Intervention 2012

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The Beginning

22 - 23 September 2012 | Written by Maxxum

Intervention is an education conference a'la gaming, artistry, and general geekery. I spoke with Onezumi Hartstein, one of the co-founders, her husband James Harknell being the other half of the origin, whom we also interviewed.

After looking at the site, one of the things that became apparent was that you seem to want to help a lot of people from the bottom start working their way up; why do you want to do that?

Oni: The story of me is that I started from the ultra bottom and worked my way up. So, the entire time I was going through that whole situation, conventions were one of the few things I was able to get to when I was little - and that support structure that I found there, it's what motivated me to be able to go to college, pay my way through college, because I didn't have anyone doing that for me, and just basically making a better life for myself.

Even in college, I didn't quite know what I wanted, but the drawing and everything was always there so that I became a web comic artist, developed a fan base and the natural off-shoot was meeting people that were like a young version of me. That drove us to start this. We knew in 2004 that after we started the comic, and we had already had little girls coming up to us and asking for help and some of them bursting into tears [telling us] that we were the only ones that ever listened to them.

Were the comics related to helping other people, or was that something on the side that became merged into the convention?

Oni: I did web comics by trade, so it was the scene I was immersed in, so the con was really formed by the experiences that I've had so that's kind of where it started. In 2010 we started with the comics and then as we're growing this event, we're able to incorporate bloggers, podcasters - this year video was really big for the event. We want more but because of the organic nature of a DIY event with a low budget, because this is what we could raise with fans, this is how it works, and comics are always going to be a big part of it because that's where I come from, and I'm relaunching my own comic in January which I had to stop because I was managing the event.

When you're not doing comics and conventions, what do you do in your regular life?

Oni: During the day I'm a project manager for software development, and I worked on, and I probably shouldn't say brand names, but I worked on a famous popular phone launch on a mobile carrier. I go to a lot of haunted houses and I review them for my blog.

What was it that made you decide that you want to help people?

Oni: Hm... even when I was eight years old, I've always been that person. I think because I've been basically crapped on so many times, that I have a lot of empathy for others. And, I see a lot of, especially politically recently, I see a lot of programs that have been cut. Some of the art programs that I was able to go to for free no longer exist - that was the big catalyst - seeing that the next generation didn't have just the things I had for free that were very significant. I used to go to an art guild in Pittsburgh, where the kids from school could get on a bus and you go and you can study ceramics, photography ... and that's not there anymore.

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We gained further insight from James Harknell, who explained some of the objectives for Intervention.

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What is your focus?

James: We kind of have a few different vectors on how we sort of talk about [Intervention]. The most basic one was the tag-line we came up for 2012 was "your online life in person." The notion was most people end up doing a lot of their life online - a lot of the people here are very tech savvy.

So, it's a method of bringing the online life back into reality ... and at it's most basic level, we're like a nerd party. The people here span the spectrum of fun; we had what I thought was an epic group of people just being nostalgic about the fact that they can now watch stuff that they couldn't ever find, and it's just that big nerd culture things.

What do you want it to be in 10 years?

James: That's an interesting question. One of the things that we like about the event is that it's community ... we're very aware of and thinking about what happens if Intervention takes off and continues to grow at the same rate. Between the first two years it was a little under 30% ... and, if that keeps going then ... what happens if, how do you deal with the idea of it being a community but also growing to be bigger, that's a big challenge.

A lot of the feedback we get is that people love the community, so we do have to think do we want to arbitrarily limit the size so that it never gets too big, or do we want to see if we can manage it.

One of the things we definitely don't want it to turn into is a faceless con that has no level of community and just ends up being a procedural thing and they don't get that ability to actually gain what we wanted to do initially, being able to talk with other people. In 10 years, I want us to still be that, regardless of if we're only a few thousand or only a little bit more than we are now.

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My discussion with the con founders, which happened Saturday, caused me to reflect on Friday's interview with A.J. Rosa. Both he and Onezumi shared similar hard-times, and they were not alone as several other guests I met imparted the same stories of survival in or over difficult experiences.

Expectations | A.J.