By Cameron Rasmusson
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Sandemonium steering committee, and the Reader is a co-sponsor of the event.
For the planners of Sandemonium, organizing a fun and safe experience for North Idaho’s fan community is personal.
The small fan convention, designed in the style of the famous San Diego Comic-Con, provides a setting for people of diverse ages and interests to share the enthusiasm that fuels them. It all happens this Saturday at Forrest M. Bird Charter School from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
“As a kid growing up in the ‘80s, there weren’t many that were openly into comic books or science fiction, and it often felt like an interest for outcasts,” said steering committee member Kevin Penelerick. “I like being able to be a part of creating an environment where people can get their geek on about whatever it is they love.”
Geek culture has come a long way since the pre-internet days, when its fans were stereotyped as oddballs and social outcasts. It is now the driving force behind the biggest entertainment events of the year, drawing billions in revenue across movies, books, comics, video games and more. Consequently, fandom events around the country have sprung up, giving fans the opportunity to share their interests. Some are huge media events where movie studios and publishers show off their latest products. Smaller conventions like Sandemonium, on the other hand, are more about drawing out the geekier side of a community.
“It’s smaller local conventions like this that have the true meaning, true power,” said Andrew Dresden, steering committee member and co-founder of Spokane-area podcast network Pants Pending Studios. “You feel welcome and at home, rather than overstimulated and confused. Conventions like this bring people together, from different beliefs, different backgrounds, all sharing together in the things that make them happy.”
“Sandemonium is necessary for its community, and its community is necessary for Sandemonium,” he added. “They are one and the same.”
Perhaps the defining feature of fandom conventions in the popular imagination is cosplay, where fans dress up as their favorite characters from games, comics, books, anime or movies. It’s a beloved activity for fans of all ages, and cosplayers range from amateurs with store-bought costumes to professionals who make living creating and modeling costumes. Sandemonium is no different, and attendees can take part in contests divided into skill-based tiers.
Conventions are also a great place to engage other enthusiasts. This year, Sandemonium will feature organized boffering — competitive melees using padded swords and other weapons — as well as “Magic: The Gathering” games and “Super Smash Bros.” video game tournaments, this year officiated by the colorful folks of Pants Pending Studios. It’s just one of the ways conventions bring people of diverse interests together.
“Personally, I was involved in a lot of small social circles centered around particular activities. I had a tabletop circle, a (trading-card game) circle, a (live-action role-playing) circle and a sci-fi circle,” said steering committee member Aidan Millheim. “Sandemonium has been instrumental in bringing all those circles together and growing the nerd subculture at large.”
Plenty of informative panels, covering topics from cosplay tips to role-playing guidelines, are planned throughout the day. And keep an ear out for trivia questions — those who answer them correctly will be awarded prizes. If you’re planning to make a day of it, grab some grub from food vendors The Twisted Kilt and Tacos Tacos.
After establishing a partnership last year, Sandemonium planners are excited to welcome back Pants Pending Studios for the event’s third year. The collection of podcasters and comedians infuse the convention with fun and vitality, sharing their talents through improv shows, event commentary and more. The crew also plans to record live podcasts for four of their shows.
“From day one of being included in this event, we could tell that the folks who put it together really care about bringing people together through all the wonderful ways to geek out and creating an atmosphere conducive of that,” said Dresden. “Pants Pending Studios is returning for its second year, with great enthusiasm.”
Sandemonium’s third year is shaping up to be a great day for families, students and adults alike. The hope is to provide an environment where attendees can make friends, feel safe and express themselves, and planners are working hard to accomplish just that.
“In a place that’s considered a small town, it’s really easy to feel like you’re ‘alone’ or that you may not find anyone who has anything in common with you,” said planning committee member Bronwyn Toth. “… It’s always amazing to see a collective group of like-minded people, and to know that they are close by is even more if a comfort.”
Sandemonium takes place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, at Forrest M. Bird Charter School. Entry is $2. For more information, visit www.sandemonium7b.com.