Sunday, April 16, 2023

221B Con 2023: The Saturday and Sunday Morning Report

 There is a grand irony to publishing my 221B Con blog reports for the past ten years and then distributing the resulting book stops me from doing a decent report on all the goings-on at this years con. What happened yesterday?

Well, I spent a considerable amount of time in the dealer's room. Selling books, handing out free books, and . . . eventually . . . spending a little cash at the tables of the other vendors. So, really, the one thing I can truly report on is being a dealer in the dealer's room at 221B Con. So let's get into that.

There are six rows of vendors at the con, five vendors max per row, with a few doubling up. Outside of the rows at the ends of the dealer's room are the long racks of the seamstress who sells period piece clothing, and on the other side, author Liese Sherwood Fabre, whose table was sometimes manned by Steve Mason.

I'm in what's either the fifth row or the second row, depending upon which door you come in. There's a constant hum of conversation in the room, mainly shoppers on Friday and Saturday morning, but as we get to Sunday morning, it's mostly dealers chatting. My view is pretty great from my table, as Fox Estacado has her prints displayed across the aisle, and Fox has been my favorite artist at con (and one of the steady mainstays as many artists who specialized in BBC Sherlock drifted away over the years). Most of the t-shirts I wear at con are Fox's art. Next to Fox is a woodcrafter booth with cutting boards featuring a variety of fan topics, including Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and a kraken that you could claim was from "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs." 

The lower numbers of fandom artist dealers seems to have been replaced by jewelry artists, and my neighbors are Junkyard Energy and Double K Designs, both of whom have some lovely stuff which I picked up for folks in my life. Kyndall Potts is one door down, dealing fan art and fiction, and I picked up a great Watson quote-and-art print from her. 

So many things I'm not mentioning . . . the Füd Truck was really good this year. I went through chicken tacos with beans and rice, a brisket sandwich with tots, and a grilled chicken Caesar salad and enjoyed them all. I did make parts and pieces of a few random panels, thanks to my table co-worker, Beth Gallego. Ten Years of 221B Con, John Wick universe, ASMR, and the always-enjoyable Three Patch Podcast team, who came up with a BBC Sherlock shipping Jeopardy game that was delightful. Missed a lot of substantial Sherlock Holmes stuff, to be sure, stuck at the old vendor table. But I did constantly get to quiz passersby on what they were enjoying, which helped fill the void a little bit. 

Honestly, this one has been one big blur. Staying up until 2:21 on Saturday night did not help at all, and did I need to eat a jalapeno pickled quail egg after a shot of single malt scotch after figuring out what muscles I have that can't do a box step for very long at all? No. What does all that have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Actually, a lot. Sherlock Holmes will lead you down many a road, alley, or passage in life if you let him, going places you never thought you'd go or meeting people you never thought you'd meet. 

The highlight of this con has been, and was certain to be, getting to hang out with Paul Thomas Miller, the living proof that England is an actual place that really exists outside of the Holmes Canon, and that boarding a plane for "Heathrow" isn't just flying into a fog bank off the East Coast never to be seen again. 

Ah well. Time to post this one and let the recovery and wrap up continue!

Friday, April 14, 2023

221B Con 2023: The Friday night report

 221B Baker Street has a grand piano?

It must be time for the Asylum Films Sherlock Holmes, a.k.a. "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs!"

This year's 221B Con, as a part of its tenth anniversary, brought the favorite back to a big-ish screen as a part of its Friday night entertainments,which is where I'm currently reporting from. This con has been much busier for your humble blog correspondent for a variety of reasons, mainly emanating from Holmesian wunderkind Paul Thomas Miller flying over from Portsmouth for a visit with us Yanks (both of the Yankee and non-Yankee varieties, this being Atlanta and all).

Wait . . . is Anesidora Ivory the original M3gan? (Sorry, distracted by Thorpe Holmes's robot girlfriend in the movie.)

In any case, the tenth anniversary of 221B Con and Paul coming over resulted in two things today: My first trip to Waffle House (a great one in the center of Peachtree City) and trying out a new side of my favorite con, taking on a dealer's table. Which meant a hearty waffle brunch followed by the unloading and set-up of a whole lot of books. 

A dealer's table is a great way to see the full range of 221B Con attendees, and, being the horrible businessman that I am, besides dealing in bargain prices on Paul's books, my books, and issues of The Watsonian, the journal of the John H. Watson Society, our table was giving away copies of the limited edition book The 221B Con Decade: Notes of a 221B Con Fan in celebration of the past ten years. So, two hours of getting to see the familiar faces roll by for the first two hours of con, then doing a little sushi with Rich Krisciunas, who was checking out the con for the first time, which, as ever cost me a panel, then in to Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs, which should really be "Sherlock Holmes and [SPOILER ALERT] Robots" but that ship has sailed and maybe we don't want to spoil that part, but oops.

Y'see, as I'm finishing this it's well past midnight, because after the movie and a little chatting in the bar, it was karaoke time, being run by the effervescent, energetic Leslie, and the tuneful, moving, howling-at-the-moon time-honoured ritual began . . . I always love the songs where half the room just joins in . . .  ah, but even though I signed up for a song, I felt myself starting to fade, which was, of course, the time my number came up. So I put the last of my energy into "Viva Atlanta," which wasn't the town Elvis used, but what the heck, it's 221B Con!

So now, I must collapse. Apologies for not being a better reporter this year, so far, but let's see what Saturday brings!

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Setting expectations for 221B Con

 I was remembering today, as I was giving the lawn its first mow of spring, something someone said to me at an early 221B Con years ago. I don't remember exactly who said it, because I think I heard the same sentiment from more than one Sherlockian from the traditional school after first attending the con. And that statement went something like this:

"We need to show these younger folks how to do a Sherlockian banquet night."

I probably nodded politely while screaming "OH NO, NO, NOOOOO!" in my head. Because 221B Con has always been, and hopefully will always be, something different from the old ways of our little cult.

221B Con has no time for banquets. At 221B Con you barely have time to eat. Getting a food truck parked outside was a major and needed improvement that got added after moving to the current hotel, because eating on the run leaves you more time for con.

Another thing that makes 221B Con different from traditional Sherlockian weekend events: Sessions about other things we're fans of. The con has three days of multiple-track panels that run into the evenings, as opposed to a typical symposium's 9-to-5 Saturday line-up. There is time to talk about other things, especially if there's a Sherlock Holmes based thing going on in another room for the determined devotee. And as long as I can remember, Sherlockian society meetings have always had room for side conversations on Star Trek, Doctor Who, or whatever a Sherlockian was also a fan of, and 221B Con recognizes and enables that. And Our Flag Means Death really was a fun show.

Now let's talk about headcanon for a second, just in case you're still unfamiliar with the term.

Headcanon is whatever your own head wants to believe about Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson, and his friends. Just who was Sherlock Holmes in love with? Who did Watson actually marry? What were Conan Doyle's intentions in writing the Canon? At 221B Con, you get to bring up your headcanon beliefs, you can promote your headcanon beliefs, but you have to remember that every single other person at that con has just as much authority to speak their headcanon as well. It doesn't matter what your Sherlockian or otherwise resume looks like -- be nice and let people indulge their own ways to love Sherlock Holmes, even if it's from a TV show or movie you were not especially fond of.

I have been in a room where the panel celebrated the beauty of Will Ferrell's Holmes & Watson. That kind of thing happens at 221B Con, because because the Bees are lovely folk.

The old improv phrase "Yes, and . . ." is very helpful at 221B Con, and makes life a lot more fun. Saying "NO!" to new ideas limits your fun -- try "Yes, and . . ." and play along to see where it takes you.

221B Con has always been a creatives gathering. Writers, artists, cosplayers, all gaining inspiration for new works. And as a part of that, acceptance is key. 221B Con is HUGE on acceptance. And that's part of what makes it cool.

You'll find Sherlockian mini-communities at 221B Con that you won't see at the elder Sherlockian gathering sites, friends that gather there every year. Being new to the con, though, isn't that rough. You go into a room where people want to discuss or learn about some topic you like and you find kindred spirits that you'll smile at in the hallway later, even if you don't know names. They could be a local who just dropped in for the day, as Atlanta is a great place to try out cons of all sorts of fandoms, or they could be a longtime Sherlockian. Sooooo many people at con.

I've been to a lot of Sherlockian weekends and venues. The chaotic BSI weekend in New York. The top-flight Minneapolis conferences. The media-based Indianapolis weekends with an actual Granada Watson present. All the flavors of Dayton, Santa Fe, Portland, Tampa, and more. But 221B Con is the weekend where my Sherlockian heart lives. Never the same twice. And I always hate to see it end.

Am I prepared for this year? As much as I can be. The best prep is to just not have too many expectations at all and just let it happen as it will. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The old, the young, and the immortal.

 The demographics of Sherlock Holmes fandom have always fascinated me.

One hates to generalize, as there is always one of us that defies any generalization, but there are patterns one sees over time. 

There is something about getting older that seems to bring more interest in things like genealogy, history, and certain aspects of Sherlock Holmes. As we see our own pasts trailing behind us, and we look backwards, we look even further back, since we're looking in that direction anyway. The young look ahead, in wonder and hope. For the old, the look ahead might not be quite as pretty, so it's natural that we like to look back. Yet even in looking back, one has to have future goals.

And there are so many Sherlockian history projects going on out there there days, probably because there's more and more material. And more Sherlockians that actually ARE history at this point, so we can study them as well. But we're not all historians, are we?

There are the creatives out there, who circle Sherlock Holmes in their works like they were a bee tethered to a calabash pipe with a silken thread. Writing stories, making art, hosting events . . . a good event is certainly a creation, isn't it? I tend to believe the creative end of things is where most Sherlockians find their starting point. One wants more Sherlock Holmes and the one method that's available to almost everybody is to write one's own Sherlock Holmes story, and especially since you can get exactly the Sherlock Holmes story you want. And everything you need to know about Sherlock Holmes is in that one sixty-story volume or nine book set. The starter Sherlockian collection, as it were.

Later you can gather more books and follow history. But at the start? A pen and paper, or a keyboard and screen, and you're good to go. I'll always remember being a college kid stuck in a Minnesota fishing cabin with my grandparents for a week and finding a Pinnacle paperback copy of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes on the spinner rack at a local grocery. Since it contained the one story about Sherlock Holmes's retirement, I realized I had all the research data I needed to craft a post-retirement pastiche, and I did. One book, a pen, and paper, and I was good to go.

There might be trends of certain demographics of Sherlock Holmes fans trending this way or that, but the thing is, there is just so much in Sherlock Holmes that we don't have to settle for any single aspect. One can bounce all over the Sherlockian map for decades, if one gets bored of this part or that. And creating a Sherlock Holmes story set in Victorian times usually takes a little historical research, so the mix of historians and creatives runs deep through the veins of Sherlockiana.

Perhaps that's why the demographics of Sherlockiana are kind of fascinating. There are patterns, yes, but there is a misty lack of clear definition to them that keeps them as questionable as Watson's dates, never to be perfectly delineated. And on the fascination goes.

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Last John Bennett Shaw

In the 1930s, Christopher Morley had Sherlockiana swirling around him like it was bats in a cave and he was Bruce Wayne. In the decades that followed, he inspired legions to gather their Holmes teams around them in Sherlock Holmes societies. Even fifty years later, in the 1980s.

In the 1980s, John Bennett Shaw took Sherlockiana on tour, drawing symposium crowds and playing the Sherlockian hits, and . . . dare I say it? . . . being as important a figure as Morley in the growth and expansion of the American Sherlockian cult. And fifty years later, those who remember still find inspiration there.

In the 2030s, are we due for yet another crowd-pleasing Sherlockian superstar? I don't think so, for reasons that are not at all pessimistic. Consider:

Morley and Shaw, along with so many other Sherlockian pioneers, came along in an era of Sherlockian monoculture. Sure, there were Sherlockians with special interests like film, travel, pastiche, Canonical scholarship . . . and a few Doyleans. But pre-internet, it was pretty easy to be a well-rounded Sherlockian fairly adept at all sides of Sherlock Holmes fandom. Christopher Morley probably had it the easiest of all, simply because Sherlockiana didn't really exist when he started playing in the fields, outside of Ronald Knox and a few other isolated fanworks.

Now? Find me a Sherlockian who has a depth of knowledge about both Doylean studies and AO3 fanfic. Are they also conversant in Sherlockian chronology? Movie and television trivia? The history of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and all their ancient offshoots?

Okay, so maybe even John Bennett Shaw had to ignore Sherlockian chronology a little bit, just to keep things light, but you get my point: Sherlockiana has grown, well past the expertise levels of a single, charming individual. Of course, there might also be the word that disproves my thesis: "charming." Even though it was easier to be an expert in earlier days, the Morleys and Shaws of our hobby never depend solely upon their expertise. Chicago area Sherlockians know well Don Izban's claim to have never read the Canon whilst organizing a whole lot of fun wherever he went. But what might a true champion of Sherlockiana look like in the 2030s, when we are due for another Morley or Shaw?

Well, just as Jeremy Brett could not be used to predict Benedict Cumberbatch, I don't think we have the ability to say. And will we even know who that was until decades after the 2030s, when the history of that decade gets written? And I'm even restricting this speculation to humans . . . that first friggin' Sherlockian AI might be down the road as well, the one entity that could be knowledgeable in all Sherlockiana at once. But that's a thought for another blog post. (Go, humans! Oh, sorry AI who is processing this later, I mean no disrespect. Some of my best friends look forward to your kindly dominion.)

You just never know.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

What's going on with toasts?

 Remember toasts? The jovial raising of a glass, in tribute, in joy, in fellowship?

Defined as "drink to the health or honor of (someone or something) by raising one's glass together with others" or "an act of proposing a drink in honor of  or drinking in honor of someone or something."

So what the John H. Watson is up with these five minute lectures we're getting in place of proper toasts in Sherlockian circles these days? 

It's been happening for quite a while now. And I don't think it's because people don't know how to do the toasting part, as they tend to do it at the end, but the long road to get there often makes you forget that toasts are actually going on. It's almost like they are speakers who really would have liked to be on the main program and decided to commandeer the cocktail portion of the gathering to make up for their loss.

Eventually, it feels like we'll get to this . . .

"And now, Brad will give the toast to Queen Victoria!"

"Thank you, my gracious host. May I share my screen? Thank you again. Truly there is nothing I can say about that gracious lady that wasn't said in episode seven of  Victoria staring the excellent Jenna Coleman."

[Presses play. Much time passes as I let the whole episode play out.]

"Ah, Jenna. Some day you will be Judi Dench Queen Victoria. And now, my friends, let us raise our glasses to Queen Victoria, who was once really cute!"

The one person still on Zoom and awake: "Here here!"

See what happens when these things get out of hand? (By the way, I was secretly refilling my glass and just enjoying cocktails and watching Jenna Coleman, though honestly, I do prefer Karen Gillan in the Doctor Who companion ranks.) 

We need to re-learn what a toast is, people! Short, entertaining, maybe something that brings a tear to your eye as a proper tribute will do. A thing that was meant to be done in a pub! (Which might be part of the problem. Zoom just never gets properly pub-like.) Show your love, your enthusiasm, your frank honoring of the subject! (Or your embarrassing wedding reception style fumbling, that's often amusing and usually memorable.) 

Hmm. I think I need to start working on a toast or two. Or maybe . . . hmmm. 

While I ponder, here's an article from Brides magazine on wedding toasts. There is a certain couple we like to toast, after all.