The Experience of SiouxperCon In South Dakota
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As a longtime fan of science fiction and other assorted nerdy things, I was happy to hear that a convention was being organized in Sioux Falls to celebrate “geek culture.” SiouxperCon is in its second year of existence, and was held over this last weekend at the Ramkota Hotel.
There have been similar conventions in the past in Sioux Falls. SogenCon was a convention mainly focused on anime (Japanese animation). MageCon North was mostly focused on tabletop gaming. But both of those conventions went away a few years ago. There have been other, smaller, events that have been held over the years, but SiouxperCon seems to be a convention that not only cover various areas of fandom (sci-fi, video & tabletop gaming, comics, anime, costuming) but also has a lot of momentum. Last year, in their first year of existence, the organizers expected around 500 people to attend. Around 1500 showed up. This led to some logistical problems, but the response from attendees was overall pretty positive. Lessons were learned and the organizers gained valuable experience.
Sadly, I could not attend last year’s convention due to a scheduling conflict. So I went to this year’s convention armed with only the information I gleaned from my friends who attended last year and from the web page. A few guests I were familiar with, but most were unknown to me overall.
My experience at SiouxperCon started on Saturday morning (the convention officially started on Friday, but the only events scheduled were gaming tournaments). The Saturday of a convention is always the big day. Most of the marquee events happen on Saturday.
Going into any convention one has to realize that there are always more events going on than you can be at. I scanned over the events list on the convention’s web page and came up with a game plan on which events I wanted to go to.
After getting my convention pass at the registration table, I noticed the opening ceremonies were just starting. Not all conventions do this. SiouxperCon had members of a Star Wars fan group, the 501st Legion, make a grand entrance in their various costumes to the “Imperial March” music from “The Empire Strikes Back” (which fit perfectly with the theme of this year’s convention, “The Sioux Empire Strikes Back”). Introductions of the guests were made, as they were seated in the front row. Two featured guests had to cancel at the last minute (Gordon Purcell and Kaiji Tang). The convention staff member addressing the crowd told the assembled fans that in both cases there were family emergencies that had arisen. Mr. Tang promised to record a video to be sent to the convention. Both Purcell and Tang contacted the organizers to say how sorry they were that they could not attend.
SiouxperCon is a non-profit entity, and the money they raise is donated to local charities. Representatives from the JY6 Foundation and REACH Literacy were introduced. The mood was lightened up by Wilbur, a robotic coyote mascot riding a tricycle, who came out and traded barbs with Shane Gerlach, SiouxperCon Vice Chairman.
The first guest I managed to meet was Bill Willingham, creator of the Fables comic. A good friend of mine is a huge fan of Mr. Willingham. While I was chatting with Bill, my friend stopped by to get his autograph and told him that Bill was a huge influence in inspiring his imagination over the years. Willingham was at a loss for words, but only for a moment. I also got a chance to talk to Willingham’s editor, Megan Sloane.
The 501st Legion was holding a panel discussion and demonstration in the main room. The reference for the group’s name comes from Darth Vader’s personal legion of Stormtroopers. This fan club has high standards for making Star Wars costumes. To be a 501st member one has to have costume that looks like it came right off the movie set. Group members were showing how they made their costumes, and explained about all of the events they appear at.
One of the really cool things that was at this convention was a replica of the DeLorean car from “Back to the Future.” Terry & Oliver Holler travel around the country with this car to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
After talking to Terry & Oliver, I walked around the hotel to familiarize myself with the lay of the land. The convention booklet did have a map of the hotel so I could easily find the rooms where specific events were being held. I peeked my head in at a few panel discussions going on. Rachel Busskohl was hosting “Posing for Cosplay.”
First, for those who are not in the know, cosplay is short for costume play. One dresses up as a character from a TV show, movie, video game, book, or comic. This is mostly associated with fans of anime. Fans who I have met over the years put a lot of work into these costumes. It is a general policy that at a convention, one asks for permission to take a photo of someone in costume. Most everyone agrees to pose for a picture, as long as one asks politely.
Rachel gave pointers on how to pose for pictures and appear on stage if you are participating in a costume contest. No, you don’t have to be a model or an actor to do this correctly, or more to the point, better. Rachel emphasized that if you are going to dress as that character, then go the extra mile and act and move like the character.
I made my way to the gaming area on the second floor to find some familiar faces playing board and role-playing games. Games were being played all day long.
The next event I attended was a panel discussion held by Bill Willingham and Megan Sloane. Bill told tales of his days of working at TSR in the early 1980’s (this was the company that published the role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons”). One of his more interesting tales came from his time working in the comic business after his TSR days. He and a co-worker would be under deadline pressure and race through traffic in Houston to get to the airport and hand off material to the Fed Ex plane, often working on the material as they were in traffic.
Bill, in a humorous tone, said that now, with the Internet, artists and authors have to come up with new excuses of why their work is not done on time. His editor Megan chuckled at the stories of fooling past editors in the pre-Internet days.
A stroll through the vendor area is always a treat, though one must be self-disciplined. There are so many things to look at, and one can spend a lot of money on all the cool things there. While in the vendor room I met a number of local authors who are publishing their own books. South Dakota Writes is headed up by Jason Kurtz. It was great to see some local authors get their stories published. I spoke to K Hanson, KT Webb, Doug White, and Irene Elliot. I’m an avid reader myself, though I never seem to have the time to read all I would like to. Now I have found local authors who have some books that intrigue me.
A new fan organization had a table in the vendor area, South Dakota Ghostbusters, a fan group of the movie “Ghostbusters.” Brandon Moe is the leader of the group, who had his own “Ghostbusters” vehicle parked outside the hotel.
They are not as strident on making a costume as the 501st Legion. They had a few props on display that they made themselves. With a new movie out in the last year, it’s good to see “Ghostbusters” making a comeback.
There were quite a few artists in the vendor area. Some were doing sketches on the spot, others selling prints of their work.
Something that caught my eye was at the table of Futurescape 3D. A 4 & 1/2 foot long Nebula Class Star Destroyer from Star Wars. Rob Hodgdon and his group hand a 3D printer set up at the table. I talked with Rob about the work that goes into making 3D models of an Iron Man helmet, prop weapons, and, of course, the star destroyer. With 3D printing, one can create models and props of their own choosing.
Wandering around the convention I saw a number of great costumes. I snapped a few photos and struck up conversations with other fans. It’s one of the great things one experiences at a convention, the comradery of fellow fans. Conversations will start up, and sometimes draw in people passing by.
Another thing I noticed were the number of kids at the convention. SiouxperCon prides itself as a family friendly event. There were plenty of things for kids to do throughout the convention, and quite a few kids were in costume.
Saturday night saw one of the big events of the weekend, the cosplay competition. Four judges met with the participants ahead of time to talk to the contestants of how they built their costumes. The contestants were divided into categories based on experience, group or individual, and age.
The contest got started a little late, mainly due to the number of contestants. They were lined up all along the wall of the main room and out the door. The MC of the event had a list, but it at times did not match up with the person coming on stage. Eventually proper introductions were made for each contestant. Over 70 people would make their way up on stage.
After the last contestant strode across the stage, the judges departed to another room. A DJ was in the main room playing some music while everyone waited. Some people made their way up to the stage and started dancing. Others followed and the DJ cranked up the music and started playing dance tunes. An impromptu dance party was underway, and everyone was having a good time. Kids and adults shared the stage. This went on for about 20 minutes. It is a good sign for a convention. The positive attitude and fun atmosphere really defined the whole weekend of what this convention is all about.
The judges returned and announced the winners in the various categories.
“Nerd Idol” followed the cosplay contest. It was essentially a karaoke contest. Rachel Busskohl started things off by singing “You Lift Me Up,” though she sang the first verse in Japanese without the help of having the lyrics on a screen. Again, there were so many contestants that the event ran long.
I finally managed to catch Brian Broekemeier, the chairman of SiouxperCon. He had been going at full speed all day long, as a someone who has run conventions, I know exactly what he was going through. We talked about how the convention got started, and how it can hopefully grow from here.
It had been a full day, and I wound things down by listening in on the live Sioux Empire podcast.
Sunday was Mother’s Day, and there not as many people attending as the day before. I started off the day be talking to some of the artists, including Carter Knigge. He is a 7-year old student at Robert Frost in Sioux Falls who draws Monster Cards, small sketches he (with the help of his parents) put into small packs and sells. He was a bit shy and did not want to be recorded for an interview, but I had a great conversation with Carter and his mother, who looked on proudly. Carter got a lot of support from the professional artist there. This was Carter’s first convention appearance as a guest.
Next up was Tom Nguyen, an accomplished artist from the Twin Cities who has worked for Marvel and DC Comics. He has drawn just about every comic book character known.
Otis Frampton had a booth right next to Carter Knigge. He is the creator of the graphic novel “Oddly Normal.”
Shane Gerlach, the Vice Chairman of SiouxperCon, was as busy as Brian Broekemeier, but I finally caught up with him on Sunday morning. His voice was very soft, but very passionate, as we spoke in an empty main room. He is the one who lines up the guests and vendors. He told of how they had to turn away over 20 vendors simply because they didn’t have enough room. He was optimistic of how this convention could grow. Certainly, the fan base and enthusiasm is there in this area.
Ken F. Levin is the publisher of First Comics, and works with Bill Willingham. He negotiated or set up the films “Hellboy,” “Wanted,” “Road to Perdition” and the TV Series “Preacher.” He is busy working on other projects, and shared a lot of thoughts on the entertainment industry, and how comics/sci-fi/fantasy fits into the current state, and future.
My last couple of interviews were with Nick and Stephanie Dinsmore. Nick is known to wrestling fans around the world as “Eugene” from his days in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). His wife Stephanie is Mrs. South Dakota and worked as a TV reporter. Nick runs Midwest All-Pro Wrestling here in Sioux Falls, an independent promotion where he also trains aspiring professional wrestlers. There is a crossover audience, as many large conventions feature wrestling shows as part of the event.
Every person I talked to who was a guest had a similar refrain. They were enthusiastic about appearing at this convention. One can get a sense that this is a convention on the rise. The guests feel it. The attendees and fans feel it. There was a wide variety of activities and vendors.
As someone who has been to quite a few conventions over the years I can say that I had a great time. The staff was friendly and they seemed to do a lot of little things right, like having water dispensers placed all around (one gets thirsty chatting with fellow fans), rooms clearly marked, and staff wearing bright yellow t-shirts so they are easy to spot.
I look forward to next year’s convention.
Audio of SiouxperCon Interviews:
Terry & Oliver Holler: