When I drew up plans to attend Chicon8 the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, my editor/publisher Steven Radecki, suggested that I might want to get some badge ribbons to promote Revin’s Heart (my steampunky fantasy adventure story with a trans protagonist that’s been serialized by Water Dragon Publishing). They had done a number of ribbons previously and he sent me a link to a site that would let you submit a design to have them manufactured. He even had a great idea for a ribbon: Airship Pirate.
I’m by no means a professional graphic designer, but I’ve done a fair amount work in this area (for example, self-publishing four books of haiku with artwork, covers, etc). And I teach students to make scientific figures and posters, which is functionally the same. But I was excited to fire up Inkscape and see what I could put together.
My first decision was that I wanted to see if I could use the trans-flag as a background. The site that Water Dragon had used previously couldn’t do that, but I had found a gay gaming company that had figured out how to do it. I asked them and they pointed me to PCNametag. We went back and forth a few times to sort out possibilities (e.g. full color yes, gold foil no.)
I ran a dozen different possible arrangements by Steve : just the words looked stark and not very interesting, so I added a dirigible, but then what should go in the dirigible? We went back and forth trying to come up with an idea. He suggested a rainbow, then I hit on the idea of using the new pride flag. We were getting close.
It was a delight to get the proof back and see that it looked like it was going to be perfect. And then to order them and receive them and they did look wonderful. But then the waiting began, because I didn’t want to reveal them until we were actually here on the ground. It was hard.
When I registered and got my badge, the first thing, I did was to put on my airship pirate ribbon as my very first. After we had successfully registered, Phil and I stopped at the bar and had a beer. While we were there, a drunk guy at the bar introduced himself saying he had a private pilot license, but had never flown in an airship and was curious about how to pilot one.
“It says, ‘airship PIRATE,'” I said. He was bemused to discover I was a writer, not an airship pilot.
When I headed to the Dealer Room, I got Dealer and Program Participant ribbons. And a Cometary Life Form ribbon.
I put a stack of the ribbons near my books and, when people approached the table, I used the ribbon as an essential part of my patter: “Would you like to be an Airship Pirate?” It frequently allowed me to initiate a conversation about my books.
The ribbons were insanely popular. Some people just collect as many ribbons as they can. (Some people end up with ribbons that reach the ground and then come all the way back up. One woman was making a skirt of ribbons.) But a lot of people were just tickled to become an airship pirate. And I think some people recognized the trans flag background and were glad for a visible symbol of their allyship.
Not everyone wants to be an airship pirate, however. Some people just said, “No!” Some quite abruptly. One woman seemed incensed and said, angrily, “I’m in too many groups already!” And she tore off some other ribbon she already had on her badge. It made me want to ask, “Who hurt you?”
But, frequently, it let me break the ice, describe my books, and make a sale. The ribbons were insanely successful from that perspective.
Beyond that, however, there was one thing I had not considered. As I walked around Worldcon, I would see people, here, there, and everywhere, wearing my ribbon. The ribbon that I had designed, gotten printed, and handed out from our dealer table. It was just unbelievably satisfying.