A recent question on Facebook, by a neo who has never attended a convention, was something like, “What do you do at a con?” One of the answers was to begin collecting autographs of people you meet, because every con—not just the commercial ones—has some kind of celebrity guest, and if you get to meet the celebrity, even briefly, you’ll have a personal memento that you can hold onto for years. I’ve done that myself at a couple of cons; one was the 1976 MidAmeriCon (that year’s World SF Convention) in Kansas City, Missouri.
The program book was a hardcover with a wraparound George Barr dustjacket commemorating the GOH, who was Robert A. Heinlein. I didn’t get Heinlein’s autograph at that time, because of the insanely long lines, but I did get a number of celebrity signatures as well as what I believe to be a unique set: I had every artist (or self-professed artist) at the con (who I could find) do a small drawing in the back of the book. (I eventually ran out of space and had to add a blank page.) Grant Canfield, who started, drew a Scrooge McDuck-looking face with the word balloon “Kwak,” and this became the common thread, with almost everyone doing a rhyming caption; artists include Taral Wayne, George Barr, Jim Bearcloud, Greg Bear, Rick Sternbach, Kelly Freas, Ray (R. Faraday) Nelson, Bill Rotsler, Tim Kirk, Phil Foglio and Michael Whelan and a few others.
So getting autographs in the program book can be a fun way to meet people, including celebrities, as can collecting program books; but starting way back at the first convention I attended, which was Westercon 28 in Oakland California (1975), I began collecting convention name badges. Every con has a name badge, and most of them are well designed, like a little piece of art. Even as large a collection as I have, over 100 of them, can fit easily into a shoebox. (And why I didn’t think until now of getting autographs on the BACKS of these badges escapes me. Normally, all I write on the back of my badge is room numbers for parties and the like. But I’ll give that idea to you for free; having a celebrity’s autograph on the back of a con badge could make that badge even more of a memory.) So I recommend badge collecting to you as a great way to save convention memories—and none of them can be potentially embarrassing like some con photos! (What happens in… wherever… stays in….)
So when I managed to convince my local fan group (the Palouse Empire Science Fiction Association, or PESFA) that a little college town in faraway Eastern Washington could hold a con, I decided our name badges would try to be memorable. (I was aided in this by my then-cohort and then best friend (we both got married), the late Jon Gustafson, who was an artist by training, having both a degree in Fine Arts and the same love for genre art that I had been harbouring for the previous twenty years or so.) So our little con, that never grew much beyond 400 people during its more than twenty years’ existence, had Art GOHs, great program book covers, and pretty darned good name badges, by some great fan and pro artists.
Our first name badge was by Kelly Freas, and depicted the late E.E. “Doc” Smith’s daughter, Verna, on a train being pursued by Worsel the Velantian Lensman, the subject of Dave Kyle’s book Dragon Lensman. (Worsel, not Verna.) Because “Doc” Smith was our patron saint, being a graduate of Moscow’s University of Idaho, and because Verna was suggested for a GOH by Robert A. Heinlein, who was supposed to be our first GOH, but finally was too ill to come, Verna became our “mascot,” while Doc became our “Patron Saint.” Verna attended Moscon on her own hook, coming from Indiana, for many years—occasionally with husband Al Trestrail, but mostly by herself.
Anyway, Jon and I knew—either personally or through the mail—a pretty fair cross-section of artists, and we decided that wherever possible, the AGOH would do the badge as well. (It didn’t always work out that way: George Barr was our first AGOH, but Kelly Freas did the badge and Alex Schomburg did the program book cover.) One of the things we pioneered was the giving away of limited-edition, signed and numbered prints of the program book cover (without lettering). Although Jack Gaughan did the second badge, he never got to attend Moscon. Wendy Pini’s husband Richard was a houseguest before or after one Moscon; you can see some of our artists from the badges reproduced here. And in case you wondered, Moscow is only about 8 miles from Pullman; Jon lived in Moscow and I lived in Pullman.
Those conventions with big budgets—and Moscon wasn’t one of them—started having coloured badges, some with plastic foil-stamped holders. For example, Norwescon typically had three or four times the number of Moscon’s attendees, which gave them bigger budgets. (Our first three name badges were gold, silver and red-foil stamped, because I own a Kingsley stamping machine, and personally stamped each and every one of the badges.) In my next column, I’ll reproduce some of Norwescon’s wonderful colour badges, most by “name” artists.
By the way, if you want to be “in” at a con, and would like to meet celebrity guests and do a lot of other fun stuff—including, I won’t kid you, some hard work—consider volunteering to be on the concom (Convention Committee) or, at least, volunteer at the con to do security or whatever “grunt” or “gopher” work needs to be done. Most cons have some kind of system of rewards for those who volunteer… and, at the very least, you will be secure in the knowledge that you’re on the side of the angels, helping to make everyone’s con experience a good one. Cons are always short of helping hands!
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t combine any or all collecting activities as con memorabilia, depending on your space. I also made a habit of collecting movie pins and mini-posters at larger cons, as the film distribution companies love sending that sort of thing to a convention. These probably have little or no collectible value, in case you wondered, but they’re great mementoes and good for a giggle: for every blockbuster movie (like Ghostbusters, which sent out stickers, buttons, fly swatters and other gag memorabilia, or Jurassic Park) you will get a dozen failed and pitiful movies, like Spacehunter: Adventure in the Forbidden Zone, or Invaders From Mars or even Free Willy. These are all examples from my collection. I still find stickers lying around the house from Psycho III!
Plus volunteering, to continue a thread from above, will also add to your con memories; you’ll meet all sorts of people—because all sorts go to conventions!—and probably have a great time. I always try to make an effort, because I volunteer to do artshow work (usually the auction) and/or be on panels, to meet at least one new person and have a fun and in-depth conversation with him or her. I usually end up making a new friend and at most cons get the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and friendships.
Basically, both the time you have at a con, and the memories you take away are limited only by you and your intentions. If you go there with a positive attitude and an open mind (and keep your eyes open for activities you can participate in) your options are wide open. Whether this con badge becomes the linchpin of a new collection, or just something thrown into a drawer and never looked at again is up to you. If you’re looking for friendship, romance or whatever, you never have to sign up for one of those online services if you’re a con-goer… I met my wife at a Moscon and we’ve been together almost a quarter of a century!
In closing, here are another two badges for you to look at: one by Richard Powers, and one by Wendy Pini.
I enjoy hearing what you have to say about this column! If you haven’t already, you can register and comment here on the Amazing Stories website, or you can comment on Facebook. Let me know if you like it, hate it or are just plain indifferent. Next week I’ll have more badges and maybe other con-related memorabilia.