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The ‘House’ Behind ‘The Art of War’: Interview With Creator Anne Kirn

House of Darkly with Guillermo del ToroA few weeks ago we uncovered “The Art of War: SDCC Edition“; a gem of a guide so invaluable it probably belongs in the Infinity Gauntlet (see what we did there?). The 40+ page PDF, drafted by user House of Darkly, is a treasure trove of information for newbies and veterans of the con alike. But we wondered, “who is that masked person responsible for this Tome of Awesomeness?”, and set out on a quest to find out.

Turns out, HoD is equally as awesome as the guide she created. A nine-year veteran of San Diego Comic-Con herself, she poured out her experiences into the guide for a love of fellow geeks; and has a flair for the creative, selling her own line of plush toys at this year’s Wondercon, March 29 through 31, booth #481.

We chatted with Anne to find out what makes her stitch tick, as well as the effort that went into creating “The Art of War: SDCC Edition“.

SDCC Blog: First off, who are you?

HoD: My name is Anne Kirn and I’m currently living in Florida. I’m one of those lifelong, incurable cases of geekdom; one of my first memories is watching the original Star Trek (I was two). I wear the “geek” label proudly and I’m quite passionate about fandom culture and raising “geek girl” awareness. I’ve met essentially all my friends through the fandom community, particularly through conventions. I went to school to study animation and film in hopes of becoming a screenwriter, but my college years were derailed by serious health problems and I wound up running my own business – House of Darkly – instead. These days I more or less go to conventions for a living, which is pretty much living the dream.

SDCC Blog: You seem to know quite a bit about SDCC. How long have you been attending?

HoD: This will be year nine; I’ve gone every year since 2006. A lot of the folks I’ve met in the past two years are pretty impressed by that, but when you know people who went in the 1970s, you still feel like a newbie.

SDCC Blog: Have you been going as a fan or a vendor?

HoD: I’ve been going as a fan. I get asked a lot when I’ll vend at SDCC, but honestly, it’s the only con all year I still go to as an attendee. I can’t bring myself to stay behind a table all weekend and miss all the panels. Maybe when I’m famous and can make my lackeys do all the work.

SDCC Blog: We noticed on your website you have a creative streak. Can you tell us about your work on Etsy?

HoD: For a few years now I’ve been designing and making plush toys, which I sell on Etsy, at conventions, and in gallery shows. I’ve gotten a bit of notoriety for some fandom-inspired pieces, a few of which live with their creators now. Recently I’ve gotten quite interested in graphic design, too. I love doing button designs and prints.

House of Darkly's Etsy Art


Comic-Con is…this gravitational force of geekdom.

SDCC Blog: Your guide is awesome. We’re jealous. When you started the project, did you ever expect it to turn into a 42-page epic?

HoD: I have a terrible habit of making things infinitely more epic than is really necessary. Everyone kept saying, “you’re STILL working on that?” But I’m with the Mythbusters on this one; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

SDCC Blog: Something like this must have taken a lot of time to put together. How much time did you spend on creating it, and what made you start the project in the first place?

HoD: Comic-Con is kind of this gravitational force of geekdom, and over the years I’ve helped a number of friends get sucked in. So really I’ve been working on it for a long time as I’ve tried to help them understand how the con works. As far as actually writing it down, about two and a half weeks. Every night for about four hours or so, into the early morning, and one or two days where I did nothing else.

SDCC Blog: We saw you are starting on version two of the guide. Was there anything you wanted to get to in the first version that you left out? What have fans been asking you to include?

HoD: I wanted to have more photos and graphics, to help people visualize what I was talking about. I had to leave out the badge and hotel process, even though it’s really important, just because the system changes so much. Most of the comments have been minor but useful additions, like making the packing guides into a checklist. Several people have asked about the physical aspects: How to get in shape to deal with it, and how to manage pain from walking and carrying heavy things at the convention.

SDCC Blog: We imagine a project like this will really grow some legs. What are your plans for updating the guide after version two?

HoD: I admit I didn’t have a grand design for the project; I wasn’t even sure anyone would read it! But the experience changes every year, as policies and the attendee base shift. I make no claim that I’ve mastered going yet, so I will probably let it continue to evolve. I have had a few people mention publishing it, and a friend actually printed and bound a copy; so that’s a possibility if there’s interest.House of Darkly's Esty Art

He took my hand, and said, “I expect great things from you”

SDCC Blog: Everyone has a story to tell from a previous SDCC. What’s your most memorable moment from attending?

HoD: I’ve been lucky to have a lot of really special and unique moments at the con, which is why it’s worth it to keep going back, no matter how challenging it can be. Picking one, maybe 2011 when I met director Jon Favreau. He’s the poster child success story for Comic-Con, really, since he’s always said SDCC was responsible for Iron Man’s success, and tried to give back to the fans. I’d just seen him on the Visionaries panel talking about movies with another guy I really admire, Guillermo del Toro, who is the same way (and who I got to meet at SDCC 2012). I don’t remember exactly what I said to Favreau; something about hearing them echo all my sentiments about film making me choke up in Hall H (true story), but I’ll never forget what he said to me. He took my hand, and said, “I expect great things from you”. So now I’ve got a job to do, living up to that! But even if it’s not me, I think a lot of people at Comic-Con as attendees now will be on stage there in five or ten years. It’s a cycle, and Comic-Con is this massive engine of passion that feeds it.

SDCC Blog: You really are living the geek dream. What advice can you give to other folks who want to reach for what you’ve accomplished?

HoD: Believe with everything you’ve got that it’s going to be awesome, because then it will be. All those great experiences are there, waiting for you to find them. If you keep telling yourself that things are amazing, you stay open to the good experiences and let any bad ones slide off.

You can find Anne via her personal website, Etsy, Twitter @house_of_darkly, or on her Tumblr page. You can also check all of her SDCC photos from her years of attending on her Flickr page. And of course, stop by her booth (#481) at Wondercon, and tell her SDCC Blog sent you!

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