Editorials

Feature Editorial: Ponies at Capitol Square: Trotcon in Columbus

I'm not saying which is which...

The author with a changeling

This past weekend I attended Trotcon, a My Little Pony convention that takes place every year at the Sheraton in Columbus. This was my second year attending Trotcon, so I managed to take things in at a more reasonable pace. The convention has, for the most part, a relaxed welcoming atmosphere; while the majority of the pony fans in attendance were adult men, women represented a sizable minority of attendees, and there were plenty of little kids running around enjoying themselves.

Special guests from the show this year were M. A. Larson, Peter New, and Andrea Libman. They participated in some excellent Q&A panels and were all around good sports. One session I found particularly interesting was M. A. Larson going over the process of writing one of his first episodes, “The Cutie Mark Chronicles.” He showed the audience early drafts, conversations between him, Lauren Faust, and Rob Renzetti, and cuts and additions that were made in the course of the writing process. This shed light not only on the internal writing process of the show, but the breakneck speed at which animation work progresses. There were a lot of character developments, like Scootaloo’s hero worship of Rainbow Dash, that emerged not from carefully prepared backstories but from the organic process of hashing out a script. Even when in the process of writing the 23rd episode of the first season, they still hadn’t nailed down exactly what the main characters’ cutie marks even looked like, necessitating some fuzzy language and placeholders.

The voice actor Q&A’s with Andrea Libman and Peter New were fun and entertaining, but marred by some misbehavers. On both Friday and Saturday, people in the crowd insisted on asking questions about fanfiction, especially with regards to shipping and transgressive texts like “Cupcakes”. This despite the voice actors continuously reaffirming that they don’t read or look at any fanfiction or fan videos, and despite the groans, boos, and general disapprobation of the crowd whenever these questions were raised. It wasn’t until late in the Q&A on Saturday that the con staff finally responded by threatening to eject from the room anyone who asked about fanfictions.

This might be a good point to observe that Trotcon’s anti-harassment policies are a bit perfunctory. There is an exhortation on the website to “act sensibly,” some notes about panel content ratings and keeping public areas age appropriate, and the program contains a brief paragraph concerning cosplay etiquette, but no specific instructions about what constitutes harassment or what disciplinary actions might be taken in the event harassment occurs. In addition, relevant information is spread between places with no comprehensive source indicated. The website notes that staff may revoke your badge or deny you attendance (though not why) and that one can address complaints or concerns to Convention Operations, but this information is not to be found the convention program. Likewise, the information on cosplay etiquette found in the program is not on the website. To be clear, I am not aware of any issues arising at Trotcon, but the slow reaction to misbehavior in the Q&A panels makes me concerned about whether the convention’s internal policies are any more comprehensive or better organized than the public ones, and how well they would respond to complaints of harassment.

In addition to special guests from the show, the convention also featured Heather Breckel, colorist for the My Little Pony comics, as well as the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series, Peter Panzerfaust, and Godzilla: Half Century War. Breckel brought an interesting perspective as someone who was aware of the fandom prior to getting involved with the IP (though thankfully, no one took this as a cue to raise the specter of fanfiction again). She discussed her process and tools, what it was like to work on various series, and parts she enjoyed. One thing that I thought was really interesting was that Hasbro provides official Pantone color codes for all of the characters so that they match the shows. Despite this, the printing process sometimes darkens or otherwise impacts the colors, leading to fans complaining to her that she got some characters wrong. In particular, it turns out that Princess Celestia and Rarity are not actually white, but a very very light pink and gray, respectively.

I only attended a couple of fan-presented panels this year, both of which had some issues with presentation that I won’t get into. I don’t regret attending either, though, as both indicated some secondary and fan works that I need to check out. As one panel broke down, I got into a deep conversation with a pair of pre-teen girls, one of whom was wearing an excellent Scootaloo cosplay and had been playing in pony-themed roleplaying games for about four years, and the other was very interesting in talking about Princess Celestia and debating whether she is lazy, working hard behind the scenes, or consumed in other endeavors. Also, apparently I need to pick up the Journal of the Two Sisters and watch the fan animation Fall of the Crystal Empire.

On the subject of Pony RPs, I did get the chance to play in an “MLP: Toon” session this year, which I had missed out on last year. I think this system was a lot better suited to the subject matter than the “Inspireland” session I participated in the year before, as it got across the show aspects of slice of life adventures, teamwork, and fun hijinks. Inspireland, in contrast, was a bit too epic fantasy for me, and was set deep enough in the show’s unexplored history that I had to swallow an awful lot of fanon just to keep going. While I can see the appeal from the perspective of someone who wants to delve into the early days of Equestria, it’s so divorced from the main show that I question whether it really gives the feel of playing in the same world.

The lovely leetle ponies...

One of many exhibits at the TPM

Two things I enjoy at any convention are the cosplay and the artists. Once again, Trotcon had some amazing cosplay on display, ranging from some clever character evocations to full on fursuits. This year the con had something of a Renaissance theme, which could be seen in a few costumes that had something of a swashbuckling flair. Artist’s Acres was, as usual, full of talented artists peddling their wares. I didn’t get much this year, as I feel like I have a good amount of pony stuff already and money is tight, but I did get a Chrysalis t-shirt and ogle some cufflinks.

Also returning to Trotcon was the Traveling Pony Museum. Founded by Megan Youmans, a.k.a. Inky Notebook, this staggering mobile collection aims to showcase the varied works of artists in the pony community to fans and non-fans alike. Along with the many prints on display, the TPM exhibits a variety of plushies, custom models, sculptures, and even a large replica of Twilight Sparkle’s book from the first episode. If it ever makes it to your area, I highly recommend checking it out.

Sadly, prior obligations kept me from going back to the convention on Sunday, but all in all I had an excellent time and will definitely be attending next year.

 

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2 thoughts on “Feature Editorial: Ponies at Capitol Square: Trotcon in Columbus

  1. Awesome recap of your time there!

    I was actually rather surprised to find out about the rather disparate organization of the anti-harassment policies. Given the fact that Convention spaces have been getting hammered on these very things for years now, one would have thought that Organizers of a MLP convention would have been able to put something together a bit more…organized? Easy? Prepared?

    This is just pure speculation, but maybe that’s part of it- the notion that they don’t feel like it’s going to happen and thus allow it to sit until the very end while “important things” get pushed to the top of the preparation pile. I mean, obviously one never hopes that a case of harassment will happen at an event they organize, but given the stubborn realities of the world we live in it should be as easy as possible for people who have been victimized to find help.

    Not to concentrate on the “bad” or “negative” of what sounded like a great experience, mind! I was just surprised, given my assumption that the MLP Fandom tended to be a bit more progressive about their views (which is, no doubt, informed by the fact that you are my goto example of that Fandom) and as such assumed they would have made it a bit more of a priority.

    • Tim: It’s possible that they considered it a low priority. It’s also possible that they didn’t want to “confirm” certain negative notions about the fandom by making it look like the “need” an anti-harassment policy. Sort of like the Comic Con case of not wanting to have an anti-harassment policy because it might give the idea that there’s a harassment problem (which in that case, there definitely is, which underlines the absurdity of that idea). I would argue that that is precisely the reason they should have a clear AHP in order to set the right tone and reassure people that they will take take the necessary precautions to keep the con a safe space. Or maybe I’m reading too much into things and they honestly just thought that invoking common sense is enough.

      I wouldn’t use the term “progressive” to describe the fandom in general. This is not meant to imply the opposite, merely that I don’t think most pony fans look beyond their own issues to consider how attempts to enforce gender roles on them are connected to other cases of oppression (not to put too fine a point on it). My first year at Trotcon I co-hosted a panel on Feminism and MLP; it was moderately attended and I saw no backlash, but it didn’t exactly attract a lot of enthusiasm either.

      To sum things up, I do think Trotcon is a safe space (with the requisite caveats about me being a white cisgender male and the difficulties of perspective that engenders), but I don’t think the staff is necessarily putting in place the preventative measures that will help ensure it stays that way.

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