- Illustration by David Reddick.
Calling all curious geeks (and fellow travelers)!
Do you love all things pop culture but find yourself a little intimidated by, say, Gen Con's masses of experts who've spent an insane amount of time perfecting whatever it is that they do and don't have a lot of time for dilettantes?
Do ready-made comic cons created by out-of-towners rub you the wrong way?
Maybe you don't even consider yourself a geek (more a nerd, I'd say) but would totally geek out were Mystery Science Theatre 3000 creator Joel Hodgson to bring his autobiographical monologue to town?
Okay, it's not my job to sell you anything, so I'll drop the carnival barker routine.
But I can say that the people behind Indy PopCon, a pop culture and comics convention debuting this weekend at the Indiana Convention Center, think they have a cure for what aileth you, whether you're an independent creator looking to make a bigger splash and find kindred spirits, or just your average geek/nerd/Joe hoping to satisfy his pop culture jones in a laidback setting.
You see, some conventions start out focusing on one thing but gradually accrete all kinds of ancillary elements. Gen Con started out with a laser focus on tabletop gaming but has come to include a film fest, a fantasy art showcase, a writers symposium, etc.
By contrast, Indy PopCon aims to be all things to just about all geeks from the beginning. It's focusing on nine key areas of pop culture: Internet, Comics, Fantasy, Cosplay, Sci-Fi, Gaming, Anime, Art and Music, and TV and Movies.
- Mark A. Lee
- Indy PopCon organizers work out of the offices of comicspriceguide.com at Stutz Business Center about a week before the convention.
And celebrity guests are on the way in each category. We've interviewed the aforementioned Hodgson and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman for NUVO. There are plenty of others, including Firefly star (and Evansville native) Ron Glass; one of the Doctors from Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy; Hodor from Game of Thrones, Kristian Nairn; and a bunch of other people we probably shouldn't leave out (head to indypopcon.com for a complete list, of course).
But it's not all about big names at Indy PopCon, which will also feature locals making a living doing what they love, including Ellie Akers, who's designing a sci-fi farming game with her husband, Scott, from offices on a goat farm in Noblesville; and Elspeth Eastman, an up-and-coming voice actor who's already getting work from Disney and Microsoft but is determined to finish out her undergrad at IUPUI.
As you might expect, Indy PopCon has, as co-creator Shawn Smith tells us, "been a dream for some time" nurtured by several of the convention's organizers. Those organizers are all local, and several of them work for the online valuation service comicspriceguide.com. And many have attended or worked as a volunteer for major conferences like Gen Con or E3.
"We always go to these conventions and find a little bit of what we love," Smith says. "But we have diverse interests, and we've always wanted to do something where you'd go and it's not just video games, it's not just board games, it's not just comic books. We want to celebrate all of these geeky things that we love, and we don't feel there's a convention that does that right now."
- Shawn Smith (left) and Heather Hall prepare for Indy PopCon.
And thus the convention can become an opportunity not only for an attendee to not only satisfy her appetite for the familiar, but also expand her palette. "It really isn't much of a leap to go from a video gamer to a comic book lover," he says. "And we want to be the guys that give them that gentle push over the edge. They come to our show for the video games, and then they rediscover comic books."
While Smith says the group of founders is "pretty diverse" in terms of their interests — Smith's a video game expert, another knows his comic books — he emphasizes that Indy PopCon was interactive from the beginning, from polls asking for fans to vote for their favorite TV shows, to an open submission process inviting participants to design panels or other programming.
Given all the celebrity guest stars — not to mention the costs that go along with renting out a good chunk of the Convention Center — we come to an indelicate question: Just who's paying for this (and when do those loans come due)? "It helped that we do have such a large group, so we've all been able to contribute some of our own money to get it started," says Smith. "Beyond the financial side, you have to be able to reach out to the media, to reach out to sponsors, and we already had a lot of those connections in place that we've been able to leverage successfully."
And given that there are other conventions in town, including Gen Con and an Indiana Comic Con (the latter coordinated by the promoters behind comic cons in Nashville, Orlando and Tampa Bay), has the city reached its saturation point for conventions, no matter how innovatively they may have been structured? "The answer is we haven't saturated it yet," says Smith, "but we are taking a different approach so that when that saturation comes, we hope that we do stand out.
And the market is expanding, Smith says: "We've got a lot of geeks here. We've got game developers, we've got artists, we've got Doctor Who merchandise providers. There is a growing contingency of nerds here in town, and we're proud of that.
- Mark A. Lee
- Among the forces behind Indy PopCon crew are (from left) Bryan Neely, Shawn Smith, Heather Hall, Larry Zore, Brian Dowden and Carl Doninger.
Indy PopCon, track by track
We talk with Indy PopCon co-founder Shawn Smith about some of the convention's key areas of focus - or tracks - and pick out some top celebrity guests.
"The IUPUI anime club has really stepped up big and will be hosting several panels - how to break into anime; what is manga - giving people that opportunity to say, I've always been interested in anime but I've never known where to start."
John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender (Futurama), Marcus Fenix (Gears of War)
Eric Stuart, voice talent for Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!
"Downtown Comics, for instance, is great, but because comic books are so varied, they're not going to have all the stock. So if you're looking for that perfect issue for your collection, oftentimes you do need to go out of state and try to find collectors who have that issue - and we're bringing them to us for Indy PopCon.
The Gotham Evening Post creator Mark dos Santos
DC artist and illustrator Norm Breyfogle
Marvel and Image artist Cory Hamscher
"A ton of work and heart goes into creating these costumes. Whenever you see that guy in, say, that Batman suit, a lot of times he has actually fabricated that leather from scratch; he has poured a lot of time into making those rivets the perfect shade of metallic gray."
Actor and cosplay enthusiast Keahu Kahuanui
Extreme cosplayer Thomas DePetrillo
"One of the things we're putting together is an interactive Who exhibit, where you'll be able to get together with five of your friends and go through a role-playing situation, going from room to room, battling monsters and going through a scripted scenario, to see if you can get to the other side and have your character live through the adventure."
Firefly and Serenity star Ron Glass
Battlestar Galactica's Kandyse McClure
Doctor Who's Sylvester McCoy
"Today, you can create a career just on your ability to market yourself; you just start self-publishing, put up a YouTube channel, upload your podcast to iTunes. We're going to be highlighting people who are working hard at their craft, without having to have that interaction where an agents finds you and signs you to a deal."
Fark.com owner Drew Curtis
The real-life Bad Luck Brian