June 9-11, 2017 | Blair County Convention Center | Altoona, PA
If you’ve never been to a science fiction convention, you really should make a point to attend at least one, because they’re often a whole lot of fun. Part craft bazaar, part costume party, the best are well-run and full of interesting things to see and do. And part of the fun is the spirit of camaraderie that develops when a few hundred weirdos get together to pretend they’re someone (or something) they’re not.
I’ve been to Dragon*Con in Atlanta, which I consider a hugemonguous convention, and I’ve been to first-year startups that had more good intentions than attendees. The one The Husband and I attended Saturday afternoon, in Altoona, PA, was somewhere in between. Sci Fi Valley Con was fairly well-run by a group of cheerful and pleasant young things in bright, matching T-shirts, with nicely printed programs and a rather attractive venue in the Shrine Temple, which was built around the end of the 19th Century to look like a mosque. The Con is only in its third year, but it’s already outgrown this site, and next year will be held at a convention center.
My one criticism, which I’ll get out of the way now, is that they put the merchant booths in a rather cramped space on the auditorium floor in the upstairs hall. This meant continuous congested bottlenecks as people stopped to browse the tables for goodies, which got exponentially worse when the costume contest started. It had been moved to the stage due to it being too hot outside, and so the audience clustered around and brought all movement through the booths to a halt. The spacious lower level, which was also air-conditioned, was where the Artists Alley was located, with vast empty tracts around tables of bored-looking writers and artists hoping to sell their books. When we first entered, we arrived on this level, and I thought “This…is it?” Luckily we ventured upstairs.
Now, the good stuff. The Con fees were reasonable, just $10 a head per day. On display were reproduction movie cars ECTO-1, the 1966 Batmobile, the DeLorean time machine, a jeep from Jurassic Park, and the TARDIS. You can take all the photos you want, but if you would like to pose inside the car, it’s $10. And the owners are happy and accommodating and will take multiple photos with your camera for you. The owners of the DeLorean were dressed up like Doc and Marty, and had other props as well, like the camcorder and the plutonium trunk. The guy who owns the Batmobile said he’d bought it on eBay sight unseen, and had to do extensive restoration work, but she’s a gleaming beauty. The ECTO-1 had green slime dripping off it in places, and was attended by a group of cosplayers dressed like–what else–the Ghostbusters. The Jurassic Park Jeep had a blood-stained sign beside it: “Raptor Free Zone: It Has Been 0 Days Since The Last Incident”
While we were waiting for people to stop popping in and out of the TARDIS, we got talked into posing before a greenscreen and then having our picture Photoshopped into a digital background–in our case, the front hall of Bag End from “The Hobbit.” I was dressed as a vaguely Middle Earthish Ranger, and The Husband was dressed as a safari adventurer, so that backgound seemed to fit–well, better than the sci-fi or the My Little Pony backgrounds would have, in any event. This photo was fairly pricey at $30, but hey, support your local digital artist. It came out pretty well.
The food was a little expensive–$2 for hotdogs on crunchy buns–but most of the merchandise was reasonable. I could not bring myself to try the brains-decorated cupcakes, nor the peanut-butter eyeballs (Apparently, Zombie themed stuff was very popular.) The plain old fudge was pretty good.
I didn’t stay for the costume contest because, as it was held on the stage, it was rather hard to see, and anyway, we had a panel discussion we wanted to attend that conflicted with it. But some of the costumes I spotted on the floor included Jack Sparrow, Godzilla, that blue chick with the tentacle headdress from Clone Wars, Boba Fett, The Invisible Man (this one was clever, he had the coat up over his head, and a hat and sunglasses on wires above the coat’s collar) a number of zombies in different iterations, a lot of anime and gaming characters, a couple of elves and wizards, some catgirls, a single fursuiter (I think every Con is contractually obligated to have a fursuiter), the guy from The Mask, Wonder Woman, some steampunk/alternative history people, and a huge number of people with just a piece of a costume–a weird hat, or a T-shirt, or maybe something dangling from a belt. Interestingly, there was a large number of women present, and several dozen children ranging in age from newborn (in a Superman onesie, can’t start ’em too young) to the borderline between child and grown-up. So the concept that only lonely male geeks attend sci fi cons is a myth.
Not that there weren’t a LOT of the stereotypical male geeks, both the thin and reedy kind with the strident voices and the thick glasses, and the large-and-in-charge kind with the shabby beards and the four-day-old pong of professional cellardwellers. That there was a vendor selling shower units at this convention, right next to a table with some of the ripest conventioneers, was an irony not lost on me.
But the vast, vast, vast majority of the attendees were young families and old kids out to have a fun afternoon playing dress-up. I noted to The Husband that there are several grades of geeks: the first is the single male geek who goes to a convention. The second is the male geek who finds a girl to bring with him. The higherst order is the guy who gets his girl to dress up in a complimentary costume. And there were a lot of these.
The costumes were pretty well made, and some were either really creative, or quite accurate. There was a Tenth Doctor that I would have sworn was David Tennant. There was a Weeping Angel that gave everybody the creeps. I was glad my hubby did not go with the Doctor Who scarf and hat, because there were at least three Fourth Doctors roaming around, one of them female. The plus-sized Harley Quinn I could have done without. What made me laugh was that I got several compliments on my own costume, which I had pretty much thrown together from stuff I had in my closet–I guess it was the hand-made leather jerkin that did it, or maybe the fringed suede boots. On a sad note, I lost a pearl bracelet that my mother-in-law had brought from Hawaii for me; I’ve contacted the Con staff in the off chance someone finds it and turns it in. In any case, I hope whoever finds it, enjoys it. I reason that if I was destined to lose something today, I’d rather it have been the bracelet than, say, my wallet, or camera, or the keys to the car.
There were a number of writers trying to sell their books, and several artists, as well as craftspeople who were selling jewelry, plushies, and little FIMO sculpts. If the Hobbes keychain had been just a tiny bit better made, I’d’ve bought it; I did end up buying a pendant of three tiny brass gears and a silver propeller, because it caught my eye and was pretty. There was a lot of gear-themed jewelry.
A part of most conventions is the gaming tracks, but as I am not a gamer, the only comment I can make about these, is that I saw about fifteen different games going on, and most of them were in inconvenient spots. There were also a number of vendors selling game pieces and game card sets, and the con was going to be holding a Nintendo contest later this evening. I also saw something about lazer tag, but that was outside and we just didn’t get there.
The most interesting part of the day by far, were the two discussion panels we caught. The first, on running a successful on-line webcomic, was a little disappointing as the artist had gotten a last-minute slot in a much bigger convention in Vegas, so his wife was there with no props to give a talk on how to get advertising for your comic. They must be doing something right, because they make enough each month to pay their mortgage. They create the webcomic Shadowbinders, and we got some inspiraton for how to make our hobby pay.
The other panel was given by successful sci-fi author Chris Kennedy, who publishes through Amazon, and has made an astonishing sum of money in the last two years with the four books he’s written. He had some really good pointers, and I secured an interview with him, which I will be running in an upcoming article here on Republibot.
I also secured an interview with a member of the production team behind the Web series “Starship Farragut,” which will be published in the next few weeks as well.
To sum up; we both had fun at this convention. It was big enough to be interesting, yet small enough not to be overwhelming. It’s the very type of convention I’d recommend to anyone who wants to attend their first Con. The convention will also run Sunday, June 29, for anyone in the area who might want to attend, and it will be presented again next year.
-Mama Fisi, Republibot