Shattering Conventions with Bob Calhoun

cover_indexIt’s a special day here at the Calhoun Tribune because Bob Calhoun, author of Shattering Conventions and Beer, Blood and Cornmeal, has kindly answered some questions I had about his new book about “Commerce, Cosplay, and Conflict on the Expo Floor”! And he’s agreed to let me tell people he’s my cousin.

Where did you get the idea for a book about a year of convention-going?

I go to a lot of conventions without even trying to really. My day job sends me to prospect research and fundraising conferences. I go to Comic-Cons and toy shows for fun. The more I started to think about it, the more I realized that Americans are a conventions-going people. The tradeshow industry brings $3 billion into San Francisco alone. I think Vegas rakes in over $20 billion from cons. We choose our presidents at conventions before we chose them at the ballot box. The whole country was founded at a convention by men dressed up like sweaty Whovians. It seemed like tromping around different cons—random cons even—and then writing a book about what goes on at these things would make a pretty good book.

One of the chapters I found hilarious/interesting was about the Star Trek Creation con; there’s a part where you write that you were waiting for Captains Kirk and Picard to say something of consequence. There’s an interesting mashup of celebrity culture, commerce, and community at that kind of con — what are your thoughts on it?

Most conventions or tradeshows are about introducing something. At MacWorld, it’s the iPod, the iPhone, iPad–some new Apple product. At the Democratic Convention it was Barack Obama. The political conventions also vote on new planks in the party platform too. However, the “Star Trek” cons are going to go on whether there’s any new “Star Trek” or not. Hell, the Trekkers just denounced the latest “Trek” movie at a “Trek” con. That’s like Apple users trashing the next model of the iPad at MacWorld. Seeing Shatner and Stewart at a “Star Trek” con is more like seeing the Pope than what goes on at other tradeshows. “Star Trek” cons are religious revivals for the relatively rational.

Since conventions are inherently designed to bring people with a shared interest together, and you had a different goal in mind (i.e., writing this book), at which con did you feel the most like an interloper? Or are you aces at adapting to new groups of conventioneers now?

The convention I felt the most out-of-place at was the Twilight con in Portland — even more than the Republican convention I went to where I stood only a few feet away from Mitt Romney. A political convention will have a certain space for adversarial reporters. I was writing for Salon at the time, and the GOP gave me a press pass. They knew what I was going to do with it. Likewise, the Democrats give press passes to the Breitbart people.

But I had no such cover at the “Vampire’s Ball” at the Twilight con. I was the only man there who wasn’t one of the werewolves from the movies or working for the hotel. There was a point where I was observing the dances with werewolves where I realized that I was the weird one there, not the Twihards. They gathered to be with other people like themselves, and there I was, spending a whole year going to places where I didn’t belong. And I was doing this on my dime. I didn’t have a book deal in place at that time. Talk about obsessive!

I’ve only been to San Diego Comic-Con once (in 2011), and it was a far cry from the 1992 con you describe. Do you bemoan the loss of the old SDCC? What do you think about that tension between celebrating a shared interest (geek culture, for instance) and commerce and the hype machine of major studios?

I do, but there is something to be said for the Dionysian revelry that is the current Comic-Con. You don’t know why in the hell you went there, and don’t know where the hell else you’d rather be all at the same time. And you know, I was just at this year’s Comic-Con in July, and Neal Adams had a table right in the middle of the floor. He’s a man who revolutionized comic book art as much as Jack Kirby or Frank Miller with the Batman and X-Men books he did in the 60s and 70s, but he’s just sitting there, jawing with the fans the way I did with Jack Kirby way back in 1992. If thousands of other people want to camp out on the San Diego waterfront hoping to get into Hall H to catch a glimpse of Tom Hiddleston dressed up as Loki, power to them.  I’ll hang out with the guy who drew Loki in issue 180 of “The Mighty Thor.” That old Comic-Con is still there somewhere. It’s like the nerd version of “Field of Dreams.”

Was there one con that got away? The white whale of cons, so to speak, that you wished you could’ve gone to?

There are several. Where do I begin with that one? There was the furry con in San Jose, which I really should’ve gone to because it’s right there, about 45 miles away from me. Then there’s World of Concrete in Vegas. My life won’t be complete until I attend World of Concrete. They have crazy jackhammer competitions at that thing and also concrete art contests where people make sculptures out of poured concrete. Sure, most of the people there are in professions that use a lot of asphalt, but you know there are attendees who are just obsessed with concrete. These are people who actually like watching pavement dry. I’ve been to a bunch of cons since finishing this book, so I’m thinking of doing a quickie eBook sequel called “Shattering Conventions: Eclectic Boogaloo.” I want to be sure to get into that furry con for that one. There’s a Brony con in Sacramento this weekend that I’m thinking of going to. When I started working on “Shattering Conventions,” Brony cons weren’t even a thing and now there’s one in Sacramento.

Switching topics entirely: your previous book, Beer, Blood and Cornmeal (which I had the pleasure of working with you in small part at ECW) is a featured prop in the Braverman house on the (super excellent TV series) Parenthood. If I’m not mistaken, you didn’t watch the show until they chose the book to be on there — have you been converted? Is it a super-accurate portrayal of your corner of the U. S. of A.? Do you think it’s Zeke or Camille who read your memoir of Incredibly Strange Wrestling?

I’m actually going to say that Sarah Braverman is the one who brought “Beer, Blood & Cornmeal” into the Braverman house. She’s the one who’s always dating musicians and artist-types, so I figure that she probably went to the Incredibly Strange Wrestling shows that I used to be a part of that I write about in that book. This also might be wishful thinking on my part though because I’ve always found Lauren Graham easy on the eyes. As far as the show’s accuracy goes, I work for UC Berkeley, and I had to drive to the office when the transit workers were on strike a few weeks ago.  I ended up parking in front of a house that totally looked like the Braverman house. I kept expecting Zeke to yell at me for crowding his driveway.

Can I tell people you are my cousin to increase my Calhoun-cred?

I tell people you’re my cousin to increase my Calhoun-cred, so feel free.

Visit ShatteringConventions.com for more on my cousin Bob’s book, which is available in print and e-editions. Follow Bob on Twitter @bob_calhoun.

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