Friday, September 24, 2021

So you want to bring your kids to Comic Con...

(Guest Post by Ken)

Among geeks there are few rites of passage as big as attending a Comic Con (or “Fan Expo,” or other similar name that means the same thing). And yet, until last weekend I had never actually been to one myself. I’ve always been on the fence about going, but have finally given it a try… well, sort of. You see, I brought my kids with me. 

I attended Friday and Saturday of the Dallas Fax Expo last weekend. There were big names there like William Shatner, George Takei, Zachary Levi, Stephen Amell, Adam Savage, and more. (Sadly, a reunion visit from Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry in a commemorative 20th anniversary Lord of the Rings panel was canceled last minute). I saw some of these people in person and was impressed to see their friendliness with fans. But I didn’t attend any panels or meet-and-greets because on Friday I had my 6-year-old son and on Saturday I had my 4-year-old daughter in tow and kids aren’t really keen to stand in long lines to see some old people who to them bear no significance. 

Taking each of my two older children on a “daddy date” with me was a nice way of being able to get out and do something social with the friend who invited me while also getting some great time in with my kids, but it will definitely alter your conference experience. Of course, as a first-time attendee, I can’t quite comment on what I was supposedly “missing out on,” but I can give you the pros and cons of taking your kids to a Con, at least through the lens of my experience at the Dallas Fax Expo.

Kid Specific Programming

There was a room, somewhat distanced from the main events and large crowds, specifically designated as the “Family Zone.” They had a number of craft activities and play areas for kids, though some of the play areas were lacking (one was literally just all the cardboard boxes used for supplies shipped in to set up the expo so the kids could stack them in towers; clever, but it seemed very last minute and didn’t hold my kids’ interest). 

Arts and crafts time at Dallas Fan Expo!

This area also hosted a number of events geared towards children. One event my children were both interested in, and which was thankfully held both days, was the Harry Potter Sorting Ceremony, as we’ve been reading the Harry Potter books together this year (we’re three quarters through Prisoner of Azkaban right now). This was a genuinely nice event and my son really enjoyed getting sorted (into Gryffindor, no less!). My daughter loved the idea, but when her turn came, she became like the kid who waits in the line to see Santa only to panic and scream at the finish line. She was so scared she might get sorted into Slytherin that she would not get in the chair. The team in charge kindly let her get a Gryffindor pin afterwards that she’s been wearing ever since. 

My son got sorted into Gryffindor!

The sorting ceremony was genuinely entertaining, featuring the commentary of the presenting “wizards” and an actual talking hat who responded in real time to specific conversations with each recipient. Only one thing irritated me about this event (and it was a bigger problem on Saturday than Friday): the number of adults who quickly dominated the front of the line of an event specifically marked for children and made the intended audience of sometimes attention-deficit children wait in a very long line. I don’t mind adults wanting to play Harry Potter games at a con, but at an event for children they should at least let all the kids go first and if there is extra time they can then do adults. The line ended up having a cutoff on Saturday and some kids got turned away while more than half of those who actually got to be sorted were adults without kids. And while my own daughter ultimately panicked at the finish line, she was so excited just to be there that if she’d been told “No” while a bunch of grown ups got sorted instead, she’d have been truly devastated. Incidentally, my daughter had a less panicky experience later with the Jedi Padowan training event where she got to learn lightsaber skills, and this event did a much better job of being truly kids-only. 

Overall, the family-centric offerings at Dallas Fan Expo managed to just clear the “acceptable” bar. The Harry Potter and Star Wars events were genuinely fun, but other “events” turned out to be a lot of nothing, and lots of times there wasn’t much specifically offered to kids and families other than the meager craft table. But my kids did enjoy the activities that were aimed at them and that made it easier for them to spend some time looking at other areas of the con in-between that were aimed more at adults. I wasn’t wowed by the family offerings, and hope that maybe in a further post-COVID world they may up their game a bit in that regard.

My daughter learning to be a Jedi!

The Booths (AKA, The Minefield)

Much of the real estate space of the conference center rented for the event was devoted to various booths, primarily for vendors selling art, comic books (the historical origin of these events), collectibles, anything even vaguely geek-connected, and even a few random things that aren’t geek-specific at all (one guy tried to sell me solar panels and another was pedaling water filtration systems). This is the zone that wants your money. I admit that it is a fascinating place to walk around. I’m not a huge collector myself, so it wasn’t particularly tempting, but it was still fun to see especially the homemade and handcrafted wares, or the vast collections some people acquired over decades. 

Of course, when you bring kids who realize that this is a shopping experience and not a museum, you start to see the widening of their eyes in this cornucopia of toys and colorful oddities. The subtle questioning of whether we could buy something started early with my son. Ultimately, each child was allowed to buy an old throwback comic book from the $2 boxes. My son found a 1964 gem where Lex Luthor appears to turn Superman into a purple dragon, while my daughter picked the 1980 Avengers titled that first introduced Yellowjacket as a villain. Allowing them to get SOMETHING helped placate and tame the requests for all the other fun things, such as toys that are insanely expensive because they are some throwback collectible pre-dating the Carter administration but just look like a regular toy to a 6-year-old. 

Comic books selected by my children

The “I-Want-That!” trap was tempered by the other big downside of this area: its sheer claustrophobia. Perhaps I’m still adjusting to crowds after 18 months of pandemic, but this part of the con had narrow walkways and lots of people and I felt genuinely uncomfortable spending too much time there. Thankfully, my daughter especially felt the same way and so her desire to see and ask for cool things was countered by her distaste for the teeming crowds. 

Other Stuff

A quick note on food: The food court offerings were modest. I expected more vendors given the crowd size, but the lines moved pleasantly fast. The prices were about what I expected: a little more than you’d pay normally, but not the highest. In my head I have a continuum of food pricing from low to high that goes:

Regular fast food/food truck < Mall Food Court < Airport < Theme Park

The same item will cost more as you move to the right along the continuum. The food offering here were priced squarely in the “Mall Food Court” zone. And I gotta add that the personal pizzas we got were… surprisingly good! My kids approved as well, though they were disappointed that Hawaiian was not an option.

Eating surprisingly not bad pizza

Cosplay was fun for the kids to observe. While a few of the costumes were scary or edgy, for the most part the kids delighted just in seeing all the fun characters. My daughter adored that my friend Spencer was dressed as Nick Wilde from Zootopia, and she saw a Flynn Ryder from Tangled who she instantly recognized and pretty much melted over. My son, upon hearing that people would wear costumes, actually got into the fun himself as a few minutes before we left home he grabbed his strap on butterfly wings that he has thoroughly worn out over the last few years. Some may find it a bit odd to see a boy wearing monarch wings, but he loves all things science and had a bug-obsession phase a couple years ago. I love that nobody looked at him strange for wearing his beloved wings, and in fact he got lots of compliments. 

The wandering droids were a hit with the kids

Of course, as mentioned earlier, there are many experiences you’ll have to forego if you bring kids. I didn’t even attempt to go to any panels, screenings, Q&A’s, or meet and greets, because I know my kids would have been bored out of their minds. Some of the panels looked really interesting, and someday I may try a con again either sans kids or with older kids who may want to see some of those things. But there were a lot of things I didn’t do, so I can’t quite give my full review of the con experience. Of course, I knew that going into it, so I wasn’t disappointed for missing what I planned to skip when I decided to bring my kids. 

In conclusion, here’s my biggest takeaways for bringing your kids to a Comic Con:

  1. Don’t expect to do the same things you’d do without them. If you want to spend time with your kids by bringing them, you need to alter your plans and expectations to what they will enjoy.
  2. Don’t plan to stay all day. The attention span for littler kids just isn’t there for that.
  3. Make sure the con you are attending has some kid-friendly activities. If you don’t see much programming geared towards them, you might be better off not bringing them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Merch at Pop Con

A 95,155% markup.
Not bad for a bounty hunter!

There are so many fun things to check out at Comic Con: the panels, the cosplay, the celebrities, the workshops... But sometimes the most interesting thing to check out is the merchandise! I went to the Four State Comic Con in Harrisburg, PA, also known as Pop Con. What a well-executed local convention! There was lots to do, as always. But the thing that struck me most was all the merch. Kitschy and cool and quirky and rare and  campy and sooooo unique to comic con merch! So below is a sampling of some of my favorites...

By far my favorite thing for sale at comic con: A Deadpool Chia Pet! Yes, I now have this sitting proudly on a windowsill in my classroom where my 6th grade students can ashamedly shake their heads at me, but secretly want to be me.

Alf trading cards! I just want to know if the stale gum tastes like cats. 

The only game better than Beatles Flip Your Wig is Pretty Pretty Princess. Which I rock at.

Not technically merch since it was being raffled instead of sold... but how cool is this "Initiative Gauntlet"? Complete with 6 D&D dice, with a D20 cube as the mind stone, natch. I'm not even a D&D player, but I want this.

It's Yoda. It's Lego. It's a clock. I love it. I mean, they could have chosen regular Yoda for this clock. But they chose Lego Yoda. Just because they can.

A pterodactyl glider. Really flies! Holds passenger! I mean, I wouldn't trust this in a mission years. But I love the bravado! I mean, if you've been in the Land of the Lost for any amount of time, you ought to know by now that not everything here is logical.

So. Many. Lego. Figures!

Easily my second favorite item for sale at the comic con: The Necronomnomnom! It's a cookbook (really, it is!) based on the Necronominom. Because, why not?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Comic Con on a Budget


If you're like me with a budding career, a small family, and always bills to pay, you don't exactly have the money to buy great extravagant souvenirs at a convention. If you're like me, you might just feel lucky to get through the door. So if your budget is limited, but you still want to enjoy your next Con, here's what I learned about the experience at Fan Expo Dallas this year.

Merchandise

If you have a few bucks to spare, there are always great collectables and memorabilia. Be smart with it though. Cross-reference your purchases at the booths with prices you could expect with Ebay or Amazon. I remember finding a Digimon plush at FanX (and I love any Digimon merch), but Amazon had it for $10 cheaper. Pro tip: sometimes vendors will reduce their prices on the last day of the Con so they have less to transport out of the convention center afterwards. Bottom line: If you're going to buy merch at a Con, make it something you can't get cheaper elsewhere or something rare enough that the higher price is worth it.

Artist Alley

I have to pull myself away from Artist Alley sometimes because I love the artwork so much. I want to buy all of it but it'll be years before I have a man cave to display it all. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy it though. Until I have the space and money for that artwork, I've taken to following my favorite artists on social media so that I can keep tabs on their work. Let's me know if there's some art I want to buy and it feels my social media feed with something more joyful than whatever tragedy is happening today. Here are just a few of the artists I started following this weekend: Greg Horn, Dominic Glover, Brittany Ann, Judy Blu, and Brett Mitchell.

Celebrities

Meeting a celebrity is fun and exhilarating, but so very expensive. If you have some money to meet a celebrity, I would suggest seeing if they do photos at their autograph booths, instead of a professional photo--you get more time with them that way. You can also usually have multiple people in the photo op, so you can split the cost with a friend to make it more affordable--that's the only way I was able to meet David Tennant or Matt Smith. However if you're like me at Fan Expo Dallas this year and have zero dollar bills to spare for celebrities, your best bet for an interaction with them is asking a question at their panel. Sure, you're sharing the experience with hundreds of other people, but asking them a question gives you a moment of interaction with them for free. I still have my video of asking Jason David Frank about being a Power Ranger.

Panels

Speaking of panels, if you don't have any money for merchandise or artwork, you might enjoy spending your time at Q&A panels. Whether it's a celebrity panel or a fan panel, it can be a fun way to get to know others' perspectives with your fandom. Also, if you have been window shopping (which I often will spend hours doing), panels are also the perfect opportunity to rest your feet. Seriously, the only time I get more steps than a Con is at Disney Parks.

Cosplay

If you enjoy dressing up, cosplay can be another fun way to enjoy the convention. Budget can make this one hard, but I've written two blog posts about making it work on a budget (read part one here and part two here). If you're not comfortable dressing up but still enjoy the costumes, that's okay too. People-watching is one of my favorite activities at a Con. It's very affirming to have a stranger compliment your costume or to have someone ask for your picture. You can even turn this people-watching into a game. Last month I wrote about doing a Comic Con Bingo card. If you don't want something as strict as a bingo card, you can play your own game. For example, someone I met at Fan Expo Dallas was playing "Avengers Bingo". Basically he was trying to get a picture as many Avengers characters as possible (which worked out well because I was dressed as Captain America).

So take these tips into account when you're at your next Con and make the most of your time. It's a blast to be with friends old and new.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Bulbasaur


In case you missed it, this year is the 25th anniversary of the Pokemon franchise. For those of us in North America, it’s more like the 23th anniversary, as the anime and the Gameboy games Red and Blue came to the Western Hemisphere in September 1998. So while we were a couple years behind Japan, it’s appropriate for us to celebrate Pokemon this year here too. So in honor of Pokemon’s anniversary, I wanted to spotlight the first Pokemon in the Pokedex: Bulbasaur.

Bulbasaur is the butt of many jokes, as Charmander and Squirtle are largely popular starter Pokemon--probably helps that the game in North America featured Charizard and Blastoise on the cover. But to be honest, Bulbasaur was always my go-to as a kid. He was the obvious choice to take on Brock and Misty with ease when playing Blue. Evolving into Ivysaur at level 16 and Venusaur at level 32, he was also the easiest to get to his highest form.


Based on video game Pokedex entries, Bulbasaur seems to be able to photosynthesize their own energy, able to go days at a time without eating solid food. As they do this, their bulbs are supposed to grow (presumably transforming into the flowers that Ivysaur and Venusaur have). Additionally, in the anime, Ash’s Pokedex claims their strongest attack is Solar Beam. Granted, that was before Frenzy Plant was a thing. 

In the video games, Bulbasaur can be obtained as your starter Pokemon in Red/Blue and Fire Red/Leaf Green or from a kind-hearted girl in Cerulean City in Yellow. These would be the last times you could receive a Bulbasaur without cheats or trades until Professor Oak gives you the opportunity to take one in Heart Gold/Soul Silver after defeating Red. Similarly, in X/Y Professor Sycamore gives you one of the Kanto starters in Lumiose City along with its Mega Stone. In Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee, they can also appear in rare spawns in Viridian Forest (as well as given as a gift in Cerulean City again).


Along with other Kanto starters, Bulbasaur also got a spot on Ash’s original Pokemon team in the Indigo League. Found in a hidden forest Pokemon village, Bulbasaur was initially distrustful of Ash and all trainers. However, after Ash saved the village from Team Rocket, Bulbasaur was willing to be caught by Ash. He ended up staying with Ash through the rest of the Indigo League (refusing to evolve into an Ivysaur along the way), throughout the voyage through the Orange Islands, and well into the journey into the Johto Region. He only left Ash’s side when Professor Oak needed him back at the lab to act as peacemaker.

While Ash’s Bulbasaur was helping Professor Oak, Ash’s new friend May also got the opportunity to catch a Bulbasaur in the Hoenn Region. After May helped Bulbasaur save the Forbidden Forest, she went with her and became part of her contest team. Still a bit aloof at times, May’s Bulbasaur helped her through her contests and the Grand Festival before going to the Kanto Region. She’d end up staying with Professor Oak while May traveled through Kanto and Johto, eventually evolving into a Venusaur before Ash saw her again in the Sinnoh Region.


While any individual of any species (even Pokemon species) is going to have its own personality, both of our main Bulbasaurs had strong wills and tons of confidence. Even when seemingly outmatched by Team Rocket, both of them were brave and resilient, never wanting to give up taking care of their trainers or their fellow Pokemon. So you may not love Bulbasaur the way he deserves, but that’s okay. Bulbasaur doesn’t need your love to be confident. Oh to be confident like Bulbasaur.

So if you love Bulbasaur, share this post and show our frog/plant friend some love!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Is "Let it Go" a Good Song?


I'm going to say it. "Let it Go" really isn't a good song. That is, it isn't all good. There is some bad.

Hold on, before you freak out and get upset, I want you to read what I'm saying closely. I'm probably not saying what you think I'm saying.

I know, I know, it's a super popular ballad. Plenty of people like it. I mean, I love it -- or most of it, anyway. I love the tune and I'm an evergreen fan of Idina Menzel. I mean, those pipes, wow.

But let's be honest, not everything in that song is good. Take these few lines, for instance:

"No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I'm free."

Right and wrong are real. They are absolutes. Doing wrong actually enslaves us, rather than frees us. Those lines of the song are clearly teaching wrong principles - at least taken at face value.

Plenty of the lyrics are good, especially considering the context of the song and what had happened immediately prior. It is good to be honest about what one is feeling. It isn't good to hide from others and keep everything in. It is good to care more about making the right choice, even if it puts you out in the cold, so to speak, rejected by others. As for most of the parts of the song that aren't so great, the movie itself shows by the end that Elsa doesn't really believe that all she was singing was right and good. She doesn't really want to abandon friends and family. She wants to be open about things she was keeping secret and still be loved.

So really, when I said "it isn't a good song", I was allowing the one bad piece to hide the rest of the good. Really, it isn't that the song is bad, but that songs (and media in general) teach both good and bad things. For example, one of my favorite musicals is South Pacific, but there's plenty in that musical that isn't good but that the songs of the musical seem to glorify.

Social media is a big example of the nature of media - there is good and bad mixed all around in it. I don't think it is right to reject social media as a whole, and all the good that it brings, just because there are bad things being said and taught.

I'm not saying that people should abandon their love of "Let it Go". I am saying it is vital to be fully awake and aware of all lessons - good and bad - in media. That is, seeking "out of the best books, words of wisdom, ... even by study and also by faith."

Followers