Nine Things I Learned At Nine Worlds, And Why You Should Join Me In 2017

imageNine Worlds is a residential genre convention held in and around London every year that Kieron Gillen has repeatedly described as a petri-dish of the future of fandom. I only heard him say it twice this weekend. But I agreed a lot more.

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The show takes in sci-fi, fantasy, comics, gaming, cosplay and more, with an emphasis not so much on fan-friendly names as those studied in the forms, academics, experts, and prominent fandom voices. Where the audience are as much a valued part of the panels as the guests themselves. Which underlines and emphasised diversity, inclusivity as a defining feature of the show that it leads the discussion in new and interesting ways.

I was there for the first time to report, but instead I found myself learning. Here are a few things I learned along the way. Still had time to post some cosplay and some tail action though.

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1. A Rose By Another Other Pronoun.

Wearing pronoun badges (in my case 'he/him') is a good thing because even if you think it is obvious, in a place like Nine Worlds it really isn't. And it makes for greater inclusivity for those who need them, if everyone does it as well. It's nice.

2. Consensual Photography 

Most conventions operate an "if you are here, you may be photographed" policy. Not Nine Worlds. A place where all photography must be by permission, and yellow lanyards indicated that people did not want to be photographed under any circumstances changed a lot of the general photography of the show for me. There was no "From One Side Of The Show To The Other" video here. But also an absence of the ogling for which cosplay can be associated with at some places. A remarkably different, and welcome vibe.

3. Exploding Worlds As Well As Building Them.

A good example of changing world views started with the Feminist Issues And Jessica Jones panel on the Saturday, with Steph Rennick, Debbie Moon, Sarah Barker, Jude Roberts and Roz Kaveney. They talked about the familiar trope of how an abusive backstory is a shortcut to a "strong female character", but I don't think I'd considered other aspects of this, specifically how this can also be seen as a degendering or even a male-gendering of a female character, which in a flash led me to reinterpret a number of works in a fashion that I hadn't had from that perspective previously. And that was one line from one panel on the Saturday that twisted a chunk of my world view. This was not the only time that happened. That's one of the beautiful things about this kind of programming, condensed together in this kind of hot house fashion (though thankfully air conditioning was working). It may be Nine Worlds, but there are thousands more world views to consider. And this is the place where they jump out from one panel, to another, I followed Sarah Barker to her own solo panel later in the day, focused on creating new female superheroes  where I was able, in another panel, to consider a more extreme extension of that approach by writer Kurt Busiek in the Conan comic to the character Janissia, with rape being seen as the equivalent of being bitten by a radioactive spider. And that's what this show does, with so many simultaneous and competing panels, each devoted in extreme detail to one aspect of a topic, you can draw your own narrative threads from one panel to another to another, everyone having their own unique journey and moments of discovery. I learned other things from Sarah Barker that are, frankly, so shocking they deserve their own headline. So look for that later.

4. A Social Place Of Worship

At the first panel I attended about journalism and social media with Laurie Penny, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Tanya Brown, I got my first big laugh of the show with Reni's "the devil's got enough advocates". But it was her comparison of the dominance of Google, Facebook and Twitter to the big agricultural companies who own the seeds that grow the food we eat, reducing them and their range to as few as possible, that may have changed my perspective on that. I guess I'd been a lot more neutral over their effect, seeking to take advantage and subvert it when I could, but it's like a gnat knawing on the ankle bone of a giant – you may get taken for a fun trip but you have no control of direction. But it was Laurie Penny's discussion of the blurring of journalism and the influence her original "social media", her friends, that gave me pause to wonder if I could be doing something similar, something better than I already am. It also helped that this was a place to make friends easily. The proximity of panel to bar is a heady one.

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5. Guarded Views

I learned in the LGBTQIA+ Representations in Saga panel with Mia Violet, Loretta Headley, Cali and Quen Took that there were worries over the use of ComiXology's Guided View on a specific scene in Saga, where we meet trans character Petrocor in the shower – it was a revealing shot on the page, but on Guided View, it was more of a Crying Game moment, the "camera" panning down from top to bottom, and transforming that reading experience in a way that was seen as exploitative, which wasn't in the original. I don't think I'd considered exactly how digital reading could subvert the authorial intent in such a fashion before.

6. Out Of Pocket

That while there were points being made, I didn't have to disagree with them, I could just listen, learn, and consider. One panel, From Dragons To Diversity with Sarah Shaffi, Bex Levene, Yen Ooi and Kieron Gillen, they repeatedly made the point that certain authors won't tell certain stories, because they don't think those stories are theirs to tell, expressing fears of cultural appropriation. And while that's a viewpoint I disagree with, by listening to people discuss it at length, teasing out nuance, I was able to better appreciate the financial aspect of this – when you are a big name creator, you would actually take money from other people's pockets who could have told that story, and who may be denied the opportunity to write other stories. If I disagree, and I still do, I have to factor this in as an acceptable cost.

7. A Mock Convention

Being careful not to hurt people's sensibilities doesn't mean that it's a humourless place or people can't laugh at themselves. I found myself participating in the Panel Panel, a panel about panels, a piece of improvisational theatre masterminded by Abigail Brady as a moderator who doesn't introduce anyone and just wants to talk about herself, featuring Alex Paynter as a werewolf porn author with a PHD she had to jeep mentioning, Elaine Scattermoon as a Yes/No replier who eventually became obsessed with warning signs in Stockholm,  Kieron Gillen as a Hollywood screen-rewriter who was too good for the panel and would rather play Pokemon Go and Laurie Penny as a drunken cultural commentator with big opinions that she doesn't feel the need to back up, and she's got to go early to catch her flight. As all the panels played out panellist tropes, stating subtext as text, the audience joined in making statements that pretended to be questions, asking where the panellists got their ideas and I found myself as the neckbearded fat white guy wanting his old convention back. You know what, I really had to dig deep for that, because I really don't want it back. I learned that I want Nine Worlds to be the present. Also that Laurie Penny is a comedy god who should be doing standup.

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8. Really Out Of Pocket

Nine Worlds is more open about its finances than any other show I've seen – especially since it is not a non-profit event. Not that there was any danger of profits this year, the show made a loss this year. Big time, costing £107,000 and bringing in £86,000.  Indeed, if it wasn't for the director getting an inheritance, the show would have folded. And he doesn't really want to have to rely on any more dying relatives. So the advance weekend ticket price has gone up from £75 to £85, and kids get in for free if booked in advance. There is marketing to be rethought, as well as the dealer expo section. To be honest I only even knew the show was happening on the Friday that it started, and this show is practically on my doorstep, so I'm going to try and volunteer with a little awareness raising next year myself. The new location, moving away from the Heathrow hotels, to a far more central location, the Novotel in Hammersmith, though a lot more expensive, was welcomed by all, it seems, so that is staying. But the money has to come from somewhere.

9. Boom, Your Next Hit Is Waiting For You Here

Hamish Steele's Deadendia is a really cool comic book. I picked up the first issue in the Expo dealer room, went back for the other seven. Have a look over here if you want. 

IMG_4077Nine Worlds has very high ideals that it sets for itself. That it manages to achieve any of them is remarkable, and it knows where it falls down. It was repeatedly noted that there were more trans people at Nine Worlds than POC for example, despite the programming being intersectional as all hell. Which means it may be succeeding in some areas better than others. But this, along with greater outreach all over, is something the show intends to address.

Because those who went to the show, seemed to have a really good time. I didn't even see any raised voices in the bar. On and everyone love No Face leading the conga on the dance floor.

And I know I only scratched the surface.

Tickets for next year can be found here.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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