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    There’s always something endearing about Fandom Fest.  A weekend immersed in geek-culture that leaves you high, with a perpetual smile for days.  It’s a merging of the minds – a place where outcasts, malcontents, and hipsters all seem to co-exist in their mutual admiration for their inner-child.  Costumes, toys, and swords – celebrities and childhood heroes seem to pop-up out of the clear blue, no matter where you look.  And Fandom Fest, which took place this past weekend at the Kentucky International Convention Center has become one of the best independent cons in the country.

    Obviously, the first thing you’ll notice is the costumes…costumes everywhere.  Varying degrees of imagination to varying degrees of execution.  There are Princess Leias and Deadpools, Ghostbusters and Colonial Marines (from the film “Alien”).  And some that were funnier and more inventive like Dark Helmet (from “Spaceballs”) or King Hippo (from “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”).  It’s hard not to admire the total dedication that comes with committing to a costume all day, as you make lap after lap around the convention’s main floor.  They are the scenery, the back drop that make up as much of the atmosphere for a comic con as the vendors and the celebrity guests.

    And then there is the con floor.  It’s a giant nerd flea market – filled with everything you want and absolutely nothing you need.  There is stuff like a “Wizard of Oz Leg Lamp” (yes, the striped be ruby slippered leg of the ill-fated Witch of the North).  There was table after table featuring arsenals of swords, battle axes, spiked clubs, and knives – ya’ know just in case you find yourself challenged to a dual or in the midst of hand-to-hand melee.  They had Pop Vinyls and 18” action figures from the 80’s sci-fi classic “Predator.”  And of course more toys, t-shirts, coffee mugs, pretty much anything and everything on which they could manage to squeeze some sort of reference to the latest hipster obsession and campy yawn-fest known as “Dr. Who.”

    The big draw for these things has always been the celebrities – autographs, photo ops, as well as Q&A’s.  This year Fandom struggled with a lot of last minute cancellations from celebrities (Peter Mayhew, Billy Dee Williams, Billie Piper, and Eve Myles all dropped out only days before the con kicked-off).  Carrie Fisher, the O.L. (Original Leia) ended up the sole shoulders to which the celebrity culture of the con was anchored.  The lines in Celebrity Alley were noticeably shorter this year, but that is probably symptomatic of the cancellations and a just generally lackluster line-up of celebrities – overall it was a somewhat less exciting line-up this year, even without the cancellations.

    Besides the autographs and photo ops – my two favorite parts of attending these sorts of things is 1) artists, and 2) the panels.

    First, the artists – as you circle the con floor there is booth after booth of young up-and-coming, as well as very established artists showing off their work and selling prints for reasonable prices (usually between $10-$20).  Their styles are all so different and their portfolios so vast from table to table the work can be breath taking.  And the fact that the artists are there, you can chat with them about their style or the history of the piece – and they are always willing to hand sign a purchased print for free – so you can walk away with a hand-signed print for relatively little cash.  Not to mention if you really like the work, they usually offer discounts for the more piece you buy.

    Now, the panels.  I spent a lot of time this year in panels the first one was John Schneider and Tom Wopat when they led the “Dukes of Hazzard” Q&A.  My inner kid was sliding across the hood of my inner soul as I sat there watching Bo and Luke Duke talk for an hour about the making of the series.  Their rapport is contagious.  Like old friends that rib each other, finish each other’s sentences, and genuinely love one another.  Everything you would hope Bo and Luke to be in the midst of late-middle-age.

    Carrie Fisher’s was a nerd dream come true.  As Princess Leia sat draped on a couch watching clips of Star Wars (as well as “Blues Brothers,” “Austin Powers,” and “Post Cards from the Edge”) – and getting to hear her behind the scenes commentary on each.

    Then closing down Saturday night, there was the screening of the Director’s Cut of “Mallrats” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film.  Afterward they recorded the hilarious podcast “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old” with Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith live on-stage.  However, they held off for the “Mallrats” Q&A (with Jason Mewes and Jeremy London) until Sunday afternoon, which was poorly attended and had a less than enthusiastic crowd.  Perhaps they should have considered switching the Q&A to directly after the screening, and recorded the podcast the following day.  It seems like you would have maintained a consistent level of enthusiasm for both events had the order been switched up a bit.

    Sunday also featured a Q&A with Mike Zapsic and Ming Chen from AMC’s “Comic Book Men,” and like Bo and Luke before them – the two men have witty banter and undeniable chemistry that shows up in person but doesn’t always radiate as well on television. 

    Overall, there is no doubt that Fandom Fest is one of the biggest and best independent regional cons around.  In any event of this magnitude with so many moving and shifting pieces – there will inevitably be missteps – but overall they put on a great event that filled the sidewalks of downtown Louisville with costumed believers in the power of their inner-child.

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    About Brent Owen

    Born and raised in Louisville, I have lived here most of my life (except during a short furlough, when I, lovelorn and naive, followed a girl to Baton Rouge). My roots are here, my family, my friends, and my life are all here. I work primarily as a free-lance writer for a few local and regional publications. I have also written two books (one a memoir, the other a novel) that barring some divine intervention, will probably never see the light of day. I find myself deeply ingrained in the local bar scene, or perhaps better said, I often indulge in the local drinking culture. I love music, movies, comedy, and really just about any other live performance art.

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