So, I spent all day Sunday at Minneapolis's first pony-themed convention, MLP-MSP. The short version is: it was far more fun than I expected, and I had a wonderful time. If you aren't into tl;dr versions, though, I wrote up my experiences below the break.
Let's start with the convention itself. Although it was relatively small as pony cons go (at the closing ceremonies, they announced about 750 attendees), events were kept going at a lively clip; there was never a lack of anything to do, at least on the day I was there (the con ran Friday-Sunday; I was only there for the last day). The staff were well-organized, and even such minor hiccups as there were--when I got there, I found that my badge had accidentally been given to someone else who shared my first name--were handled quickly and professionally. All told, I was very satisfied with the way things were run.
Moreover, there was a delightfully low-key air to the whole event. Part of that was the mostly Minnesotan audience, I suppose, but I think part of it was also the demographic of the crowd. I had feared I'd be walking into a convention full of high-school-age boys, but the attendees skewed somewhat older and far more female than I expected, both of which helped make for a more friendly, casual atmosphere. Honestly, I felt very at home in the crowd, demographics-wise. Even in the vendor's hall, where I expected at least a bit of hustle, crowd and sellers alike were polite, patient, and all-around pleasant. It's true that, being the first con I've attended in 20 years, I don't have much of a yardstick to compare it against, but the environment was a credit to both the people who ran the con, and to those who showed up for it.
Enough of that, though; on to me! The first thing on the schedule was a cosplay competition, which I promised my father I'd go see and take pictures at. The pictures all came out blurry, unfortunately, but the event itself was more fun than I thought it would be; there were probably thirty or so participants, and at least a dozen really impressive ones. Highlights included a steampunk shadowbolt (I still have little to no appreciation for steampunk, but the guy had movable articulated wings, which was pretty neat to see on stage), a pre-teen cosplaying as Scootaloo (perhaps not a terribly involved costume, she was a ball of cute the whole time), and a guy dressed as a (cutie mark) crusader knight (the well-deserved winner--I'm a sucker for chainmail). Sadly, I've got no pictures of any of them worth posting, but you'll have to take my word that there were some people who were fun to watch up there.
After that came a panel billed as "writers vs. actors," where M.A. Larson, Michelle Creber, and Andrea Libman all sat on the same stage--apparently, cons usually split writers and actors up for these things, so the idea was to get both perspectives at the same table. I don't think I've ever watched a con panel all the way through; the few times I tried to watch one online, I got bored pretty quickly. But, whether it was the particular people involved or just the energy of actually being there in the room with them, rather than sitting at my computer watching on youtube (or, most likely, both), I had a wonderful time there. All three impressed me with how consistently funny they were, and even the worst questions from the audience (you know the kind; either vague and asinine questions like "What inspires you?" or time-wasting requests like "Could you say ____ in _____'s voice?") were addressed in entertaining, often at least slightly informative ways.
After that panel, I met up with Bugs the Curm--or rather, he found me. Those of you who frequent this blog will probably recognize him as a regular commenter. I suppose a moment spent on that meeting is in order, here. See, I've said before that I tend to develop very vivid, if not particularly life-like, caricatures of people with whom I regularly interact but whose faces I can't see. So, I was picturing Bugs as something of a leporine Anton Ego--a tall, angular, precise, dour... rabbit.
Obviously, that's not what he looked like. Nevertheless, it came as a bit of a surprise to me when we met, and Mr. Curm (whose actual name I now know, but we'll stick with online handles for this blog) turned out to be a slim, mop-haired man, surprisingly soft-spoken yet filled to bursting with nervous energy (or perhaps just energy, period; he'd been at the con all day yesterday, after all). Over the course of the next few hours, we attended a couple of panels together, and shared a few wide-ranging conversations, covering work, life, writing (he was kind enough to show me a few drafts and old scripts he'd worked on, about which I'll say two things. First, If you follow his writings, you'll also probably know that he's an incredibly organized person, and his meticulousness was just as obvious in his private material as in public; all his story notes were lovingly numbered, columned, and arranged for maximum clarity. Compare to my "sticky notes on any available surface" approach. Second, he has a real knack for visual comedy. He showed me a cartoon script he'd written years ago, and the easy-to-follow-yet-surreal whimsy of it had me laughing more than once. I'd never have pegged Bugs as such a talented humorist from his blog, but there you have it!), and plenty of other stuff. As cheesy as it is, getting to put a face to that name (well, online handle) was the highlight of my day, and I can now officially say that Bugs the Curm is Good People.
But back to the panels. Bugs and I went to one called "Entertainment Industry 101" with Blackgryphon and the Creber family, which was... well, honestly, it was pretty disappointing. The four panelists kept wandering off on autobiographical tangents, many of which I found a little self-serving; to be fair, the panel was all about how they'd made it/were making it in the industry, so it was going to be a bit self-serving by definition, but I was still unimpressed. Moreover, they spent a lot of time on the "believe in yourself, and ignore the critics" theme, which, while it's certainly what some people need to hear (you'll never produce anything if you don't have a bit of that attitude), also ends up holding a lot of people back if they get too sucked into that line of thinking. This was the one panel that missed for me.
After that, M.A. Larson did an episode analysis of Cutie Mark Chronicles, showing us the first treatment he did of the episode, then walking us through successive revisions and rewrites, punctuated by notes from Lauren Faust and Hasbro at every step. I wasn't entirely sure what "script analysis" would be when I sat down to listen, but that was tremendously interesting, and ended up being my favorite panel of the day.
During that panel, Bugs had to leave to catch his flight, so we said our goodbyes. Afterwords, I hit up the vendor's hall. Unfortunately, most things were either way out of my price range (plushies), not of interest to me (artists prints), or both. I did end up picking up a few knicknacks for my sister from Toxic-Mario, and a cutie mark-etched glass for my dad from Razors Etch, though. Both sellers were wonderful, by the way; despite the fact that they were trying to unload the last of their merchandise (and I ended up getting nice deals on everything I bought), both were patient with me while I diddled around with their wares, and neither of them made me feel uncomfortable for not taking some of their offers. Class A sellers, all around.
Having covered my gifting needs, I then went to the charity auction. I'm not sure quite why--notwithstanding that all the money was going to charity, I certainly didn't think there'd be anything there I was interested in bidding on--but it turned out to be a great choice. Event organizer Final Draft described it as "The most Minnesota auction ever," or words to that effect, and he was right: the auctioneers were going at Zoloft-speed, and regularly pausing the bidding to talk about the items a bit more or make a few jokes; it was about as far as you can get from the conventional mile-a-minute auction environment. Meanwhile, many of the bidders eschewed actual "bidding" in favor of the less-aggressive "just keep your hand in the air until the numbers get too high, then put it down." This was probably the most laid-back auction I've ever heard of, let alone seen, and yet it managed to raise over $6000 for charity. Much of that came on one lot, a pair of jewelry pieces that sold for an amazing 2500 dollars. That was exciting to watch.
Following that came a brief closing ceremony, and then it was time to head out. I ended up on a shuttle with one of the EFN crew, and we chatted briefly about how this con compared to others he'd been to (he'd attended 14 pony cons, so unlike me, he had something to compare it to)... and then it was off for home.
To sum it all up once more: MLP-MSP was a wonderful experience for me, and I'm very glad I decided to go; I only wish I'd been there for more than one day. Hopefully they do another one next year, since most pony cons are out of my price range (I was able to do MLP-MSP for less than $100, including tickets, food, transport, and incidentals. Something out on the coast would obviously run me a lot more to attend), because if they do, I'll definitely be back.