Wondercon 2010

In my 2008 report for this zine I wrote that Wondercon gets better for me with each one I attend, and that statement was completely justified by the amazing weekend that I had this year.

For starters this is the first time I stayed overnight at a local hotel instead of going home. Mette Hedin and Bryan Little, who normally make costumes in pairs, decided to do a group entry with all of their Doctor Who creations and they asked me to participate, along with Anthony Kopec, Chris Erickson and Elena Herzen. I had never done a masquerade, and in fact have not been onstage since I was in my early teens and even then only twice that I can recall, so I wasn’t sure it was the brightest idea. But, the costume fit me so I agreed despite my reservations. Because of the amount of equipment they were bringing they got a room at the Marriott and I asked to share on Friday night so we could all go to the Ball of Justice, down at the DNA Lounge.

I work right around the corner from the Moscone Convention Center, so I took a overnight bag in to work Friday and left it there while I picked up my badge and did a quick dealer’s room wander. @io9 tweeted about a Wondercon meet-up, and since I had a little time left before the hotel room would be available, I went over to 111 Minna to check that out. The bar was serving 21st Amendment’s canned beer and there was a pretty good band playing, but I only ran into one person I knew so left after a few minutes to get changed for the Ball.

I had decided against a full costume and instead wore something vaguelysp[ace-agey along with my Phenomenauts jacket, and off we went to the DNA. The Phenomenauts were the opening band and only had one hour, but they did a great job as always. Afterwards Comic Strip presented some super-heroine burlesque, which was fun but, sadly, included no boys, and that seemed very much a missed opportunity given the theme. Next up was the main band, Los Straightjackets. I had heard their music but never seen them play before so that was a treat — they wear wrestling masks and the lead singer speaks Spanish with a truly terrible accent. As I watched the band, Mette went out for a smoke and minutes later tweeted a photo of her, Sailor Moon and Ray Wise. In short, a generally a good time was had by all before we called it an unusually early night so we could be in decent shape the next day. We skipped breakfast in order to make it to the pre-Masquerade meeting the next day, I walked over with Elena, who was in her Silk Spectre II costume and in need of an escort and then we met up with the rest of the gang. The masquerade director offered a lot of good tips and while I was still surprised I wasn’t feeling as anxious as I’d expected to be, I figured maybe it would get worse as the day progressed.

I grabbed some convention center coffee, which was okay, and a muffin, which wasn’t, and popped over to see our own Jean Martin interview Tim Powers. She did a really great job with a variety of well-researched questions, and just enough leading to get things going, and the audience seemed appreciative. She and Serena and I chatted a little afterwards while Powers signed books and then it was time for a long-planned and oft-postponed pilgrimage up to Fritz Leiber’s old digs on Geary street, less than a half-hour walk from Moscone.

As the local guide, I had fretted a bit about taking such civilized folks as Tim and Serena through the ‘loin and up Polk street, but as it turned out the weather was lovely and it was really quite a nice walk. On the way up we passed John’s Grill, the home of the Maltese Falcon, and Serena pointed it out more or less randomly as a place to stop for lunch on the way back. I was familiar with it because in 2007 it made the papers when its very own Maltese Falcon plaster replica was stolen, but, despite having walked past it a dozen times I hadn’t noticed its location, so I readily agreed.

We made it over to 811 Geary, where Fritz Leiber lived while writing Our Lady of Darkness, and which is used (with a fictionalized address) as the residence of the protagonist of that book. It was then, and still is, a residential hotel called the Hotel Union and therefore not really the sort of place you can just walk into. Nevertheless we tried the door, which was locked, and as we peeked in to see if there was a manager on duty a passerby, clearly sensing we were tourists, asked us if we knew someone in the building or were looking for a hotel-because it wasn’t really a walk-in and rent for the night sort of place. I opened my mouth and spontaneously sort-of lied that someone in the family had lived there a long time ago and we wanted to see the place.

At this point a resident walked in and we followed inside, we told some more gentle fibs to the desk manager who looked neither convinced nor concerned and then thankfully another gentleman (the janitor or handyman I think) kindly offered to take us up to the 5th floor, #507 having been Leiber’s apartment. All four of us piled into a tiny and rickety old elevator, the likes of which I have not seen since I was in Madrid, and up we went. He gave us some space but wisely kept an eye on us from the end of the hall as we made guilty excited noises and took pictures. We peeked around to see if there was a window facing the right direction to see Corona Heights, but sadly there wasn’t. Eventually we trooped down the stairs, feeling ridiculously accomplished.

On the way back we also checked out the nearby apartment on the corner of Post and Hyde where Dashiell Hammett lived in the 1920’s, and which he made Spade’s apartment in fiction. Then there was just enough time for lunch at John’s Grill, which turned out to not only be a lovely spot with good food and a great atmosphere but serendipitously had a write-up on Dashiell Hammett on the back of the menu, penned by Fritz Leiber!

Fed and content we walked back to the Marriott, where I said my farewells and headed over to meet up with the rest of the crew, get everything packed and over to the green room. At this point was still feeling pretty chill but figured putting the costume on would make it real, since I had not actually tried walking, lifting or anything else while wearing it. Still, nerves failed to kick in and as I noticed that the calmest members of the group were also the least experienced I decided this was a very bad sign.

Luckily I was distracted by all the incredible costumes backstage, including an amazing eight-foot tall Bumblebee from the Transformers movie, a Mystery Men group with eight bowlers, a bunch of Disney villainesses and most of the Justice League. Jean was part of the Mystery Men, as The Sphynx, but I was surprised at how few familiar faces there were. Doubtless some folks were from out of town, but I can only imagine the rest must be anime fandom if they’re local.

Bryan and Mette do great work so I originally figured we would get something for our entry, but as we waited in the green room and I got a chance to look at all the other great costumes I started wondering if we would get anything after all. Eventually they lined us up and we went on stage, and given the limited visibility in my costume I have only the vaguest idea of what actually happened there. Since I was really just a warm body for one of Bryan and Mette’s costumes my main concern was not embarrassing myself, or them, onstage, which I more or less managed, I remembered my cues and didn’t stumble or trip over anybody. When we got offstage the general feeling of the group seemed to be about the same as mine, that we hadn’t done so terribly as to feel ashamed but were now impatient for everyone else to get their awards so we could go back to the hotel and relax.

Thus we waited impatiently backstage as one group after another was told they had gotten an award, and then lined up to go onstage to receive it. We were hoping, maybe, for an honorable mention and then right at the end the very last name was ours. We were pretty jazzed to have gotten anything at all and speculated what it might be, Mette had been hoping to place well enough to get the complimentary 3D lenticular portrait that comes with trophy awards, since she was at the head of the line she asked one of the stage crew if it was a trophy award. The woman looked amused and said “Yes, it’s a trophy award.” Mette smiled big and then asked the lady if she knew which award it was. “Best in Show” quoth the lady. “Best in Show!?’“ squawked Mette, looking back at the rest of the group. There was equal amounts of elation and confusion when we heard this, surely not “Best in Show”? And then suddenly the nerves and adrenaline kicked in as we went up to get the award, this time with no helmet to obscure our faces. I was shaking by the time we walked back off

What followed was a surreal hour or so of photos and congratulations; the costume was comfortable enough for the couple of minutes of the skit but grew progressively hotter and more uncomfortable. We were all well ready to be done after getting the 3D lenticular portrait from Stewart ComGraph. We scurried back to the green room and gratefully changed into civvies, packed the costumes up and after only one thrilling brush with death, (a fire truck from the Mission Street fire station came barreling down on us as we rolled the luggage cart across Mission) we made it back to the hotel and were joined by Radar and Jean as well as some other friends.

Sunday I had planned on waking up at home but the celebrations had gone till 5:00 am so instead they were kind enough to let me crash in their room for a second night. This worked out nicely since I kind of wanted to make it to their costuming panel anyway, and wasn’t feeling ready to let the con end. We woke earlier than we would have liked, packed and stowed our bags and headed over to the panel. Shawna Trpcic had been scheduled for Wondercon but had to cancel, so she sent Ray Hill over with some of her costumes, including the Illyria costume from Angel, and after a short video montage of her work in television the panelists discussed their lives as fan costumers. Jean did a great job once again moderating.

I left Bryan, Mette and Chris to wander the exhibition hall in costume for their adoring fans and after one last look around and a quick lunch with Jean I was ready for my last event of the weekend; The Last Unicorn screening at the Victoria theater, which I’m glad to say was packed. Beagle looked tired from his non-stop weekend, but was as entertaining as ever. I simply adore the book but hadn’t seen the movie since I was a preteen, I was pleasantly surprised that it was better than I remembered. I picked up a copy of the new IDW comic adaptation and grabbed We Never Talk About My Brother while I was at it, but decided to skip the line and get them signed at Baycon instead.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #104, April 28, 2010