Since its inception in 2008, Con Nooga has been a place where fans can gather and collectively appreciate all things pop culture. Modeled after similar conventions such as Comic Con and WonderCon, Con Nooga gives fans from across the region a way to express themselves through their love of comics, film, TV and other media.
For the first time this year, I decided to join their ranks. I was curious about what went on and was looking forward to seeing some serious cosplay action.
But all my experience with these kinds of events totaled a whopping zero, so I was unsure of what to expect, even with shows like “The Big Bang Theory” providing a superficial view of the people who frequent these conventions. And so I must admit that I was already imagining people dressed in too-tight costumes and middle-aged men wearing Captain America shirts. But as I came to learn in my brief time there, Con Nooga and similar festivals aren’t strictly about competition and the furtherance of stereotypes. A distinct commonality and inclusiveness rise above all the assumptions you might have and give you an unfettered look at why people have such a deep appreciation for these kinds of things.
As for me, I’ve never been much for comic books or anime-I love my Studio Ghibli films (and yes, I realize those aren’t anime, but still) and the original “Vampire Hunter D,” but shows like “Attack on Titan” and “Dragon Ball Z” have barely registered on my radar. I can count the number of comics I’ve read on two hands and never developed a love of those serial publications like I did for the graphic novel work from writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Regardless, I approached Con Nooga with an equal sense of curiosity and skewed view of nerd culture.
But what became readily apparent was that these people-whether they were costumed or not-were doing this for a sincere love of their respective cultural phenomenon. And that’s an admirable thing. How can you reduce someone’s passion down to just a bare stereotype? It’s easy, granted, but completely misses the point of comic conventions.
From the time I got there, I was bombarded by people dressed as Deadpool, Boba Fett, Batman and dozens of other characters. There was even a group of people dressed like the original characters from “G.I. Joe.” There was also a large percentage of younger children there, posing with these characters and generally looking on in awe of their surroundings. I can’t say that I blame them.
As I stepped out onto the main floor, I was met with countless booths and a flurry of disjointed voices. There were a few bands selling merchandise, a person off to the left auctioning off various items and people browsing enormous collections of figurines, comics, swords and original artwork. And that’s just what I could see from the main entrance. There was a general vibe of acceptance, though, that caught me off guard. These people were finding that they belonged, for however short a time, when they stepped through those doors. Whether it was for the R2-D2 Builder Club or the Mandalorian Costume Club or a few dozen other groups, their obsessions and loves were accepted and celebrated.
Everywhere you looked, kids were taking pictures with Boba Fett or Batman or any number of other costumed attendees who were more than willing to lend a few moments to give these children memories. And that’s something that they might not ordinarily have the opportunity to do. As I was walking through the crowd of people, my eyes darted between booths of vintage toys, various books and fantasy memorabilia, but I never saw anyone who wasn’t completely involved in what they were doing. Even the people who were having their picture taken inside life-size replicas of the original Batmobile, The Mystery Machine and one of the original park vehicles from “Jurassic Park” were all smiles and ready to talk with complete strangers.
So despite my initial opinion being something similar to Homer Simpson’s, I was quickly reminded of how stereotypes can easily flourish without much thought, and how we need to carefully weigh our own assumptions about other people. From the person selling solid wood replicas of Gandalf’s staff from “The Lord of the Rings” movies to the guy trying to describe the process by which he made his homemade swords, I can say that your love for your interest is a completely viable form of geekery. I may have my obsession with music and film, but that doesn’t mean that someone else who idealizes Final Fantasy or Harley Quinn has any less a right to do so.
Con Nooga 2016 was both a confirmation of some things I knew and had assumed, and also an eye-opening experience in terms of what I took away from it. This isn’t some place for people with no social life or the inability to interact with the opposite sex. Who hasn’t made that joke at some point? This is something for families and professionals and basically anyone you might know. It’s an inclusive atmosphere, where people aren’t strictly judged by their physical appearances-unless you’re wearing a costume, and then you’re going to be getting a lot of compliments. Next year, I may actually plan my trip better so I can take in some of the interesting workshops and lectures. I’ll definitely be back next year, if only to see how many people dress up like Doctor Strange or Apocalypse, given their studio film debuts later this year.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.