Is a return to normalcy for fan conventions coming?
As millions of COVID-19 vaccines are being administered across the country, could a return to normalcy for fan conventions be on the horizon? Perhaps, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
For over a year now, conventions (like many recreational events) have been on hold, and aside from the obvious fan disappointment, the cancellations have put the squeeze on hotels, vendors, artists, and yes… authors. In 2019, I attended and sold at over a dozen conventions across the Midwest from Michigan to Oklahoma. To say 2020 put a cramp in my style is putting it lightly. It felt like slamming into a brick wall. Demicon’s cancellation meant I had to rethink my launch of the long-anticipated The Weller - Fear of the Dark. With the bulk of my book sales coming from face-to-face sales at conventions, I soon began to feel the financial effects as well as the psychological ones.
For those who don’t know me personally, I live in a relatively remote, rural area of southeast Iowa. My closest neighbor drives a horse and buggy. I work from home. Needless to say, I’m going a little stir crazy, as I’m sure most of you are. I’m definitely ready for a return to pre-pandemic life, or at least something resembling it.
We’ve come so far, made so many sacrifices. It would be a shame if it was all for naught thanks to a hasty, ill-advised reopening. We need to think this through and make a few sacrifices (I hear you groaning) if we’re going to make conventions in late 2022 (as well as late 2021) safer for everyone.
I’m not going to speculate on mask or vaccination requirements, although if you follow me on social media, my thoughts on those topics are well documented. No, for now let’s just focus on the aspect of conventions that I feel poses the most risk to attendees: Room parties.
To outsiders, fan conventions have a reputation for being endless lines of costumed nerds with poor social skills seeking autographs and collectibles. And they certainly can be that, but they’re also so much more. There are panels, workshops, film screenings, games, costume contests, and of course room parties. Some cons’ party scenes are relatively laid back social affairs with clever, fannish snacks and cocktails like Demicon or ICON in Iowa, but then others are literal raves where booze flows freely, like CONvergence or Anime Detour in Minnesota. But regardless of which type of room party you attend, there’s generally one constant: wall-to-wall perspiring fans crammed into a hotel suite.
As much as we miss these mini-benders, I think it’s clear they’ll need to be put on the back burner until the long-term effects of COVID and the vaccines are known, at least through 2022. And as inconvenient as it may be, I think changes need to be made to hospitality/consuites to minimize contamination risks. There’s no room in a post-COVID world for unsupervised buffet-style spreads with open bowls of potato chips and simmering slow cookers full of soup and nacho cheese. For the foreseeable future, it would be wise for conventions to invest instead in individual-serving, prepackaged snacks and even encourage attendees to bring their own.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a ways off, and until we know whether it’s a true signal of better times or a freight train barreling toward us, we need to exercise caution. In my opinion, if we incorporate our masks into our cosplays, maintain social distancing when possible, and dutifully practice proper hand washing, we can achieve at least some semblance of normalcy and get back to getting our geek on!
Stay safe and healthy, friends. I hope to see you all at the next con.