RICC 2018 and Harassment

Where do we draw the line between socially awkward and creepy? How bad does something have to get to be considered harassment?

When I think about my experiences at Rhode Island Comic Con last weekend, there is no point where I felt unsafe or feared for my physical presence, but there were several points where–had things gone any farther or had I been a less confident person–I would have felt unsafe.

The first thing you should know is that this year marks the first time I’ve moved out of my cosplay comfort zone. In years past, every day was a Kaylee day, wearing different coveralls (or her cupcake dress) for the majority of my weekend with other, smaller projects  (like Katniss from Hunger Games and Lydia Martin from Teen Wolf) on minor days or not at all. The constant barrage of “You know who you look so much like?” and “You know who you should cosplay?” made it so I stuck to Kaylee until April of last year. I love Kaylee but I want to have fun with other characters like the other costumes I love and want to wear. So I said to hell with it. My most ambitious show was Chicago Comic Con in August where I wore 4 different characters/costumes over 4 days.

One of these costumes is Zoya the Destroya, a character played by Alison Brie on the Netflix original G.L.O.W. She wears a metallic-red, one armed leotard, with a black fur ushanka, leather belt with the hammer and sickle, and black leather boots. I love this costume because of the way I get to experiment with  hair and makeup; these are more extensive than anything I’ve done before. I also love poses that encourage me to move beyond smiling and holding my parasol. Zoya shows more skin than any other cosplay I’ve done and, until Rhode Island Comic Con, I never felt like this was a problem. I still don’t feel like it’s a problem and I’m not gonna stop wearing a costume I feel comfortable in, but what the hell happened?Zoya at RICC 2018

I’ve been trying to rationalize why, at this small convention instead of bigger conventions I’ve been to, two men approached me and made me feel icky and gross. Was this convention different because I wasn’t walking with a friend/handler? Are people in New England just odd? I was able to safely get out of both situations but I felt trapped in the moment and I’m still not sure how to address what happened.

In the first instance while walking the show floor with a friend, a man repeatedly shouted for me to slow down despite the fact that I was not walking fast. When I did, he asked what character I was dressed as, then instructed my friend to take a full body picture of him with me where he wanted to put his arm around me but didn’t verbally ask. I responded,  “I’m not comfortable being touched” (When asked politely for Zoya pics, I actually don’t mind putting someone into a headlock for the photo!)

He handed my friend what looked like an ancient gameboy DS (though I am unfamiliar with handheld video game devices) and my friend did his best to step backwards into surging crowds to snap a pic. My friend and I attempted to leave after the first photo but the man accosted us for not getting a full body picture which we then refused, stating that it was too busy. The man aggressively apologized, saying “I’m sorry I yelled, I’m sorry that I was acting in a way you thought was rude, I just wanted a picture!”

He later found me talking with friends at a booth, got his full body picture, and then showed up to my panel about Comic Con-ing on a Budget where he asked if the costume contest at New York Comic Con was always on Sunday. It’s not, and that’s not even the convention we were currently attending. After the panel, I was chatting with a few folks from the audience who had relevant questions and the man interrupted to ask if his questions were good. I told him they were not.

But that’s the small scale problem dude. The second experience I had at Rhode Island Comic Con was far more insidious.

It started with me walking by myself around the Dunkin Donuts floor, about to head downstairs to check on the autograph lines when an older man with a camera asked me what was downstairs. Since I had walked the show floor in its entirety on Friday, I was pretty good at giving directions.
Me: “The bigger name celebrities and more vendors.”
He: “Where are the smaller name celebrities?”
Me: “Upstairs, near the Star Wars stuff.”
He: “Oh, do you do these often?”

This is where the conversation shifted from me politely offering directions to this man making me uncomfortable. “Yup.” I said, hoping to signal I was done with the conversation so I could get on with my day. But no, he continued.
He: “What are you dressed as?”
Me: “Zoya. From GLOW.”
He: “Loya??”
Me: “Zoya. With a Z.” I motioned with my hands.
He: “Oh Zoya! Do you mind if I get a picture?”

I didn’t mind a picture. I made a snap decision that I didn’t feel unsafe, I was proud of my hair, makeup and costume, and I didn’t mind this guy taking one picture. He held up his camera and took the shot. While he adjusted his camera settings, I took the opportunity to try to get pumpkin seed shell out of my teeth.
He: “Oh are you chewing gum? Will you blow a bubble for me?”
Me: “Nope, I have pumpkin seed in my teeth.”
He: “Oh.”

At this point he took a second picture and showed it to me. I didn’t care.

He: “Have you ever modeled?”
Me: “Not since I was a kid.”
He: “Are you interested in it?”
Me: “Nope I have a full time job.”
He: “I’ve actually shot some models, you know, BBW stuff, not that that’s you, or there’s anything wrong with being that.”

I now looked for any possible reason in the world to walk away from this man who made me step to the side for his picture and was now in the way of me leaving.
Me: “I have a full time job that I enjoy.” I was actively glaring.
He: “Did you see my hat?” He was wearing a beanie that said ‘Smile.’ I bared my teeth and left.

Did I feel that my life or person were in danger in either of these scenarios? No. In both situations, I attempted several times to verbally and non-verbally suggest my discomfort, but what do you do in a situation like this? It isn’t so bad that I felt the need to go to security, but it makes me second guess even speaking to people who ask directions on the show floor. With first guy, I didn’t feel like he had the capacity to understand the social connotations of harassing someone on the show floor, so my direct (if brusque) language was the best I could manage at the time. With the latter, a friendly gesture turned into me knowing this man was thinking about me in a sexual manner. I felt violated, and maybe I should have told him that what he was asking was incredibly inappropriate given the setting we were in. But I needed to get away. Do you go to security for something like this? Do you leave it alone and let men go on doing the same thing to other people? Do you make a scene to try to attract the attention of anyone nearby? I don’t have the answers, but I do have to rethink how I approach conventions on my own in the future.

To Rhode-ly Go: RICC 2016

AKF in front of RICC backdrop
AKF at RICC 2016

Another year, another Rhode Island Comic Con, the convention which wraps up all of my conventions for the year. This year, it was much less of a hectic travel for me (though I did drive about 3hrs from Albany to the Rhode Island on Thursday evening) compared to last year. Having attended RICC consistently since 2013 (the con’s 2nd year in existence), I have seen changes made for better and for worse.

I have made myself more available as a speaker at conventions this year. I realized last year that I know enough to talk authoritatively about Firefly and other aspects of geekdom, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply for a panel. I loved presenting and I want to keep hosting panels forever. At RICC, I debuted a new panel I am really proud of: ‘What Not To Ask at a Celebrity Q&A.’ This panel needs some refinement (but so did my Firefly panel when I first did that back at Chicago Comic Con 2016), but I hope to bring it to more cons in 2017. I also ran ‘The Expanding Firefly ‘Verse’ with Laurel of FuckYeahFirefly.com who happens to be one of my best friends. We streamed the event on Facebook live and it’s on my facebook page.

Though our Firefly panel went really well, we did struggle because we weren’t give a projector. My panels always feature slideshows for visual aid (especially in the Firefly panel, since it’s much easier to show pictures of Firefly merch rather than bringing all the merch with me– I would have been really out of luck if this weren’t a local convention!) AND help those who are hard of hearing or visual learners instead of auditory learners. Plus, I include links to everything to help folks find the merch I promote, which are basically impossible to see without a larger projection than just my laptop screen. Prior to RICC, I had only presented at Wizard World conventions but, for all of the conventions I have submitted to, I am guaranteed a projector for my A/V needs. I hope in the future, RICC can make that happen for panelists or clarify that audio-visual tools are limited so panelists like me can make other plans.

Other than that A/V snafu, the room sizes were about perfect for my anticipated audience size  and receiving vendor badges made it so much easier to get through security faster (which was a big help, when I was almost late to my Saturday panel because the parking was so terrible). However, more folks would have shown up to my panels if we were scheduled a little better and if the schedule was clearer. RICC is the only convention I know of that does not make the  schedule available in the program books you receive at the convention. These program books should absolutely have the schedule in them. The only place to find the programming schedule was on RICC’s website (which is kind of an eyesore and takes forever to load), the very glitchy mobile app, or posters throughout the con that only mentioned events for that day. There was no place with a map that listed exactly what events were where. Instead, RICC had maps on poster boards in random places that had the layout and numbers but didn’t list which vendors correlated with which numbers or where to find the celebrity meet-and-greets.

Like last year, RICC took place both in the convention center and in the adjacent Dunkin Donuts stadium (“The Dunk”). Most of the vendors and some of the “smaller” celebs were in the main hall at the convention center. I say “smaller” in quotation marks because they considered Brent Spiner (Data in Star Trek TNG) and Summer Glau (River Tam in Firefly and Serenity) – among others! – “smaller” celebrities. These are practically household names for nerds like me! The main hall also featured artists alley, and the entirety was laid out in columns instead of rows, so navigating was incredibly difficult.

RICC Traffic
This was really low traffic, comparatively.

Like last year, other celebrities were in the stadium, though these folks (and their lines) were on the actual rink rather than being in the circle surrounding it (the opposite of last year). One of the vendors in the ring around the rink said that sales had been really good in this area, which surprised me because that area was a pain to get to for convention attendees. Though there is a sky bridge that connects the Dunk to the convention center, it was going ONE WAY, from the Dunk to the convention center. If you wanted to see a celeb or vendor in the Dunk, you had to go outside the convention center to walk to the Dunk. While I walked the main hall floor a whole bunch of times, I only ventured over to the Dunk twice over the whole weekend due to the one-way sky bridge. It makes more sense to me to lay that out the opposite way, and push traffic into the Dunk to make the convention center less busy, which is an issue for RICC every year.

Another issue was photo-ops. Laurel was really excited to get a professional photo with Summer Glau, who has rarely offered them in the past, but was hugely disappointed by what she ended up with, and the work she had to do to get it. Though RICC claimed to offer  photo-op sales online (which could be purchased in advance), Laurel couldn’t find one for Summer so she had to buy it at the con. At the convention, staffers almost wouldn’t let her buy a photo-op because they claimed to have capped all photo-op sales by Saturday morning. At RICC (like most cons) photo-ops and autographs are cash only. Because Laurel didn’t have  any cash on hand Friday, she figured she could get cash first thing in the morning to pay for a photo-op since RICC offered both Saturday and Sunday photo-ops with Summer. Eventually, staff let her purchase one but the result was awful. When the time for the picture came, the lighting was horrible, the photographer framed the picture poorly, and it even came out blurry. When Laurel asked to re-take the photo, they said the best they could do was re-print the same picture in portrait rather than landscape. She decided to cut her losses and roll with the crappy photo she received. Suffice to say, I recommend against purchasing “professional” photo-ops at RICC.

FYF and Summer Glau

The “vendor” vs. “artist alley” organization made very little sense since a lot of the vendors in the Dunk seemed like they would fit really nicely into an Artists’ Alley section. A friend commented that she was disappointed there wasn’t more focus on the artists. We had gone to NYCC together and loved everything in ‘The Block,’ which includes a lot more grunge-y art work and where I spent most of my money on enamel pins. We also noted that bigger cons like NYCC feature panels about diversity and RICC hasn’t caught onto that yet. At NYCC,  I didn’t feel the need to attend many of the feminist/POC/queer panels since we’d seen them in the past, but we both agreed that it’s definitely something that should be present at every convention, RICC included.

Yet again, I don’t understand why RICC splits the celebs and vendors up. The celebrities should all be in one building with the vendors/artists’ alley in another. Every other convention does it that way, rather than arbitrarily splitting up the celebrities. One person argued that putting vendors in one building and celebs in another would result in attendees who were just interested in meeting celebs never visiting the vendor hall, but I really don’t think that’s an issue. If those con-goers want to see a panel, they’ll be in the con hall. If they want to buy a photo to get signed, they’ll be in the con hall. Plus, if they are spending $50-$75 PLUS the price of a photo-op or autograph, they’re likely to walk the con hall just to get their money’s worth. And if they don’t want to see the vendors, that’s their prerogative, as a paying convention attendee.

All that being said, I don’t imagine RICC will go anywhere else anytime soon. The convention center is the largest in RI. Though it screws up traffic in the area for those three days, it’s good to see so much seating & eating available in the vicinity. Being next to the mall is great when you need a break and don’t want to spend $4 on a bottle of water in the convention center. This convention also seemed a lot less busy than last year’s RICC and I think it may have had to do with cancellations from some of the bigger name guests (like Billie Piper). I think it’s a good idea for RICC to feature only 1 or 2 bigger name guests, because it makes the traffic much less horrible and allows the con to focus its energy on spotlighting those special guests. I intend to attend RICC again in 2017 and I hope it continues to grow and change into the con that I believe it can be.

Would you like AKF to attend/present or promote your geeky items at a convention? Learn how right here.

From Thrift Store to Your Door: (Part of) My Etsy Business

I’ve been selling on Etsy since 2012, and have learned a few things over the past several years. Curious about my process? Read on!

ACQUIRING THE CLOTHES
Before I purchase ANYTHING, I go through reference photos I’ve saved in my Google Drive or bookmarked in Chrome. This way, I have access to them on my desktop, laptop, and phone, depending if I’m home or on the go. If I am looking for something specific or looking to modify something for a costume, having these references readily available helps refresh the image in my head so I know what to look for.

When I visit my hometown Chicago, I have 8 or 9 stores that I visit all in one go. It usually takes all day and involves multiple snack breaks! In Rhode Island (where I now live), I have 4 Savers within a 20 minutes drive. The prices at Savers aren’t as good as the Chicago stores, but they are closer to me (one of them is within walking distance) and I check them more frequently. I walk through the aisles of t-shirts and knits, looking for anything that reminds me of Kaylee or features motifs similar to the show. I also keep an eye out for anything especially reminiscent of River, Zoe, and Inara. Once I find and purchase all the clothes, the hard work begins.

PHOTOS
20160529_134937The next step is to take pictures of EVERYTHING. In Chicago, my sister helps me out; in RI, I get assistance from one of my housemates. I do my best to take photos outside in natural light, because these look the best & showcase the colors of the clothing really well. If there’s an item of clothing that is too small for me, I take pictures of it on another model (usually my housemate or my sister). I try to get at least 3 or 4 different poses, and multiple pictures of each pose (because I blink a LOT). I also take close-up detail pictures of shirts so that customers can get an idea of the patterns on them.

Once I’ve gotten pictures of everything, I transfer them to my computer and do a preliminary cull. This is where I delete anything blurry, where I’m blinking, or the clothing doesn’t appear flattering. I pick 3-4 photos that I like the best of each item (plus the detail shot), and then transfer these into Photoshop, where I do a very basic edit to clean up colors, contrast, brightness, etc. Here, I also crop images so that they focus more on the shirts that I am trying to sell than on the background or anything else in the frame.

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DESCRIPTIONS

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After I am happy with the pictures, I rename everything to describe it (for example, Peacock shirt 1 for the first picture of the peacock shirt). In some cases (like the Zoe belt I am currently offering), I also  take a few measurements to accurately describe the products. After that, I start the tedious process of uploading these pieces to Etsy.

In Etsy, I have to specify a ton of information before I can save items as drafts; things like what ‘type’ of item it is, who is going to use it, how big it is to calculate shipping, and more.Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 2.50.25 PM I take the time to fill this out. My favorite part of the listing process is writing a description; I get to imagine how Kaylee came to own each of the shirts I’ve picked out, or on what she occasions she might wear them.

SHIPPING

Part of adding listings to Etsy includes figuring out how to ship items & how much it will cost. Luckily, Etsy can often provide the shipping information for me when I fill in certain details.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 2.44.51 PM When items are ordered from Etsy, I get 2 emails. One from Paypal (since all my Etsy funds go there), and one from Etsy. The Paypal email goes into a folder labeled ‘receipts’ so that I can track how much I made & relate that to my taxes. The second email stays unread in my inbox until I am ready to ship; once it ships that email gets deleted.

I will almost always use Etsy to purchase shipping labels, since it keeps it all in one nice spot, and I get an email receipt. I can then print the label, and schedule a pick-up through USPS so I don’t have to find a time to get to the post office. And then items are off to their new homes! With almost 80 reviews and 4.5 stars on Etsy, hopefully I am doing something right.

Are there any questions you have about my process? Comment and let me know!

Rhode Island Comic Con 2015 + Photos of shows!

My journey to Rhode Island Comic Con this year started on Thursday. I woke up at 7:30 in the morning, which was really too early since my class didn’t start til 10 am, but I was way excited to be heading back to the east coast! I had class from 10-2 and boy, that dragged on. After class, I took a quick nap before heading to a training at work, which was supposed to be at 5:30. I worked til 12:30 and then headed home, red bull in hand. My flight was at 7am on Friday, and so I had to get there around 6am, and to do that, I had to take the 5:15 bus to the airport. So I figured I should just stay up all night, and sleep on the 5 hr flight.

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MISTAKE. Do they keep making the seats less comfortable and smaller, or am I imagining it? Usually I go for window seats, because they are the best to sleep in, but the window seats on this plane were way in the back, so I opted for a middle seat as close to the front as possible. The guy in the window seat next to me didn’t get the memo that if you have the window you need to not get up (TWICE!) and make the rest of the people in your row get up. Suffice to say, I had next to no sleep on that flight, and my neck and shoulders hate me.

Once in Boston, I headed straight for the commuter rail out to Rhode Island. An hour and change later, I was in Providence! I met up with friends and went straight to the convention center, where they had yet to set up the main exhibitors room. What the heck. We were there from around 7 to at least 8:30, when our set up only took a half hour at most. We finally headed home and I fell asleep so hard.

Saturday, RKO performed The Devil’s Carnival, REPO: The Genetic Opera, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in room 554b, a room about half the size of the room we had last year-this was frustrating point number 2. Frustrating point number 1 was that RICC would only give RIMG_20151107_120254KO Army a total of 20 badges, and wanted us to perform 7 shows over the course of the weekend. While smaller shows, like Rocky and Firefly Out Of Gas can be performed with that limited a number of badges, bigger shows like Repo and Jaynestown are next to impossible. Several people in RKO ended up buying badges for the weekend (even though they wouldn’t get to enjoy the convention at all, since they were performing almost the entire time), and other people had to stress out and switch badges. Especially since RICC this year had done a tap-in-tap-out badge system, you couldn’t get in if your badge wasn’t scanned that you got out. It makes sense for not letting people sneak in, but really screwed us over. We were also supposed to get wristbands, as performers, so we could enter through any entrance. Never happened.

I photographed TDC, which went pretty well, and then headed over to the food court in the adjacent mall, in hopes I could grab food for people. Performers in TDC technically had an hour between that and REPO, but many of them had significant make-up and costume changes, and thus would not have a lot of time to eat, if they went and got food. The food court was busy, which was to be expected, but I didn’t even get back until after REPO started. A friend was in both TDC and REPO, and was one of the people I grabbed food for, and he ended up crouched backstage eating the burger I brought him between scenes.

Between REPO and Rocky, we had a bit more time, and I got to actually walk the show floor. This year, RICC inhabited not only the Rhode Island Convention Center, but the Dunkin Donuts center as well. The main exhibitor’s floor, in the convention center, was about the size of Wizard World Philadelphia (at least the year I went) or the upstairs (horror fest? Bruce Campbell fest? I have no idea) portion of Chicago Comic Con this year. It included many artists and exhibitors, some of the smaller celebrity autograph lines, and Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston. I believe the photo-ops were also on that floor. Upstairs, as usual, a band played for a portion of time, and the panels went on.

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Apparently the main entrance was in the Dunkin Donuts center. The first floor was a circle of artists/fan tables/exhibitors? I’m not sure, because I never got a map, and apparently there wasn’t one. Looking at the website, I couldn’t find one at all,the floorplan link doesn’t link anywhere.  There were two places on that main floor to go down a floor lower. On the lower floor, the stadium housed a bunch more exhibitors, and in a semi circle outside THAT, there were more exhibitors, as well as rooms with other celebrities, like all the Sons of Anarchy people. The Batmobile was down there, as well, if I remember correctly.

Speaking with other exhibitors, we all didn’t get why it was laid out the way it was. I spent less than a half hour in the Dunkin Donuts center, because it was a pain to get to. It would have worked better if they used that space for autographs and photo-ops, and maybe the vehicles (as Wizard World conventions often do), and kept all the exhibitors/artists/fan tables in the RI Convention Center. People would travel between the two, because most people want to buy things AS WELL AS see celebrities.

Sunday, we had Out of Gas at noon. About 6 people were in the audience, which was unsurprising because there was NO mention of RKO Army ANYWHERE in the program, and only a tiny mention at the bottom of a webpage on the site about it. We still kicked butt, and then headed into Jaynestown about 10 minutes after it ended. It was actually really fun doing both shows, especially because I haven’t done them in such a while. And I totally killed the quick change in Out of Gas that is the bane of my existence.

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There was an hour break before Buffy started up, and I wasn’t in Buffy or Dr. Horrible, which was our final show of the con. My friend and I went into the mall and sat down to a slower lunch. We also grabbed food for folks, and dropped it off with them before leaving the con early.

If you know me, you know I have almost never left a con early (unless it’s a Monday con, like Arisia, where there is almost no programming on the last day of the convention). I bought nothing at the convention, and generally spent the whole time exhausted. I ended up sleeping until 2:30pm on Monday. Maybe it was because I had done 2 conventions in 2 weekends, but I think it was more likely that Rhode Island Comic Con was ridiculously busy and spread apart, and it just wasn’t enjoyable to travel between the two sections. From the point of view of a convention-goer, RICC was way better than last year. From the point of view of a guest of the convention, it was way worse. I hope they figure out a happy medium for next year.

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