It’s time for an Archon Overview. Time to look back from a bit more than a week’s distance and share my thoughts about this year’s event. This was the penultimate convention for my four-con “season,” but for today’s post I want to focus just on Archon 46.
This concom (convention committee) gets a lot of things right. They have a long, solid history of good art shows, now ably helmed by Anna Mulch, and a dynamic programming team. This year Tricia McFadden and Rhiannon Gonzalez helmed that department. Jill Lybarger headed up the Dealers Room and Creators’ Alleys efficiently. In general, the mark of a well-run convention is that you don’t have to worry about how things will come together – they just do.
That is not achieved as effortlessly as it seems to guests and attendees, but this year’s concom made it feel effortless. That means they were scrambling all through the con and have been working hard for months in advance. All hail the concom!
That said, however, my Archon overview must in honesty note that attendance appeared to be down by quite a bit this year. Archon is the second-largest convention on my “usual tour” (after SoonerCon), but this whole season seemed to be the Year of Lowered Attendance. I don’t necessarily think it’s just an “Archon thing.” I worry that perhaps it’s more of a “traditional fan-run sf con” thing.
The lower-attendance trend seemed clear in the Art Show. Anna took over a few years ago, following in a long tradition established by the late Michelle Zellich. She has smoothed out the process more each year, until this time there was hardly any friction at all for the artists. Yet the show seemed smaller. I saw some of the “usuals,” locals such as Mike Cole and John E. Kaufmann. I also saw work from frequent mail-ins, such as Theresa Mather, Daniel Cortopassi, Peri Charlifu, and Sarah Clemens, all of whom had new work. But overall, I had a sense that fewer artists participated this year than last.
A couple of large displays deserve special mention in my Archon overview. One, by Archon locals Nancy Edwards and Ross Hathaway,offered interesting new work. Nancy’s 3D work is always fun, but what caught my eye this time was Ross’s display. Each of his images started with an AI prompt. Then he used his skills with digital graphics to turn it into a satisfying finished image. If we’re going to use AI art, this is the best application for it, in my opinion. Ross was also a great “expert witness” on our Friday panel “Will AI Replace Artists?” Our co-panelists were Anna and Rich Zellich. We had a lively and engaged audience, and an overall wonderful panel.
Other Excellent Art
The other large display worth mentioning, in my opinion, was that of my friend Lucy A. Synk. Yes, I’m biased. Yes, it was 2/3 “XK9 art.” But also yes, it featured large, ambitious, beautifully executed original paintings. And yes, the cover painting for my book The Other Side of Fear, titled Bonfire: The Choosing won Best in Show. So my totally biased opinion has some popular support. When will Archon decide Lucy is an outstanding choice for Artist GoH?
A final note: Rachael Mayo set up her display after I had a chance to see the show. I can’t judge what I didn’t see, but she also usually puts on a large, beautiful display, and she took home the prize for “Best Non-Pro Artist.”
An Archon Overview of Readings and Panels
My Archon overview definitely must include the panels I attended. Because we had a dealers table, I attended almost no programming except the panels in which I was scheduled to participate. The single exception? I did squeeze in an enjoyable reading by Steven H. Silver and Van Allen Plexico. Theirs was scheduled after mine on Saturday afternoon, and I probably messed up their plans to relax and watch the big game (college football of some variety, I believe) by asking if they minded my staying to listen. They were professional enough to read for me, so thank you, guys!
My reading also included excerpts from Ray Tabler (a chapter from Fool’s Paradise)and Howard Andrew Jones (an excerpt from the Chronicles of Hanuvar). We actually had a small audience (thank you!). I read the opening scene from my Newsletter exclusive short XK9-related fiction, Beautiful New Year and took the moment to promote my Newsletter.
Another “writer-centric” event that I enjoyed a lot was the Friday evening panel “Opening Sentences and What They Tell the Reader,” moderated by the wonderful Lettie Prell, with fellow panelists Kurt Pankau, Kasey Mackenzie, and Sela Carsen.
Archon Ventures Into Space!
I had a lovely time moderating our Friday panel “Aliens and Their Lack of Diversity,” with Angela Williams and Lucy. As a writer, I had a writer’s questions (“Does it advance the plot?” “How many extra words will that require?”). Angela came to the question from the viewpoint of a teacher who works with students from diverse backgrounds (a history I can relate to, as well). And Lucy took a more visual and media-based approach to brilliantly round out the discussion. We had an engaged and unusually large audience for 1 p.m. on Friday of the convention. What a great way to kick off programming for the weekend!
A bit closer to here and now, a major programming highlight for me was the chance to talk about real-world extrapolations about space exploration on two Saturday panels. The first, “The Profitability of Settlements in Outer Space” explored the near- and longer-term prospects for space settlements with moderator Bob Perry (who brought informative slides) and fellow panelist Bryce Meyer, two members of St. Louis Space Frontier, a chapter of the National Space Society.
I followed that up with “Space and Entrepreneurship,” once again with Bryce (he had his own slides this time) and also with the inimitable Dr. Jack Glassman. In both panels our audience filled the large area of “Salon 1” with only a little room to spare. Audience members came armed with expertise of their own and excellent questions.
In the Dealers Room
An Archon overview must touch on our dealers room experience. My husband Pascal had agreed at the beginning of the summer to help us run a Weird Sisters Publishing table. He remained true to his word, even though by the time Archon 46 rolled around it had become clear this was an experiment we did not plan to repeat. We have a great lineup of books, between my three, G.’s delightful Deep Ellum Duet, and the excellent work of our Kansas City Author Friends (click the link for details), to whom we were delighted to offer wider exposure. At Archon, we also had Lucy’s puzzles.
For many authors, a dealer’s table is the ideal (and also deductible!) “home base” upon which to build their attendance at an sf con. They get publicity and visibility, plus the potential for direct sales. I’m not going to criticize anyone for whom it works, but it didn’t work for us. Yes, we sold some things. But we didn’t pay for the table, much less any other expenses, with our receipts. Nor have we, all season long.
Moreover, the lower general attendance rippled over into the Dealers Room in a major way. I saw a fair amount of traffic in the hallways for the “Creators’ Alleys” where exhibitors could set up smaller booths featuring their artwork, crafts, or books. But it didn’t seem that much of it spilled over into the Dealers Room proper. There was some traffic, but I remember seeing more of it last year, when I shared a table with Aaron Hollingsworth.
Our Archon Overview
For the Gephardt family, our Archon overview for 2023 is a mix of the good with the not-so-great. The con itself was ably and smoothly run. The things under their control went well. But a couple of things made it a difficult trip. The low Dealers Room traffic meant the hours dragged for my guys.
And the third bedbug episode out of the 2023 season’s four hotels meant we went into the convention short of sleep. That latter was definitely not something Archon could control. The hotel people did everything they could to immediately address the issue, and it didn’t appear to be an infestation – more of a “drive-by bedbugging.” Based on several news stories I’ve noticed (having been made hyper-aware by personal experience), many of the hotels in the country are dealing with pesky bedbug issues of one sort or another this year. Here’s hoping they get it under better control soon!
The high points of my Archon overview are the panels and the chance to see Lucy and other friends in person. My co-panelists were cooperative, professional, and quite knowledgeable. I think the audiences enjoyed them. I know I did. And there’s nothing quite like engaging with one’s friends face-to-face. The pandemic put us out of this habit – certainly put me out of it. But having a chance to visit and catch up in person was lovely.
We’ll take the lessons of this year and move on. Ty and I will put our focus on promotions through freebies and participating on panels next year. Weird Sisters Publishing should have more books for us to promote by then (God willing), so we’ll have lots to talk about. I, for one, am looking forward to it – including an even more fun Archon next year.
About Author Jan S. Gephardt
Jan S. Gephardt writes the XK9 books. They feature uplifted police dogs who live on a space station, sniff out clues, and solve crimes. In part to promote her science fiction mysteries with and in part because she loves them, she attends science fiction conventions. And after that she blogs about them.
See her earlier post, “The Road to Archon 46,” about preparing for this convention. You also might enjoy “A Soonercon 31 Summary,” “The Year for Horror,” and “The Good Parts Version of ConQuesT 54.” They’re about other conventions she attended this year.
We owe thanks to a whole bunch of people for the photos and other images used in the illustrations for this Archon overview post. First of all, many thanks to Archon 46 for the use of their header image! The photos from the Art Show of Lucy A. Synk’s work were taken with the artist’s permission. See the special section below for titles of all the artworks in this montage.
The third image includes book (one magazine) covers representing the authors mentioned in the “Readings and Panels” section. The cover images for Carsen, Mackenzie, Jones, and Pankau came from their websites (see links). The cover image for Tabler is courtesy of Novus Mundi Books. Black Gate provided the cover for the Jewish Futures anthology that published the story Silver read. The cover of a recent Martian magazine in which Lettie Prell’s short fiction was published and Plexico’s cover are courtesy of Amazon.
The background for the “Archon in Space” montage is a NASA public domain image, “Taken under the Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud,” obtained via DIY Photography.net. The miniature views of the slides are some of those shared at the space panels by Bob Perry and Bryce Meyer. The Babylon 5 characters came from The Mary Sue. The gallery of Deep Space Nine races that played roles in Discovery came from Screen Rant, and we found the other three Star Trek aliens in an article on Game Rant.
Photos of Sales Areas
The last two montages in this Archon overview post offer glimpses of the sales areas at the convention. The “Dealers Room” montage shows two views of the dealers room from the Weird Sisters Publishing table, notably Space Cadets Candy, Author Robert Whitmore (who doesn’t seem to have a website), Horizon Music, and Snarky Sayings. Many thanks to Tyrell Gephardt for them. The montage also includes puzzle box lid photos for Lucy A. Synk’s two jigsaw puzzles “Halloween” and “Checking it Twice,” as well as a social media promotional image from Weird Sisters Publishing that shows the book covers for all Weird Sisters and Kansas City Author Friends that were offered during 2023 from their dealers table.
The final montage shows one view of the tabletop gaming room (with Tom Vielott and Marshall Willis at the Big Muddy Games table). The others were taken in the Creators’ Alleys. I can only identify some of them, including Gil-T Games (Rota Fortunae), Orion’s Dragon Gems (no website?), Jessica Matthews, Jennifer Stolzer, Burn the Map Publishing (featuring the books of Shane L. Coffey), Van Allen Plexico, Kathryn Sullivan, and Adam J. Whitlatch’s Latchkey Press.
Titles of the Artwork Shown in the Second Montage
This Archon overview montage included views of two artists’ displays in the Archon Art Show. In that montage, the top two images show the artwork in Lucy A. Synk’s “XK9s” display. The panel at left is topped by a banner that says, “Welcome to Rana Station!” Under it is the large twilight cityscape, dominated by blues, purples, and greens, titled Green City of the Future. Under it, L-R, are Troubadour Tuxedo, Charlie, and Crooning Crystal.
On the right-hand panel, clockwise from upper right, are First Responder, Hildie, Bonfire: The Choosing, Jogging, and The Scolding. At far right Tyrell Gephardt examines the display. Below him and overlapping the photo is the cover of Jan S. Gephardt’s The Other Side of Fear, for which Bonfire: The Choosing was painted.
At lower left is Lucy A. Synk’s third display panel, showing five space-fantasy paintings. Top row, L-R: Where No One Has Gone Before and More Strange New Worlds. At center, Hawk Nebula. Bottom row, L-R, Running the Zipper, and Light of the Nebula. All artwork on the first three panels is ©by Lucy A. Synk.
At lower right is Jan S. Gephardt’s paper sculpture display. Top row L-R, Common Cliff Dragon – Male and Love in the Storm. Center Row, L-R: Gemflower Outburst, Overcoming Complications, and Coming Through! On the bottom row, L-R: Fierce, Brave, and White Clematis with Dragons. All paper sculpture artwork is © by Jan S. Gephardt.