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by Bob Reyer

It’s just about two weeks since the I-Con convention here on Long Island, and though this may seem a late date for a re-cap, I prefer to let my impressions of these events mature a bit, as some contents may settle during shipping.

Truth be told, I was in most likelihood not going to attend the convention this year, which would have broken a string of 20 consecutive years, but with so many colleagues planning to go, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of seeing this convention through their “new eyes”.

To give a brief I-Con chronology, it occurs each Spring on the campus of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, which sits on a massive tract of land on Long Island’s North Shore. It began some 30-odd years ago as an off-shoot of the university’s Science Fiction Forum (whose tee-shirt I’m wearing as I type this!), and their decision to “spread the wealth”, so to speak. After a halting beginning as the derisively-named “Mud-Con” (an epithet coined due to the combination of on-campus construction and precipitation!) the con settled into one large lecture building, The Javits, before eventually occupying what seems to be space in every building in the far-flung compound.

What sets I-Con apart from the other myriad conventions that I’ve attended is the diversity of programming;  just as advertised, “ Science Fiction, Fact and Fantasy” collide in a fabulous olio that ensures that you’ll find at least one panel, lecture or event to attend that you wouldn’t have thought about walking into before. Illustrating this point—I was at panels griping about “DC’s New 52” and another about “What they did wrong!”; a hard science lecture on the subject “Science, Pseudo-science & Outright Crap”, a demonstration of “The Physics of the Theremin” (…at which I got to play “Happy Birthday” {to myself} on this amazing early electronic instrument!) and was present for an improvisational concert set to clips from old sci-fi and monster movies.

The Dealer’s Room is often the hub of convention life, and I-Con is no exception, with products ranging from steampunk gear to Girl Scout Cookies! I managed to secure a copy of the un-aired David E. Kelly “Wonder Woman” pilot from this year (UGGHHH!), as well as some very cool prints from the fine folks at Geekboypress.com which are already hanging in my kitchen. My home is decorated with years worth of I-Con tchotchkes, including autographed pictures of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and Jeffrey Combs, a statue of the dread Cthulhu and a one-sheet poster from the un-released 1994 Roger Corman version of “The Fantastic Four”!

To my mind, the best part about the Dealer’s Room is simply the ability to “people watch”.  The sheer number of folks willing to embrace their inner self; the ability to not care what others might think because of a feeling of solidarity—it re-affirms this old curmudgeon’s faith in humanity, and doubly so that my colleagues Steve and Bobby have picked up on this essential point.

On a related topic, one of the highlights of the week-end is the Masquerade, held in a hotel ballroom at the end of Saturday’s slate of events. I have been lucky enough to judge the Costume Contest at this event a couple of times (once on my 50th birthday!) and I must say that in many ways, the fearlessness that the participants embody have come to typify what this convention is about, as well as the natural changes in subjective focus as the years have rolled on. I must say, as someone who is generally resistant to change, the sheer “bonhomie” of this crowd, in this venue, makes it far more than palatable.

When I first began attending I-Con in the 1980’s, it was a purer “Science Fiction Convention”, with authors pre-dominant, but with large representations from the comic book, movie and television industries. As we’ve moved forward through time, other genres have become ascendant, so that now, I-Con is as much an “Anime” & “Gaming” con, as anything else. That said, however, I spied a large number of 40-something parents trailing little ones, so one never knows whether-or-not this con might not return to it’s Sci-Fi roots.

Those roots are what initially caught my interest all those many years ago, and I would be remiss in not at least mentioning in passing some of the highlights here—having Robert Bloch, the author of “Psycho” and disciple of the legendary H.P. Lovecraft,  invite a group of us to the “Meet the Pros” dinner; to hear Forrest J. Ackerman and Roger Corman discuss classic horror films; to listen in rapt attention as master story-tellers such as Peter David held a crowd in thrall, sometimes “in concert” with the brilliant Harlan Ellison, whose I-Con appearances are the stuff of legend.

Two I-Cons stand out for me above the rest, however. One was spending what seemed like the entire week-end with Ray Harryhausen, the genius of stop-motion animation (not to mention getting to hold some of the original models from his films!). The other…well, I still get a bit misty thinking about it—but bear with me on this one. Stan Lee appeared one year, and I was desperate to get his autograph on my copy of Fantastic Four #1, which I was fortunate enough to have gotten artist Jack Kirby to sign just a year previously. As I approached the table, with my book in the ready position, Stan could be heard to exclaim “Hey, the first one—that’s my favorite! That’s the one that started everything—and hey, you got Jack to sign it! That’s important, because he’s ‘The King’, and his name should come first once-in-a-while, because we were a great team”. With this, his pen poised above the splash panel of this rare book, Stan said “Gee, I hope I don’t rip this”—“Yeah, I hope so too, Stan” was my reply—and then—“Just kidding, kid; come back around here and talk to me a second”. With this, STAN LEE ushered me to his side and began asking me questions about which of his characters were my favorites!

Over all these years though, the greatest pleasure of attending I-Con has been the sense of inclusion; the deep-rooted feeling that you’re part of a larger community of people, who, although they may not share your particular interests, certainly share the same inquisitive, far-reaching outlook and child-like sense of wonderment, all without a shred of pre-judgment about others’ choices; would that the larger, outside world operated on a similar basis.

VERDICT:   If you’re in the New York area next Spring, give I-Con a look-see; wherever you live though, if you’ve never been to a con, or are a “lapsed attendee”, please make it a point to go to a con—it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re not alone in your passions!

CHECK OUT:

C. Chris Peters—Educator, Musician, Theremin player (ccp@chrispeters.com)

Geekboy Press (@ geekboypress.com)

Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction (Stony Brook’s long running Science-Fiction radio show–Fridays 11:30 PM@ 90.1 FM and streaming on the internet.)

ADDENDUM: Each year, as the I-Con winds down on Sunday afternoon, I’m struck with the feeling that I have to go to school on Monday, and that the party’s over!

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