All Dressed Up

by Grace Gordon


I stood in front of my closet. Do I select a t-shirt with a likeness of Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly? Or two Star Wars AT-ATs in the act of coitus? Once I’d pulled up to the Sheraton in downtown Oklahoma City—just blocks from the epicenter of Thunder madness—I realized it didn’t really matter. In a cast of cosplayers dressed as Batman, Doctor Who, the Ghostbusters, Deadmau5, zombies, gypsies, and pirates, I was rendered invisible in my brown Firefly shirt.

SoonerCon, as one of the organizers, Angie Wall, told me, can be hard to describe to an outsider. “We’re a pop culture con. We celebrate all things ‘fandom.’ ” The convention’s multi-genre nature means that it spans the worlds of comics, the paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, and film: corseted steampunk girls share equal space with Obi-Wan.

The revival of SoonerCon is apropos for the time. The Internet reinforces it: no matter your proclivities, you’re not alone in them. It’s geekery chic, even, to be able to opine about Battlestar Galactica or quantum physics. With help from volunteers, the new SoonerCon drew a crowd of 650, when projected attendance was at a low 200. It has grown every year since, with attendance at around 1,200 for 2012. The convention has roughly doubled in size in six years, with one-third of the attendees from out of state.

Hotel patrons stared at the costumed convention attendees in the lobby of the Sheraton, snapping photos on their phones when Bane walked by in a mask and a glowing venom pump. One family paused near my perch, on their way to take their two adorable toddler girls to the hotel pool. Dad produced two beach balls and asked which one they wanted. “Avengers!” shrieked one of them, “I want the Avengers ball!” Little did she know that Hulk and the gang were hanging out upstairs.

SoonerCon started in 1987, created by members of a local fan group called STAR OKC. It ran until 1997, when burnout got the better of the executive committee. Though SoonerCon disappeared, its founders and attendees were not quick to forget. In 2006, Mark Alfred, one of the founding members of STAR, joined with Jerry Wall and former SoonerCon executive committee member Leonard Bishop—or “The ConFather,” as his badge indicates—to restore it to its former glory.

This is more than an occasion for hardcore fans to play dress up, exchange meme-laden inside jokes from the home page of reddit, or argue over whether Matt Smith or David Tennant is the better Doctor. It was Okies and their ilk coming out in droves to partake in panels with titles like, “Someone has to die, it might as well look good,” “How to Ghost Hunt,” and “Is It Aether: How Spaceships Fly in Steampunk.” It was an opportunity to show off those hard-working hours in mom’s basement in a gaming competition, a chance to sit in on a workshop or lecture delivered by your hero, a chance to spend hard-earned money on custom-made light sabers.

“Supporting the local community was our goal from the beginning,” Wall told me, but SoonerCon goes beyond local to support independent artists from all over. I found Wayne Jackson, a micro-publisher from Austin, at a folding table in “Artist’s Alley.” His company, Urban Senate, put out a post-apocalyptic comic called Saint, which Jackson wrote himself. He’d made his way around the  convention circuit, but SoonerCon has helped him find nonlocal distribution and expand his reach north of Austin. From the list of special convention guests, Michael Golden was the only name I recognized (I adore the X-men character he co-created, Rogue), but the biggest draw was sci-fi novelist Eric Flint. I listened as a pair of con attendees talked over their Flint stalking strategy: “If we get there 30 minutes early, we’ll be at the front of the line!” said one. “Let’s get there an hour early to be safe,” said the other. In the mean time, Golden sat in his booth, quietly sketching.