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August 13, 2008

Paperblogging the Worldcon
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:19 PM * 61 comments

Back in March, a graphic designer named Mike Rohde took a pocket Moleskine sketchbook along with him to the SXSW Interactive conference and took these great little visually-intense notes he called “sketchnotes”. They caught my eye, and I immediately decided to do the same thing for the next SF convention I went to, which turned out to be Denvention 3.

Drawing of overcast Denver skies
Creative Commons License
This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

So here are the notes. I’m not as prolific as Rohde, and not yet as good at the graphic notes, but some of the more illustrative pages are pretty good.

I think, for next time, that I need to write bigger, and feel free to let the notes for a given panel sprawl across multiple page spreads. And do more sketches at parties and meals.

Comments on Paperblogging the Worldcon:
#1 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2008, 11:31 PM:

Wow - there's got to be a fan artist Hugo nomination or something in there, at the least.

#2 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2008, 11:43 PM:

ALL the convention center doors on that end locked down at 5:00 every afternoon, as did the elevator access to the parking garage. The dealer room was open until 6:00. Guess who wasn't a happy camper?

#3 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:06 AM:

"Paperblogging"?! I shudder to think what the denizens of Core Fandom would think about that neologism. I don't think I'm quite brave enough to mention it on any of the fannish email lists I'm on. heh.

#4 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:34 AM:

Re the aching feet: convention centers are pure hell on your feet. You spend the whole day walking on concrete slab. That industrial carpeting is illusionary.

#5 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:43 AM:

I am filled with joy.

(Plus, you attended a whole bunch of the panels I punted, with Too Much Going On, so I am very pleased to see a con-report discussing them-- let alone one drawn in such delightful style.)

#6 ::: Zed Lopez ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 01:35 AM:

Wonderful, Avram! Thanks for posting this.

#7 ::: katster ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 01:43 AM:

Those are beautiful. I particularly like the one you've chose to place here, but all the notes are nifty.

Actually, you make me wish that I could draw.


#8 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 02:52 AM:

Very nice. The one here reminds me of Paul Madonna's great All Over Coffee in the SF Chronicle

#9 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 05:53 AM:

Sure, this is cool, but how does this differ from a regular fanzine that happens to be published online on Flickr instead of

#10 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 06:06 AM:

When I take notes I nearly always find I've diagrammed or sketched something in it. If I could draw about 48 times better, it might look a bit like this. Good stuff.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 06:21 AM:

Lee @ 2... Speaking of parking garages, I was a bit dismayed that the Hyatt Regency's didn't have a wide pedestrian in/out way. As a result, I had to take this masquerade prop apart every time we went to rehearse. Oh, and did I say that it was unventilated? The whole thing was worth it, mind you.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 06:25 AM:

Mental sketch from the worldcon...

A bunch of bunch of people are sitting at one of the tables in the main area and, upon seeing Charlie Stross standing nearby, one of them exclaimed:

"Oh, look! It's Charlie Stross!"

To which one other person faux-perplexedly responded:


#13 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 06:51 AM:

Those are really great! Seems like there was a lot of very interesting discussion going on. Pity I live on the wrong size of the pond. Quick question about one note that particularly piqued my interest: Pepsi Corp and Hunter Killer Submarines? Whaaaaat? A quick google didn't turn up anything. This sounds like a fun throwaway line from an alternative history, but surely not from our world? Does anyone who attended the "The Evil Empire" panel (assuming the title of this page was also the title of the panel) remember what that was all about?

Otherwise, once more, very enjoyable read all of these notes. Well done!

#14 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 08:52 AM:

Every time I try to do something like this, I discover anew that I'm very firmly verbal. It all turns into the same old notes that I always take, just done on unlined paper. Very discouraging, especially when I compare it to such beautiful examples.

Wonderful stuff, Avram, thank you for sharing it.

#15 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 09:27 AM:

Serge @12
"Oh, look! It's Charlie Stross!"
To which one other person faux-perplexedly responded:

Lately I feel like I've been going to geek confessional. I just checked my first Charlie Stross book out of the library; haven't gotten around to actually reading it yet, but I'm taking it on a road trip this weekend.

("Hey, book, wanna go to Pittsburgh? It'll be a blast! You're totally paying for half the gas if you're not gonna be driving, though." Um, I mean, I'm taking it with me, to read, while I am on a road trip this weekend.)

And I wouldn't have even known to get it if it weren't for his commenting here.

Avram, those are amazing - my graphic notes make xkcd look like fine art, but I know how fun doing that kind of thing is anyway.

#16 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Those three-way traffic lights (first East-West* vehicles, then North-South* vehicles, then all pedestrians through the intersection at once) were developed here in Denver by a guy named Barnes. It's known as a "Barnes Dance", and there's no way to get that sentence right.

*Except that downtown Denver, their original home, is skewed diagonally because it was built square to the rail lines, which ran along the Platte.

#17 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:19 AM:

Just wanted to note that I got a real kick out of seeing Tom Whitmore on Page 12.

#18 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:26 AM:

That's so cool, lots of stuff I missed.

#19 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:32 AM:

@16 Carol

Those lights are all over Colorado...especially Greeley since UNC is located on a diagonal and Ft. Collins, just cause. It's nice for pedestrians.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:40 AM:

It's a WONDERFUL thing! I really like the diagonal crosswalks. A very sensible innovation.

All praise and fish heads to Mr. Barnes.

#21 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:50 AM:

Wow, these sketchnotes are wonderful. I'm in utter awe.

#22 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:55 AM:

These are so great, Avram! I was never terribly good at casual sketch styles...always far too deliberate for my own good.

My panel photos are up on Flickr, and my panel notes are being posted to LJ on a slow & irregular schedule so as not to overwhelm people's f-lists.

#23 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:00 PM:

Those are wonderful, Avram! I love them. Excellent panel summaries, and as for the drawings...sigh. There's a reason I tell all my students that Lousy Drawing Skills Are No Excuse For Not Drawing, You Draw Better Than I Do.

Then I prove it to them. That makes middle school students very happy.

#24 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:09 PM:

In 1973, Proctor & Bergman did a livecast from Ebbets Field that was broadcast over KFML. I loved their line about how the city was laid out by the Bent Brothers, and that's why the middle is twisted 45 degrees.

Fort Collins's "Old Town" is at an angle from the rest because there was a competition between College Avenue and Jefferson for which one would be the real main street. College won. There's a photo of the street with 17 cars side by side, going from curb to curb -- my old home town used to be known as the city of "wide streets and narrow minds."

#25 ::: John Fiala ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Big thanks for sharing the sketch-notes, it was interesting both to see what he put down in panels I had missed as well as panels we both were at.

And yes, I bought shoe inserts during the convention as well. Best $12 I spent all con.

#26 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:36 PM:

Carol, 16: I never could get the hang of the timing of those three-way crosswalks, because I expected them to sync pedestrian movement to car movement. Evidently that's not how it works.

Kip W, 24: Ebbets Field? In 1973?

#27 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 12:53 PM:

The three way signal just made my day perfect.

It was great, because in my building (11 Madison, right near Tor,) it's pretzel day: they are giving away ice cream and Dale & Thomas popcorn. That makes it great, but the picture of the walk signal made it perfect.

#28 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 01:18 PM:

Regarding Daniel Kline's question in #13, about Pepsi-Cola owning Soviet hunter-killer submarines:

New York Times, 10 May 1989:

Pepsico recently bought from the Soviets 17 submarines (for a measly $150,000 each), a cruiser, a frigate and a destroyer. They are being resold for scrap. It has also bought new Soviet tankers (to carry oil, not beverages) in a joint venture with the Soviets and a Norwegian company that will lease them out or sell them.

I remember when this occurred. I was working night shifts in the Ops Center with Max Monningh, a veteran of U.S. Navy submarines. We speculated about buying a sub from Pepsi, bringing it to Lake Michigan, and running "Krasny Oktyabr" fantasy cruises for naval-history buffs and wargamers.

People were already running businesses that gave rides in MiG jet fighters to wealthy customers. We would do the same thing for submarine fans.

Naturally we would have to hire some Russian veterans familiar with the operation of the boats. Probably it would make sense to buy a pair of subs, so they could sneak around the lake and play cat-and-mouse with each other.

Nothing came of this. But it was fun to daydream about. I presume Pepsi eventually scrapped its boats. (Fermilab did, however, hire a lot of physicists and engineers from Soviet accelerators, and they are essential to our operation today.)

I was at that panel for a short while. I was entirely unsurprised to learn that Charlie Stross was aware of Pepsi's submarine fleet.

#29 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 01:18 PM:

Too cool. I absolutely adore it. I've got to try this for myself. (R.M. Koske @ 14, I tend to have the same experience as you. But I can try, dammit!)

My boyfriend's notes always look something like this. Except that when they're just for his own purposes, rather than for public presentation, they're practically in code, with sketches, idiosyncratic abbreviations, mind maps, visual puns, relevant kanji, irrelevant Renaissance nudes, etc.

(Not kidding about the irrelevant Renaissance nudes. Most people, when bored, doodle flowers or curlicues or something.)

(I recently asked him, in a conversation where I was trying to pick his brain about visual design, "Do you have notes from your college design classes?" He said "...Yes..." So I said, "Are they readable by anyone who isn't you?" The answer was no.)

#30 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 01:45 PM:

#29, Caroline -

I'm going to try again too even if it devolves into regular notes. I was gonna take those anyway, so what I have I got to lose? These two most recent sets give me a little more optimism because I think I can do fancy headers, emphasis, and dividers,* even if I can't be more clever/artistic. That's the lever I intend to use to pry at the skill, anyway. (And hey, I can practice in the panels at DragonCon!)

*I have this vague feeling that this is belittling the work, and I don't want to do that, but these really are the most accessible part of it for me. Please forgive any implications of "that's easy, just put in fancy headers!" - I don't mean it that way.

#31 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 02:04 PM:

Bill Higgins @28: Thanks very much for the answer! I just love this kind of "oh come on, you're making this up" trivia.

Lemme see if I get the economics of this thing right: in 1989 the Ruble was practically worthless in the west, so in order to turn the Rubles earned by selling Pepsi to Russians into money that could actually be spent in the west, Pepsi had to buy something material in Russia, paying with Rubles, which could be transported to and then resold in America; also, that investment would probably have to be pretty big and shipping costs low compared to the sum invested for PepsiCo to make a profit. Did I get that about right? (and sorry for the slight derail, but this is just TOO fascinating; maybe it's because I just finished the Baroque Cycle--yes, I was late to that party--and I'm still quite intrigued with the concept of money)

#32 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 03:26 PM:

BTW, if anyone is interested in how & why of visual notes, I highly recommend Crowe & Lasseau, Visual Notes for Architects and Designers. Caroline, one of the differences between visual teaching and textual teaching is that it is much, much, much harder to record visual teaching--even photography really doesn't help very much.

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 04:51 PM:

Joyce, #23: You sound like me. Except... somewhere in a closet, there's a sketchbook from the only art class I ever took, in my last year of high school. Every so often I take it out, look at the stuff in it, and am amazed all over again that I actually produced that. It's as though for one semester I took a detour thru an alternate universe or something, one in which I could actually draw. I'm plenty creative, but it's always been in other areas.

And Avram, let me join the chorus of admiration for your work! (It was very late when I wrote my previous comment.)

#34 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 05:57 PM:

You got it. Better than my notes, in most cases, with concision and clarity the highlights. Excellent work.

#35 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Randolph @ 32, agreed. He also did this for verbal teaching though -- we took a lot of religious studies classes together in college and his notes for those are just as I described, while mine are all words.

Visual note-taking seems like a good skill to have. I've been toying with mind maps. I always get anxious about them, because whenever I was made to do them in school as a brainstorming exercise, I always misjudged the space I'd need and ended up with one side of the page totally blank, and the other crammed full of tiny sideways writing. I like the computer tools for it, because you can drag things around and rearrange them -- and the canvas is as long as you need it to be. Takes a lot of the anxiety out of it.

#36 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 08:56 PM:

Thank you so much for uploading these! Echoing Bill Higgins @5 in re: your comments on panels I didn't attend.

It was your great sketch of Tom Whitmore that caught my eye at the time, but I think it's your commentary on Denver's diagonal pedestrian crossings and dishwater coffee (which shop was that? So I can avoid it?) that made me smile most.

(I don't jaywalk at corners that have those diagonal crossings. I don't understand the traffic flow there at all. It's not like crossing 16th Street where, meh, the shuttle's not in view, so it's safe. I live in terror that if I cross against the light at 14th and California, I will get creamed by a car coming out of nowhere and turning left at very high speeds as it races across the tracks just ahead of the light rail.)

#37 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 09:00 PM:

...annnnnd Carol @16 explains the traffic patterns at 14th and California, and the reason for the diagonal cant of the 16th Street Mall neighborhood, all in one swell foop.

My boggle has been fooped!

#38 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Words like Paperblogging...

Did you also wear a VFID tag?

#39 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2008, 11:01 PM:

Nicole @36 -- The dishwater coffee was from one of the vendors at the convention center, the one selling coffee and bagels and danishes for breakfast.

#40 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 11:13 AM:

Avram @39 - That's good to know. My instinct was to avoid hotel restaurants and convention center vendors because the rest of downtown Denver was right there. I hadn't realized that comparative quality would enter into it as well.

The Grand Hyatt had rather good in-room coffee. I found that the lids invariable dripped, though.

A bit late now, obviously (unless any of you are coming in for the DNC!), but I'd recommend Dazbog on 14th and Welton. It's good coffee, and it's fun to say! "Dazbog! Dazbog! Dazbog!"

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 11:36 AM:

My wife came back from the con with a nasty flu. Friends with whom we had dinner at the bar in the Hyatt Regency came down with a cold. Me, I'm a-ok. So far.

#42 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Nicole @40 -- Keep in mind that the various vendor positions were held by different companies. I'd had a perfectly fine cup of coffee at a different vendor in the convention center earlier in the con.

#43 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 01:02 PM:

I want to do sketchnotes but I can't because my handwriting is not fast enough.

#44 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Those notes are great, Avram! I just usually draw doodles on my con notes, but I'm feeling inspired to perhaps use doodles next year as a way to focus on the panels and panelists while they're talking.

Also, John @ 25 - Fancy seeing you here! The world is tinier every minute. (Or: look what the cat dragged in.)

#45 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 07:21 PM:

Avram @42: Good point. I shouldn't be so hasty.

My husband had a chance to sample the pizza upstairs by the dealer/exhibit/art area. He says it was terribly overpriced and not terribly inspiring. Cool that it was there, though. And the couches! The reading couches with old issues of F&SF, those were totally made of win.

#46 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 09:08 PM:

The pizza upstairs by the dealers room was the worst pizza I've ever eaten. (That must be why I had four pieces of it in the course of the weekend.)

#47 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 09:16 PM:

Serge, 41: Sorry to hear about your wife and friends. I was just fine in Denver, but as soon as I got back to Brooklyn I developed a stomach bug I haven't fully shaken off yet.

Re: the pizza at the convention center: It was mediocre, but no worse than some big chain pizza I've had. There is bad pizza in New York, and the real bad stuff can be dire, but the run of the mill is happily more than adequate.

I regret not having more of the local cuisine, but I did manage to have a Denver omelet the last morning I was there.

#48 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 09:38 PM:

no pizza is the worst pizza if it doesn't have chunks of canned tuna on it. also canned corn.

no, i didn't eat it. it still gives me nightmares, though.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 09:43 PM:

Chris Quinones @ 47... Thanks. She's doing better, but I did not like that, because she stayed in Denver to visit with a friend, she wound up driving back here all by herself in such a state.

#50 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 09:47 PM:

Mary Aileen @32 -- Clearly you have never eaten NYC public school pizza, which I suspect was made from roofing tiles. Or the pizza from a kosher restaurant in Massachusetts whose name has escaped me, which was the worst non-institutional pizza I've ever eaten.

#51 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 11:10 PM:

Announcement: the hamster-powered (though as I look at the pictures, it actually says "steampunk") disemvoweler pictures are now up at my LJ.

Oh yeah, and someone playing with chocolate, too.

#52 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2008, 11:42 PM:

Clearly got to that party too late. Oh, well...

#53 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 01:55 AM:

miriam #48: Tuna, I dunno, but I actually like pizza with canned corn on it. And I don't like corn, canned or otherwise, in any other context.

#54 ::: Jack Ruttan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 08:59 AM:

I love sketching, and as a writer take lots of notes, but never caught on to the Moleskine (however it's spelled) love. Maybe the spirit of Bruce Chatwin is thinking I'm terribly unhip.

Oh yeah, I had to retype my contact info because I clicked on the spelling list. Better than losing one's entire comment, but still good for a "gasp!" I suggest a pop-up box that appears when you mouse over, or a similar aid.

#55 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 11:14 AM:

Avram (50): I had mercifully forgotten school pizza, but you're right, that was worse.

#56 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 11:26 AM:

I remember the grilled cheese-and-cardboard sandwiches in college. Also the pizza that was cheese and sauce on cardboard. Probably met nutritional requirements, but not appetizing (which may have been the point of the exercise).

#57 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 11:45 AM:

A friend described a drawing a child showed her. She thought it was an angel, but it was a volcano. She was a bit dismayed. When she was telling about it, it was clear that the kid had gotten across the concepts of power and light (while drawing with "dark"). The interpretation, at least to me, is secondary.

Anyone who does NOT now have a fairly clear visual of what that drawing looked like?!

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 11:57 AM:

Carol Kimball @ 57... A friend described a drawing a child showed her. She thought it was an angel, but it was a volcano.

Ah, the wonders of how a young one tries to express her/himself thru art... This is how, when he was 5, one of my nephews saw me. He got the beard right, at least.

#59 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2008, 12:25 PM:

Avram, those are fantastic. The closest I ever got to anything like this was at a professional meeting. An extremely boring speaker described his new software for something-or-other in excruciating detail. One feature included "Press F1 to exit". So I doodled an F1 key on my notes. Didn't help.

Carol Kimball @57 -- my son used to do something like that. HE saw all kinds of action in his mind when he wanted to draw things, so the explanations were essential.

Then there was the picture my daughter showed me when she was about 3. Me: "What is it?" Her: "Brown." Me: "A bear?" Her, impatient: "No, just brown!"

#60 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2008, 05:41 AM:

Wow, Avram, that's great!

I can't write notes for anything. By the time I have a line legible, I'm five minutes behind what's happening.

#61 ::: Colin Hinz ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2008, 06:22 PM:

@46: Same here, though I had only one "meal" of two pieces, plus a $2.16 banana. I would have been much better off buying four more bananas instead. But no, I went for the grease-on-a-roofing-slate option, and my digestive tract was Very Unhappy for several hours afterwards.

Getting back to Avram's original topic, at Denvention3 I created a few single-page fanzines titled THIS IS NOT MY LIVEJOURNAL, using typewriter and mimeograph. Several readers chortled.

Avram's illustrative pages remind me in a thematic way of Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage, which I can't praise highly enough.

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