On April 20th, Universal FanCon released a statement on Twitter announcing the convention would be delayed “until further notice.” One week before the Kickstarted convention was supposed to open its doors for the first time at the Baltimore Convention Center, its organizers blamed its postponement on poor ticket sales and lack of sponsorships. While FanCon attendees, celebrity guests, and vendors looked for answers and accountability from the convention’s organizers, others started to plan a new event for those suddenly displaced by FanCon’s unforeseen announcement.
“We basically jumped into it the same day,” wrote Keith Chow, founder of The Nerds of Color, over email. Chow described the whirlwind of planning and executing Wicomicon, a pop-up that happened inside the Wicomico building in Baltimore on April 28th. “Uraeus [comics writer and creator of Black Heroes Matter] talked with Andre Robinson [executive producer of Carbon-Fibre Media] and texted me the day the FanCon news broke. The very next day, we met with the building management to secure the space, and by Sunday we were knee-deep in planning.”
From there, it grew from three people communicating by text to an entire group, all in charge of different tasks to keep the one-day event both achievable and entertaining for guests. “We met in this building for the first time on Saturday [April 21], a week today,” said Andre Robinson during an interview during Wicomicon. “We don’t want to let a crisis go to waste. You want to bring everybody together if you can.”
The result of their quick planning was a day for cosplayers, vendors, and speakers to come together and celebrate people of color who love and live for comics, movies, and pop culture. Celebrity guests, including activist and influence April Reign and Luke Cage director Cheo Hodari Coker, hosted panels about intersectionality, safe spaces for Black gamers, and body positivity in cosplay. In one day, Wicomicon achieved what FanCon promised to do.“I had no idea whether anybody was going to show up,” said Robinson. The event was announced and advertised primarily through Facebook and Twitter. Quick organization for the event left little time for traditional advertisements in newspapers or television, so Wicomicon relied on the influence of social media to spread the word.
Chow noted that “around 1,000 people come throughout the day. Many of the exhibitors have told me that they did more business during Wicomicon then they might have at a more established convention.” The event was packed with creators, artists, and fans who wanted to see their community prosper. While Wicomicon may have been small by big convention numbers, it created a huge presence for people of color looking for community in their fandoms.
Wicomicon was not the only event that spawned from FanCon’s bad news. On Sunday, April 22, a digital convention called Famcon was held as a live-streamed event, featuring panels that were meant to be done at the now-postponned FanCon. Catrina Dennis, producer of Famcon, spoke to me via email about the process of creating a digital event.
“Famcon came together within about five days. the idea popped into my head when I noticed so many panelists couldn’t make it to Wicomicon due to the financial crunch. I threw that idea out on Twitter, and Tanya DePass from I Need Diverse Games responded to volunteer her brand’s Twitch channel as a home for the stream, so I knew it had to happen.”
Dennis went on to create a team of seven women to help coordinate schedules, moderate the chat, and keep the stream running smoothly. Famcon, like Wicomicon, was a collaborative event primarily made by people in marginalized groups working together to create an inclusive and supportive community. I asked Dennis about the possibility of creating another live-streamed panel event in the future. “As for next year, that’s up in the air, but I feel like the team that [pulled this together] had a lot of fun and finished the day feeling like we did something good for the community.”
When asked whether he considered the event a success, Robinson said it was “a great success.” “It’s better than I expected.” Robinson asked if I was familiar with the legend of stone soup. Stone Soup is a folktale about hungry travelers that come to a village with only an empty pot. Each villager shares a little of their own food to create a delicious soup that everyone partakes in eating.
“We all supported one another – from fans to celebrities to volunteers to staff – to make sure Wicomicon was a positive experience for everyone,” wrote Chow. “Whether or not we will do it again has not been decided, but the one thing that is for certain is that we built something special.”
As an attendee to both events, Wicomicon and Famcon felt unique and deeply needed. Having attended PAX East in the past, these two events possessed a huge sense of community and inclusivity that bigger conventions fail to make. I pledged $35 to FanCon during its Kickstarter, and was among the many who were upset, confused, and incredibly disappointed to see an event meant to celebrate underrepresented folks suddenly crumble. Plenty of conferences such as PAX, C2E2, or the various comic cons are constantly addressed in media, but smaller conventions are usually mentioned in publications only if they fail. The speed in which both events were planned and executed should be applauded alone, but the additional fact that they were both successful is only further proof of the power of small, diversity-centric events. There is, and has always been, a desire to support new and underrepresented people.
Somehow, there are those who still believe FanCon failed due to a lack of support. During an interview with Vulture, FanCon founder Robert Butler claimed that his “belief in a nonexistent community” prevented him from seeing the convention’s downfall, a comment that drew more ire from folks who were burned by FanCon. Wicomicon and Famcon prove that the community Butler believed didn’t exist is indeed there, and ready to offer support on short notice. People of color worked together, shared their resources and spaces, and created a wonderful weekend, all in the span of a very short amount of time.
While questions about FanCon remain unanswered, organizers nonetheless rose from the ashes to create an event they can share with everyone. Diversity wasn’t a decorate ornament; rather, it was rooted in the foundation of its very inception. “Marginalized folks are used to being invisible,” wrote Chow, “but we were all definitely seen on April 28.”
Shonté Daniels is a poet who occasionally writes about games. Her games writing has appeared in Kill Screen, Motherboard, Waypoint and elsewhere. Her poetry can be seen at Puerto del Sol, Baltimore Review, Phoebe, and others literary journals. Check out Shonte-Daniels.com for a full archive, or follow her for sporadic tweeting.