It’s been several years since I went to a convention as big as C2E2, and I have to admit: I was a bit nervous. Massive crowds are not my favorite thing, and I remember walking and walking and being in lines and walking more from the anime conventions I attended in high school. (I bet you have a strong idea of what kind of teen I was after reading that sentence!) Cons are also an exhausting experience for us introverts, which I am sure will surprise no one now that we’ve all taken ten thousand buzzfeed quizzes about our Myers-Briggs types. Because of all these reservations I didn’t think C2E2 was going to be awesome, but dear readers? It was awesome.
I technically attended C2E2 as a library professional, but it was incredibly fruitful from both a library and a comics perspective. There were a generous amount of panels aimed at educators and librarians – I attended four and could have attended more – and all were well organized, informative and enjoyable. (I livetweeted Books As Flint: Using Graphic Novels to Spark Political Activism, so you can check out that thread to get an idea.) While walking Artist’s Alley on Sunday, I met a bunch of creators – many of whom were self-publishers I’d also expect to see at shows like SPX! – who are making exciting work, and made several connections that will be beneficial to my work in both the library and in comics. Industry professionals: if you are considering this show, I actually really recommend it!
That being said, I’m now going to talk about all the things that were not awesome. To return to the issue of dense crowds, please engage in this brief Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story:
Chapter 1: The Entryway
You’ve just hopped off a bus, crossed a wide patio, and made your way to a huge, intimidating building surrounded by people dressed as Rick Motherfucking Sanchez and Rey from The Force Awakens. After plunging through the front doors you are greeted by a giant lobby, two sets of escalators, and a staircase. How do you proceed?
Option A: Brave the crowds and head up the escalators! I’m here, aren’t I? A crowd full of people with big props that might hit me in the head is no sweat! Besides, I’m just going to wander the show floor. Proceed to the paragraph right after Option B.
Option B: No can do, gotta find those elevators! I’m on my way to a panel and I’m late! Skip the next paragraph and read the one after it.
A: Congratulations, you’ve made it through the crowd, past a DJ booth that you did not think would be there but that is surrounded by adorable dancing children, and into a massive queue! Once you make onto the actual show floor, you take a deep breath and pull out your handy map. Cool, the tables have numbers! Wait, they… kind of don’t make sense? Well, the rows sort of do? Artist Alley seems pretty logical, but it’s all the way on the other side! What’s going on?!
B: OK, you found the elevator, and you’ve made it to the fourth floor! Oh dear, you are on the opposite side of the building from the meeting rooms, and you’re already ten minutes late for this panel! RUN!
Spoilers: Both these things happened to me! Neither experience is unusual for a convention of this size, but both are notable for different reasons. First, Option A made me really appreciate something I’d experienced at Chicago Zine Fest (CZF). CZF offers a quiet reading room full of zines, chairs and tables, where you can sit in silence, read, and escape the din of a convention for a while. That opportunity to sit in a chair and take a deep breath is invaluable. C2E2 has previously offered quiet rooms, but if they had one this year, it must have been hard to find. Additionally, attendees can try to find some quiet time to sit on the ground on an upper floor or potentially before a less popular panel, but that space can be rare, especially on Saturday. I encourage all big conventions to offer quiet reading rooms, which can offer safe haven to folks with mental health issues related to crowds and noise.
The issues surrounding Option B aren’t necessarily anything C2E2 staff can avoid; I have no idea if the convention center lets them pick their meeting rooms, and I don’t remember if there even were meeting rooms closer to the elevators. However, if you have a disability that requires you to use an elevator, chances are you’ll also benefit from a shorter walk to the meeting room. As an able-bodied person I can’t really speak to accessibility issues beyond this, but if you have concerns about accessibility at C2E2, I encourage you to comment about them!
Switching gears, I’d like to discuss a picture I tweeted that got passed around a bit over the weekend:
— Alenka (@alenkafiga) April 21, 2017
Keep in mind that seemingly innocuous things like signs make a big difference. Sam Orchard outlines this brilliantly in his comic Invisible Students; queer and trans people will look for signs that it is safe to openly be ourselves in a space before we fully come out – for lack of a better phrase – in that space. Signs matter in both a literal and figurative sense; that’s why something like the Cosplay is Not Consent signs – which C2E2 does have posted outside the show floor – matter.
There’s a lot going on, here. First, as @SlayZeKyriarchy noted on Twitter, trans people can be hetero! They can, in fact, be any sexuality! The use of the LGBT acronym in this context suggests that the organizers don’t understand the difference between gender and sexuality, which is pretty embarrassing. Also, if we’re talking about making trans people feel welcome and safe, C2E2’s gender neutral bathrooms were pretty difficult to find. I never spotted them, but a couple attendees have pointed out that they were tucked away near the food court.
Second, offering four time slots for straight people and only one for queer people is just rude. It’s like offering scraps; straight people can arrange their schedules pretty easily, but queer people only get one chance. I have so many questions about this, but mainly I’m wondering if the mindset is, “oh, well queer people don’t seem to like the speed dating, anyway!” If that is what’s going on, C2E2, may I suggest that no one likes speed dating because speed dating is terrible?!
Anyway. While I have my Social Justice Warrior hat on (it has very sharp spikes), let me share one more photo I’m trying to wrap my mind around:
This is a screenshot of my Google calendar, with all the panels I’d hoped to attend on Saturday listed. What’s not pictured is the fantastic panel I attended Friday night, titled “More Than a Sidekick: Expanding Visibility for Asian American Characters and Creators in Comics,” which was at 8PM. Now, I realize that scheduling is difficult and at a convention of this size there’s always going to be stuff that you miss, but when I compare the library related panels I attended to the social justice panels I attended, there’s a difference. I had time to make all of the library panels if I wanted to, but on Saturday I had to miss three of these panels because the one I livetweeted was smack dab in the middle of that block.
I’m don’t think this scheduling issue was intentional. The social justice themed panels C2E2 offered were relatively nuanced; there was no generic “Women in Comics” panel, but rather “She Changed Comics,” which was sponsored by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) and focused on censorship. Rather, this structure suggests that the organizers didn’t think attendees interested in discussing race and racism would also be interested in discussing sexuality or activism, which doesn’t make sense. Numbers also matter; the more people who attend a panel, the more organizers will consider similar panels worth planning. However, when you make your attendees choose between topics that have traditionally been absent from convention programming, you guarantee that those numbers will be lower than they could have been.
I realize that this seems like a largely negative description of C2E2, but I want to reiterate that I had a fabulous time, and found it really beneficial professionally to attend! The nature of the programming offered, the Cosplay is Not Consent banners, and the presence of comics creators from all over the publishing spectrum were all wonderful aspects of the con that show the organizers are thoughtful and aware of the diversity of comics fans. However, each of these issues – scheduling, signage and accessibility – are not only ones that C2E2 can improve, but are also issues that come up in dozens of other conventions. The work that has been done to open up conventions to the wide array of fans is appreciated, but there’s still more to be done.
This article originally stated that C2E2 had zero gender neutral bathrooms, which was not true, and didn’t note that the con has previously offered quiet rooms. It has been amended to correct these errors.