Con Recap: Buck 2014

Buck 2014 © Sophie Brown
Buck 2014 © Sophie Brown

It’s been over a week since the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic convention Buck 2014 in Manchester drew to a close, and I think I’ve finally managed to get “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows” out of my head. The con was two days and three nights of fun and included some of the most interesting panels I had ever watched.

Held at Manchester Central, the weekend opened on Friday night with the “Summer Sun Celebration,” a six-hour family-friendly party/rave/festival featuring 10 acts from across the MLP fandom. The area surrounding the main stage was an intense zone of jumping, moshing, and dancing, but for those less inclined to throw themselves into the melee, seating was available toward the back. The vendors’ hall was also open to allow some early browsing before Saturday’s rush.

Yami Bjork leads the Cosplay Panel © Sophie Brown
Yami Bjork leads the Cosplay Panel © Sophie Brown.

With Saturday came the true start of the con with panels, challenges, competitions, and more happening throughout the day. The main stage played host to a 90-minute talk from G.M. Berrow, author of the many spin-off books, who discussed how she came to work on them. Then, over in Workshop 1, professional cosplayer Yami Bjork led a panel on how to create your own cosplays, which covered everything from budgeting to what to bring with you on the day of the con. As always with cons, many of the panels overlapped, making it impossible to attend them all.

I particularly enjoyed the fan-fiction writing panel, which included some brilliant advice on writing, getting yourself noticed, finding good fic to read in the sea of mediocre, and building your own universes. The main thing I took away was a surprisingly simple concept: “Don’t write to be popular; write because you have something to say.”

Cosplayers as Princess Cadence and Shining Armor in the Cosplay Competition © Sophie Brown
Cosplayers as Princess Cadence and Shining Armor in the Cosplay Competition © Sophie Brown.

The charity auction was as insane as last year, with people paying incredible sums for one-of-a-kind merch. A custom Chrysalis plush sold for £1,100 ($1,800), while a printed hardback copy of the popular fanfic “Past Sins” by Pen Stroke sold for £700 ($1,150). By Sunday afternoon, the total raised for Buck’s chosen charity, JDRF Research for type one diabetes, was over £11,000 ($18,000) and still growing.

The cosplay competition attracted more entrants than I could count, with the line stretching almost to the back of the room and the quality of many entries was astonishing. A number of challenges were held over the day, such as cupcake decoration and speed art, along with gaming sessions for Pathfinder variant Age of Harmony and Buck: Legacy. The creative corner was open nearly all day to allow artists and writers to sit down and create, although some more space could have been justified as nearly every time I passed, all of the seats were taken.

Saturday ended with the Lunar Eclipse, a 3-hour long music event on the main stage with five acts playing during the night. Again, the vendor hall remained open and there was a relaxed atmosphere throughout with groups chatting, playing on the video games and dance stages, and singing Karaoke in the gallery.

Heather Breckle Demonstrates Coloring © Sophie Brown
Heather Breckel demonstrates coloring © Sophie Brown.

Sunday’s events began at 9:00 a.m., earlier than Saturday’s, which seemed odd given the more limited public transport for those of us travelling in from beyond the city center.

Sunday’s schedule was also decidedly busier, with around double the number of panels and other sessions than Saturday. There were demonstrations of community-created Pony video games like Legends of Equestria and Rise of The Clockwork Stallions, music improv, a crash course in animation, a demonstration of digital art, and even more challenges to take part in such as speed Monopoly, speed fic writing, and blind bag decoration.

On the main stage, IDW colorist Heather Breckel presented a 101 course on coloring for comic books, demonstrating live on stage how she colored Nightmarity in a recent issue of the MLP comics in a step-by-step process that made it all look far easier than it probably is! She also gave lots of advice for those interested in becoming illustrators and colorists on developing their own work and creating a portfolio.

Dave Polsky Talks About Screenwriting © Sophie Brown
Dave Polsky talks about screenwriting © Sophie Brown.

Later in the afternoon, screenwriter Dave Polsky gave what ended up being my favorite panel of the day as he discussed how the writing of MLP mixes fun with rebellion and ends up appealing to all. He referenced theories by Goethe, Camus, and Alfred North Whitehead on how to criticize media and why that is important, and he fended off negative comments from a fan with an insightful and reasoned answer.

He also discussed fan/producer relationships and how they have changed since the arrival of the internet, and talked about his own work and how it was changed by September 11th. “I realized that much of my comedy was about tearing things down [South ParkScary Movie 2],” he said. “I wanted to do something about building things up.”

Polsky was back on stage later on with Breckel and Berrow in a special VIP panel that discussed their own individual experiences of working on My Little Pony and with Hasbro, and that finished up the weekend’s events before the closing ceremony.

I found myself constantly impressed by the way the event was handled in terms of accessibility and equality. The first page of the con book handed out to attendees listed the convention rules and included a strict zero-tolerance policy on harassment with instructions on what to do if you found yourself subject to it.

The website FAQ included information on transgender bathroom access, and those with disabilities were very well catered for over the weekend with free carer tickets available, a raised platform for wheelchair users at the main stage, and front-of-room seating for wheelchairs and those with hearing aids. There were also free water dispensers located throughout the venue, which were regularly topped up—a godsend for cosplayers in hot, often furry, costumes.

Cosplayers Watch The Closing Ceremony © Sophie Brown
Cosplayers watch the closing ceremony © Sophie Brown.

Of course, there were some problems; every convention has them. During the fan-fiction writers’ panel, the panelists were seated on low sofas, making them nigh-on impossible to see from even a few rows back.

Seating was very limited in the Creative Corner and in Workshop Three, and the organizers ran out of free blind bags ponies to decorate just 30 minutes into a 2-hour session*.

On Sunday, a card game tournament was scheduled in the bar area at the back of the main room, and this occasionally interfered with the talks on the main stage. In the same vein, some panels in Workshop Two, such as the Improv and Music events, were loud enough to bleed through into quieter panels in Workshop One next door. However, for the most part, the event ran beautifully and even kept to time for the whole weekend; a problem even at the biggest cons.

Even as someone who doesn’t identify as a die-hard pony fan, Buck was once again my favorite con of the year. The variety and depth of events over the weekend are second-to-none and panels on writing, illustration, and fan creativity are relatable to almost any fandom.

Sadly, Buck will not take place in 2015, due to the organizers needing a rest from the onslaught of organization, but hopefully it, and I, will be back in 2016 for more FUNFUNFUN!

*Attendees were advised of low stock on joining the queue and blind bag ponies were available to purchase in the vendor’s hall.

GeekMom received entry to this event for review purposes.