Interview

Interview with Wincon organizer Ethrosdemon

TWC Editor

[0.1] Abstract—TWC interviews Ethrosdemon on Wincon, its functions, and its origins.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Fan convention; Supernatural

TWC Editor. 2010. "Interview with Wincon organizer Ethrosdemon." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0208.

1. Introduction

[1.1] TWC conducted an e-mail interview with Ethrosdemon, founder and organizer of Winchester Convention (now called Wincon). The first Winchester Con was held October 13–15, 2006, in Nashville, Tennessee. The second annual Winchester Con took place on October 12–13, 2007, in Los Angeles, California. The third annual Winchester Con took place on October 17–19, 2008, in Baltimore, Maryland. The fourth annual Wincon took place on October 9–11, 2009, in Denver, Colorado. The convention is small, ranging from just under 100 to no more than 250 attendees at various times.

[1.2] Ethrosdemon is a longtime fan who started in 1995 in Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom and has been an active writer and member of various fan communities ever since. In our interview, she described the convention as follows:

[1.3] Wincon is a by the fans, for the fans operation. Our goal is to provide an annual gathering for SPN fans (focused around the LiveJournal community but certainly anyone can come—we aren't too picky) to come and meet, hang out, discuss the show and the fic written about it, party and have a good time. In other words, a giant slumber party where we can all do the fannish things we do online in person and in our pajamas. No one from the show is affiliated with this convention, nor will there be any appearances by any show actors, writers, or other personnel.

[1.4] The following TWC editorial team members contributed to this interview: Kristina Busse, Karen Hellekson, and guest editor Catherine Tosenberger.

2. Inception and infrastructure

[2.1] Q: What were your initial reasons for setting up a show-based fan convention? You must have started planning as the show was just beginning to gain popularity—the first con was in 2006, when the show had just finished its first season. Did that affect the dynamic at all? Have things changed over the past 4 years, and if so, how?

[2.2] A: The initial reasons for putting on the con are lost to the dust of sound bites and bourbon, but if memory serves me (à la Iron Chef), we wanted to have a big party and talk about how hot Dean was. I think we started planning the con before the hiatus of season 1, actually. So, yes, very early on.

[2.3] The first con was pretty much just me and Estrella30. We winged that on enthusiasm and paint fumes. The second year, Estrella30 was experiencing life changes, so Coiledsoul stepped in to help run the con. Coiledsoul still co-runs Wincon. As far as the con itself changing, no. Until next year, when we go multifandom, the first four were all pretty much the same format in that we had a mix of comical panels and more serious ones, and we have a big party on Saturday night and karaoke on Friday. The show changed; the con did not.

[2.4] Q: Please briefly explain how you use online resources and sites, such as LiveJournal, to set the programming and registration, and indicate how this relates to an online SPN community.

[2.5] A: We've always run the convention through a LiveJournal community. The community name was Winchestercon until last year. Now it's Wincon. We take payment of con fees through PayPal (like everyone). We always send people to the hotel Web site to get the special con rate for rooms. It's nothing special or unique. In 2010, we'll be in Chicago (http://doubletreeoakbrook.com/). Fandom has a high level of Internet acumen, so nothing we're doing here is inventing the space wheel.

Figure 1. Wincon convention badge

Figure 1. Wincon convention badge for Sparkymonster, Denver, Colorado, 2009. Photo by Ethrosdemon. [View larger image.]

[2.6] As far as I know, the Internet is the only tool we use (besides the phone) for organizing. And with the introduction of smart phones, this is all six of one and a fistful of knuts of the other. Wincon has a LiveJournal community; hotel registration is done through a button from the LiveJournal com that leads to the hotel Web site, where we have a special con page; we accept registration fees through PayPal (but we also take checks since that's convenient for some people); we host con photos on Photobucket and Flickr; we have a Twitter account for attendees that we use for the lead-up to the con, during the con to alert or remind attendees of activities, and throughout the year for various reminders. In the democratic manner of the Internet, there are Wincon tags on Delicious, Digg, and other aggregating social media tools.

[2.7] Fans are some of the most Internet-savvy people on the planet, and fandom is created by fans. A natural function of this Internet savviness is that fan culture is heavily tapped in to the newest Web 2.0 platforms. As a matter of fact, I kind of feel that fans breezed through 2.0 before CNN started tweeting back at viewers and have been helping to create Web 3.0 for a while now.

[2.8] Q: How is the con organized? How does it compare to big cons that many people are familiar with, such as Worldcon or Wiscon, besides the fact that there are no actor or writer guests? What sorts of programming and panels are featured? Is there some unique way content is chosen?

[2.9] A: Here I will have to plead some ignorance. The only big con I've ever been to is the biggest of the big, Comic Con. Compared to that? We're chained in a cave watching the shadows of Sam and Dean load their rifles.

[2.10] I don't actually even think the comparison is fair or necessary. We're not a pro con. We're not attempting to be one. That's not the purpose of Wincon (or other fan cons—I've attended several of those). We are for the fans, by the fans. It's all about us, not about the actors or the show's creators. People come to Wincon to hang out in a comfortable environment with other people who are interested in similar media sources. We sit around on couches talking about slash or Dreamwidth pros and cons. Wincon is the Internet in real life, with cake.

[2.11] The con programming is determined by the vicissitudes of my heartburn from barbecue and what's going on with the show. Or this has been the case in the past. This year, we're taking pitches from attendees interested in doing panels. So if you've got a great idea for a Fraggle Rock panel, I'm on Gmail like everyone else.

Figure 2. Con swag

Figure 2. Con swag, Denver, Colorado, 2009. Apocalypse survival box, provided by Dean Winchester. Photo by Ethrosdemon. [View larger image.]

3. Content and context

[3.1] Q: What do you perceive as some of the most popular topics at cons past? Why do you think these topics were of particular interest? What sorts of panels do you offer, and what is their format?

[3.2] A: The types of panels we do at Wincon vary. We do whatever it is that people want. The first year, there was a lot of controversy over John Winchester, Father. And the hot topic was RPS [real person slash] because the first year of SPN fandom was really a breakthrough year with regard to RPS acceptance for many fans—whether that had anything to do with the fandom specifically or whether the show and change of sentiment happened to coincide is impossible to determine conclusively, but I have opinions on the topic, for sure. This year, it was speculation on future story lines.

[3.3] We tend to do a mix-up of more serious topics ("Is John Winchester a bad father?") and silly panels (Tin Hats). The formats for the panels vary depending on the needs of the panelist. There are no hard and fast rules or standard operating procedures for this. All panels are absolutely interactive, with the audience often catcalling the panelists or interjecting from the floor. The atmosphere can get rowdy, but the truth of the matter is that the veil is permeable, because there are no expert/pupil roles at Wincon. We are all equals, all on the same footing, all in the room for the same reason: to share our interest in similar fannish pursuits.

[3.4] An example of interactivity from the 2009 con was that one of the panelists on the "How to Survive the Apocalypse" panel taught the audience Morse code by slapping her thighs and clapping and asking the audience to do likewise—the overwhelming majority of the crowd did (I think the only people who didn't were taking photos of everyone else instead). Because we are changing from a single-fandom con next year to a multifandom one, we are asking attendees to pitch panels they would like to put on, à la Escapade and various other fan cons. Our goals are always inclusivity, the highest level of attendee participation, and good times.

Figure 3. Morse code for fangirls

Figure 3. Morse code for fangirls by Girlguidejones, Denver, Colorado, 2009. Photo by Ethrosdemon. [View larger image.]

[3.5] But the real draws at Wincon are the parties and the wacky stuff we do, like the Tin Hat Pageant and Fic Idol. What are those, you say (or I will pretend you did). Starting in LA, we initiated a yearly tradition, if you will, of giving con attendees tinfoil and allowing them to create their very own actual fact tin hats. We then have a contest on the best hat, and the winner...wins. You would be amazed at the creativity of the attendees.

Figure 4. Winning Tin Hat Pageant entry

Figure 4. Winning Tin Hat Pageant entry, Denver, Colorado, 2009, for entrant Huggenkiss. Photo by Ethrosdemon. [View larger image.]

[3.6] Clearly, this enterprise is a nod toward the fangirl tradition of tin hattery (http://fanlore.org/wiki/Tinhats). This event is hosted by Missyjack (which is part of the joke, because many people believe her to be one of the shiniest of all J2 tin hats). We also have an event called Fic Idol where we parody American Idol, but contestants compete by submitting atrocious, intentional badfic. We're having to institute a word limit next year because people get very enthusiastic about this. Again, we are lambasting ourselves and having a laugh at our own expense. Wincon is not srs bznz.

[3.7] Q: How does the convention deal with some of more problematic points of contention within the fandom? Do you address wank directly? Has it ever caused problems?

[3.8] A: We address wank full on. In our second year in Los Angeles, we had a sock puppet crafting hour and debuted our annual Tin Hat Pageant. For those not in the know, a sock puppet is an avatar or blog created for a specific purpose—usually trolling. In season 1 of Supernatural, we also had a Sock Puppet Day where fans competed with each other by creating ridiculous fake LiveJournal accounts to comment in the journals of fannish friends (there was a pirate, a Puritan, many slash haters, all kinds of wackiness; I was myself a Fall Out Boy fan—oh, the poetic justice there). Every year, we have a contentious panel consisting of a topic fraught with caps lock and fandom outrage.

[3.9] We've hit all of the big wanktastic players as far as SPN fandom goes. In a way, I think it's good for people to actually discuss contentious issues face to face so that they can see that we're all just people, even when we disagree. This is a "your mileage may vary" issue, but panels are not mandatory.

[3.10] Supernatural fandom, like all, is self-policing in a way. By that I mean that I and other visible people involved in the con have a reputation. I don't think any of us have been involved in the major wanks involved in the fandom. We're neutral and not inclined to take sides in the big wars. Because of that, we don't have a problem with the wank on the ground at the con. I'm sure there have been huge fights among attendees (this is fandom, after all), but I've never heard about them. Supernatural has a reputation as a super wanky fandom, but I'm not sure this is as deserved as people (outside of the fandom) believe. We have a core group of attendees, and I think we've all stayed civil since season 1 in large part because we get together every year to party, so why be a hater? We might fall on opposite sides of the spectrum on the Jo issue, but we also shared a cab after karaoke, so I know you're good people.

4. Wincon and more

[4.1] Q: Your con is clearly and purposefully set up as a fan convention. How does this dynamic play out at the convention itself? What do you think are the advantages of fan-run cons versus ones that serve corporate interests, such as Creation Con?

[4.2] A: A con like ours is a completely different beast from an actor con. Both serve their own purposes, and I don't think there is any competition between them, honestly. There is some crossover between the people who attend the cons, but even those people who do both will tell you frankly that the purposes are at wide variance. Actor cons offer access and a certain kind of insider trafficking that fan cons do not. You're not going to come to Wincon and charm Misha Collins into marrying you. You'll probably be exhausted when you leave thanks to sleep dep, however.

[4.3] We're also a labor of love (to use a completely hackneyed phrase). We're not paid. We put on the con year after year as a fan service, like writing fic or vidding. Everyone who pitches in does so because they owe me (ha ha) or they love each other and the fandom. Even at the height of the wank during the writer's strike, when the fandom was eating itself, we had almost as many volunteers as attendees. Wincon is an extension of fandom, one of its many faces, not unlike a big fic challenge or a meme. We're not outside of fandom peering in; we're just a journaling platform in real life hanging out and sharing a plate of fries.

[4.4] There is a gulf between EyeCon or Creation Con and fan-run cons like Wincon. We're as different as a Saint Bernard and a shih tzu. Part of this is the DIY ethic that fandom has a long tradition of (see Escapade, Muskrat Jamboree, Writercon, and all the other fan-run enterprises going strong), which long predates the Internet. Connectivity just makes the planning and ability to reach your audience easier and more centralized.

[4.5] I think having the same nomenclature for events such as Wincon and Creation Con is misleading. We've probably come to the end of the utility of calling both sorts of events by the same name, but we muddle through.

5. Wincon and the Supernatural community

[5.1] Q: You have been in SPN fandom from the very beginning. What are the effects the con has had on the online community—the best and worst? And what effects do the online community have on the con?

[5.2] A: What effects we've had on the fandom is beyond my purview, I have to say. It's hard to be in the eye of the storm and discuss effects 10 miles from you. I think to a certain degree Wincon has drawn together factions of fandom that would have otherwise been oblivious or hostile to each other. I know I'm actually personally much more knowledgeable about Australia because of the con—this is a random trading card fact, but at the same time it's an example of the butterfly effect of fannish pursuits.

[5.3] As far as the online community affecting the con itself—well, there wouldn't be one without LiveJournal. We began on LiveJournal, and we've stayed there. I imagine this will continue indefinitely. Personally, I interact with many people online solely for Wincon, and I imagine that this is the case for many attendees and volunteers. The Internet has a very different texture when you know the human being behind the LiveJournal handle. I don't think there's a way to discuss the Internet's effects on the con because Wincon itself is simply an extension of the Internet.

[5.4] Q: How has organizing the con affected your personal and fannish relationships with others? In terms of your role as an organizer of the con, what do you think your responsibilities are to the fan community in general? Does the professionalism required to, for example, execute financial transactions or keep fan versus real-life names confidential affect your personal interactions?

[5.5] A: Let's be honest here. I behave myself much better since I started putting on Wincon (which anyone who knows me marvels over). I think three times before I wade into any conversation that can devolve into hair pulling and wank_report posting. Whether this is all the con or whether I'm just old now is too knotted up to parse. I am the public face for something larger than myself, and I don't feel that it's worth it anymore to alienate people who could be friends and con attendees and who could be friends of my friends. This isn't for myself but because I love the people who come to the con so much. I suck it up and wear my big girl pants and don't post in rage caps lock on coms YOU SUCK AND YOUR OPINIONS SUCK AND I HATE YOU DIEDIEDIE, even when I want to.

[5.6] However, I don't think I necessarily have a responsibility to anyone, let alone fandom in general. We put on a con, which we do out of love for the people who attend year after year. The first year, it was out of fannish enthusiasm, but the second year, it was because we wanted to give all the people who came the first year (and the new people who had just gotten into the fandom) a chance to meet with current friends and to meet new ones. My responsibility to fandom begins and ends with making sure that attendees get charged the right hotel fees and their breakfast tickets. I think probably responsibility is where I'm being held up here. We put on Wincon not out of obligation but out of love. In the same way I'm not obliged to write prompt fics from memes or to participate in the Yuletide fic exchange, I'm not obliged to put on the con. Everyone who puts on a fan con does it out of the same spirit as community builders or challenge makers—we're all in this together, and someone has to do the fandom husbandry, so why not me?

[5.7] As far as my real name goes, everyone knows it anyway. I feel that the pseudonymity of fandom has become more and more porous over the years, to the point where so many of us (in certain fannish circles) know each other anyway that we don't bother using LiveJournal handles as names. Supernatural has been like that as a fandom from Day One because so many of us knew each other in real life (the fandom builders, I mean).

[5.8] And that's the actual story of Wincon. So many of us knew each other in real life during season 1 that we wanted to get together and have a party. Five years later, we're still throwing the party.





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