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Published September 7, 2017

When Tales of the Con was still just an idea being diagrammed on a whiteboard in the Chief’s living room, I remember my name being jokingly scribbled next to the phrase “18+ panels.” The joke, however, was based on a story that came from my first 18+ panel during my very first convention the year before. I wrote extensively about that experience in my When Nerdy Gets Dirty article. Scribbling names next to phrases like this was our informal way of assigning topic areas for the team to cover at every convention. Everyone’s name was scribbled somewhere on that whiteboard and our roles in the company were roughly set out for the future. For the most part, those early scribblings have maintained their integrity throughout our progression as a media platform. When we started, we were just a ragtag group of directionless nerds with a vague idea for a company who stood around smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, and brainstorming in front of a whiteboard. Today, we have become a well-functioning team that, while still smoking and drinking beers, professionally produces weekly podcasts, YouTube series, photo albums, written content, and regularly attends conventions. All the while, staying true to that original whiteboard.

As we’ve grown as a company and we’ve all grown into our roles, I have come to enjoy my topic area quite thoroughly. Not in a perverted way. Definitely not in a “I might see nerdy boobies” kind of way. But instead, in a truly appreciative way towards what I see as value in the after-dark 18+ panel. The value, in my opinion, is in giving people the opportunity to be themselves. To be open. To be vulnerable. To be accepted. 18+ panels give people the safety and the confidence to venture outside of their comfort zone to be the most authentic versions of themselves. The folks who find themselves particularly drawn to certain 18+ panels, like last year’s after-dark 18+ “Intermediate Rope bondage” panel, leave feeling fulfilled in ways they wouldn’t normally feel fulfilled outside of the convention setting. It’s one thing to enjoy bondage in the privacy of your own home but it’s an entirely different thing to experience and discuss the joy of bondage with a room full of people who enjoy it just as much as you do. It gives you the unique opportunity to honestly open yourself up to other people. It empowers you. And when you leave you feel euphoric and you chatter with everyone else as you file out of the room. You may even create friendships with people through those shared interests.

Now, I am absolutely not saying that Comic Conventions need to be the place or the platform to explore one’s kinks or sexuality or even a place to allow vulgarity or anything sordid. But, what I
am saying is that, after attending many conventions and other nerdy events, I’ve noticed that the comics and kinks often overlap. And sometimes in a very big way and, in my opinion, the
inclusion of these types of panels is important for both the success of a Con and the satisfaction of many Con-Goers. With that said, I’d like to talk about this year’s AwesomeCon.

To be frank, this article is a little overdue. This should have been written about three weeks ago… Better late than never though, right? (editors note: Due to an email snafu the article is now months late!.. oops.) On June 17, 2017, I attended AwesomeCon in Washington, D.C. as a representative of The lateness of this article is a direct result of my dissatisfaction and lack of enthusiasm towards this year’s AwesomeCon panels. As noted above, I cover 18+ panels. In this respect, AwesomeCon was a major let down. Besides the endless number of Sci-fi Speed Dating sessions and games of Cards Against Humanity, this year’s AwesomeCon offered an overwhelmingly disappointing number of 18+ panels. If you want to get technical, there were exactly three others. The first, entitled Super Art Fight Unleashed, was on Friday, June 16. The other two, Creating Powerful Females in Fantasy Worlds and Comics Made Me Gay, were both on Saturday, June 17. Now, to be fair, I did not attend any of these panels because they sounded wildly unappealing and far from what I have come to expect from the after-dark 18+ panels. And again, to be fair, for all I know these three panels could have been thoroughly impressive and could have made for outstanding topics to report on. But, I didn’t go. I think Comics Made Me Gay would have been particularly interesting and I did fully intend on going but, for reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t make it to the 8:30pm timeslot.

At Cons I’ve attended in the past, the variety of 18+ panels one might choose attend over the course of the weekend was overwhelming. This year it was simply disappointing… there were literally three. Thankfully though, the saving grace for AwesomeCon 2017 was the outstanding incorporation of FutureCon.

FutureCon was like a Con within a Con and it was exceptional. FutureCon took science fiction and turned it into science fact and turned fantasy into reality. I explored several FutureCon booths and was extremely impressed by the level of effort and involvement that was put forth by organizations like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Obviously, these are all national heavy weights in the realm of real world hard science. To see them seamlessly draw the connection between comics, sci-fi, and real world science was, for me, what made AwesomeCon 2017 a success.

Though I attended many panels throughout the day on June 17, spent way too much money on the exhibition floor, and took a tremendous number of photos; what I am most interested in talking about here is FutureCon and two panels in particular. The first being “Alien Climates on Planets Near and Far” and the second “Frozen Fossils: Dinosaurs of the Antarctic.”

The first was both thoroughly informative and equal parts fantasy and reality. This panel was comprised of four NASA scientists (Giada Arney, Hannah Wakeford, Ravi Kopparapu, Conor
Nixon) who went into great detail about the habitability of planets from an actual science perspective. Among other things, they gave very well informed presentation on the “habitable zone” and

Giada Arney, Hannah Wakeford, Ravi Kopparapu, Conor Nixon from the Panel “Alien Climates on Planets Near and Far”

what it would take to reasonably support life on other planets. Much of this conversation, though it was a bit over my head at times, was incredibly interesting to listen to. From there they launched into a discussion of some of their favorite sci-fi planets, whether or not those planets were scientifically plausible, and the viability of each planet as a habitable planet. During this discussion Pandora from Avatar and Tatooine from the Star Wars were hot topics. And, as confirmed by NASA scientists, Tatooine is apparently a decently thought through sci-fi planet that could work in reality. It was interesting to learn that, like Tatooine, planets with binary suns are fairly common in the universe and a handful of the planets we’ve discovered orbiting binary suns are within the “habitable zone.” This roughly means that those planets have enough atmospheric pressure and orbit their suns at an appropriate enough distance to support liquid water on the surface of the planet. Pandora, on the other hand, is based on very sketchy science and in a lot of ways just throws science fact out the window entirely. Apparently, giant floating islands are not scientifically possible. Who would have guessed?

The second panel, Frozen Fossils: Dinosaurs of the Antarctic, was a mostly science fact based conversation. The panel was comprised of National Science Foundation researchers, Nate (Nathan) Smith, David Clark, Tom Skwerski, who, as you may have guessed, work to unearth fossils in antarctica. What was interesting about this panel though was the way in which they took the audience through the journey of bringing fossils back to life (kinda). They weren’t talking about Jurassic Park. Instead they discussed the process of unearthing fossils and then bringing them to “life” in museums and computer generated models. The life that is brought to fossils in museums is something we have all probably seen and can appreciate on a basic level. We can all go to a museum of natural history and see the T-Rex skeleton towering over us and appreciate the ferocity of such a beast. What we don’t normally do or appreciate is the science that goes into figuring out the locomotion of that beast, or the texture of its skin, or the sound of its roar. When I think about dinosaurs my mind immediately jumps to fairly basic thoughts of earthy toned, giant, scaly, lizard-type creatures and I think most other people think the same. But what I was thrilled to learn during this panel was that the evolutionary advent of feathers took place in dinosaurs an incredibly long time ago and many of our favorite childhood dinosaur toys may be better representations of reality if they had a few feathery tufts. But, in terms of science fiction versus fact, the world of dinosaurs as depicted in most of the movies we’ve seen is fairly close to science fact. When devising science fiction built around dinosaurs, the creatives lean a lot more heavily on the true science community for guidance than do the creatives building sci-fi settings in space. Apparently, it’s a lot easier to take creative liberties when we imaginatively explore the vast unknowns of space than it is to bluff the science behind dinosaurs.

At the end of the day, I did truly enjoy every minute of my time at AwesomeCon 2017. While the lack of 18+ panels was a touch disappointing on a personal level, I completely understand the difficulty in arranging events of this size. Accommodating the masses with content viewable by the most people possible obviously takes precedent over carving out a space for nerds to talk about hentai, Bronyism, nerdlesque, bondage, or which superhero would be best in bed. When I return for AwesomeCon 2018, I would be overjoyed to see more after-dark 18+ panels on the schedule. But, if I don’t, I would be just as thrilled to see an expansion of FutureCon.

-David in Legal