I mentioned LeakyCon a few weeks ago in a round-up of summer cons that would be great to take your teen to — and boy, was it ever. This was my first year experiencing the pure, unadulterated geek fest that is LeakyCon, and it didn’t disappoint. What began four years ago as a small meet-up of Harry Potter fans has blossomed into a series of days that are truly special. I started reading Harry Potter 14 years ago, and there was nothing like this back in the day. No way to easily connect with people over the internet (there was no Tumblr! Twitter! Not even Facebook!), no way of being able to share the serious feels I had about the series with others unless they were a) my friends and b) actually interested in the books. Basically, I spent a lot of time talking with my then nine-year-old brother about Harry Potter, because no one else I knew really cared.
LeakyCon is incredible, but there are three especially fantastic aspects of the con that really stood out to me — and two big considerations I think the organizers might be interested in for the future of the event. Let’s start with the awesome stuff, shall we?
There is nothing else quite like it
It’s one thing to be a fan — it’s another to seriously geek out on a book series so hard you don’t have words for it. I know Harry Potter isn’t the only series to have seriously devoted fans, but it would be a challenge to deny that the core readership/viewership doesn’t have a kind of singular beauty of its own making. Like I said, in 1999 I had nothing close to this — and it’s so beautiful to me that in 2013 anyone who can get online can find this community. You don’t have to attend the con to join in the fun, but your life — your fandom — will be seriously enriched if you do.
I cry easily at just about everything, but scenes from the Harry Potter movies and books can pull tears out of me faster than that one commercial from the 2010 Winter Olympics. I sat in on a presentation at LeakyCon about heroism in Harry Potter, and in the presentation a clip from the final film was shown:
Guys, I knew when I saw the title I’d be crying (and I did), but for the first time since I saw the movie in theaters I was surrounded by OTHER people who were also crying. There was the person who audibly gasped aloud when the title flashed on the screen, already bracing herself. There was the whole row behind me who choked back sobs throughout the minute and a half it played, and there was the entire room who applauded the clip — even though we’ve all seen it like a million times already — once it was finished.
I’m 28 and most of the attendees are between 16 and 22, but I felt like I was surrounded, like actually surrounded, by my people.
It’s not just about one fandom
I inadvertently brought my four-year-old with me to two days of the con (more details below), and as he joyously exclaimed during the opening ceremonies: “It’s Superman! And Batman! AND THE DOCTORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”
LeakyCon started as a Harry Potter thing, but it hasn’t continued as one. The organizers have long since recognized that intense fandom isn’t only limited to the Potter universe, and have made amazing strides in including just about everything you might geek out about. The classes and workshops still emphasize the Potter connection (because, duh, that’s why everyone is there), but there was plenty to do and see if you aren’t all that into Harry Potter. There were Whovian and Nerdfighter meet-ups, Q&A sessions with actors from Buffy and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and a whole ton of stuff that I can’t list because I don’t even know what it is. Suffice to say: there’s something for almost every brand of geek.
It’s crazy well organized
I overheard talk of how this year’s con was the best organized yet, and it showed: I don’t have previous LeakyCon experience but have attended many a con and they weren’t nearly as easy to navigate as this one. I’m not sure if it’s partially because the Oregon Convention Center’s layout makes sense or not, but I have a hunch that the Leaky folks put a MASSIVE amount of work into making sure this year’s con was easy for everyone there.
This might not seem like a crazy huge deal, but if you’ve ever attended a chaotic, gigantic con and felt totally lost.. then you’ll appreciate it. We’re not talking Comic-Con levels of attendance, but there were thousands of people in one building and I never felt overwhelmed or confused.
What LeakyCon might want to consider in the future
Of course, just because I had an amazing time doesn’t mean everything was 100% easy for me. I planned to attend around my husband’s work schedule and by myself — notably not with my four-year-old — because LeakyCon’s website alludes to being best for children who are eleven and older. I was totally cool with this (it makes sense!), but I took my son in the morning of the con to pick up my press badge and let him check it out before it got crazy. He was so instantaneously infatuated that they offered to make him his own badge, and he ran around the building the rest of the day, gleefully showing it off. He was sorted into Hufflepuff, and spent an hour meeting every other Hufflepuff he could. He loved all the costumes (there was an especially good Hagrid), and I totally blew his mind when I was able to use my press pass to move us from the back of the room to the front row for the opening ceremonies.
Families like cons, too
I was surprisingly happy my son had been able to come — we spent two of the four days making memories that he might actually remember, and sharing in a celebration for a cultural phenomena that is just so incredibly important to me. When we went back on day two, I noticed a few more people with kids and was excited — it’s FUN to see adults sharing their geeky fandoms with their kiddos.
As the day wore on and the various children started to become overstimulated (because OMG), I noticed something that was sorely lacking at LeakyCon: chill out spaces. I’ve been to other cons that were prepared for families and had designated “quiet rooms” waiting — you could feed your kid, let your kid take a nap, or just let your kiddo hang out in a room that won’t be too stimulating whenever you needed to. These chill out spaces have been lifesavers for us in the past when we’ve had our son with us, and it would serve LeakyCon well to perhaps work something similar into its future plans.
I realize most of the attendees are still light years away from having children, but at some point quite a few of them probably will — and they’re going to want to bring their kids with them. So while it might not be a pressing concern right now, the future of LeakyCon’s attendees could shift, and considerations may need to be made. Everyone was INCREDIBLY helpful and happy to have my son there — with his Gryffindor Quidditch shirt and winged shoes he was a big hit — but having a quiet space set outside would have been nice for us and other families attending, I’m sure.
The first generation of Potter fans might feel out of place
Like I mentioned, I started reading the books in 1999. Since they were first published in the US in 1998, I consider myself a “first generation” Harry Potter fan. This doesn’t mean anything other than I’ve been reading these books for a really long time, and they’re super important to me. My fandom isn’t better or greater in strength because I happened to be around when the books first came out — it just is what it is.
While I didn’t at ALL expect LeakyCon to acknowledge that fandoms come in different waves, there is a very YOUNG energy about the con. As I said earlier, this makes sense because (from what I saw) most of the attendees are 16-22. They’re about to graduate high school or just started college, which means a lot of them were babies or young children when the books first came out. They might not have had to wait years between books and films, and may not truly appreciate the utter agony of counting down the hours until midnight before rushing into the bookstore of their choice to snag a copy of the book.
The workshops and classes at LeakyCon were exceptional (I sat in on Marginalization in Harry Potter and was gleeful about getting to exercise the sociological part of my brain again) and challenging, but overwhelmingly cater to a younger generation. This could just be me being all “Man, I feel old…” about it, or I could have glossed over workshops of this nature, but I’m not quite sure that’s it. I think a few workshops here and there making reference to being among the first group of people to discover a series before it became gigantic — before the internet made it so easy to connect — would be nice.
In conclusion: LeakyCon is amazing
I think if you can come away from a con with only two slightly negative things to say, you’re onto something. I will happily be looking out for LeakyCon 2014 information, and hiiiiiighly urge you guys to do the same.