Understanding Polish conventions
Alqua provides an introduction
to Poland's SF convention scene.
Quick links to below sections:-
1. Conventions in Poland
2. Games, games everywhere
4. General information
This article aims to present what is central to Polish conventions and the essence of the core of Polish SF convention-going. However, the only way I can look at Polish cons from the outside is to try to compare them to foreign conventions I have attended (mainly Eurocons and Worldcon). This comparison is not ideal as both Eurocons and Worldcons are very specific events. Still, this is the best option so I will be using this imperfect comparison.
1. Conventions in Poland
We have a lot of conventions. Depending on what events one will count, they may get numbers reaching even 100 per year. If you will be more picky about what you may call a convention, you will still have around 40 or 60 events every year. This means that there should be at least 1 convention per week (maximum 2 weeks). This is partially true, however, most of the conventions take place around summer months, and winter is much less popular for conrunners. Of course, not all of the events are SF conventions – some are devoted to SF/F or to Manga & anime, some are big LARPs (Live Action Role-Playing), some are furry conventions and others are devoted to specific franchises (like Doctor Who or Star Wars).
The majority of Polish cons are relatively cheap. There are exceptions but the membership rate for most of the events will be between 30 and 70 zlotys (£7 – 15, €7-17, US$8 - 19 in 2017 prices). You can of course find events that are free or cost only 10 zlotys (~£2, ~€2.5, US$3) but there are also events costing 170 zlotys (£36, €40, US$45 in 2017 prices). Yet most Polish cons are also cheap to attend to those on a budget for an additional reason. Most of those cons that last for more than one day offer free accommodation in so-called sleeping rooms. They are usually located in schools and each fan can take their sleeping bag and sleeping pad (or inflatable mattress) and literally sleep on the floor.
2. Games, games everywhere
What surprised me when I attended Eurocons and Worldcons was the fact that there were not many games and gaming there. In Poland, most of SF cons have a lot of items for gamers. Firstly, there is the so-called 'Games Room' – a place where one can sit and play board games. With some conventions this will be small, on others they can be very large featuring literally hundreds of games. It is also popular to have 1 or 2 programme strings solely devoted to role-playing games. Indeed, some conventions also offer one or more rooms for LARPers. Finally, on the biggest conventions you will see zones for video-gamers. On top of that Poland has conventions purely devoted to gamers only. If you prefer RPGs (Role Playing Games) you may visit Lajconik where you can participate in 4 RPG sessions during two days. Conversely, if you prefer board games, you have Gralicja or Pionek. If your favourite gaming activity is LARPing, you may think about attending Orkon (which in 2016 lasted for 16 days). When one thinks of Polish fandom one cannot think only about SF books and literature – gaming is today at least of comparable importance!
Another big difference with Polish SF conventions and fandom is the matter of nicknames. When I joined fandom in 2002, most Polish fans were using them. Remember, this was well before the advent let alone widespread use of online social media. In fact, for many years (well before social media became popular) I did not even know the real names of some of my good friends in Polish fandom. Right now, one can see that with the increasing numbers of people attending Poland's conventions the use of real names is becoming more common but pseudonyms and nicknames are still very popular. I know that it is not very uncommon in other countries for people to use their nicknames but judging by cons I have attended outside of Poland it really is not as popular as here.
4. General information
Most often when we speak about Polish conventions we divide them into two groups: Manga-cons and SF-cons ('konwenty fantastyczne'). Still, what we have in mind by saying 'SF-con' is quite often a multi-genre convention with programme items ranging from literature to TV shows (and of course usually having something for the gamers).
Looking at Polish fandom one will realize that it seems it is populated mainly by people in their teens and twenties. Of course you will be able to meet fans in all age groups but majority will be relatively young. It is important to remember that age structure at Polish conventions will strongly depend on the particular type of con you will be attending. In general, Manga conventions will have more teenagers while the average age of SF cons will be slightly higher. Also some SF conventions will be attracting more of the older generation fans (Polcon, Nordcon, Festiwal Fantastyki w Nidzicy) and some will have a lot of young fans (Pyrkon, Smokon, Kapitularz).
It is typical for SF cons in Poland to have a lot of guests. Most conventions will be using the term 'guests' and not 'Guest of Honour' (Polcon will have both guests and Guests of Honour). While Worldcons have only few GoHs, and some Eurocons both GoHs and 'Special Guests', Polish cons will have many invited guests (authors, translators, editors, artists, and fans). The list of guests attending Polcon can be quite extensive but even smaller cons, like Imladris, will have more than 10 or 15 guests. Sometimes one may have the impression that conventions are participating in a competition of ‘who will invite more guests’. This has one advantage and one disadvantage. As fans, we usually know which of our favourite writers will usually appear at a convention and we will have a possibility to meet them in person or at least attend programme item in which they will be participating. On the other hand, with so many guests it is quite common that someone will appear on just one programme item.
When it comes to the issue of where the conventions are held these days, it is not so easy to explain. A few years ago I would say that we tended to have conventions held in schools. Right now (the second decade of the 21st century) this is still partially true but more and more cons are looking for different venues, and depending which event you will choose, you may well find them elsewhere. True, schools are still quite popular but bigger events, like Pyrkon, Falkon or Magnificon, will be held in exhibition centres. Some of the cons are organised at universities (this happens quite often with Poland's natcon – Polcon). Finally, it is not uncommon to have convention in a cultural centre or library. What is largely missing from Poland's convention scene are hotels. Yes, a minority of conventions are held in hotels but these are rather rare. Of course, there are such venued events (e.g. Nordcon) but hotels as a venue for SF cons are not at all common.
Unfortunately, for non-Polish visitors to Polish conventions, most of cons have only programme items in Polish. There are some exceptions, especially programme items with English-speaking guests, but they are not very common. I am aware of one event that has full English programme track and it is our biggest convention (over 40,000 members in 2016) – Pyrkon. I do hope that other big cons will soon see Pyrkon as an example and that we will be able to attract fans from abroad at other events J.
Last but not least one must mention parties. Here, this topic is partially related to the previous one. As per the Polish law one cannot drink alcohol in school (and the fact that conventions are invariably held at weekends, and that there are no school children there dos not changing anything). So the law (and probably also the lack of proper space) resulted in the fact that parties are not very common at actual convention venues. This however does not mean at all that Polish fans do not party. It is quite frequent for an SF-con to have a designated convention pub. It is a place where after a whole day of programming fans can visit to have a pint (in fact in Poland beer is not sold in pints but in glasses of 300 or 500 ml) of beer or cup of tea if one prefers non-alcoholic beverages. Depending on the event, the convention pub may be utilised more or less: in some cases it is an excellent place to meet new and old friends within a con-atmosphere, while in others it will be just like visiting standard pub.
Marcin 'Alqua' Klak
Alqua is a contributing editor to Smokopolitan fanzine , which appeared in a special edition of that zine distributed at the 2016 Eurocon held in Barcelona, Spain.
He blogs about conventions at Fandom Rover. Indeed a version of this article appeared on his blog and seemed so informative that we thought it deserved a broader readership. If you are a Facebook person then you can follow Fandom Rover here.
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