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The Technicon 18 Report

Check out our Technicon pics in the Technicon 18 Slide Show!

Technicon is a small sci-fi and fantasy convention held annually around the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, VA, USA. I had the esteemed honor being invited as a guest of honor for Technicon 18 on March 16-18, 2001. It was a very different experience from last year's Dragon*Con visit, and definitely in a good way.

When David Chubb, Technicon 18's hospitality director, first contacted me about coming, I was very excited. I really didn't know what to expect; one moment, I thought the con would only be a handful of people, and the next I though I'd be standing in front of 10,000! T-Con ended up being around a couple hundred or so, and that smaller atmosphere led to a very different experience. At Dragon*Con, I was one face in a sea of guests and attendees, huddled in a small booth along a busy path. Thousands would wander by during the course of the day, many of whom didn't have a clue who I was or what I was about. Technicon was very different; virtually everyone there had some sort of prior knowledge of the strip, and I was on several panels, including the very scarily-named "An Hour with Jeff Darlington." They thought I was, like, somebody important. :)

[Registration Desk]

We arrived Friday afternoon and met with the con co-chair James "Not Matt" Roberts and the guest director John Franklin. They gave us our room key and we got settled in. I was able to spend a few hours kicking back and visiting with my sister (who is a grad student at Virginia Tech), getting very nervous and worried. I took a long look at the schedule. I figured they'd want me on the online comics panel, and maybe the e-publishing panel. James had mentioned something about "Who's Con is it Anyway?" Surely they didn't want me in that... did they? The artist jam would be kewl. But "An Hour with Jeff Darlington"...

"An Hour... with Jeff Darlington..."

What the heck am I supposed to talk about for an hour? :)

[Author Carolyn Clowes]

Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel, where the con staff briefed the guests on the weekend's events. I got to meet Carolyn Clowes, author of the Star Trek novel The Pandora Principle, as well as artist Daniel Trout and several others. We each received a nifty Technicon glass and our full schedules for the weekend. After everyone was clued in, they opened the doors to let the con attendees meet the guests. Not many people took up the challenge, but then again, most people probably wouldn't be coming until Saturday anyway.

At 7:00 pm, the opening ceremonies began. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see them, because I was eating a very delicious traditional Japanese meal with David Chubb, his wife, and their friends. It was a great meal with interesting conversation (including quite a few exceedingly geeky comments). Once dinner was over, we headed back to the hotel, where the evening dances and gaming were well on their way. Being the sickening morning person that I am, however, my wife and I retired to our hotel room, so we could sneak in some much needed sleep for tomorrow.

On a slight—yet highly geeky—diversion, this weekend was also a shining new experiment for me in the way of con reporting. Back when we went to Dragon*Con, I had hoped to make at least nightly updates on the site (or at least, the message board) about the day's events. Unfortunately, I had no 'Net connection readily available, so those plans were dashed. This time, however, we brought a laptop and carefully made sure to find a local ISP dial-up number, so I could access mail and update the site. We also gave our brand new digital camera a workout; all the pictures you see here from the con were taken with it, and many were posted the same day they were taken. I can officially endorse Olympus digital cameras now... especially after a certain klutzy cartoonist dropped one on the pavement, and it kept on going!

[Plan Nine Booth]

Saturday started off early. While my first official con function wasn't until noon, I made sure to get to the dealers' room as soon as it opened, so I could sign books and T-shirts. (Of course, I failed to realize many people tend not to get up that early at these things, especially with those dances so late at night! :) I got to meet a few Faulties and rest and relax a little before the busy day started.

At noon, the fun really began. My first panel was on e-publishing, and David Allen of Plan Nine Publishing came to speak his piece. It was a lively discussion, mostly about whether or not e-publishing was a viable business model, and about copyright infringement and illegal copying. While I had a few good points I wanted to make about how online cartoonists really get shafted by "inliners" (we pay for bandwidth that isn't compensated by ad revenue), the discussion moved too quickly for me to add much. I guess I'm too polite to butt in. :)

At 1:00 pm in the same room was the online comics panel. Since I was the only online cartoonist there... it was a little lop-sided in discussion. :) I opened the discussion about online comics in general and GPF in specific. I was extremely nervous (as in visibly shaking), but the audience was very attentive and asked some very good, thought-provoking questions. Many of them were about the comic, the characters, Keenspot and Plan Nine. There were quite a few plot-related questions. It was an exciting hour, filled with lots of great discussion.

[Who's Con is it Anyway?]

After a quick break to inhale a meatball sub my wife and sister bought me, it was on to the next item: "Who's Con is it Anyway?" I was extremely nervous about this one. I have never thought of myself as one who could do improvisational comedy well; all of GPF's jokes are actually carefully planned and thought out in advance. Could I really do stuff on the fly and make it work? Sure enough, the hour was a major hit, and the audience was left in stitches. To be fair, I think the real credit must go to Ms. Clowes, who had never seen a single episode of the TV show that inspired this game, but her performance (and occasional corruption of the rules) made for much of the fun.

(It should also be noted that the term "Bobo the Magic Monkey" shall never be uttered in my presence ever again, and shall be punishable with death by coconut allergy. ;)

One of the most interesting GPF-related things the T-Con crew arranged was to produce some foam board character "standees" of the GPF. These would be drawn (and later signed) by me, then auctioned off for the con's white elephant auction on Sunday. During the course of the day Saturday, the characters could be seen just about everywhere in the hotel, moving from location to location. (They did such an incredible job, I even bid on one myself, so I could take it to other cons!) All of the main characters were included: Nick, Ki, Fooker and Fred, Trudy, and Dwayne and Nicole.

It wasn't long before that dreaded hour... yes, the "Hour with" me. The room was nestled far in the back of the hotel (you had to walk through the closed restaurant to get to it). It was small, filled with two round tables and enough chairs to surround them. This was the part of the con I was most curious—and most terrified—about. What in the world was I going to say? Why in the world would anyone want to "find out what makes [me] tick?" (That was the con's description, not mine.) Would the room be packed without breathing room, or (what I felt was more likely) completely empty, where I'd sit all alone, with no one to listen...?

Turns out, my fears were completely unfounded.

[An Hour with Me???]

This was, without a doubt, probably the part of the con I enjoyed most. The group that attended was small (as you can see here), but each and every one of them were so attentive and interested in what I had to say. While there were some questions about the comic, most of it was highly informal, and we got to kid around and really connect. This hour alone put me on a new high, and has made me even more devoted to making this comic and giving you guys something to read each and every day. To those of you out there in cyberspace who couldn't attend, you should sincerely thank this group of interesting, attentive, and imaginative individuals for giving me a new-found depth into what you out there really think of my comic. Thanks a million, each and every one of you.

(Ah, man... now I'm getting misty-eyed... sniff... Now, where was I...?)

Shortly after that was the artist jam. While I didn't get to participate in it as deeply as I planned to, it was an enjoyable experience, and lots of fun to see some other artists at work. Daniel Trout and illustrator Tim Mullins were on hand, critiquing and exploring other people's samples. I got to meet Lisa, the artist behind one of T-Con's mascots, Luna Rose. I also got to speak to several people interested in online comics, and gave out what I hope is helpful advice. About halfway through the jam, my parents (who had come down to see me in action), sister, and wife stole me away to grab some much needed dinner and a breather from the hectic day.

The evening's events, of course, weren't about to stop. The masquerade competition and a belly dancing exhibition ensued, mixed in with a series of silly skits. White Plectrum, a filking group, was on hand to deliver a hilarious concert. (Filking, if I understand correctly, is the creation of parody songs about some topic, like Babylon 5, set to the tune of a popular song, like the theme to Gilligan's Island. The term is derived from "folk singing," shortened to "filking.") And, lest I forget, yet another dance, lasting into the wee hours of the morning. The theme? Why, St. Patrick's Day, of course! Unfortunately, the excitement of the day had taken it's toll on me, so I retired to our room, quickly uploaded the day's pictures here to the site, then crashed for some much needed shut-eye.

[Nifty GPF Stuff!]

Sunday, of course, was just as packed with excitement. In the morning, I rushed up to the dealer's room and the Plan Nine booth. During the con, David Allen and I planned to hold a GPF raffle: if you bought anything from the Plan Nine booth that weekend, you'd be automatically entered into a raffle to win some nifty GPF stuff, including books, shirts, mugs, mouse pads, and even a piece of original GPF artwork. The small dealer's room was packed wall-to-wall, and it was very exciting! They say a picture's worth a thousand words, and I couldn't describe the events better than what you'll see in the slide show, starting here. Congratulations to all the lucky winners! (And my apologies to the con staff if we cut into the art auction's time!)

After the drawing, we slipped down to check out the art auction. There were plenty of really interesting and beautiful pieces of art for sale, some of which went for some very impressive bids. After that, the white elephant auction began, raising money to cover the con's expenses. There were tons of interesting items up for bid, and the GPF standees went for a lot more than I thought they would. (I didn't expect them to make the minimum bid the con staffer's set!) Unfortunately, other circumstances forced us to leave early on Sunday, so we didn't get to see how things wrapped up, but all in all, it was an exciting ride.

This report barely scratches the surface of all the excitement going on at Technicon. This little con was jam-packed with all sorts of interesting, intriguing surprises, and I had the best time I think I've ever had at a con. The rest of this year's cons have high expectations to beat. :) While deceptively small, this con had a big heart, and I sincerely thank all the con staff and attendees for making it such an enjoyable experience! Viva la Technicon! ;)

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