Tuesday, 11 August 2015

ConBravo: 2015

I’m going to preface this recap with a brief insight. I attended “ConBravo” for the first time in 2012. In 2013 and 2014 I attended “Twitter Math Camp” instead - after writing two posts trying to sift through the pros and cons of where to go. This year, it was back to ConBravo, for reasons.

Attending the convention energized me. And I think it was in a way that TMC couldn’t have. Here’s why: Because teaching is my profession. When I’m around other educators, I feel like I have to be as good as them, or I’m not doing my job properly. So it’s inspiring, but at the same time humbling. However, my writing and webcomics is freelance. When I’m around the fandom, I feel like if I’m as good as them, it’s a bonus - and if I’m not as good, well, it’s not like it’s my profession. This frees me, and makes me think I can do things like start running a math webcomic. (I'm now publishing on Mondays.)
I can also get commissions of my math characters.
Here's the new Para, as drawn by Tabitha Yi

Is that a writing cop out? An unjust educator comparison? A spurious correlation, with me as denominator? Don’t know. But then, you likely came here for a recap of “all things geek”, not introspection, so let’s get to that.


Since I’m not teaching, I could actually drive down Friday morning, and be there for Friday events, a shocking difference from “Anime North”. The keynote for the Opening Ceremonies was given by Nash Bozard. Last month, he celebrated 15 YEARS of hosting “Radio Dead Air”, once per week. The guy is my age. (I suppose that fifteen years ago, I was writing my web serial...)

Nash spoke about how “we’ve become the mainstream”, whereas 20 years ago, someone would have been teased for reading comic books in high school. And YET, now that we’re here, instead of welcoming others, we’re pushing them away - because of gender, or race, or sexuality. We’re emulating the behaviours of those who tormented us in high school. That’s messed up. We have a chance “to make a legacy. Make it one your heroes would be proud of.” You can see watch his keynote at this YouTube link, I recommend it.

Speaking of webcomics... my new Lyn,
as drawn by Meg Simmons.
After a quick stop in the Marketplace, I went to “Webcomic Creators Q&A”. There was some discussion of how to help with focus (listening to music, or podcasts, which can double as research). When you advertise, do so on the fringe of your demographic (push the boundaries) otherwise you’re hitting your own niche of readers again. For instance, if your webcomic is about plumbing, try advertising on a faucet website. Post regularly. “Start where you can and grow as you need.”

It is hard to balance the time, and sometimes when the creativity clicks, you have to use it (staying up until 3am). I asked about buffers, and none of the panelists had one (unless they knew they’d be away), their reasoning ranging from from second guessing stuff in the buffer, to being unable to do it since the writer gave stuff late to the artist, to it not eliminating the worry anyway. But, you know, good idea, buffers. Also, be aware of “real time”; if your Christmas storyline is stretching into June for readers, that’s a problem.

If you’re talking to an artist, it helps to give the personality, more than the picture. (“They’re soldiers"... from where? strict regimen?) When drawing, put the words in FIRST, as part of the design process, don’t lose any artwork to a word bubble. Don’t try to over-detail backgrounds. Watch SCOPE, having a dragon and a dwarf visible in the same panel is problematic. Art skill is transferable, as it also teaches maintaining composure. Sometimes you “have to kill your babies” - if a joke doesn’t work, cut your losses and keep creating. (Sometimes, it’s the throwaway comic that becomes the most popular.)

From there, I went to catch the end of “Farewell FamiKamen Rider!”, a movie tribute to the late JewWario’s character. (It even got Marzgurl out of the US!) Despite knowing more about him than his creation, I cried a bit. Apparently it was close to 100% guerrilla filming, given the budget restrictions. There was also a bit with a bike that was brilliant, with an interesting backstory, that you have to see to appreciate.

At this point it was 8:45pm, and I thought dinner might be a good plan. I came back afterwards to see a bit of the 404s (improv comedy), poked my head in to look at the Pub Quiz (Nash was helping to host), then went back to my hotel.


Started the day at 9:30am with “Review! All the Things! Round 1”, a panel/Q&A with lots of internet reviewers, including Linkara (Lewis), Nash, Marzgurl (Kaylyn), Obscurus Lupa (Alison) and more. Including the baby of Paw Dugan and Elisa Hansen. I didn’t take many notes here, but did ask a question myself.

Any familiar faces here?

I asked them what they felt they’d improved the most at doing, in all their years of reviews. Nash said “Audio” without hesitation. Linkara decided it was his editing speed (he could maybe pull together an episode in 24 hours). Marzgurl said it was scripting, in realizing she didn’t have to all be jokes, she could be factual. And Alison said it was her camera presence.

The conversation shifted a bit within that, as many seemed to agree that the writing is what got more DIFFICULT. In part because you start to wonder “what’s left to say?” so that you’re not always repeating yourself. In part because your standards go up, and you always want to do better. Lewis commented that “none of us like looking at our earlier stuff” because they see all their technical flaws.

I also remember someone asking about what’s the biggest “rabbit hole” they fell into, in terms of biting off more than they could handle. Kaylyn said it was her “Don Bluth” stuff, because people kept wanting her to look at extended series’ that Bluth hadn’t been part of (like the endless “Land Before Time” animated movies). For Lewis it was “Southland Tales”, for Alison “Charmed”, and for Paw “Cats”.

When things wrapped there, I peeked into “Parents in Anime”. Discussion was mostly about how parents are never around (sometimes DYING to start the show), but also how they don’t necessarily respect the choices of their kids. They can also give their kids problematic names, like “Knives”. I left early to get to “Ask a Scientist”.

ASK A SCIENTIST was a 1.5 hour long panel about science in writing. It gets it’s own post. (Reasons to stay tuned to this blog!)

After that, and a pop into the Marketplace again (commissions, etc), I went to the Reviewer Autographs. The line was nowhere near the size it was for 2012, which made me a bit sad, but chatting with others in line, they were all very keen. Also, I forgot to actually bring anything for the reviewers to sign - so I gave them each a blank sheet and said they could put what they wanted onto it, from a signature to more.

Another look at NewPara,
drawn by Oceantann
Highlights of the “more than a signature” include Alison Pregler, Phelan Porteous, Vangelus (Chris Ho) and Elisa Hansen. Nash also seems to include his astrological symbol with his signature, which I realized in retrospect and now wonder about.

This was also the day I bought "Snowbound", a publishing effort by Drew Byrne. He had buttons too.

It being around 1:30pm, I went to lunch. I came back in time to see the end of the panel on “Marvel Cinematic Universe Revisited”. It was pointed out how DC does have television locked down (even with Marvel trying it’s “Agents of SHIELD”), and that if “Green Lantern” had gotten big, it might have spawned a similar cinematic universe. The thing with DC is how it always takes itself so seriously - yet “Dude’s running around in a costume dressed as a bat. It’s a little silly.”

Then I went to “Make Some Noise: Creating Your Own Music”, and THAT I’ve put in a separate post (combo with Crowdfunding”, below). Then I went to “Leatherworking 101”, ALSO it’s own post (in tandem with “Photography”, later). Stay tuned to this blog!


I lined up for the “Atop the 4th Wall Movie Panel” before 7pm, even though it was for 7:30pm, (correctly) anticipating a line. Inside, I ended up sitting right in front of Diamanda Hagan (another reviewer) so mind a little blown. (I know, I know, they’re regular people like us.) After showing us the clip, Linkara took questions.

He’d had a new set built for his ship, rather than use green screen backgrounds. Apparently “depth of field” static images put focus in the front, with a blur if it’s not the central item. Which is problematic for his hallway shots, the person may not be able to stand at the focus. He also cannot legally use the ‘Microsoft Sound Voice’ for Pollo, meaning a new voice, which will factor into his reviews later this year.

On the writing side, his first draft script was apparently too much “Too Boldly Flee Lite” (a prior ‘Channel Awesome’ anniversary video) in that it didn’t have little subplots for all characters. He noted how Nash was great at the “wide-eyed doe” (everyman) character, swept up in events. Lewis also had backup ideas for characters, in case the planned reviewers still didn’t like his final version (such as reworking Alison’s part for someone else).

I asked about the difficulty of Lewis playing 3 different characters (Linkara, Harvey and 90s kid), in terms of shooting. He did do them in chunks (rather than shooting in sequence), and added that the decision to include the other reviewers was in part because he didn’t think he/his multiple characters could carry a movie themselves. Plus it’s neat to see the interaction between his characters and the reviewers, not something we’ve been witness to before.

Roll with it
When that ended, I poked my head into “YouTube: Errors, Ads and Advice” but the room was PACKED (likely in large part because Blip is going under), so went to dinner instead. I came back to see D20 Live (already in progress), a celebrity roleplaying game filmed before a live convention with Big Mike (of 404s) as DM. The campaign was Firefly. Nash tried to space the NPCs dangerous luggage and ended up losing their cargo of strawberries, which led to a line I found really funny: “The technical malfunction may have involved fruit.”

They took a break close to 10:30pm, which was good because I’d wanted to go to “Best and Worst of Teen Fiction”. It was run by the two hosts of “Death of the Author Reviews”, Chelsey Payette and Alexandra Hunter. The usual problems were brought up: Informed Attributes (show, don’t tell), Strong Female Characters who aren’t (if you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp that is inscribed with useful info, not good), and Love Triangles (they rarely happen in real life).

In particular, if you remove a romance angle, and the story falls apart, that’s bad. It shouldn’t be driving the plot. Plus, if everything could be solved by having a conversation about the “misunderstanding”, it’s annoying! More, everyone cannot be/have a “Chosen One” - there’s even starting to be pushback/reversal on this. The focus becoming on a NORMAL person in a world of “Chosen Ones”. All that said, tropes can work in your favour if done right, because people like the familiarity. “Descent Into Hell” was offered as one such type.

There’s also different flavours of fantasy people enjoy, from “High Fantasy” (D&D) to “Urban Fantasy” (Harry Potter) to “Portal Fantasy” (Narnia, basically there’s a portal between the other two types). Of note, most teen fiction seems to like “ageing up kids” due to circumstance, not unlike “Lord of the Flies”.

The latter part of the panel was the dozen or so people in the room trying to come up with a crazy story. We had Jim, who faced with unrequited love of Ember, turned the priestess into a sword. (He had a brother, Tim, who disliked him.) Then the sword goes missing, and there’s twin old sages who end up using it as a butter knife. Tentative title: “Dude, Where’s My Sword?” This would be a trilogy, where later parts reveal that Ember was the “Chosen One” but wouldn’t choose THEM, so evil Jim had actually saved everyone. Huzzah.

I went back to D20 after, to discover that Lewis (Linkara) had taken over the NPC from the DM, and there was still mention of “Space Jam”. It got a little crazy, and came down to a “roll off”. Things ended about midnight, I wandered by the Dance to have a look, then went to bed.


Pictured: How to knock out a Bond villain.
Sunday’s first item for me was “Atop the 4th Wall Live”. I didn’t get to see this in 2012 because I only lined up something like a half hour before it started, and the line cut off. Larger room this time, and I even got a seat in the front row. Linkara reviewed a “James Bond Jr” comic, then offered to either show his next episode, or the Movie Preview (from last night; the line may have been cut off then?). We ended up watching both, in lieu of having a Q&A. Then I bought stuff from him.

At 11:30am was the “Crowdfunding and Online Patronage” panel. It is in this later post with yesterday’s “Music” tips. Then at 1pm (after running into Sha!) I went to “Post Production and Advanced Photography”, so look for that in this post that also includes Leatherworking. (Again, stay tuned!)

At 2:30pm I went to “So You Wanna Make It Online?” ... that’s going to need a separate post as well. I write too many notes, and this post is getting too long. When it ended at 3:30pm I went to “Review! All the Things - Round 2” which was a different set of reviewers from Saturday - and due to staggered starts, had begun a half hour earlier. (It included Diamanda Hagan, Derek “the Bard”, Erika Szabo and more.)

I walked in on a discussion about how online reviewers are shaking up the status quo. It’s no longer only print reviews, with maybe some Siskel & Ebert video. Anyone can do this - which is not what “they” (company execs) were taught in school. “We don’t have press passes, we’re not in unions, there’s no contracts they can play upon” - thus they end up coming down on individuals. For better or worse.

Make sure to read any contracts closely. If something is bad, one should retain the ability to say so. Massive brand deals can damage channels, and if there’s a sudden change in output (bigger set, early game review) you may need to wonder about the creator’s content. Then things took a lighter turn as the panelists reviewed random things, from an unboxing to taro balls, to snoring. The last question was what they thought of ConBravo.

By the way... personified math webcomic. Art: me.
It being 4pm, things were wrapping up. I poked my head into “Flash Friending” in progress (seemed to be playing ‘2 Truths and a Lie’), and the “404s Improv Workshop” in progress (audience involvement in skits). It was cool, but I needed to get home, so I headed out shortly after that - fortunately not caught in the traffic from the PanAm Games, wrapping in Toronto.

Thanks for reading this way long post, and stay tuned for subsequent mini-panel posts over the next couple weeks. You can also read my 2015 Anime North Review, or How I Draw for all my web content.


  1. I really do miss getting out to cons and getting artwork commissioned.

    Interesting about what is getting long in the tooth with YA works. The Chosen One is starting to be played out, though the right character can make it work still. The Love Triangles are starting to annoy me, appearing *everywhere*. It could be the influence of anime and manga on the YA genre (is that the right word?). Anything you see as a potential bit of contention there?

    I might place Harry Potter as more Portal Fantasy then Urban. Dresden Files is definitely more Urban. Harry is more in the wizarding world except where it spills over to the mundane. But I quibble.

    With contracts, having a lawyer read over them is always good, and then ask questions to make sure you understand. Lawyers get paid for that, and if you have a lawyer friend who can point out potential pitfalls after looking at the document, ask ask ask! Politely.

    1. I try not to think too hard about the fact that I'm commissioning art from people who could have been in my classroom 5 years ago. Sometimes it's as much to support their work as to see my characters.

      I don't recall "Young Adult" (YA) being discussed separately in the genre sense, talk was more generic, but of course with the market boom we're seeing more of that style out there. On love triangles, *Twilight* really didn't help, it being one of the first major YA, but (just me here) maybe there's some bleed through from anime? In the (false) idea that comics are also for "young adults"? Back from the panel, part of the irritation was the idea that a girl even NEEDS a guy to "change her life". The triangle is usually one girl, two guys. (A guy gets a harem, not a triangle. Even Archie plays the field away from Betty/Veronica. Sexism.)

      An author who was mentioned regarding Chosen One reversal: "The Iron Trial" by Cassandra Clare (Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. Callum Hunt wants to fail.) As to Harry Potter, it's really one world that the magic community is TRYING to keep separate, but I see your point in the narrative sense. The classifying more came up as we were scaffolding our story about Jim anyway.

      A lawyer friend is handy, though it's ridiculous (to me) that you have to anticipate and close loopholes before they're exploited. Eh, I'm biased.

    2. I may be lucky that way. I've never run into anyone I've provided tech support for, though that may be for the best. I do want to say that the pics of Lyn and Para are amazing up there. Para seems so sad.

      *Twilight* is an oddity, being an high school alt-universe fanfic of *Jane Eyre* with sparkly vampires, but remove the supernatural elements and you get the anime love triangle again. It came out well after the anime boom started, so the influence could be there. Yeah, I can see how that can be irritating; I much prefer my girl characters to be self-changing and self-motivating. The guy can tag along if he wants if he stays out of her way. (Good point; I hadn't thought about that or the implications. These days, though, Archie seems to be dating Valerie of the Pussycats while Cheryl Blossom chases him, and Betty & Veronica are... not sure...)

      That doesn't seem to be that much different from the Chosen One. The character is still standing out from the crowd in some way and isn't typical of his cohort. Yeah, true, but Harry gets to go to the magical areas similar to how the kids get to Narnia, through a magical means. So how is anyone working on Jim's story? :D

      I just assume that anyone offering me a contract is looking out more for themselves than for me. Mind, I'm a contractor, so I've seen more than my fair share of contracts in the past decade.

    3. Almost too sad! But sadness is on me, I explained about the max/min depression thing. Of course, love triangles likely predate anime, this may be a number of mainstream elements happening at once. "Divergent" was brought up as problematic too; part of the issue may be the "coming of age" idea also implies "sexual awakening", so there's some need to explore that? I don't know. (Veronica has chosen Betty? Apparently I need to catch up.)

      I think maybe the character is wanting to blend into the background, but I don't know, I haven't read it. Harry did fight shadows once in London though, and they have meeting places in our "real world"; Aslan never took a trip through the wardrobe. I'm not sure, we may have to check out "Death of the Author Reviews".

    4. When her hair points up, she'll be happier, I'm expecting. True, but anime did have a big influence in the late 90s and early 00s. I haven't read/seen that, though at some point I may have to. Oh, right, forgot that "coming of age" thing. >.< Yeah, puberty is part of that. (I'm sure there's fanart of them somewhere...)

      Maybe; I haven't read it either. Thinking about it, it seems that Harry Potter is in a different type of fantasy, the British magical boarding school. "Worst Witch" falls into that realm, too, and there may be more works with the same idea. Definitely, just to see if Jim realizes his evil scheme benefited everyone.