221b Con Badge

221b Con, or Remembering How To Be a Fan

Last weekend I went to 221b Con, a first-year Sherlock Holmes convention in the Atlanta area. It was my first Sherlock Holmes-only convention, and the first one where I didn’t know a single person there (aside from a nodding acquaintance with one of the organizers through a mutual friend). I was signed up to be on four different panels. And I was a little terrified of the prospect.

It turned out to be a fantastic experience.

Unsurprisingly, the con was just as much about BBC Sherlock as it was about the original canon. What was interesting was that there was already a strong Elementary presence, and indeed even some more remote pastiches such as The Great Mouse Detective had a following there. Further, there wasn’t much siloing of the subfandoms — time and again I would hear of old Sherlockians watching Elementary or Sherlock fans rabidly devouring the original canon. One of my favorite moments was a cosplayer of Sherlock Irene Adler dominating a cosplayer of Elementary Sherlock for a picture. It was a sincere love of all versions of the Great Detective, which I immensely enjoyed.

Secondly, for a first-year convention, it was incredibly well-run. There were about a couple hundred attendees (based on my casual estimates from when most of the con was in one room) “639 people” according to the staff of 221b Con, but I didn’t notice any significant outages. Each panel room had a list of all of the events scheduled there, as well as who was on the panel, and someone went to every panel room to end the event five minutes early. Getting my badge was immensely fast, and everyone was polite and helpful.

Thirdly, the conversations were genuinely interesting. Naturally there were a couple of bad apples (because people are people), but overall I found each of the conversations to be worthwhile, and more than once I was delighted to find someone who knew more on a topic than I did. It was great to be able to make cracks like “Watson only had one wife, damn it!” and hear a room respond with laughter.

Fourthly, I got unexpected work and free books out of it, as well as some nice conversations with fellow authors. I also got recognized by at least two people for my White Wolf work (although one told me about it later), which was a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one.

What was odd for me, however, was walking into someone else’s community.

I didn’t realize until very near the end of the convention was that a large percentage of the attendees were part of a Tumblr Holmes community with a strong slant towards cosplay. It gave me a unique opportunity to see a tight, integrated community from the outside. A group heavily slanted towards women coming from a wide variety of states and dressing in costume to share inside jokes and debate arcane minutiae is eerily close to the dynamics of the White Wolf LARP community. Even the stories of room parties on Friday and Saturday night sounded a lot like what I’ve experienced.

I can’t say I’ve learned much from the outside observation, because by the time I recognized it as such, I was already inside of it — I made a Tumblr at the con because I was asked for my address so much, and the community has been very warm and welcoming.

The best thing I can say is that I did something I almost never do: I pre-registered for next year’s show at the convention. I can very much see this being a new annual tradition for me.

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