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An Affluent Season: The Rise of Popular Culture Conventions

by Stephen Harrick

 

Popular culture conventions have pervaded American society. Considering the success of these large gatherings revolving around television, film, comics, gaming and animation, it is unsurprising that more keep popping up across the country.

Some conventions are devoted to genres such as horror or pulp, others specialize in topics like videogames or celebrity impersonation, while a handful narrowly focus on individual creators or series like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dr. Who or The Office. Such events typically feature talented guests, regional or national artists, panel discussions and vendors selling merchandise. These types of conventions are plentiful during spring and summer, and while none of those listed above occur in this region, there is no shortage of similar ones, in our metropolitan area, in the coming months.

First up is Anime St. Louis, which will take place at the Gateway Center in Collinsville on April 17-19. Featured guests include voice actors Lucien Dodge (Pokémon Originals, Sailor Moon) and Erica Mendez (Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic), cartoonists Jenn Blake (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), Kevin Bolk (It Sucks to be Weegie) and Andy Kluthe (Nerd Rage), and members of Happy Badger Studios, a group of game developers. There will also be a Masquerade, gaming areas, a fashion show and dances both Friday and Saturday nights. The rise of anime conventions indicates that this remains a popular aspect of American culture, and Anime St. Louis should offer plenty for fans of anime and manga.

The beginning of May brings Free Comic Book Day. Though not a convention, it is an annual event, held on the first Saturday each May, in which comic book stores across the country offer select comic books for free to all customers. Many stores turn it into a special occasion by holding sales, having employees or volunteers appear in costume, and sponsoring artists to draw original sketches for attendees. Newcastle Comics in Maryland Heights will host artist Kenneth Rocafort who has illustrated titles such as Superman, Justice League: Trinity War, Teen Titans and more. Heroic Adventures in Edwardsville always makes a celebration of the event, and though no specifics have been made available yet, it is safe to project that FCBD at Heroic Adventures will have something for everyone.

John Coleman Wonder Woman     John Coleman Monster

Also coming in May is Geekway to the West, a board game convention. Taking place May 14-17 at Westport Sheraton Chalet in St. Louis, this popular event is projected to sell out. Every participant who pre-registers will receive a free game, as well as entrance into all four days of the convention. This year’s Guest of Honor is Zev Shlasinger, founder and game designer for Z-Man Games, which publishes Agricola and Terra Mystica. The convention will also feature a game library for attendees to check out games, panels on game design, a forum for would-be game designers and writers to demonstrate and display their prototypes for questions and review, and lots of gaming and tournaments. This regular event has become a fan favorite and offers a chance to interact with professionals in the field of game design and publication, as well as fellow gamers.

Wizard World has turned into a juggernaut, mounting more than twenty conventions throughout the country in 2015. It will descend upon America’s Center in St. Louis on May 22-24. The guest list thus far boasts an impressive roster: actors Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad and Do the Right Thing, Cassandra Peterson (better known to fans as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), and Phil LaMarr from Pulp Fiction, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Family Guy; animators and artists Gerhard (of the Eisner Award-winning Cerebus), Tom Cook (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Heathcliff, BraveStarr), and Ethan Van Sciver (Batman: The Dark Knight, The Flash, Green Lantern); and writers Jennifer Sights (Burning Darkness, Ravaged) and William F. F. Wood (The Ruins of Arlandia, Inferno). Wizard World conventions typically draw large crowds, so prepare to encounter hordes of fans of all ages at this massive event.

For those willing to make a day trip up to Illinois’ capital, Springfield is playing host to the annual GIJoeCon on April 11-12 at Prairie Capital Convention Center. That’s right, a convention devoted to G.I. Joe. The event features select voice actors from the animated series, including Brian Cummings (Dr. Mindbender), Zack Hoffman (Zartan), Morgan Lofting (The Baroness) and comic book artist Robert Q. Atkins (G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe Special Missions: Tokyo, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, The Amazing Spider-Man, Savage She-Hulk and many more). The weekend will also include a costume contest, a fan film competition, panels and a class that gives attendees the chance to craft an original G.I. Joe action figure. This year’s convention is the closest that GIJoeCon has been to the Metro East area—it often appears in Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans—so this is a unique opportunity for enthusiasts of the franchise.

Now that convention season is in full swing, there are several opportunities to seek out your favorite aspects of popular culture. With so many local and regional options, it is easy to find thrilling experiences, or to try something new or different. The rise of these kinds of conventions allows for sampling and experimentation, and the result may very well be the reward of more thoughtful interactions with our collective culture.