By Jan S. Gephardt

Compared to some authors I’m slow, but Virtual ConQuesT 52 was my first virtual sf convention using interactive video tools.

Throughout the months since March 2020 I’ve periodically participated in Facebook-based Concellation. Last year I pre-recorded myself reading Chapter One of The Other Side of Fear for Virtual DemiCon 31. But this year I was in the final throes of preparing a finished draft of A Bone to Pick, and just didn’t have the psychic energy for Virtual DemiCon 32 (my friends in Des Moines were very gracious and understanding, for which I thank them).

Here’s the video of Jan, reading Chapter One from The Other Side of Fear, for DemiCon 31.

One for the Home Team

Readers who’ve followed this blog/my Artdog Adventures blog for several years may remember that ConQuesT in Kansas City is my “home” convention. I’ve blogged about it many times over the years (follow the links for examples).

ConQuesT didn’t exactly have a convention last year. But they had more time to organize a virtual event this year. For the first time in decades I didn’t participate in the ConQuesT Art Show, but I did agree to participate in panels. So, how did Virtual ConQuesT 52 go?

Well, in some ways it was almost like being on regular panels.

How did they Conduct the Panels at Virtual ConQuesT 52?

We conducted our panels on Zoom. By now I guess everyone who regularly uses a computer for communication has experienced a Zoom meeting. My writers group has stayed in weekly contact all through the pandemic by using Zoom, so I was well familiar with this interface.

A cartoon by Tom Fishburne demonstrates some typical Zoom meeting issues.
We had the occasional frozen screen during Virtual ConQuesT 52, but not often (by permission from Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist).

We had the occasional frozen screen during Virtual ConQuesT 52, but not often (by permission from Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist).

I also have been on Discord chats before, but this was my first really positive experience with the program. Previous attempts have been unguided attempts to connect with groups who also didn’t seem to have much clue what they were doing with it. This time around, with people actually interacting, I enjoyed it (more on that in a bit).

Once the live-on-Zoom panels were finished, the concom posted recordings of them on a dedicated Twitch channel. That way if you were a member of the convention you could access the panel any time you wanted during the con. Once I figured out how to get on, it was pretty easy to use.

An Art Panel at Virtual ConQuesT 52

I may not have had artwork in the show, but I did participate in one art-related panel at Virtual ConQuesT 52. I moderated, facilitating a discussion of each artist’s unique approach.

Panelists were our Artist Guest of Honor, Toni Taylor, graphic designer/artist/game creator Harold Sipe, and fellow Kansas City artist Allison Stein. I misunderstood the end-time, so I kinda aced myself out of my own process description (I demonstrated how I created Common Cliff-Dragon—Male).

The ConQuesT panel description for “Behind the Curtain”: The Process Behind the Art read: “Every artist develops their own style, and works with their tools in their own way. In this panel, the moderator will display some of the art by the artists on the panel, and give the artists some space to walk through the process of creating the piece, giving a view “behind the curtain” into their artistic processes.”

Screen-grab from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
Here’s a glimpse of how the video for “Behind the Curtain” looked on Twitch. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 52).

Toni Taylor, Starchild Art

Each of the panelists has a unique take on their approach to their artwork. Taylor described some of the considerations that go into her portraits, including totems, spirit animals, and places that hold special meaning for the subject. See some of them on her website and Facebook page.

Harold Sipe, Small Monsters Games

Sipe gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how he and his wife conceived of their “Takeout” card game, and the process they went through to refine the idea, then design, test, and build it. He also showed us screen-shares of the finished cards, and his website.

Allison Stein, Author, Artist, TV Addict, Geek Princess, and Cat Servant

Stein described the ways she develops her whimsical creations, featuring birds of all types (my particular favorites are her owls), bunnies, octopi, cats, dragons, and more. She described the wide range of media from which she selects tools and add-ons to make each tiny piece unique. Catch glimpses on her website, Fine Art America page, and Etsy store.

My Panels with Writers at Virtual ConQuesT 52

Most of my panels at Virtual ConQuesT 52 involved some aspect of writing. I moderated all but one. Allison Stein, who also is a writer as well as an artist, moderated that one, about writers groups, and she handled it brilliantly. Barbara E. Hill, Lynette M. Burrows, and M. C. Chambers joined us for that one. We discussed several excellent local writers’ groups and how important it can be for a writer to find a good one.

4 screen-grabs from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
This montage shows moments from each of my four writing-related panels on Twitch (Images courtesy of ConQuesT 52. Montage by Jan S. Gephardt).

We discussed our personal publishing journeys (each one different) with Guests of Honor Becky Chambers (no relation to M. C., as far as I’m aware) and Dan Wells, plus the science fiction writer Claire McCague. Readers of this blog know I’m a partner in Weird Sisters Publishing.

Two other writing-related panels focused on specialized writing topics.

Food in Fantasy provided a fun conversation with Claire McCaig and Reed Alexander. It explored all the ways that food can and has featured in both culture and pivotal scenes. We explored our own writing, and also the writing of others.

Trials and Tribulations of Running an Interstellar Space Station is probably going to provide a basis for a future blog post. Guest of Honor Becky Chambers, science fiction writer Claire McCague, and dedicated science fiction fan Michael Kingsley joined me for that one.

Overall a Good Experience at Virtual ConQuesT 52

We experienced a number of tech glitches during my first panel on Friday. How’s Your Apocalypse was mostly designed to introduce Guests of Honor Becky Chambers, Dan Wells, and Toni Taylor. But Friday afternoon of the con is usually a lightly-attended time period. And once we got the bugs worked out, the convention went well, as far as I could tell.

Screen-grab from Virtual ConQuesT 52’s Twitch feed.
Here’s a glimpse of how the video for “How was Your Apocalypse?” looked on Twitch. (Image courtesy of ConQuesT 52).

I won’t say I want to conduct all-virtual conventions from now on. But the more we use the technology, the more possibilities open up. People who wouldn’t have been able to attend in person had a chance to participate virtually.

The Twitch feed with its recordings opened the previously-unavailable opportunity to view and enjoy panels, even when they ran opposite something else I wanted to see. Now that we have the technology and know how to use it, I hope more and more conventions maintain a virtual presence. Even when the main event goes back to in-person.

Have you participated in a virtual science fiction convention? Please use the Comments section below to tell us what you thought!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many, many, many thanks to our image sources for this post! We appreciate the gracious Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist, for permission to use his cartoon on this post, and we’re forever indebted to Virtual ConQuesT 52 and their guests for permission to post screen-grabs from their Twitch feed. This blog post would be pretty boring to look at without them!