Support Your Local Geekery: Five Reasons to Attend Small-Town Cons


Lookit us being all cultured and stuff!

It’s rare that my little corner of the Southeast gets many worthwhile conventions that don’t require overnight travel.  Hence my excitement over an upcoming influx of moar gamer and comic events!  The last in-town convention I attended was 15 years ago (meeting Leonard Nimoy was pretty cool) so I’m eager to jump back into the geeky revelry.  My city is… well, big enough to have several zip codes, but enough of a one-horse town that most high profile acts and events skip right over us for more alluring destinations.  Atlanta and Miami are five hours in either direction, so my bold little city is often forever alone.

But attending neighborhood events and festivals have some distinct benefits.  Here are five reasons to support your local, smaller cons:

It’s Local


Local maps may vary, consult GoogleEarth.

Aside from their world renown zoos and serving as the Anchorman setting, who here (not including residents) gave more than a passing thought to San Diego prior to the explosion of Comic Con in the past decade?  And if you’re more of a “stick to my own coast thank you very much” person like I am, you hear about stuff on the opposite side of the country (or in an entirely different country in some cases) and immediately think “welp, there’s something else I’m going to miss out on.”  Like E3.

Aside from costing far less in travel expenses, when you support your local events, it means more events will come to you.  Basic field of dreams principle here – if you build it, they will come.  Ashley Maxey of Jacksonville Festival of Horror says their goal is to tap into the local horror scene by bringing together filmmakers, artists, vendors and musicians face to face with the local community.  She and partner Marcus Davis, operating as Skull and Bones Entertainment, want festival goers to have an interactive experience – instead of watching a reenactment, perhaps hop into the chair and get a little snip of your own from the good barber? Bring the audience coming back – and talking about it for months and years to come.  Keep the public clamoring for more, and bring the shows to you.

It’s Affordable

 shut up

Worst. Meme. Ever.

SDCC averages $175 for just the weekend badge, and that’s if you manage to get one within the first few hours of open sale.  On Craigslist and eBay, expect to pay upwards of $300 for the same passes per person – and we haven’t even touched on travel expenses.  From my neck of the woods, airline fare for two to California can run over $1200, then factor no less than $200/night for hotel stay, add any transportation and food expenses… you’re looking at a $2K trip, easily.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like being able to eat and keep the roof over my head, and don’t have an extra couple grand to just throw around.

But take your average local gaming convention or comic show, where ticket prices range from $15 – $40 per person and often include free food and booze. Whaaat? Yes, you heard correctly – the Legend of GAAM art show, this year highlighting Zelda (last year Super Mario Bros) is providing free locally brewed and bottled beer with admission.  Supporting even more local business and encouraging growth in your own backyard (see how this works, kids?). The Jacksonville Festival of Horror offers a day-long immersion into the dark arts for only $20, and a weekend-long anime convention such as WasabiCon will often cost less than a single day at a larger gathering.  I can easily shell out $20 for in-town entertainment, and reserve the rest of my monies to purchase that last remaining Evil Dead figure to complete my collection (fingers crossed I locate it at one of the aforementioned fests).

A majority of local festivals aren’t in it for the money – they’re in it for the same reason you are, they love the genre and environment and are committed to putting on a spectacular shindig for the local fanbase.  “We’re lucky if we break even,” said Davis, who aim to produce an interactive horror festival for a surprisingly large local scene here in Florida.  Ryan Thompson of GAAM notes that much of the profit from their previous festivals is recycled right back into the next, in an effort to expand and make the next show even more enjoyable for attendees.

It’s Accessible


Getting up close and personal with original art at GAAM.

When funding allows, I love cruising to the Bahamas (hear me out, I have a point). If you’re ever in Nassau, the Pirate Museum is worth a peek.  What I abhor is trudging through rows full of shouting vendors hocking cheap trinkets or sketchy services (I don’t know where your hands have been, no you cannot braid my hair) just to reach our intended destination.  I don’t mind the markets, but I have a strong aversion to large crowds; it’s the yelling salesfolk that make my eye twitch. Ask my husband – if the line is too long at Wal-Mart, I have to go wait in the car.

That’s what a lot of events started to feel like– hordes of vendors shoving overpriced merch under your nose, with no love or respect for the craft or art.  Tickets to this year’s SDCC sold out in minutes, not hours, and even if I made the trek to California, I’d probably hyperventilate in the lobby or parking lot just waiting to get in.  Even if you’re not claustrophobic and borderline agoraphobic like I am, smaller crowds means easier access to all the events you want to participate in, and more chances to get up close and personal with your favorite artists or creators.  Wade Ellis of Bold City Comic Con hopes to make their event more about the interaction between guests and artists, not a one day fire-sale like some have evolved into.  Upon noticing this flawed approach, Ellis stated these types of festivals “do nothing for the average reader”; instead, BCCC hopes to expand the comic audience to more than just die-hard collectors or brokers.  They promise high-caliber guests and over 100 vendors from local comic artists to wrestling stars to indie-film directors and everything in between.

Can’t commit to a full weekend? Some events are only a day or even a few hours long.  A great way to gradually introduce that special someone to your obsession, without cramming them into a hotel room LAN party for an entire week.  It presents a challenge in getting celebrity guests to attend, admitted Marcus and Ashley, and in explaining how their festival and other shorter events (such as GAAM) operate in comparison to larger conventions.  But it also prevents the common pitfall experienced by new groups, where their event hits that high note too quickly, often burning out before a repeat affair.

It encourages the next generation

 next gen

Awesome to see kids getting into cosplay (that Loki helmet is pretty sweet!)

Ryan Thompson, co-creator of GAAM and game development instructor, helped shed some light on the evolution of game developers, and how GAAM is helping to cultivate a passion for design and local creativity.  “Unfortunately the only thing I can tell my students when they ask me ‘so what’s next’ is ‘move’,” he says. “There’s nothing here, so we’re aiming to change that.”  Despite the increase in college courses and programs geared towards game development, the field remains largely disrespected.  “When my dad asked what I wanted to do and I said ‘design video games’ he said ‘okay – now what are you really gonna do so I can kick you out of here?’”

Bringing in the younger generations is vital to keeping the community thriving for years to come.  Ancient City Con offers card and game tournaments and cosplay contests for all ages.  GAAM is all about promoting learning experiences through gaming and creation, and WasabiCon appears to have more kids participating in their cosplay events than adults!

Most local events are also kid-friendly, an important aspect for us parents.  I wouldn’t dream of taking my rather well-behaved son to SDCC, simply due to the massive volume of people.  Not only do I fear losing him in the crowd, but he’s a 10-year-old boy who gets bored easily – it’s easier to pack up and go home via a 15-minute commute than to say “sorry, we’re stuck here another 4 days – deal.”  Even more important to the convention coordinators, its easier for me to say “hey, this is in town, lets go” at the last minute.

It gives back

 mini mjolnir

Seriously. What is more adorable than a mini-Thor with a mini-Mjolnir??

And we’re talking decent charities.  GAAM is partnered with Child’s Play, which contributes video games and toys to hundreds of children in hospitals worldwide.  Despite all the backlash gamers and comic fans receive from the public, citing oft-skewed reports of video-game violence resulting in real world reenactments, the community is comprised of some of the most giving and easily accessed donators in the world.  Many of the services associated also donate their time, product or door prizes in trade for publicity and increased sales potential.  Bringing the savings and often freebies to you, the rabid fan-goers.  Now don’t you feel special?

Is your local convention going to unveil the next-gen console or mega-blockbuster superhero flick?  Not likely. Will you get a photo op with Stan Lee or rub elbows (somewhat seductively in my case) with RDJ?  Probably not.  But these smaller conventions can offer a much more personal and interactive experience for the average fanboy or girl, and even provide the means to expose your friends or family to your nerdom without overwhelming them.

Not to pull a Reading Rainbow on you, but don’t take my word for it – check out your own local conventions! Convention Scene provides a listing of events by state and yes, even outside the U.S.

Here’s a few links to the ones I plan on attending and reviewing in the near future:

The Legend of GAAM  – GAAM is offering $5.00 off admission when you type in code UNREALITY to their Eventbrite page.

Ancient City Conis next weekend!  I’ll be there!

ConTemporal – Steampunk convention in North Carolina – a bit out of my way, but good people and a unique concept.

Jacksonville Festival of Horror – A one day festival featuring contests, interactive events and celebrity guests.  I’ll be here, too!

WasabiConan anime and gaming geek convention in November.

Bold City Comic Con – isn’t coming until February 2014, but I’m totally excited about special guest Rags Morales!  Some of the coolest artwork by far.

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  1. Excellent article. I can’t say I ever expected to encounter Taokaka cosplay on Unreality; but now that I have, I feel my life is that much better. I grew up so isolated in my tastes that going to a Con is an entirely foreign concept to me. Other people who like the stuff I like? In CenCal? Why are you lying to me?

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