Shattering Conventions: The Nerds Come Out at Night

August 27, 2018

When I first agreed to speak at Nerd Nite East Bay in Oakland, California, I thought I could get away with reading an especially gnarly passage from the book version of Shattering Conventions, crack a couple of jokes and answer a question or two.

I was totally wrong about this.

They actually wanted a PowerPoint presentation with citations! These nerds were for real. Scott Weitze, the onetime scientific advisor to a local horror movie show titled Creepy KOFY Movie Time, even sent me guidelines for my PowerPoint slide show that was itself a PowerPoint show.

“Try NOT to use more than two bullet points on a page…”

“Better: Use pictures and NO bullet points.”

“Do not use more than two bullet points on a slide…”

I cursed the guidelines at first, but then the Stockholm syndrome took hold and I started to love the guidelines. Without them I was dangerously close to larding down slide-after-slide with bushels of bullet points all zooming in from the sides of the screen with annoying whooshes.

Those whooshes would have totally lost the audience for me, so thank you guidelines!

Weitze asked me to talk about the very first science fiction convention.

Called Worldcon, or NYCon, this first major gathering of science fiction fans took place July 2-4, 1939 at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. This con drew a whopping 200 people, including Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell and a 17-year-old Ray Bradbury. But the most remarkable thing about this inaugural Worldcon happened when Forest J. Ackerman and Myrtle Douglas, aka Morojo, invented cosplay by showing up in futuristic costumes adorned with space capes.

“It was sort of like Clark Kent when he steps into the telephone booth and comes out with a Superman suit,” Ackerman later recalled. “When I got into that costume I walked the streets of New York with little children crying out that it was Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers.”

Ackerman later waved around his prop ray gun at an automat. People thought he was the robot from the Westinghouse display at the World’s Fair. Cops were called, but no spacemen went to jail.

Even more people showed up in costume at the second Worldcon in Chicago the following year, and there were more costumed characters at the con after that. Ackerman went on to edit Famous Monsters of Filmland, the magazine that made me a fanboy.

Morojo died in 1964 and faded into obscurity even though she had the biggest impact on today’s fandom of anyone by designing and stitching these groundbreaking getups. I doubt we’d have the Klingon bar, the Brony con or anything I’ve written about in this column without her and her sewing machine.

And 79 years later, as many people who went to that first Worldcon packed Club 21 in Oakland on a Monday night to see me talk about Morojo and Forry’s satin spacesuits with those PowerPoint slides projected on several screens so everyone could marvel at them.

I even got to open for a physics lecture on dark matter—something I never thought I’d be able to say.

Consider these conventions shattered.

Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit ineven when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.

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About the author
Bob Calhoun