hysterical!

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  3. I'm attending my first con this weekend and I'm expecting it to be about this size. I'm really excited that you made this post because I had a friend say it won't be as much fun since it's smaller, but you have just posted so many things that have made me even more excited. Thank you!

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  4. Our family started going to conventions about two years ago. The first one we attended is about 4500. and the smallest one was about 300 people (and about 5 dealers). I love smallish cons, for the same reasons you stated- you get more 'personal' time with the guests. Honestly, I can't imagine going to a ginormous one like dragoncon, I don't know how you do it. But we love going. We went to two our first year, five our second year, and this year it will be 12 or so, by the end of the year.

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  5. How amazing! I've always wanted to go to a Con, but don't like crowds. Unfortunately I've never found a small-ish Con anywhere around me, but this post gives me renewed optimism that I should go to one!

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  6. I'd love to meet Colin Ferguson! Looks like he was a little out of touch with the horsey dancing, but he definitely had fun with it. Does anyone know if there are any conventions worth attending in Maine or even New England. My daughter has decided she'd love to go to one and I've been wanting to go as well, I just don't know where to start. I've never been to one. Thanks!

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  7. OMG I just fell in love with all those people!!

    Amazingly I have only been to one con of any kind, a Star Trek Convention (pre "con", pre NextGen, even) that was so fun I remember a lot of it. I'd love to check out a little one like this. I get the quivers meeting celebs. Colin would do it, as would Dwight Shultz. Sigh.

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  8. Awhile ago (last year) you mentioned the first Geek Girl Con in Seattle and my friend and I decided to make it our first con. It was so much fun with how small and laid back it was! It was about this size. Since then, we have been to the Emerald City Comicon and the GGC was a fantastic way to be introduced to conventions. Thanks for sharing about it!

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  9. I love the small cons as well. The Star Trek con here in Chicago is surprisingly small but it just gets more and more amazing every year. Last year I got to meet and great with Q (John De Lance). He looks just the same as in your picture. It is unnatural....

    Also as Chicago Comic Con this year my boyfriend and I got to meet Colin Ferguson. You are right, he is one of the warmest, sweetest people I have ever met. He only had about an hour before he had to be at the airport and there was the longest line of people waiting to meet him but he still took the time to greet every person and to chat with him. As my boyfriend and I were leaving I asked if I could put him in my pocket and take him home because I wanted to keep him.

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  10. We have an awesome little SciFi/literary con here in Winnipeg called Keycon. This sounds a lot like the atmosphere we have, with guests mingling with con goers. It really is a ton of fun.

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  11. I don't even go to the dealer's room at Dragon anymore because it is so crowded and nerve-wracking.
    Love small cons!

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  12. I don't know why (jealousy and a teensy bit of envy maybe), but every time I read some of your posts I shake with excitement. I can't wait to be able to do some of the stuff you do some day...must only have the money and confidence to do so.

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  13. I ADORE Colin Ferguson. I never get autographs or photos because I am poor, but last year at D*Con I waited in line to talk to him anyway (after confirming with his line handlers that it was ok, as I always do), and when I said "I just wanted to say hi", he said "great!" and pulled out some food from under the table, opened it, and picked up a forkful before looking up and going "...uh, you don't mind if I eat while we talk, do you?" I cracked up and was thrilled because I always assume that since I'm taking up time without paying that I need to keep it shorter. He and I had a great conversation about Carter and Alison's relationship and how I really missed Tess. He's unbearably sweet and approachable.

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  14. i laughed far more than i care to admit on this post Jen you and i should hang out!!!

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  15. I've only ever been to Comic Con in San Diego & Wonder Con once when it was in Anaheim this past year. I wish I could find an awesome small con to go to. I also lose the ability for coherent speech around anyone who is famous. Don't even get me started on how stupid I sounded around Amanda Tapping [winces] (who is incredibly sweet btw). I'm glad you had a great time!

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  16. GIANT FAN-GIRLY SQUEEE!
    I adore Colin...

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  17. My first con (way back in high school) was the very first Trek Grand Slam, then held at the Pasadena Convention Center (just outside of LA, CA). It totally had this sort of atmosphere. Panels with half-full rooms, easily navigable dealers room, no charge for autographs, the works! Unfortunately, that changed very shortly thereafter, and there are no small cons in the LA area anymore. At least, I have been unable to locate any... I miss it! That was the best part of a con -- the camaraderie and relaxed enjoyment. Big cons are just too stressful!

    Glad you had so much fun!! :)

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  18. GIANT FAN-GIRLY SQUEEEEE!
    I adore Colin!!!

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  19. Yup! Small cons are great.

    I used to go to many smaller conventions when I lived in Maine. I'm in the midwest now and the cons here are HUGE. Totally different experience.

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  20. They don't hold many cons up near me, and the last one was all anime... Not my cup of tea at all. I keep hoping though...
    And is it just me, but is Colin just a little too good at that dance, and enjoying it a tad too much? (: (SO funny, you can tell he never saw the video before.)

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  21. I've never been to a con. I've always wanted to, but just never have. And I even live in a place that has a few regular ones each year. What's up with that? We'll get there... Thanks! First stop, Disney World next year (first time there too). I'll pick your brain closer too :)

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  22. So. Much. Awesome!

    That video needs to be a gif file! Stat!

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  23. That looks like so much fun! We just finished watching Eureka last week, we're currently watching Warehouse 13 as it becomes available, and have just started Alphas and rewatching Haven.

    One of these years, we'll have to go visit San Diego for the biggie. Just because we can. :p

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  24. Can't. Stop. Laughing. Just the post I needed today. Awkwardly painful and screamingly hilarious... Poor Colin, he really kept a straight face for the most part..and he's got some moves, yes indeedy.

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  25. What was this particular convention called? :)

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  26. I am looking forward to TusCon this year, even after going to the larger Phoenix Comicon.

    so glad they are bringing back the science track which was awesome last year, and i do like the looser format of panels.

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  27. Man, Colin knows how to move his hips. Ow ow! :)

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  28. Well, I didn't think it was possible to wish I could hang out with you two more, or love, love, love Colin Ferguson more, but it just happened.

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  29. There really are no smaller cons in my area...at least none that I've found. Sounds like it was so much fun! I would love to have more time to see everything in depth rather than jumping from booth to booth trying to see absolutely everything.
    For what it is worth, I am a babbling idiot around celebs as well. I attended your signing in Fairview last year, Jen and got all tongue tied when I met you. But you were very kind and hilarious. Glad I got to meet you even if all I could manage to say was Ummmm...whatever when you asked me what you should write. I just about died when I opened the book in my car and that's exactly what it said.

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  30. I absolutely love small "relaxacons" They really are cut from a different cloth than the big and mega cons out there. I just go back from one actually (only it wasn't so relaxing this year since I had the 4yo and was trying to help the hubs with our steampunk group's panels and workshops, etc).

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  31. Robin is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Met her years ago, not realizing the was that Robin Curtis as shes so un-vulcan IRL. We went to a small dinner party with her and she was gracious enough to talk star trek with my husband and I for a large portion of the evening.

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  32. How did I not realize until now that Murdoch and Lt. Barclay were played by the same person, yet I thought that Dwight Schultz was also Wormtongue in the LOTR movies? Yes, I am the last person you would want to identify a criminal in a police line up, unless you were the criminal, I suppose. (BTW, thank you for the 30 minutes of lost productivity this morning as I watched old A-Team clips . . . )

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  33. Normally, I'm at conventions working in the vendor room, but I must say working at a small con is so much more fun! I had the opportunity to run a booth at a small local anime-con last year. We had more time to goof around and have fun with co-workers, attendees and even the other vendors!
    From a cosplay point of view, also more fun. Since there are smaller crowds, people are more likely to stop and chat awhile rather than take a picture and run! It makes the experience quite a bit more rewarding.

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  34. Jen, is there any website someone can go on to find a listing of upcoming cons in their area? I'd like to go to a small sci-fi/fantasy convention but have no idea where to start looking. I found upcomingcons.com but I'm not sure if that's the best place.

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  35. As an artist at conventions, I totally agree with you that small cons rock socks! I think at the bigger, media-centric cons, folks develop tunnel vision trying to do and see everything, but a smaller con gives people the chance to breathe and relax. My last 2 cons have been on the smaller side (one WAY smaller than the other) and both have been fabulous for the level of interaction--I'm not sure I'd sign up to do MegaCon again, not if there continue to be some great little cons in the southeast!

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  36. And I thought I was excited for RI Comic-Con before I read this post!!! And John DeLancie will be there. I will probably get all goofy too... I could barely speak to Giada DeLaurentiis when I went to her cookbook signing. But I found some guts WAY Down deep inside and handed over the goodies I brought and decided I didn't bring the stuff all the way there NOT to give it to her. And just plopping it without saying anything would have been weirder than the squeaks that probably came out.

    @normajean - there's one in Providence this November 3+4... fairly affordable prices and lots of deals on tickets at sites like Groupon and living social. Let me know if you want any tips on Providence if you decide to attend. Less expensive to stay outside the city in Seekonk or Attleboro and take a short drive in to the convention. Then there's the parking, and good yet affordable places to eat. :)

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  37. This isn't about mini-cons, but instead just a story about how nice geeks can be that I though you might enjoy.
    I volunteer in Kissimmee at Give Kids The World Village, a non-profit resort that helps fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. In a nutshell, (help, what am I doing in this bloody great big nutshell) when a child has a Wish that involves seeing the Central Florida attractions, Give Kids The World Village is where they stay. There are tons of perks for them and it's amazing. Anyway, we try to make every day special, so we celebrate certain holidays every week. Every Monday is Halloween, every Thursday is Christmas, etc. Yesterday, I was volunteering in the Volunteer Services office when a new volunteer from a group came in and asked for some directions. While we chatted, he mentioned that his group was dressing up as Star Wars for Halloween that night. I replied "First of all, AWESOME!" and mentioned that I hoped they had to walk by the office at some point so I could get a peek at their costumes. He was very happy about my enthusiasm and then went off to get changed. About 40 minutes later, I looked up from my desk to see 3 Stormtroopers in full regalia along with Anakin waiting for me. They had found a moment to stop by on their way to the Halloween party to show me their costumes. They insisted on photos with me, and Anakin made me take (her, as it so happens) lightsaber when I protested that I was not appropriately dressed to be in a photo with them. Afterwards, they met up with the rest of their group and headed off to the party where they were a huge hit with the families we serve. I heard they were in character all night. We have tons of great volunteers, and there are quite a few who dress up for the Halloween party, but never before have I seen a group with such elaborate costumes dress up. It was wonderful and made the night extra special for the kids. Go geeks! :)

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  38. Of course John de Lancie does not change, he is Q in disguise!

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  39. We have enjoyed all of your post about cons and love all of the tips that you share. My kids and I are excited to be attending our very first Con and we don't even have to travel very far. We have an event in our town every year called Zombicon, which is usually just a sreetfest. This year there will be an actual Con with vendors and artists. The theme this year is "Galactic Infection". Can't wait to go!!
    My youngest son has gained so much inspiration from your blog that he went as a "Steampunk Gentleman Cyborg" (his description)for Halloween last year. Thanks for sharing all of your geeky girliness with us.

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  40. That's it, I'm moving to Florida. Where did you say this convention took place?

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  41. I really want to meet Dwight Schultz...just once...to harass him for attending my high school's rival school. Because that's what you do around Baltimore. We're all dorks, and the Hall boys are generally particularly proud of their Hall past.

    And, you know, crazy Murdock is crazy.

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  42. Yep, small cons rock. I was at a Linux convention in the same center as the tiny Comic Con here in Columbus, Ohio a couple of weeks ago, and lo and behold, Dean Cain walked right by me in the hallway. Like he was just some normal guy. I had to stop and turn to my husband and point out that we had, in fact, just walked right past friggin' SUPERMAN. Incrediballs.

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  43. I wish I could say the same for the small con that used to be held here in our town (Lazy Dragon Con). I waited in line for Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) to sign my Chewie, but he was not at all approachable, wouldn't even make eye contact, and actually was kinda rude about the whole thing. I was, to say the least, disappointed...

    And the ageless John deLancie? Well, he IS Q, after all!! And Colin Ferguson is definitely on my bucket list of celebs to meet someday, even if my husband will have to do all the talking while I hide behind him;^P

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  44. My daughter and I used to go to any con around, preferably the smaller ones. We have great memories -- of two of her geeky friends posting a "security detail" outside George Takei's hotel room (although they were too geeky to actually, you know, talk to him), and best of all, at one con in LA small enough where we were actually able to bid on and win a tour of the ST:Voyager set. The PA who gave us the tour tried to sneak us into the DS9 set, too, but only was able to get us into the set of the Defiant, where we all got to take turns sitting in the captain's chair ... sigh ... it was SO COOL. I haven't gone to a con in years; I really need to try to find some small ones again. The big ones are fun, but the small ones are the best!

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  45. Agree with everything you say here. Nice to not feel rushed, to have actual conversations with people, not feeling like you have to yell to be heard . . . fun and relaxing and you actually can MEET new people you have things in common with. Support your local small con!

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  46. OMG, I just laughed myself silly at my desk. That video... wow. Hoo. My face hurts now.

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  47. After being in an audience of six people for three panels with the same actors hosting, the exchanges get relaxingly intimate.

    When the actors are hosting panels on topics which do not mention the shows which they're associated with, sometimes the fans don't notice who is hosting. The panels which mention the shows attract all the fans and get bigger audiences.

    I try to go to all panels which might be of interest -- there will still be way too much hallway time to participate in anyway.

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  48. For those asking, this con was called Away Mission: Orlando, and was held in a hotel near Downtown Disney.

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  49. Mega-jealous! Colin is on my list with Nathan Fillion, David Tennant, Felicia Day, and you as celebs I just totally want to hang out with. But, alas, I get star-struck too when I actually meet them in person (including you ;-) and forget everything I wanted to say! My Cakewrecks book is inscribed with something along the lines of "Thanks! Underneat that whatever. Jen" because when you asked me what I wanted you to write, all I managed was "uh, whatever, mumble, mumble..."

    I helped a friend to put together a Sheriff Carter costume to wear to a con. He tagged Colin when he tweeted a picture of himself in the costume, and Colin actually took the time to tweet back to him. I love what social media has done to bring celebrities closer to their fans.

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  50. My daughter and I are actually working a small con next weekend (Oct 18-21). We both been to big ones, and it should be fun seeing the other side of a con as a staff volunteer, as well as enjoying more because it won't be as jam packed. If y'all are up in Minnesota, check out Anime Fusion. I think we're just under 500 attendees, so it should be a blast!

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  51. So far, I've only attended a few cons and they were all small ones (with the exception of "The Ultimate Fantasy" back in the 80's in Houston...although that's probably considered small these days). And none of them were recent, outside of Staples (an independent publishing con).

    That's all going to change in a few weeks when I attend the Austin Comic Con with my husband. I'll probably spend most of it taking pictures, prowling the artists and vender tables, and doing lots of people watching, but I'm not sure if I'm really looking forward to it or not yet. Part of me would rather just read your updates instead of attending them myself. (Although there are a few voice actors I'd be willing fight crowds to see, even if they do reduce me to fan girl ravings.)

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  52. I went to OASIS earlier this year here in Orlando and it's more of a gamer con (all we did all day was play D&D) but it was the first con I'd ever been to. I was so nervous, all my knowledge of cons being your posts over the years, but there were only a couple hundred people there throughout the whole day (definitely not all at once) and the vendor room was full of great old books and the art room had some amazing stuff and I was just totally in awe of it all. I'm determined to go back again next year (especially since it's the day after my birthday) and you're definitely to blame for it. I wish I had known about this one, Colin seems like such a cool guy from the few episodes of Eureka I've seen and the episode of TableTop he was on.

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  53. Awesomeness :)

    Loved the video too, thanks for sharing it!

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  54. Ok, this post, more than any other makes me jealous of your con attendance. I can't dance, don't understand the three youtube vids I've seen of "Gangnam style" that I've seen, but I seriously want to join in that ridiculous horsey dance with Colin.

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  55. Seriously, Jen, you're my hero. <3

    ~Elizabeth

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  56. AdventureCon was my first con down in Tennessee. I didn't talk to any of the celebs, but I really enjoyed talking to the comic book artists there. It's bigger now, I think, and it's certainly a lot different than Dragon*Con that I went to later on.

    Annnnd it makes me wish I'd met Colin Ferguson the last 3 times I had the opportunity (and I can't for the life of me think of why I didn't).

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  57. dwight schultz was there? DWIGHT SCHULTZ?!?!!!! ohmydog, i think i must find a small convention where he will be. adored him on the a-team! he was totally my favorite actor on the show. i know i would make an ass outta myself if i had the chance to meet him, but it would so be worth it.

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  58. Great post! Thanks for bringing back so many great memories...I really need to get back to a small con.

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  59. My gosh, I too have a photo with John DeLancie from the early 90's. Wasn't he just nice? [And he was really sweet about being blinded for life with my mom's ancient camera with actual, disposable flash bulbs.]

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  60. Wow, so cool! The only way to see guests like that around here are at a big cons! Man! Colin Ferguson was at a con here last year and I couldn't go... *horrifically jealous*.

    P.S. If ever you feel like braving a con bigger than Dragon*Con but smaller than SDCC, check out FanExpo Canada.

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  61. Ooooo, sounds like fun. Next time, could you pick me up in Daytona Beach before you go??

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  62. I LOVE smaller conventions. More time to see everything, and you don't feel like you're a packed sardine either. Plus it's easier to connect with other fans than in the bigger conventions.

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