Archon 20 was held over the weekend of October 4-6, 1996 in Collinsville, Illinois. Archon is an annual convention in the St. Louis area, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year. To celebrate that, they had an extra-special lineup of guests, including Ray Bradbury.
Unfortunately there were many ways in which Archon gave the impression of having been a small con that outgrew itself, and the presence of the Big Name guests only underlined this. The relative sparsity of programming in relationship to the sheer number of attendees, as well as the smallness of the dealers' room and art show, were the strongest indicators in my opinion.
However I am willing to allow that these may be biases partly based on my familiarity with Chicago-area cons, and therefore an unconscious tendency to transfer expectations based upon them to a con in a totally different area which may have completely different standing traditions. For instance in Chicago-area cons such as Capricon or Duckon one generally has various forms of snack foods served in the con suite, so discovering that Archon's served only beverages came as an unpleasant surprise.
However some of the other problems, such as the incredible lines and crowding that occurred at almost every event Bradbury was in (I only managed to glimpse him once or twice during the whole con, when a major reason for my coming was to meet him) seemed to develop from not realizing just what it would mean to have over two thousand attendees trying to see such a major figure of our field.
Even so, I would not write off Archon entirely as a "bad con" -- next year the concom will have a chance to learn from the problems of this year, and hopefully will be able to make adjustments based upon those things. Also the Gateway Center, the con location, will be finished with its expansion plan by then and there will be more function space available, allowing for a larger art show and dealers' room. This will probably alleviate some of the problems that plagued the art show, particularly the space difficulties which left several artists wondering if they would have panels or if their trip would be wasted and they would be obliged to leave their art unshown and cart it home again.
Even with all the problems, I was able to have fun at Archon. I arrived shortly before noon on Friday, after having a little difficulty finding the place because of poor directions (there are two Collinsville exits, and I took the wrong one and finally had to ask for directions at a local gas station). I was able to get my badge quickly, but I was one of the people who'd gotten hit with the art show snarlup and had to wait until 5PM to find out whether I'd get to show my stuff or I'd be carting it home.
Although I was a bit annoyed, I went ahead and visited volunteer headquarters, then wound up working bag check in the art show. I was very relieved to be able to secure a panel after all and get all my pieces up, although I did lose those hours of exposure for them. To make sure that didn't happen next year, I went ahead and signed the "space for next year" list.
After a quick supper I finally met with the person who had arranged the room I was sharing and was able to obtain my room key. Then I got my stuff out of my car and into the room. By that time the parties were beginning, so I circulated. Actually there were really only two parties the first night, the Klingon party and a party for another con in the area. I spent most of my time in the Klingon party, before finally deciding it was time to turn in for the evening.
The next morning I went down to breakfast with my roommates (a free continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant was one of the perks of renting a room in the Holiday Inn) and had some good discussions of the future of sf. The art show was in good shape in terms of volunteers, so I began looking for interesting panels.
I managed to stumble into the kids' program room, where a couple of the pro artists were giving art demos, and wound up offering my own abilities as a "furry" artist. The adults were glad to have an additional artist, and I showed the kids how I could combine images of human and cat to create an anthropomorphic animal artwork (one suitable for children, of course, not one of the more racy ones).
In the afternoon I checked back in the art show to see how my own artwork was going (I actually did have one sale) and to look at possibilities to buy. I also did another shift at bag check, also doing some more drawing during the slower periods. Soon the art show was closed and it was time to prepare for the art auction. For no bigger of an art show than we had, this was a lively event. Of course the fact that there were some hotly contested items (including some stunning photorealistic airbrush work by two up-and-coming artists who are likely to be the next Big Names to join the likes of George Barr and Michael Whelan) probably helped to make it such an exciting event.
By the time the art auction was over, the masquerade was just beginning. It ran unusually long, which meant that most of the parties delayed beginning until it was over. This made for a long dry time for those people who aren't particularly interested in masquerades. I wound up sitting in the lobby and drawing to pass the time before the parties got going.
Once again there were only a few parties, which made things very quiet for a con. I spent a good bit of my time in the "fairy party," which was primarily for kids, before deciding that it was time to turn in for the night.
On Sunday morning I joined my roommates for another breakfast, then got checked out of our room. I took a quick look at the dealers' room before heading over to the Pizza Party with the Pros which was for anyone volunteering four hours or more. After that I returned to the art show bag check while Sunday sales were going on and the artists were checking out their unsold wares. When the art show finally closed down I checked out my remaining pictures and took one last quick look around the place before heading back to mundania.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated October 21, 2012.