Tropicon XVII

        Tropicon XVII was held on November 13-15, 1998 at the Sheraton Suites Cypress Creek Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  Guests of Honor were writer Neil Gaiman and artist Charles Vess.  I was really looking forward to this convention.  I have been a big fan of Neil Gaiman since his Black Orchid mini series in 1988.   Also having missed the last 2 Tropicons and being born and raised in Miami ("Go Dolphins"), it was nice to come back and support the hometown convention.
         The Dealers Room had a very good book selection.  There was a good combination of new and used books.  I was able to find a hard to get copy of The John W. Campbell Letters and the Ace edition of Podkayne of Mars.   One dealer had both volumes of Ellison's Glass Teat essay collections.  The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), an organization which insure that comic get the same protection from censorship as other forms of media, had a table in the Dealers Room.  The CBLDF sold books and art donated by various comic pros, including Neil Gaiman, to help raise money for the fund.  .
         There was plenty to do at night. On Friday night the VIP Party/Goblin Party was held.   One could win hardcover books and other prizes through games of chance.   Later that night the musical group Inhouse performed.  The group played selections from their latest album Waking Juliet, cover songs from the likes of Pink Floyd, and songs still in development (including one song inspired by the film What Dreams May Come).  The video room showed the six part BBC mini series Neverwhere written by  Gaiman.   The video room also showed classic films such as The Princess Bride, the original Island of Doctor Moreau, and John Frakenheimer's Seconds.
         The Science Fiction Retrospective panel looked at all aspects of science fiction writing.  Panel members consisted of Holly Lisle, Mike Resnick, Joe Green and Hal Clement.  While all agreed that the books coming out now are better than they were 50 years ago, Mike Resnick thought the level of mediocrity has risen.  Joe Green felt that the quantity had risen.   Holly Lisle explained that she found SF by reading the classics of the 30s and 40s and the Hugo Winners anthology.  She felt SF taught the meaning of heroism and that problems are to be solved.   Right now the biggest thing in SF publishing is media tie in novel which all felt is a step backward and killed the mid-list books.  Fantasy is outselling SF but most of the books were dismissed as derivative.    When asked the difference between fantasy and science fiction, Joe Green declared that a lot of science fiction is really fantasy because of there use of impossible science. The difference is a good SF writer can convince the reader of the plausibility of these devices.  One improvement that occurred in the 70s was the SF novel writing started to pay well enough to be an only job.    As for media SF, Hal Clement summed it up by saying most films are between 30-50 years behind the literature.  Joe Green said, the older a SF film is one usually has to deduct one star given by the film guides to truly assess its worth.    He did feel that some of the classics avoid this devaluation.
       Comic Books: From Idea to Finished Product explained how a comic is produced.   Editors are more involved in the creative process than they were 10 years ago. The main reason for this is that comic are now in an economic slump.   Gaiman and Caitlin R. Kiernan, the writers on the panel, used full detailed scripts rather than the short handed Marvel Way of script writing.   Neil explained the Marvel Way came about because Stan Lee in the early 60s was the only full time writer for Marvel at the time and had to put a dozen books out every month.   He would give an artist like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko a two page outline and let them fill out the rest.   Stan would then go back and put in the dialogue often outlined by the artist.   This worked for Stan and Marvel mainly because the artists were also good writers in their own right.   This method does not succeed if there is no rapport with the artist.  Even with a full detailed script it helps for the writer and artist to have good working relationship as Neil Gaiman had with Charles Vess on Sandman.    After the pencils are done, the letterers put the words in. This is now being done more and more by computer.    The work is then given to the inkers who does more than simply trace the picture.   They can either enhance or detract the work done by the penciller.    Then comes the coloring.   This can be done without consulting the writer or penciller.  Gaiman discussed how one colorist had an obsession with purple in some the early issues Sandman gave the book a look he did not want.  Computers are also making inroads in this process, although some companies still use unspecialized labor.   As for marketing, writers have to come up with a blurb used to sell the comic in Prevue magazine, sometimes months before the script is written.
         Last year's trivia champion Donna Penz and fan historian and former Worldcon chair Joe Siclari hosted the Trivia Contest.  Anyone could participate.  People who got correct answers were awarded wooden nickels which were equal to $.10 of Dealer's Room merchandise.   The three with the most nickels would go on to the championship round to compete for more nickels and to have their name put on the trophy.  The winner also had to work on next year's contest.  The trophy, made by the same individual who designed the Magicon Hugo, had on its base the name of previous winners and Godzilla (classic version) as the centerpiece.   The questions covered such areas as literature, media, and fan history.   This year winner was Edie Stern.
         Gaiman was interviewed by co-con chair Peter Rawlik with questions submitted by the audience.   Gaiman discussed how his work translates to other media.  Two of his works have been turned into plays in Chicago.  In  Violent Cases, a sequence contrasting a child's birthday party to a gangland hit  was reduced to one line of dialogue.    Still this is better than the proposed movie script of Sandman, which reduces the character of Dream to a Schwarzenegger-like action hero.  Because of this, Gaiman is reluctant on doing more comics mini series based on Sandman characters unless he gets the opportunity to negotiate the film rights himself instead of going through Warner Brothers.  He then went to explain the difference between writing for television and comics and in prose.  In prose and comics he can do whatever he wants and goes on.  In television, he will write a script and months later see actors and film crew pays the price for his creativity.    A fight in the mud where the entire crew was freezing demonstrating this drawback.  His first professional writing job was a Penthouse interview of Robert Silverberg.  He called Penthouse pitched them the idea of the interview.  He then went to a local convention and told the organizers he was with Penthouse.    He concluded the interview by discussing future projects.  These included a massive book tour to promote the hardback release of Stardust, a horror novel, a movie version of Neverwhere, and a novel about the United States.
      Gaiman gave his Guest of Honor speech after the banquet on Saturday night.   He started out by saying how he likes small conventions where it is easier to meet the fans.   He had just come from a very large convention in Argentina where he and William Shatner were Guests of Honor.  He used the opportunity to visit the village of Gaiman in the region of Patagonia, which was settled by Welshmen.  There he got to see whales, elephant seals and a teacup and saucer used by Lady Diana preserved in the town museum.   Gaiman claims he does not know much about the writing process.  He does know about the not-writing process.  He feels he does not really have a career. He just had a list of things he wanted to do.  He has done three-fourths of the list and wonders what he will do when he finishes it.
     The convention ran smoothly.   The only facilities problems was not being able to use the stairs and slow elevators.    Everything else was just great.  It is nice to see the home convention doing so well.
 

I would like to thank my friend David K. Plesic who helped me take notes at this convention.

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