The SoDakCon Experience
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SoDak Con in Rapid City was held June 23 – 25th at the Rushmore Plaza Convention Center. This was the ninth year for this convention, and I’ve been meaning to attend this convention for several years. This year I finally set aside time to go.
Much like SiouxperCon that I attended last month, this convention focused on anime (Japanese animation), comic books, and science fiction. There was space set aside for gaming: board, role-playing games and video games.
The theme for this year’s convention was “Pirates vs. Ninjas.” As such, there were quite a few people in pirate costumes. The best pirate costumes I saw were Alyssa Turner and Brandon Shields, both from Rapid City. Brandon was a dead ringer for Capt. Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
In the table top gaming room Zach Jensen from Yankton brought a huge collection of Lego toys. I met Zach several years ago at the now defunct Sogen Con in Sioux Falls. He brings part of his collection to conventions where he and others build all sorts of figures, including mechas (giant robots, a common theme in many anime series), starships, and other vehicles. Zach invites kids to join in on building whatever they can imagine.
Another event being held in the gaming room was the Art Contest. Artists of varying ages and skill levels posted their original art, with convention attendees voting for the best in each category.
In the Artist Alley I spotted two artists I had met at SiouxperCon, Jerry Krause and Amanda Ahlstrom, the South Dakota convention-going family being tight-knit. Notably, there were more than just artists in the room. James Bachand from Rapid City had a table advertising the Black Hills Zombie Walk, which is scheduled for Oct. 15th. It will start at Noon MT at Roosevelt Park. The event will raise money to help feed those in need in SD. James manned his booth in full Zombie makeup.
A number of artists I talked to at SoDak Con were attending their first convention. Ty Stillwell of Rapid City, Lauren Scobie from St. Paul, MN, and Mickey Lessly of Spearfish were the “newbies” at this con.
Ty’s artwork had a gothic/horror feel to it. Lauren described her art style as eclectic, but heavy influenced by comic books. Mickey’s table had a variety of items, including sketches and stickers of her own creation, and photos of her in cosplay costumes. Mickey had attended SoDak Con in the past.
While talking to the featured author guest of honor, Adrian Ludens of Rapid City, we discovered we had something in common. Both of us had worked at the same radio station, KSQY-FM, in the early 90’s, though not at the same time. Adrian has published several books containing horror short stories.
Justin M. Kelly of Rapid City was sharing a table with Adrian. He is a new author on the scene who just published a short story, “Blood Moon.”
One of the panelists at SoDak Con was Mandy Johnson, aka Teca, who hosted a panel on cosplay competitions. She talked about the finer points of entering a competition, like knowing the rules, the venue and stage you’ll be performing on, what kind of music and props are allowed, and timelines for sending specific information to the competition organizers. While listening to Mandy’s panel, I thought back to Rachel Busskohl’s cosplay panel at SiouxperCon. Rachel covered different items during her cosplay panel. Mandy’s panel worked hand-in-hand with the information she imparted.
On Saturday I caught up with Shareece Tatum, the executive director of the convention, for an interview. Shareece is the founder of SoDakCon, which started in 2008 drawing 75 people. The con has grown over the years to where it now attracts 1,500 attendees. I met Shareece a few years ago through a mutual friend. We didn’t have a lot of time to sit and chat, but we did exchange a few convention stories. Having been a convention manager myself, I know how busy one is during the event.
The variety of costumes I saw at the con was amazing. Though one may not associated Disney films with sci-fi/anime, I did see some Disney princesses walking around the convention.
One of the best costumes I saw belonged to Mike Curran from Lake Andes. His Zora Armor from the “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” video game drew many compliments from convention-goers.
I was impressed by the variety of vendors at SoDak Con. I spotted an old friend of mine, Phil Thompson from the Kansas City area, who runs a game store. He brought his usual wide variety of board games, dice, and other gaming accessories. Phil travels over 70,000 miles a year to be a vendor at conventions from coast-to-coast.
Sandie Ma, aka Yummy Suika, came all the way from Toronto, Ontario, to sell her artwork. Sandie has traveled to conventions in other countries, and this was her first time at SoDak Con. She was on a road trip in Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota and found out about SoDak Con. She decided to wrap up her trip at the convention. I found it interesting that she prints her artwork locally to sell at conventions. She doesn’t have to haul it around with her.
Sage Callahan, from Montana, draws anime influenced sketches. This was her third time at SoDak Con. I noticed that one of her sketches featured the robots from “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” one of my favorite shows of all time. We had a wonderful discussion of our favorite episodes.
This is one of the things I love about going to conventions and meeting other fans. You can start a conversation about artwork, for example, and end up talking about a television show.
The cosplay competition on Saturday evening was the biggest event of the weekend, as is the case at every anime themed convention. The lights were dimmed in the main events room, but there was no spotlight or special lighting on the stage. It was tough to see the stage at times. After the winners in each category were announced, I was hoping to get a picture of all of them on stage. This happened at SiouxperCon, but the various winners did not assemble all in one group here after the festivities.
After the cosplay competition I jumped into a Pathfinder role-playing game (RPG) session, being put on by the Black Hills Pathfinder Society. Pathfinder is a relatively new game system that has evolved from the classic Dungeons and Dragons game. I was handed a pre-generated character and grabbed my dice. The session was a lot of fun as we accomplished our goals in quick order. Though I didn’t know anyone at the table (having chatted with a couple of players for a few minutes the day before) to start with I made some new friends when all was said and done. Now that’s a good RPG session.
The final event I participated in on Saturday was a panel hosted by Kevin McKeever, the VP of Marketing for Harmony Gold, the company that distributes the landmark Robotech television series. Kevin has worked in various capacities in a number of television shows and movies. His panel was an open Question and Answer session about his convention experiences. Kevin is a great storyteller as he recalled experiences meeting fans and celebrities over the years. One of the many interesting stories he told was that of hearing some celebrities talk, in moments backstage, of how they don’t like these “superhero, comic book movies,” and can’t wait for the fad to pass so they can get back to “real acting in real movies.” He wouldn’t name names, and I understand his reasons for doing so (as he works in Hollywood). Kevin did state that the voice actors who work on anime shows that he has met are overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity they have and that those actors love interacting with the fans.
On Sunday I finally caught up with Leah Clark for an interview. Leah is an anime voice actress based out of Dallas, Texas, who found out about SoDak Con from fellow voice actors who were guests at past conventions. I was surprised to find out that voice actors do “cold reads” when doing voice work; they don’t get scripts in advance. The animation is already done, and they have to act “in the moment” with guidance from the director. Leah is also directing a theater show in Dallas.
One of the vendors I met on Sunday had an interesting story. Charalet Dunnigan of Rapid City has two sons who make small animal figures out of polymer clay. John, age 15, and Daniel, age 12 work together on the designs. John, who will be a sophomore this fall at Stevens High School, has high functioning autism, while Daniel is a Boy Scout. John started making these clay figures in 2013 in a middle school art class, originally making a rooster and a penguin. John and Daniel starting doing other designs which turned out to be popular among classmates. They met Shareece Tatum last fall, who encouraged them to be a vendor at SoDak Con. The Dunnigans use the money they raise from selling these figures to buy more art supplies, and donate to local charities. John has also served as a volunteer at the Suncatcher Riding Academy and the Black Hills Raptor Center.
Though this convention has been around longer than SiouxperCon, I felt a similar vibe in the air. There was a lot of enthusiasm among the attendees.
The convention wrapped up on Sunday evening with the closing ceremonies where the guests got to speak to the attendees one last time. Despite some technical difficulties, a video ran announcing the theme for next year’s convention, which will be the 10th anniversary of SoDak Con. “Ten Years Strong.”
I can’t wait.