Vermont Comic Con is over. With Jason Moulton and his partner Natasha Durand announcing their retirement in a heated Facebook Live video yesterday, one of the major meeting points for Vermont nerds is gone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it opens the door to new events in the state, and removes a bit of angst from Vermont geeks who feel that they’ve been alienated from the convention.
I’ve been going to the con since it started, and Jason has been generous over the years with providing space: first to a half-assed booth for this blog a bunch of years ago, and more critically, to the 501st Legion, which was instrumental in the formation of the Green Mountain Squad in 2015. Without this event, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and we’ve been thankful that Jason provided the space when he did. It led to some cool things, like getting to interview the then-Star Wars Episode IX director, Colin Trevorrow, and Hawk Otsby, writer for The Expanse. It’s also been a place where I’ve been able to run into friends from around the Vermont geek community.
But in the aftermath of the announcement — in which Jay and Natasha scolded businesses in Barre for … not promoting them better (?) and for not being appreciative enough for bettering the city — there’s been an outbreak of chatter from around the various online watering holes for all things Vermont. A number of people have pointed to how Jason alienated many people: comic book creators and guests from out of state, major vendors and tent-pole stores around the state, cosplay groups, and individuals. I wasn’t able to attend this year (or last year — the 501st decided not to participate), but the pictures that I’ve seen show off an extremely sparse show that was just a shell of what it had been when it was founded back in 2014. It’s a shame, because the event could have gone the other way, and become a much better, inclusive production that showcased the best of what Vermont had to offer.
The biggest problem that I’ve had with the convention has been that it’s never really felt like it’s been fully representative of the state’s community, but more of a standard-issue comic book convention that’s been plopped into Vermont. For sure, there’s been local organizations, vendors, and fans in attendance, but it never really felt like a “Vermont” thing.
While the con wanted to be the face of Vermont’s geek community and to build it up, it never felt like they made the right outreach to the broad swath of the fans that were there. Then and now, Jason was an outsider (first from New Hampshire coming to Vermont, then from Fairfax coming in to Barre) coming into an existing community, and sought to co-op it for his convention, rather than bring in people who better knew the local scene. I’ve been to big conventions over the years, and they’re all pretty much the same: big geek flea markets with some high profile guests. VTCC was just this on a smaller scale, aiming to be bigger, but lacked the geographical muscle to really become something like Granite State Comic Con or Boston Comic Con.
Conventions are huge projects, and while I appreciate Jay and Natasha’s time and energy spent in setting up such an event. But yesterday’s broadcast really felt… petty: it essentially devolved into a rant about how the city of Barre and Vermont’s geek community failed them, and didn’t make the show better. But from talking with folks in the state over the last couple of years, Jay certainly needs to shoulder some of that blame himself: he burned numerous bridges with many groups and organizations over the years, either because of his way of doing things, refusing to pay vendors / artists / web designers, or because people were just put off by costs and what was offered, and ultimately made a cost/benefit analysis that didn’t work out in the con’s favor.
Vermont has a lot to offer for its nerd residents, and there’s plenty of institutional gatherings for them to go to: Bakuretsu Con is taking place in October, while Carnage will kick off in November. There’s the entire ecosystem of events put on by Vermont Gatherings, the Champlain Games Festival, Ghostacular Paracon, and more. There’s the gaming events put on by the Green Mountain Gamers, including their quarterly gaming micro-cons, and whenever we get back around to it, GMS’s own VT SF Writer’s series.
But while there’s been tittering that Vermont’s fandom community is about to die, I don’t think that’s accurate: this site has been around since *checks calendar, gasps, faints* 2010, and it’s been archiving, reporting on, and commenting on Vermont’s fan community in that time. Vermont’s fandom community has been around for a long, long time, and it’s not dependent on one event, even though losing a VTCC is kind of a bummer.
Hopefully, we’ll see something fill the hole that it leaves behind — an event that covers all manner of fandom, from Vermont’s writers, comic book artists, cosplayers, filmmakers, gamers, and the fans who love what they produce.