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Con Life

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I didn’t choose con life. Con life chose me.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re a totally normal person. I’m sure you’ve scrolled through my Facebook page and wondered what’s up with me dressing up like fictional characters and traipsing around a convention paying ludicrous amounts of money to meet famous people, despite having the budget of your average 20-something in the 2016 economy. “Why, dearest Kyoko,” you say in your finest British accent. “I don’t understand why you would do such a thing, especially considering how painfully awkward and introverted you are. Whatever makes you a congoer?”

“Well, thanks for pointing out my personality flaws, but the British accent makes it hurt less,” I say, adjusting my own monocle. “Allow me to explain.”

The first con I ever attended was Momocon: a tiny widdle baby con all the way back in the early 2000’s that at the time of its inception was both free and held on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA. If I’m not mistaken, I either went to the first Momocon ever, or its second or third run-throughs, where there were no guests and pretty much there were only vendors with things to sell and a bunch of nerds holding panels about their favorite anime, movies, TV shows, and games. I had a good time, and so it quickly became a tradition between me and my friends to attend each year as our own mini-vacation. As the years went by, Momocon slowly gathered steam and became a larger con. When attendance goes up, it means more money, and more money means more features at the con itself, like being able to invite guests, bigger vendors, and having more diverse panels and panelists. To my utter delight, after a certain point, Momocon got big enough to start inviting people I was excited to meet like Steve Blum, The Nostalgia Critic, Dante Basco, Little Kuriboh, the Honest Trailers Guy, Two Best Friends Play, and many others. Everything got bigger and better when the con organizers realized the con got so huge that they needed to move into the Georgia World Congress Center, thus streamlining the whole process and making it that much easier to get around to see all the things we congoers wanted to see.

Still, when you think about it, it’s an awful pricey adventure. You pay for entry tickets, gas to drive to the train station, the Marta Breeze card plus trips, food, and merchandise. With Momocon, you can probably blow through a cool $100-$200 over the weekend.

Then there’s this motherf@#er called DragonCon: the stupid, but hot older brother of Momocon.

To be frank, I consider DragonCon to be a clusterf@#k of a con. It is almost always poorly executed and frustrating because a record 77,000 people attended this year, and the con organizers think that 77k people can fit inside five hotels at once. Uh, no. That is in fact NOT a thing. You can’t cram that many people within a five block radius in downtown Atlanta. Any logical person would move the venue to the World Congress Center like Momocon did, but nooooooo. DragonCon insists it can continue to run itself at that capacity in the same venue it’s been in for the past couple of decades, despite the maddening increase in attendance that has steadily climbed over the years.

So you’d think that because you’re forced to be wall-to-wall jampacked with 76,999 other people that you’d at least be getting a service that is run properly, right? Noooooooope. It’s hard to find directions, the panels are always so overcrowded that unless you line up for them two hours prior to their start time, you ain’t gettin’ in, and on top of all of that, it’s expensive as hell. Seriously. You’re coughing up $140 for a four day pass, and that only includes entry. For God’s sake, they won’t even give you a lanyard for your pass. You have to buy a lanyard. That’s right. After $140, they still want more. I hate to admit it, but I’m quite sure I spent a cool $300-$400 at this con two weekends ago.

Am I ashamed?

Well. Yes and no.

Let the stories begin.

So on Friday morning, the day I attended by myself since my best friend was still on her way up from South Georgia, I decided to sacrifice myself to go to the con at the crack of dawn since it would mean beating most of the crowd and allowing me enough time to scope out where all the activities I had lined up would be ahead of time: primarily the times and prices for autographs for four of my favorite celebrities. In case you missed it, I hate this con, and I’ve only attended it previously because I was invited to be on the State of Black Science Fiction panel moderated by Milton Davis, which is excellent press and exposure. This year, however, DragonCon managed to entice me into attending despite no panel being held this year by inviting not one but FOUR guests I was dying to meet: Will Friedle, James Marsters, Charlie Cox, and Gillian Anderson. I mean, wow. Seriously, those are four titans of the sci-fi/fantasy television world and you’re damn right I drove five and a half hours to come see them. But I digress.

I entered into the Walk of Fame–the enormous ballroom where all the celebrities had tables for autograph signings–right as it opened at 10am, and I expected to wander past the tables to see prices for the four people I wanted to meet. Well, I was definitely on the right track, because I turned the corner and found myself staring Charlie Cox dead in the face. That’s right. Out of sheer dumb luck, the star of Netflix’s Daredevil was at his autograph table right when the WOF opened, and he only had about 14 people in his line. Let me be clear: I had actually only thought about getting his autograph, but I heard earlier that it was $60, which is A LOT for someone who isn’t even in my personal Top 10 TV Actors list (he’s probably more in the 15-30 range, to be honest), but the sheer coincidence that I happened upon him right when his line was low made me jump my happy self in line and proceed to fangirl myself silly at the prospect of meeting Daredevil himself.

So how was it?

Oh dear God. There are no words. Charlie Cox is an absolute peach.

There was an adorable older woman in front of me who apparently knew him prior, and their conversation was so cute that it put a huge smile on my face. She gave him a comic book that she liked and they chit-chatted before he gave her a hug and she left. Then it was my turn to meet him, and holy mother of God, if you think Charlie Cox is charming and handsome as Matt Murdock, you don’t know what it feels like to have him smiling at you from literally a foot away. It was damn near blinding.

However, I managed to calm myself and express that I wasn’t actually initially interested in Daredevil when it premiered and then I heard how everyone said it was so good and I was a bit skeptical, but I accidentally ended up watching “Cut Man” before the actual pilot and I was hooked the second it was over, mainly due to the incredible chemistry between Cox and Rosario Dawson. Charlie Cox was delighted to hear this, and he told me that “Cut Man” is actually his favorite episode from season one, which was a huge feather in my cap since I love that episode to death. He signed my photo and told me that he loved my name–I had him sign it to Kyo, short for Kyoko–and I joked about the lady before me getting a hug, and he grinned and said, “Come here!” and gave me a hug before I left. I was pretty much floating on air on the way to the next table to check for times.

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If you think that’s nuts, guess what? It ain’t over yet.

My second trip in the WOF was to Will Friedle’s table to do the same as I intended when I stumbled across Charlie Cox’s table: to check his autograph times and prices. Well, not only were those there, but Will freakin’ Friedle himself was also at his table right when I wandered past, and he’s not just in my Top 10 Favorite TV Actors List–the man is seriously Number Two, second only to Kevin Conroy, whom I met in 2013.

So basically I looked like this before scurrying into his line of 20 or so people:

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The backstory behind why I was internally screaming over Will Friedle is because I have been in love with his character from Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis, since I was ten years old. Yes, I’m one of those nerds who actually saw the premiere of Batman Beyond live as a kid, and it stuck with me all these years. I mean, I never ever expected to like Terry as much as Bruce, but through some stellar writing and one incredible voice acting performance from Mr. Friedle, I never stopped crushing on him. I went on to continue following Friedle’s career from Kim Possible to The Secret Saturdays and when I saw his name on the roster for the con, that was the very second I bought my ticket. Meeting him is on my Bucket List and so it was more than just a moment of fangirling, but a lifelong desire to say thank you to him for portraying a character who honestly has been a part of my mental healing process.

Waiting in line for him was torture because the way the tables are set up is that the stars are against a wall and the lines wind to the side of the table rather than in front of it so that the people behind you can walk through the ballroom unhindered. So I was treated to hearing Will’s voice behind me while I waited and I had to fan myself with Charlie Cox’s autograph to keep from flipping the hell out in pure excitement.

It took a lot of effort, but when I came up to him, I didn’t scream and faint. He greeted me and I did the same and I told him that it was on my Bucket List to meet him because Terry has meant so much to me over the years thanks to his voicework for him, and I also told him about meeting Kevin Conroy in 2013, which delighted him. He agreed with me about Conroy being just the sweetest guy ever and he signed my comic book with “I am Batman” and I joked that Conroy had done the same, and he laughed and told me that when they attend autograph signings together, they pretend-fight over who is actually Batman on the fans’ autographs. I also told him that Batman Beyond has been a huge comfort to me when dealing with my social anxiety and depression, and he told me that he completely understands since he’s dealt with anxiety as well. He gave me a hug and then sent me on my way, once again squealing like a crazy person inside.

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Later that evening, we took a photo op together and that Friday solidified itself as one of the best days of my entire life. Dream made. Life made.

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Now, are you ready for this?

Because Saturday went even better.

On Saturday, my bestie and I got up early again and headed over to the con, this time with our sights on the utterly delicious James Marsters. She had actually met him a few years prior while in line with a friend of hers, so she sent me along to see him by myself, and it just so happens that he was at his table when I went past, so I jumped in line.

Now, keep in mind, Saturday was when I was in my Agent Peggy Carter cosplay that I had carefully put together over a couple months’ worth of organization. People were genuinely thrilled by it and I took quite a few pictures prior to getting in line with Marsters. I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out, to be honest.

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So after several minutes of mentally preparing myself to meet Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden aka Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what should happen?

Well, let me first preface this story by saying it is 100% true. I know I write fiction for a living, but everything I am about to tell you actually happened and I am not making this up, I swear.

The first words out of James f@#king Marsters beautiful mouth when he saw me was, “You look fabulous!”

Me:

Bedazzled sensitive Elliot sunset

I in no way was expecting that compliment. Holy crap. It almost bowled me right over. I had to mentally jumpstart my brain into the speech I had prepared because I have never had a ridiculously attractive famous person compliment me (not to my face, mind you, because Chris Evans’ backrub totally counts but that was non-verbal). Once I was done screaming inside, I told him how I actually found him via the Dresden Files audiobooks rather than Buffy the Vampire Slayer because I’m such an enormous fan of the books and my friend Maggie lent me her audio file of Blood Rites for a road trip once and I utterly fell in love with Marsters’ voicework as Harry Dresden. He thanked me and told me that the reason he’s so enthusiastic when he does those readings is that he used to be on the road a lot visiting his son and he hated it when he listened to audiobooks that were dry and boring as hell, so he made sure to inject as much life into his audiobooks as possible. He also asked me who I was cosplaying as, as did his assistant next to him, and I told him it was Peggy Carter, and then I had him record a video for my other best friend who couldn’t join us for the con. Once that was over, I floated on Cloud Nine away from the table and went about the rest of the day with my ego Over 9000.

Then, later that afternoon, came time for the photo op with Mr. Marsters.

Once again, I would like to stress the fact that this actually happened and I am not making it up.

Here’s a bit of backstory, though: Photo ops are actually lightning fast. The stars are usually taking photos with upwards of a hundred hardcore fans, and so if you ever want to meet a celebrity, I always recommend an autograph because it allows you time to chit-chat with them, whereas a photo op is about 5 seconds long. Don’t get me wrong–to this day, I still adore my photo op with Chris Evans and I don’t regret not one second of it, as well as my decision to forgo the extra autograph because if I tried to say actual words to him, I’d have just wasted $200 gross sobbing at him instead of talking. However, the upside of photo ops is the bragging rights that you met a famous person that you really admire and have physical proof forever more that you were there, next to them, soaking in all the awesomeness they naturally emit. Or, in Chris Evans’ case, soaking in all that goddamn gorgeousness. But again, I digress.

When it was my turn to go up to Mr. Marsters, his whole face lit up and he goes, “It’s you!” Flattered as hell, I giggled and went over to him and asked if we could do a hug for a photo.

Him: Oh, my wife said I’m not allowed to hug pretty girls anymore.

Me:

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So, instead, we did an arm around each other, which turned out magnificent, honestly.

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After the photographer took the photo, what does this luscious man of fame and fortune turn to me and say, staring me straight in the eyes with his arm still around me?

“You’re gorgeous.”

Me:

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I’m pretty sure I died and this is my poltergeist writing this long ass post.

“But Kyo,” you say, smoking your pipe. “Are you telling me that driving 5 1/2 hours, spending possibly $400, and dealing with an overcrowded, poorly run con is all worth it because Harry Dresden called you fabulous, pretty, and gorgeous?”

The reason I made this post isn’t just to brag about meeting famous people, though. What I’m trying to say, in general, is that con life may be expensive and hectic and it may seem bizarre to an outsider, but the end results can be some of the most iconic, memorable moments of a lifetime. I fully admit that it’s possible James Marsters reacted that way to every last girl he met at the con, but you know what? He sold that s#@t. That’s some acting for yo’ ass, because I totally believed it, and it was by far one of the greatest moments of my entire life. It’s more than cheap flattery. It’s the fact that for the rest of my life, I get to think back to meeting my book boyfriend in person and he said I was gorgeous. You can’t ever take that away from me. That is my memory to cherish, and even if it took an insane amount of money, there was no guarantee that it would have happened otherwise. I got an unforgettable experience thanks to this con and that’s why many of us nerds make the trek every year. Every experience is unique. There’s no telling what will happen when we meet our idols, but sometimes you get situations like mine where it exceeded my expectations a thousand times over. I never would have anticipated a reaction from the guy who spent almost ten years of his life making out with super hot actresses on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To me, it was especially wonderful considering the fact that in real life, men totally ignore me. I don’t get asked out. I barely even get compliments from them, so for someone I truly admire and have a crush on to compliment me–genuine or otherwise, but I honestly think he meant it–boosted my confidence to unreal levels for an entire day. That’s something you can’t buy in a store. That’s something worth all the money in the world to me.

I guess what I am trying to say is that please don’t think congoers are insane human beings. Most of us work hard and hustle day in and day out, and so when we finally get to a place where we can spend money on something we truly desire, and it’s a con, it’s definitely worth all the trouble. I fully admit that I have a weird streak in me about meeting famous people, but it comes from my own set of personal problems. It is very hard for me to make friends. The average person that meets me thinks I’m weird, and as I mentioned before, I don’t date much because men apparently find me somewhat underwhelming. To me, meeting my heroes is life-affirming because it gives me stories to tell. Exciting, fun, colorful stories that I wouldn’t have otherwise aside from my fiction. The adventures of my fictional protagonists are many, but my own personal adventures are few and far between, and that’s mainly why I have chosen con life. It’s a chance to bring laughs and joy when I get to talk about these surprisingly down to earth famous folk who make it all worth it. That, if nothing else, is why I do what I do.

Let’s just say that con life ain’t for the faint of heart.