GMX: A Reflective Retrospective

I should probably begin this by apologizing for the lack of Ondine updates in the past two weeks. There really is no excuse but for artistic block and general laziness, my dreaded second nemesis. (My first nemesis, of course, is beavers. All of them. I hate them so much.) But the schedule is repaired and should be back on track, and Ondine is nearly complete.

Anyway, the reason there was no comic last Monday (nor a podcast this week) was because I spent the prior weekend attending Volume 3 of the Geek Media Expo, also known as GMX, here in Nashville.

Conventions are interesting things. I have attended one or two, though neither were very big. One took place in the local mall, and despite the seeming ad hoc nature of it the organizers managed to get Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in Star Wars, to appear. GMX was far and away the biggest convention I’ve attended, and the first one I’ve been to in several years.

As a matter of course, I begin with a brief synopsis of my experience. The convention took place at Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, which was a ten minute drive from my apartment. Would that all conventions were a ten minute drive from my apartment; I would attend all of them. Anyway, the festivities kicked off on Friday evening around 6 pm in the Grand Ballroom. The host/directors talked about the attendance, the panels this year, and introduced the convention’s special guests. Two of those guests were the reason for my attendance: John Patrick Lowrie and Ellen McLain, both of whom we have interviewed several times. Oh, I should mention that Ellen is the voice of GlaDOS in Portal and Portal 2, and John is the voice of the Sniper in Team Fortress 2, has voiced several other game characters, and just published a science fiction book, Dancing With Eternity. (Of course, you would know all that if you’ve listened to the most recent podcast, or prior casts where they were our guests.)

Other guests included the actor who played The Flash in the 90s TV show, two voice actresses from the 80s girl’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms, a guy who has voiced characters in WoW and who is the lead singer of the band Godhead, two actors who play zombies in the TV show The Walking Dead, and Tiffany, the one who was famous in the 80s and now stars in SyFy Channel original movies. (Funny coincidence, her most recent movie is Mega Pirhana vs. Gateroid, the movie we mentioned in episode 47 and the film that provided banner image for that episode.) The only other guests I remember off the top of my head were three guys who make popular YouTube videos, and the only reason I remember them is because they are about one step above me on the “internet famous” scale, and I aim to catch up to them.

After opening ceremonies I made my way to John and Ellen, who were already surrounded by Portal and TF2 fans. When an opening finally appeared, I went up to John and said, “Hey, I’m Dave.” To which John said, “Hey, that’s great.” At which point I realized I was an idiot and said, “No, I mean I’m Deprava.” Then John’s eyes lit up, and there was much joy at recognition and finally meeting each other. Ellen was equally thrilled, and all was awesome.

We went down to the dealer room where John and Ellen had a booth set up, but we didn’t stay very long, since John had a panel on getting your book published. The other speaker on that panel was a man who had self-published his novel and graphic novel, and the two provided good tips and commentary on the different ways to get published and the pros and cons of each.

Later that evening John, Ellen, and I went out to Chili’s on West End (a Chili’s I know all too well from school), to eat dessert and hang out. Much highbrow conversation took place, and we could not resist sending a teasing e-mail to Sagramore.

The next day was the big day of the con, since it was the only day that had events planned all day long. I attended a panel where John and four other authors oversaw a writing exercise with the audience. We were each given a sheet of paper with a word or phrase on it, and we went around the room telling a story. Each person had to add something to the story, and had to try to incorporate his or her phrase into the story. The results were, as one might expect, hilarious. The stories meandered everywhere as people tried to find ways to introduce their phrases. My own contributions were abysmal. Improvisational storytelling may not be a strength of mine. The panel was fun as an examination of group storytelling and working around constraints on the story, despite my poor showing.

One of the other highlights of the day was when I got to follow Ellen up to the “green room” or whatever it was called: the room where special guests and staff got to rest and eat and hang out between events or activities. Now, on its face this was not a glamorous incident. The room was just a small hospitality room in the hotel, the food was cold cuts of ham and spears of pineapple, and the only people in there were bored GMX staff playing a logic game. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I was in the room. And that I was in the room with Ellen. For those few minutes, I had a taste of “fame,” or at least of “being known,” and being someone invited backstage. It was a taste I savored, and I want to taste it again.

I attended other panels, and the closing ceremonies were fun, but this has already gone on for too long, and those instances don’t stick out in my mind as much, so we shall pass over them. The highlight of the con really was getting to meet and hang out with John and Ellen, who are both awesome people and a lot of fun.

The most valuable thing I took from the convention, however, was a moment of self-reflection and examination. As I said, cons are interesting things. They are like a distillery, wherein people who like a particular thing (in this case geek media) seem to abandon all of the other facets of their character and personality, and for a few brief days are embodiments of the fandom or the culture or whatever you want to call it. Everyone IS that part of their personality, stripped of all the extraneous parts that do not mesh with the fandom.

The result of this distillation is an incredible expression of love, passion, and creativity, that frankly left me rather envious. I saw people decked out in costumes that took many hours and many dollars to produce, costumes that were works of art and craftsmanship to rival professional productions. I listened in on panels where people discussed their favorite books, movies, TV shows, and the creative process itself. And amid all this, I could not escape the observation that I was not as devoted as everyone else. In me there was no passion for all of it, no deep-seated love that sparked in me artistic and intellectual inspiration. And in that environment, surrounded by these happy and friendly people who WERE passionate, who cared deeply about all of these things, I felt out of place, as if my interest in geek culture and geeky things was insufficient for me to fully integrate into the convention atmosphere.

Now, I certainly do not mean to imply that the convention-goers were in any way hostile, or unfriendly, or judgmental in any way. Everyone I encountered was friendly, happy, and amiable. Rather, it was more of a disconnect between myself and the general atmosphere of the proceedings. I do not LOVE science fiction, or fantasy, or anime, or video games, or comics. I like those things, and to the casual observer I likely appear to be a geek or nerd or some similar sobriquet. But I am not passionate about them, in the same way the other convention-goers were. And that failing on my part, that lack of passion, held me at arms length from the whole experience. I was an outsider, or at least a fringe-dweller, who was all of a sudden thrust into the heart of the matter, and I did not have the wherewithal or know-how to assimilate myself into the culture.

The upside to this recognition of my distance from the heart of geek culture was that it compelled me to examine myself and answer the inescapable query: “Well, if none of this is my passion, what is? If, out of the myriad cultures, media, series, and fandoms presented at this convention, none of them inflame me to true passion and love of the thing itself, what does?”

This is a question I have been mulling over for some time, and my reflections on the convention provided the information necessary to articulate a satisfactory answer. My passion, as I have discovered, is storytelling. With that, of course, comes a wide variety of connected interests: narrative, characterization, language itself, artistic design, symbolism, and our very culture. The act of storytelling, and how it intersects and informs the human collective consciousness, is the thing that I find most interesting in all the world, and the thing I wish to further investigate and understand for the rest of my life.

And because storytelling is so integral to so much of the human condition and experience, it is little wonder that I have branched out to other fields. Fantasy and Sci-fi interest me because they represent storytelling uncoupled from the necessity to adhere to current culture and experience. These two genres have a freedom to express ideas that far exceeds normal fiction, because the fantasy and science fiction creator can fashion the world itself to better express ideas or themes, or to make more obvious an aspect of the human condition that is too easily hidden in a world constrained by “reality.” Comics and anime interest me because they represent the intersection of storytelling, writing, art, and graphic design. Video games appeal to me because they are the sole medium in which the audience has agency within the story being told, and when the game designers recognize that anomaly, and properly tap into it, they create Art that no one has ever seen before.

This was a bit of a revelation for me. It was always in the corner of my mind, close but not within my grasp, so that I comprehended it vaguely, but I lacked the proper understanding to define its shape and form. Now that I do, I feel I understand myself better, and I think I better grasp what I want in my life.

For one, I want to go to more cons, but I want to be a guest, not a con-goer. Time to get to work on that.

One thought on “GMX: A Reflective Retrospective”

  1. BTW, the “actor who played The Flash in the 90s TV show” has a name. JOHN WESLEY SHIPP. The stuff you people think you can get away with…

    By “you people,” I mean not-stalkerishly-obssesive comic book fans.

    He was also Dawson’s dad in Dawson’s Creek.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *