When the winter thaws and the days get warmer, many people look forward to hitting the beach, grilling outside and baking away that pasty, cold weather glow. But for those of us within fan culture, summer is the season of the con.
Although cons, short for comic and fan conventions, already take place nearly every weekend across the nation, the warm months are a prime time for nerdery. For me, the uptick of blockbuster superhero and genre flicks in theaters during the summer, along with more free time spent daydreaming or reading –not to mention extra opportunities to strike a hero pose in the sunshine — makes me want to hangout even more with my fellow fans.
As a lifelong fan and now professional nerd and host, I am fortunate to attend more than a dozen cons every year. But don’t be intimidated if you’ve never been to a con or are a new to the culture because, when done right, they serve as spaces for both casual and die-hard fans of all kinds. A con should welcome everyone together in a community to meet celebrities, cosplay as their favorite characters, shop for collectibles and nerd gear, take part in Q&A panels with experts from every field, or just meet up and geek out. There are a lot of cons to look forward to these next few months, and from one nerd to another — or to the nerd-curious out there — here are my picks for the best summer cons:
Comic-Con International: San Diego
July 24-27, 2014
Simply put, this is the Superman of cons. The 34-year-old Comic-Con International is really just known as San Diego Comic Con or SDCC. This nerd mecca is a major entertainment event where news is made that ripples through pop culture for the next few years (such as when the 2016 Superman/Batman movie was announced in 2013). It is truly a celebration of pop culture: studios, networks, comic book publishers and game producers show up to unveil projects; A-list celebrities mingle with the populace; parties go on all night long, and everyone is geeking out together in a slow-moving crush of humanity. Supposedly attendance at the con, held at the San Diego Convention Center, is around 130,000, but the event overtakes all of the Gaslamp Quarter with many people attending just to witness the spectacle. Tickets and hotels disappear fast, but even if you can’t make it this year, definitely add it to your travel bucket list. Show up early for Wednesday’s Preview Night and remember to pickup exclusive con items you can’t find elsewhere.
Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2014
If San Diego is the big show that attracts mainstream press attention and industry insiders, Dragon Con is the beloved indie-rock younger sibling who likes to have a good time and stay out all night. If SDCC breaks news, Dragon Con breaks into the booze. But it is more than an amazing social scene. Held in downtown Atlanta, Dragon Con has a reputation for being the premiere cosplay event, but has an insanely diverse amount of programming that includes paranormal, steampunk, British television and apocalypse genres along with comics, fantasy and sci-fi. Any kind of fan will find something to suit their tastes here. For the night owls, Dragon Con after dark involves concerts, raves, masquerades, speed dating and more. Also, don’t miss the astounding Dragon Con parade.
Chicago Comic Con
Aug. 21-24, 2014
The Windy City is rightly home to the Midwest’s largest comic con and the 3rd largest in the country. The size and scale means fans will have access to an impressive roll call of guests, and programming that ranges from intimate to enormous. Organizer Wizard World has achieved something of a coup by holding the con in a large space that’s spread out; the result is a big show that doesn’t generally feel claustrophobic in the same way SDCC might. As a bonus, this and Philadelphia Comic Con, outside of San Diego, are currently the cons to see the most actors appearing in current Marvel Comics Universe movies.
July 3-6, 2014
If you have an interest in anime and manga, Anime Expo (AX) is the place to be this summer. It is the largest convention of the sort in North America, and it maintains that title through an exceptional variety of panels, fashion shows, debates, concerts, gaming options, karaoke and more. Even if you don’t have an interest in this genre, AX is worth checking out because it’s just really cool and something to experience. The event runs all day and all night with socializing options that run from family-friendly to adults only. MomoCon (www.momocon.com) in Atlanta deserves a shout-out for being a great alternative, but AX tops the list.
Special Edition: NYC
June 14-15, 2014
Special Edition is a new entry on the con scene, and has a very specific goal. Instead of casting a wide net of pop culture appeal, organizer ReedPOP has decided to target super fans of comic books, cartooning, illustration and the graphic arts. The guest list may not include actors from movies and television, but it is a notable collection of creators at this intentionally intimate affair.
Philadelphia Comic Con
June 19-22, 2014
The City of Brotherly Love becomes the City of Geeky Love in June when Wizard World rolls into town with this con. Philly Comic Con is a massive gathering with a really large variety of talent (seeing Whoopi Goldberg at the same event as wrestler Dave Bautista is somehow worth it right there), in addition to a lot of great panels.
Aug. 29-Sept 1, 2014
Founded by the folks behind the “Penny Arcade” gamer webcomic, PAX (The Penny Arcade eXpo) Prime is a gaming event that has repeatedly leveled up in size in only a decade. Although its roots are mainly in video games, PAX has gone on to celebrate tabletop game culture and has become a geekscape of broad-spectrum gaming. Along with concerts, tourneys (including the big Omegathon tournament) and geek culture panels, PAX is a great place to discover new games from both indie and major league developers. Still, if you are more of a die-hard tabletop, roleplaying or card game fan, the 46-year-old Gen Con (founded by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax) in Indianapolis, Aug. 14-17, (http://www.gencon.com) is a can’t-miss.
Fan Expo Canada
Aug. 28-31, 2014
The US doesn’t have the market cornered when it comes to geeking out in North America. Celebrating its 20th year in 2014, Fan Expo Canada is the SDCC of the north. The behemoth of a con covers a wide array of genres (including sports) to fill its 4 days, and features a lot exclusive screenings and products. The Fan Expo masquerade has also become a well-known cosplay event to attend.
The Official Star Trek Convention
July 31-Aug. 3, 2014
While there are some great Star Trek-related cons out there, Creation Entertainment hosts “official” events, with its main one taking place in Las Vegas. As such, the Official Star Trek Convention boasts a pretty incredible roster of Federation captains and officers, Klingons, Vulcans, Ferengis and more. In addition to featuring William Shatner and much of the cast from “The Next Generation,” the con is known for the Star Trek Rat Pack parody show starring recognizable actors from the “Trek” universe, and a live concert by The Nevada Pops.
Roswell UFO Festival
Roswell, New Mexico
July 3-6, 2014
For a con of a different sort, head to New Mexico in July for an event that embraces Roswell’s 67-year connection to the 1947 crash of an (alien in origin?) object in the nearby desert. Dedicated UFO fans and aspiring researchers can head to the Roswell UFO Museum for talks by noted experts, but the fun continues on the streets of the small community. There is a carnival and street fair with live music, vendors, costume contests — including one for pets — and more. Make certain to take part in the annual Lovelace Regional Hospital-Roswell Alien Chase 5k and 10k.
Big Island, Hawaii
Sept. 12-14, 2014
Although it falls outside of Labor Day — the cultural end to the summer season in the US — it is always summer in Hawaii so we’ll let it slide. This is the first year for HawaiiCon, and the local organizers are booking sci-fi talent from “Star Trek,” “Stargate” and “Battlestar Galactica.” But for this con, the gorgeous location is a major part of the appeal, and the con is playing to that strength (just check out the marquee image of a Stormtrooper enjoying a tropical drink on the beach). In addition to the panels and autograph signings, the event promises to showcase island mythology and “indigenous sciences,” and will include programming on space research taking place on the island. And, cosplay in grass skirts on the beach also sounds pretty great.
– BY AARON SAGERS
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @aaronsagers