MonsterCon 2014: The Weekend That Was

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The weather in the Upstate of South Carolina this weekend was… suboptimal. Still, that didn’t stop scores of regional nerds from coming out to Furman University’s Timmons Arena for our new annual tradition, MonsterCon. This year’s event, while not without its hiccups, was a truly memorable one packed with panels, movies, merch, gaming and lots and lots of costumes!

For me, the panels were a huge deal, as that’s one area where our local cons have traditionally been fairly thin. MonsterCon 2014, on the other hand, boasted a trio of panel areas featuring three totally different streams of interactive content throughout the event. Notice I said “panel areas” and not panel rooms; my only real gripe was that panels took place in the locations that, while cordoned off from the main show, weren’t walled off. Because they didn’t take place in proper separate rooms (and the fact that only the main stage on the ground floor had any manner of PA system) it was sometimes difficult to hear the presenters over the hustle and bustle of the convention floor itself.

This was likely a factor in the poor attendance of some panels – which is a shame, as many of the smallest panels stood out as my favorites. Filmmakers Bill Mulligan and Christine Parker‘s “One Hour Film School” was a great primer for newbie directors, writers and camera operators, and both shared their passion and knowledge not only to the few of us that came to the panel, but to interested passersby throughout the event. Attendance to “Women in Comics” was also light, but this actually inspired our presenters to turn it into a roundtable discussion with those of us in the audience, and – despite, or maybe because of this loose, informal slant – it was a true highpoint of con.

“Who Ya Gonna Call!?!,” the first Friday panel in one of the upper deck locations similarly only attracted a handful of attendees, but the presenters from the SC and Carolina Ghostbusters chapters went out of their way to not only explain the nature of their organizations, but to offer prop-building tips, tricks and a healthy dose of inspiration to any who expressed interest in learning the finer points of proton pack construction. This notion of providing positive motivation and genuine interest in the audience whilst dispensing your know-how was a central theme of the event. For example, a member of the Ratchet Studios crew praised a participant in Sunday morning’s hands-on “Prop-Building 101” workshop by cheerfully stating, “If it looks good to you, it’ll look good to everybody.”

More than anything, that good-natured sense of support and togetherness is what typified my MonsterCon experience. On the vendor floor I got hang out with my pal Thor, who’d driven up from the Low Country, and share lots of fascinating conversation with other regional artists. Two new favorites were easily Daniel Delgado – whose wooden wares included, clocks, light boxes and fan-favorite Keyblades – and Jackie and Kim of Quirky Quilts – a Charleston duo who make throw pillows, pillow cases and (obviously) quilts to suit any fandom.

MonsterCon’s dedicated gaming area was hopping all weekend, with a Magic the Gathering tourney and a trio of prominent Steve Jackson Games heavy-hitters: Munchkin, Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice. Don’t be fooled, though, there was a great cross-section of tabletop titles to be enjoyed. I even found myself embroiled in a delightful marathon Shadowrun session with Vincent, Tyler, Taylor and Zack, a quartet of gamers who, it turned out, were in attendance to playtest their own new tabletop game, OtherWorlds.

I could go on and on, talking about my time in the screening room viewing shorts like the yuletide horror of Christmas Carvings by Johnny Priest and Mac Allen and Joshua and Rebekah Weige’s surprisingly uplifting period piece The Butterfly Circus, or describing the crew from local haunted attraction Madworld, whose demons and gargoyles skulked the floor in terrifyingly detailed costumes, but were never to busy (or in character) to pause for a photo op with a con-goer. I could recount meeting a young man totally excited by this, his first ever con experience, or an older gentleman, a classic monster aficionado, who was just as thrilled to finally add Ricou Browning‘s autograph to his growing collection of Universal memorabilia.

I could expound upon how Saturday night’s “Cosplay Sociology 101” outlined for me (and likely many other old hands not fully versed in this fairly recent fan phenomenon) the lengths to which these makers go in search of authenticity and expression, and the indignities they sometimes experience at the hands of our least enlightened brethren. I could even talk about how attending celebrities, like Doug Jones and Camden Toy – two of “The Gentlemen” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame – never seemed to greet a handshake, photo or signature request without a genuine smile and a pleasant attitude.

But instead I’ll close by saying that not a day went by at MonsterCon 2014 when I didn’t share a meal with a stranger who soon became a friend. Not a day went by that I didn’t approach or find myself approached by an organizer or event volunteer that was anything short of respectful, courteous and concerned about the quality of my experience and the experiences of those around me. In short, not a day went by at MonsterCon that I wasn’t happy just to be at MonsterCon. Hopefully I’ll see you there next year!

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