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Dex Lives, fine online comics

by Bernadette Yarnot

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Five days of... well, I wasn't quite sure, but I had bought the tickets two years ago, and I was determined to enjoy myself. There were going to be talks, and an art show, and signings, and weirdos walking the halls in costume. Okay, so if I had a costume, I'd probably be wearing it as well, but it was warm enough that I'm glad I stuck to t-shirt and shorts.

*Thursday: We arrive for check-in around 1:30 or so. We missed the L.E. Modesitt signing, but we only had paperbacks anyway. Check-in is simply a matter of providing ID, then they give us a nifty little badge holder that has two zippered pockets, large enough for myriad business cards. If we lose it, we're told, it will cost us a new membership to replace it-- $200. Okay then.

The first thing I go to is called an Intellectual Property Introduction. The panelists, one of whom is Harlan Ellison's lawyer, go over the differences between copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret. It's fascinating, even though it sounds boring on paper. One of the key things to be learned is that a case is decided differently depending on the district that you're in, and that they would not tell us anything about how intellectual property rights exist in relation to the internet because "it's a big mess." (This is one of the reasons that Dex is and will remain hand-drawn.)

Rob and I split up and I go to a panel entitled Differences Between Writing for Children and Wirting For Adults. This features Terry Pratchett, Tad Williams, Terry Bisson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Suzy McKee Charnas. This is an absolute hoot, with quotes like "It's not a proper fairy story unless someone gets their feet chopped off at the ankle," (Pratchett) and "I didn't know I was writing for children until I was at signings and a book would appear without anyone apparently attached to it, and a little voice would say, 'Would you please sign my book please.' " (Williams) I'm already regretting not wearing one of my special shirts (more later) or having any of my flyers or business cards.

We (my parents and I) track down Rob and head over to the "Con Suite", a couple of hotel rooms open to all and sundry, and completely fail to find the person that Mom and Dad were trying to meet. But they have Belly Flops! (These are the "screwup" Jelly Bellys, which can be acquired from the relatively nearby factory in Fairfield.) I admit it: I'm a sucker for candy. In the elevator ride down, I strike up a conversation with someone interested in online comics, and eventually pass my site information over. Then as we walk away, my parents tell me he was flirting with me. Huh? It never occurred to me-- I was wearing my wedding ring, my husband was standing next to me, I must have been eight or ten years older than this guy... how strange. (How old do I look, anyway?)

Off to my sister's for pizza (wonderful pizza). Rob and I are staying there, about a mile from the convention center, which means we don't have to mess with parking. We watched "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" and went to bed.

*Friday: This is the day to break my back. Terry Pratchett, Connie Willis, David Brin, all signing, all hardback. Heavy heavy backpack. I am wearing the first of my special t-shirts, the 4th of July design on a babydoll tee. I'm also carrying fabric pens.

First panel is on the contest called Illustrators of the Future-- tied to the Writers of the Future contest. Or, more specifically, the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. The first thing the panelists do is assure us that the contest has nothing to do with Scientology. I get all the panelists to sign my shirt... that would be Frank Kelly Freas, Laura Brodian Freas, and Frank Wu, who draws a smiling dragon for me.

The next panel is on whether humor has a place in science fiction. Terry Pratchett is moderating, and starts by saying: "The question is, Does humour belong in science fiction? The answer is: Yes. Now, does anyone have any anecdotes about Harlan Ellison?" Very funny panel, but I don't remember any specifics.

I go straight from there to the Pratchett signing (henceforth, I will refer to Pratchett by my mother's term of Pterry.) There's already quite a line. I get both of my copies of Good Omens signed (one will eventually become a gift) and my copy of The Last Hero, while Rob gets my copies of Small Gods, Jingo, and Hogfather signed. To him. Note for the future: they look at your nametag when making inscriptions, so create small cards with the name(s) you want the inscriptions for.

The art show beckons. I highly recommend science fiction art shows for everyone, as they have some of the greatest modern talents in representational art. True, they also have rank beginners, but there's something for everyone. As Rob and I learn in a later panel, science fiction art shows offer amazing opportunities to acquire original artwork-- the prices for original oil paintings can be a little as one-sixth of the price of art gallery pieces. Many artists also offer prints of their artwork in the dealers' room.

My particular favorite at the show is a seven-foot dragon under construction in the back corner. The artist created a steel framework that she was building up with clay. On the last day of the convention, she would disassemble the dragon and leave. This was the only part of the art show that allowed photographs, so I have some film to develop. Artist M. Kaluta (Books of Magic cover art) autographs my shirt.

In the line for David Brin, the guy behind me looks at my shirt and starts laughing. He's the Freas' agent, and they spend most of the convention under his eye so he didn't know how I'd managed. Then we head to the Con Suite for the Pterry party. (The photos of Pterry and the Seamstress guild date from then.) When we get the photo with me and Pterry, we mention that we got a similar one nine years ago. He looks at me and mentions, "You must have been shorter." I reply, "Not really." (How old do I look, anyway?) We don't really get dinner, but there's lots of munchies. Back to my sister's, to watch "The Others", then to bed.

*Saturday: Today is the day to wander. After going to The Complete Idiot's Guide to Science Fiction, we spend a large amount of time wandering the art show, the dealers' room, and the lobby. Hey, wait a minute, did that table say "free books"? Sure enough, it did, and through the rest of the convention we acquire Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, The Dreamthief's Daughter by Michael Moorcock, Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray, and the Eye of Night by Pauline J. Alama. It's all a matter of looking.

Today's also the day that I get Tad Williams to autograph my shirt (a piece of artwork for LKP fantasy) and that my parents run into someone who reads Dex! (I thoughtfully provided them with shirts.) We went to the forum on selling artwork (Frank Wu: "If there's a dragon in it, 95% of it will sell. If there's badly drawn dragons, 80% of them will sell. If it's also got women and cats, it's as good as gold.") Too many panelists; most of them didn't get to speak a lot.

Dinner that night is grilled salmon, and we watch "The Rookie" and have sundaes.

*Sunday: Another backbreaking day, with books from Tim Powers, Gene Wolfe, Kim Stanley Robinson, Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Tad Williams in our packs. And Tim Powers missed the convention. Oh, well.

I started noticing that the signs posted on various doors stating "This Is Not A Door" were gathering comments, and other signs had started to appear: "This Is Not A Wall", "This Is Not A Floor", and my personal favorite, "This Is Not A Sign."

The highlight of the day is the Improv Story Telling, featuring Pterry, Tad Williams, Phil Foglio, and Allison Lonsdale. (I got Pterry and Phil Foglio to autograph my shirt, a front-and-back Dex Lives shirt. Phil laughed, so I gave him a business card.) In keeping with the theme of the panel, none of the panelists knows what they're doing. They eventually decide to get suggestions from the audience and tell a story while passing the mic from person to person. The suggestions included:

For people who didn't have a clue on what they were doing, they did an amazing job. However, the con screwed up: Nobody taped it! As a final trick, they came up with titles. My favorite was Tad Williams': "Ninety Minutes of Hell."

The next slot was a massive autograph session, with Tad Williams, Melanie Rawn, and Jennifer Roberson all signing. (There were many other authors signing then, but these were the ones we had books for.) Rawn and Roberson signed my shirt and our copy of The Golden Key. Kate Elliot wasn't there, but she's a friend of my sister-in-law, so we'll get her eventually.

Out to dinner and thence to bed. No movie.

*Monday: My legs hurt. No books in the pack today, though. Our first panel is on the difficulty of balancing creative endeavors, work, and family. Quite a bit of good advice, and a few great quotes ("You never had to keep your child from french-kissing a beagle." Tad Williams) Then I go to a special interest group on online comics, which gets a lot more fun once the silent people left and a few more talkers showed up. Admittedly, we went on a lot of tangents, but I got to meet the operators of the Belfry and Purrsia, as well as the editors of Strange Horizons, an online science fiction magazine.

The closing ceremonies were, well, not very planned. We did get a visit from the Church of the Great Washed, whose members wore bathrobes and fuzzy slippers, and who sang a Latin version of "Rubber Ducky." They praised attendees for following their strictures to keep clean (they apparently appeared at the opening ceremonies) and chanted their mantra: "Lather. Rinse. REPENT!"

Then the chair of the next World Con (in Toronto) gave the chairs of the con their marbles back. All in all, not a bad end to a great weekend.

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