The Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown was in a unique position this past weekend. It played host to two different types of alternate universes. The generations divided these two avenues of escape, but, as I thought, there would definitely be some overlap and–though both sides would be loath to admit it–some common ground.
Susie and I spent much of the weekend at these two events. Susie was overjoyed that she was actually able to be in Columbus when Matsuricon 2015 was taking place. It is a three-day anime convention which is always held at the Hyatt Regency, but in previous summers, Susie has been in Florida for the time that it happened. Now that she is once again based in Central Ohio, she was overjoyed by the fact that she could go.
I was shocked (and somewhat amused) to see that Matsuricon would be sharing space with Pulpfest, the annual convocation of fans, collectors, and scholars of pulp, which became a genre unto itself from the 1930s until television truly came into its own in the early 1950s. Publishers began producing books and magazines en masse on low-quality wood pulp paper, which meant they could produce magazines much more cheaply than their “glossy” competitors.
The content was all over the map, but the pulps were the gateway for many readers of all ages to the world of books, and popularized genres such as Westerns, science fiction, detective, and adventure fiction. The list of authors who published in the pulps is miles long, but this year’s Pulpfest honored the 125th anniversary of the birth of H.P. Lovecraft, so many vendors in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt plugged any magazines or paperbacks or first editions featuring any of Lovecraft’s writings, especially any work that was part of his Cthulhu mythos. (Also, one of the annual events of Pulpfest is Farmerfest, a day of workshops dedicated to Philip José Farmer and his works.)
The allure of the pulps was the escape from the mundane world of work, school, and home life, where for the cost of a measly dime The Shadow could coolly assure you that “as you sow evil, so shall you reap evil. Crime does not pay.” You could fight criminals in the morning and woo curvaceous women in the evening with Simon Templar (The Saint), or have a front-row seat at a prizefight between two fictitious boxers.
The literary quality of many of these magazines and books are questionable (and I’m being charitable in using this adjective), although many writers revered to this day (William Faulkner, Louis L’Amour, John D. MacDonald, and Isaac Asimov) first published there because these were the only venues where they could appear in print and be paid, although at a lower rate than in the “glossies.” Many parents would forgive the literary quality (or lack thereof) and the content once they saw that reading these books opened the door to a love of books for their children that would serve them well as time passed. (Indeed, I own several paperbacks–some of them literary classics–published during the early and mid 1940s where the back cover urges the reader to “Send this book to a serviceman!” How many World War II soldiers, too broke for the bars and brothels, utterly bored, took Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, or Charles Dickens out of a care package and began reading out of sheer desperation, and then looked into the GI Bill once they had returned home to the U.S.?)
Matsuricon served the same purpose for the teenagers and young adults whom I saw roaming the Convention Center and the Hyatt during the weekend. Susie went on Friday afternoon, and was back on Saturday–the day I was at Pulpfest–and Sunday afternoon. She dressed as Dipper Pines, one of the major characters in the animated Disney series Gravity Falls. I have yet to see this program, but Susie describes it as a teenage PG-13 Twin Peaks. She later posted pictures of herself in a room full of Dipper Pineses.
From the summit of my years, I can now see the allure of Matsuricon. Many of the kids there are, undoubtedly, on the receiving end of bullying, harassment, and probably full-fledged physical assault among their peers, at school and in their neighborhoods. For the three days Matsuricon takes place, the more bizarre their costumes and characters, the more welcome they were. None of your fellow Matsuricon attenders would ridicule or question where you found yourself on the gender continuum, or what pronoun you preferred.
This explains, I think, the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons, which began when I was in high school in the late 1970s. The kid who weighed 97 pounds (or 397 pounds) could, at the mere roll of some dice, lay waste to an entire village, ransack their treasuries and come away with more gold coin than he could ever spend, and ride away with a beautiful woman or two on his arm. This would be a much more palatable experience than the bullies who would steal his lunch money and stick his head in the urinal.
Even though I thought for sure that Matsuricon and Pulpfest peacefully co-existing would be unlikely, there was some overlap. I was not the only parent there whose child was at Matsuricon. I saw two costumed teenage girls wander into the Regency Ballroom hand in hand and begin looking at the paperbacks and the magazines with the risqué covers, fascinated by what they were seeing, until someone told them they could not stay unless they paid the $20 admission fee.
The kids from Matsuricon showed no signs of exhaustion. Susie surrendered to sensory overload and left with me after the Pulpfest dealer room closed at 4:30. (Seeing the Pulpfest people weaving through the Matsuricon people was truly where the oil hit the water.) I, however, went back downtown a little after 11 p.m. for the second night of “Lovecraft at the Movies.” I saw a 1971 episode of Night Gallery entitled “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture,” and this was followed by The Whisperer in Darkness (2011), which looked very much like a 1930s black and white film, so much so that I mentally began filling in the inevitable static, scratches, and pops, and looked every so often for the black fuzz that occasionally appears at the bottom of the screen when watching an old, badly restored movie on TV.
I came out of the movies a little after 1:30 a.m., and Matsuricon was still going full blast. The comic book store Heroes and Games had remained open late, as had the little convenience store, and everywhere I could see con-goers sitting around talking, cuddling, reading, and standing around talking and laughing.
I am sure there are dark moments at gatherings like these–there always are. My video game skills never got much past Missile Command and Space Invaders, so I cannot relate to the large-scale universe of the seriously competitive video gamers. That world’s ugly side became public last year with Gamergate.
But last weekend, it looked like the haters were the only people who were personae not grata.
(NOTE: The title of this blog entry is the title of a song by Steely Dan on the album Katy Lied, ABC Records ABCD-846. The refrain is “Any world that I’m welcome to/Is better than the one I come from.”)