XXX HispaCon/II Imagicon - Spain’s 2012 National Convention
Spain’s national convention was held on 12th - 14th October 2012. Sue Burke reports.
Small towns may be the best places in Spain to hold a convention. That is a lesson that could be taken from XXX HispaCon/II Imagicon, held in Urnieta, a town of 6,170 near San Sebastián in Basque Country, north-eastern Spain. Paid attendance for the convention reached 155 – more than organizers had hoped for – and all events were open to the public, so the actual attendance was higher.
The municipality, located on a hilltop amid farms on green hills, donated the use of its cultural centre, theatre, town square, and secondary school, where classrooms were used for panels and workshops. A group of unemployed townspeople organized a bar under the town hall’s arcade and served drinks and food to earn some money. The local press covered events with articles and photos. The town’s hotels were filled, and its restaurants got extra business.
"Everyone’s happy," said Alfonso Cea, president of the Basque Epic Fantasy Association 'El Bastión del Fénix'. The organization had spent a year organizing the convention. The different sites and hotels were located close together, and a crew of volunteers made that sure everyone found what they were looking for. The organisers even arranged for a discount for train travel and handled the hotel reservations, some of which were as inexpensive as €25 per night for a single room.
The mayor himself offered a welcome at lightly-attended brief opening ceremony on Friday morning, October 12, which was a holiday in Spain. Many attendees were still in transit. By then the town was plastered with posters inviting everyone to the events, and as the day went on, more and more convention-goers arrived. The welcome pack was a wheeled backpack containing a T-shirt, two lapel buttons, tourist information, the convention program/poster, bookmarks, and five books. They included an anthology by the Spanish Federation of Epic Fantasy, whose four local branches include the Bastión del Fenix; the branch in Valencia had organized the convention there the year before.
Special guests were writers Javier Negrete, Toti Martínez, and Susana Vallejo. Foreign writers had been invited but none could attend; Guy Gavriel Kay sent a video that was among the shorts shown at the theatre. In all, ten short films were presented during the convention, including Onironautas, The Bequer’s Guide and Crónicas Drakonianas.
In the busy convention schedule, as many as ten events were sometimes scheduled at once. At the school, two well-stocked rooms for games were open on Friday and Saturday on the top floor. On lower floors, new books were presented; panels discussed alien languages, genre music, and urban fantasy; and workshops taught editing, makeup, and Basque storytelling.
Friday ended with a tasting of seven brands of hard cider (sidra) at the town square; sidra is a regional specialty. After a trivia contest about the successful Song of Fire and Ice the episode 'Blackwater' from Game of Thrones was shown in the theatre.
Early on Saturday morning, a copy of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones was installed at one end of the town square for anyone to sit on and be photographed. Both con attendees and Urnietarras (town residents) posed and mugged for the camera throughout the day.
Saturday was another intense day of book presentations, round table discussions, workshops, and presentations, with topics as diverse as translation, self-publishing, and how to survive a zombie apocalypse. The day was enlivened by a few attendees dressed steampunk-style and by roaming zombies and zombie hunters. Another cider-tasting was held at midday, and the Hall of Arms of Fortuna presented a beginner’s lesson on medieval swordsmanship in the town square in the afternoon.
Fans of the 59-novel series The Saga of the Aznar Family held their own mini-convention, the XIV Aznarcon, on Saturday evening, and a newly edited tome of the series was included in the convention welcome pack.
At 8 p.m., a folk-punk group, called Duendelirium, held a much-awaited concert in the theatre. A 'duende' is a Spanish magical spirit that inspires musicians. The rousing songs included references to SFnal culture, such as Lullaby for a Nosferatu, (Morgana) Le Fay, and Day of the Walking Dead.
Shortly afterward, the convention reconvened in a nearby restaurant for the gala awards dinner, featuring six courses and a huge barrel of cider. A joke claimed that instead of being a HispaCon, the weekend was an Hispalcohol. In any case, in keeping with the Spanish love of late-hour festivities, the award presentations began at 1 a.m.
In spite of that, early on Sunday morning a quorum of the Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción, y Terror held a general assembly. Its members expanded voting for the Ignotus Awards, Spain’s equivalent to the Hugos, and approved some publications and other projects. As the sponsor for HispaCons, it also set aside funds for the next convention in 2013. But it had received no bids for the coming year, which is a troubling issue for the future. Members of the Spanish Federation of Epic Fantasy have organized HispaCons two years in a row, and now they want to take a few years off to recover. Spain has often had trouble finding organisers for HispaCons, and so the quality of the conventions has varied from year to year. The future 2013 convention remains unresolved.
The morning included a few more projections in the theatre, and some panels and workshops. The closing ceremony consisted of thanks for the convention organizers and from an Urnieta alderman who had attended the event. Then everyone put their convention badge into a box for a drawing to win prizes including a wide variety of books, posters, and tee-shirts. A heavy rain that had begun at the start of the final ceremony relented in time for people to return home.
On the whole, it was a weekend of playful and genuine excitement about books and authors, tilting more toward fantasy than science fiction. There were plenty of young people, but a lack of some of the larger publishers in the dealers’ areas — in fact, many of the books presented were self-edited or offered by very small publishers who count on pre-publication purchases to finance their books.
Spain’s economic troubles are taking a toll on the genre, which was never well-heeled to begin with. Despite all the genuine joy in creation that writers expressed, few can earn their living or even much spare pocket money by writing. Almost all the print genre magazines and big anthologies have disappeared. The Song of Fire and Ice made splash with its throne, show, books, and fans, but Spain has no equivalent to George R.R. Martin, not out of lack of talent but out of lack of opportunity, especially in the current economic crisis.
Sue Burke is a transplanted Yankee that lives and writes in Madrid, Spain. Her website is at www.sue.burke.name.