The A-Kon Effect: good vibrations

A-Kon was, as usual, great fun. The recession doesn’t seem to have hit fandom as hard as other areas of society: people cling to their communities of comfort. When you don’t know how the year is going to pan out in terms of school, rent or car payments, a weekend away from it all in the alternate universe of fandom is a welcome escape.

The con felt as big and vibrant and action-packed as last year’s, with numbers possibly up a little. The halls were packed, the people engaging.

I was kissed by Vic Mignogna at the Banquet, though so far this has not made me a target for the small but alarming Mignogna extremist minority. (I was also wowed by his Wolverine cosplay.) There were many artist guests showing intriguing work: my favourite artistic memory is of Bruce Lewis turning out shojo portraits in the Artists’ Alley, working so fast that the paper almost scorched under his burning Copic marker. The Japanese bands were hot. The writer guests were their usual clever, witty selves. (Gloria Oliver is terrific, and how can anyone not be a Lee Martindale fan?)

But there’s another A-Kon, happening behind the event the fans see: the staff A-Kon, the job they’ve been doing for twenty years now, getting the show on the road and keeping all the plates spinning so that thousands of people can have fun for 72 action-packed hours. Only rarely does anyone at the con get a glimpse of the framework that supports the pleasure-dome.

The A-Kon staff, from the senior execs to the newest gopher, did a great job. The security team, the medical crew, the info desk, all ran – to outside eyes at least – like clockwork. The guest relations team were a miracle, combining personality and joie de vivre with Stepford Wife levels of  efficiency and concern for their guests’ comfort.

For the past few years I’ve fronted the A-Kon charity auction. I stand up and hustle dollars out of people’s pockets for various good causes – this year it was the Dallas Family Shelter. I love doing it, and I’m always glad to see the same faces turn up year after year, knowing they’ll find some great stuff, and maybe even get a bargain unless I can ramp up the bidding. In this I am usually aided and abetted by my lovely assistants Steve Kyte and Dr. Marc Hairston, who display the goods to the audience, label purchases for collection and sometimes goof around to get  things going if bids are a little slow. (They have even been known to buy a few items, sometimes ones they actually intended to bid on.)

The real work, of course, was done by a member of the A-Kon team. Skippy-chan, aka Rory Lee, was organiser, mastermind and chief extortioner. He solicited most of the  items to auction, got them to the auction hall, kept the records, took the cash and did most of the work.  He’s been working on the auction for as long as I have, and he’s the main reason for its success.

This time around we raised $2,700, the nicest couple of grand I’ve earned this year. Among those who generously donated were several British authors. Jonathan Clements and Steve Kyte signed a copy of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis and Steve added a unique extra illustration inside the front cover. Colin Odell and Michelle LeBlanc gave a signed copy of their recent Studio Ghibli, which attracted much attention as it’s unavailable in American bookshops. Simon Richmond kindly sent a copy of his Rough Guide to Anime, but it was lost en route by the US Mail. Luckily, we had so many donations from the retailers and companies trading at the convention that we still had plenty to offer.

Some people don’t see the point of a charity auction at a convention, but in a weekend of unrestrained hedonism and self-indulgence I think it’s good to divert a little of that luxury expenditure to a good cause. For me, it’s one of the highlights of A-Kon. Like everything else that weekend, it couldn’t happen without a lot of work from a lot of people whose main reward seems to be seeing everyone around them have a good time.

So from one of those good-timers: thanks!

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