Fans of fantasy, science fiction and more will gather for SoonerCon 22, held this year in the Reed Convention Center in Midwest City.
Fantasy and comic conventions have been showing increases in attendance in recent years, and SoonerCon is no exception. The original iteration of the convention was held from 1986-1997. The convention returned in 2006. Since then, says convention co-chair Jerry Wall, attendance has been on a steady increase.
“When we started back up in 2006, we had around 300 attendees,” Wall said. “Last year, our largest year, we had over 1,500 in attendance. This year we're trending about 15 percent higher on presales, so we expect to exceed last year's totals.”
Wall says the attraction of fantasy and sci-fi conventions can be the desire to see the world as it could be.
“A big part of it is the chance to experience a better world,” Wall said. “Gene Roddenberry offered it outstandingly in ‘Star Trek,' which showed not just a future, but the best possible future he could offer. Worlds where good triumphs over evil, dragons are slain, and princesses are saved, all offer an escape.”
Larry Nemecek, “Star Trek” expert originally from Norman, will be on hand promoting “Con of Wrath,” a film he's making based on a disastrous 1982 Houston Star Trek convention. Nemecek is currently starring as Dr. Leonard McCoy in the ambitious fan project “Star Trek Continues.”
SoonerCon will offer a special big-screen HD showing Friday night of “Pilgrim of Eternity,” the debut episode of “Star Trek Continues” that was debuted at Phoenix ComiCon. The program has been viewed more than 250,000 times online. The screening is part of the “Con of Wrath” benefit meetup, with admissions going to help fund Nemecek's documentary about an ill-fated 1982 “Star Trek” convention.
The three-hour “Con of Wrath” benefit, available with a minimum donation of $20, starts at 9 p.m. Friday and includes the showing of “Pilgrim of Eternity.”
Nemecek has a long history with SoonerCon, going back to its original incarnation in the 1980s.
“It's been gratifying to see SoonerCon not only reborn but boom, and to take in as many arenas as it does — not just sci-fi and fantasy lit and media and art, but everything popular now in all ‘genre' and even indie film production,” Nemecek said. “It's a real statement that OKC is right there in the nationwide trend that started when San Diego Comic-Con brought Hollywood to the pure comic cons ... and the numbers skyrocketed. The melding made everyone realize how many people really are crossover fans after all, and what you can leverage with those kinds of numbers as a convention or show.”
As Nemecek notes, “Trek” isn't the only fan base that will walk the halls of this year's SoonerCon. Wall said interest has grown in all types of genre entertainment.
“Superhero, horror, fantasy, and other such genres are seeing a mainstream renaissance lately,” Wall said. “From ‘Walking Dead,' to ‘Game of Thrones,' ‘Once Upon a Time,' ‘The Avengers' and more, it's no longer on the ‘outside.' No matter where you go, you're going to find fans, and these fans are discovering the convention and comic-con world. The same can be said for companies, and more and more mainstream companies are seeing conventions as great opportunities to reach the public.”
Author Mel Odom, of Moore, will be on hand at SoonerCon, appearing at multiple panels. He said that the growth of online communities and message platforms is helping to spur an interest in on-site meetings.
“Despite a culture that's trending toward a physical hands-off approach, people still like to gather,” Odom said. “A con is part town hall meeting, part county fair, and part carnival all thrown together.”
People aren't strangers at conventions; in many cases it's a chance for people to meet others with similar interests with whom they've built online relationships.
“I think we're experiencing a resurgence of fantasy-type conventions in general because people want to get out around kindred spirits,” Odom said. “Since you've had an online relationship with them, it's not like meeting for the first time.”
The convention is being held near Tinker Air Force Base this year, and it is reaching out to military personnel by offering free admission on Friday for active-duty military.
“We hope many of the folks stationed there can come out and have some fun with us,” Wall said.
A new draw to SoonerCon this year is the launch of the Oklahoma Speculative Fiction Hall of Fame, which this year will honor John Ferguson, aka Count Gregore; and Hugo-winning author C.J. Cherryh.
“The important thing for me is that the Hall of Fame is not just a ‘SoonerCon' thing,” Wall said. “We're creating a traveling display that will be present at events all over Oklahoma, and we'll be expanding the nomination and selection committee outside of SoonerCon as well. SoonerCon has provided the initial spark, but we're hoping to fan the flames and grow this much further.”
Guests at SoonerCon include Cherryh; artist Keith Birdsong, who will appear in a Q&A with Odom at noon Saturday; and comics artist Mark Texeira. For more information, visit www.soonercon.com.