By Cameron Rasmusson
The world of geekdom isn’t what it used to be.
Only a few decades ago, the word was a social death sentence. Teenagers across the world wore the right clothes, listened to the music and attended the parties they figured would separate them as far as possible from the world of the geek.
What a difference a few years make. Today, the titans of the entertainment industry don’t just cater to nerd culture—they more or less dance to its tune. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s comic book-based movies chart box office numbers that rival the GDP of small countries. The video game industry has staged some of the biggest launches of any entertainment medium. Genre fiction like fantasy and sci-fi have produced some of the mega-hits in TV, film and literature, including George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series and its accompanying “Game of Thrones” HBO series.
“I like the diversity and the culture of the fandom,” said artist Allison Wier. “There is really a bit of everything for everyone, and that makes it all unique and a lot of fun. Also, the art and the stories are great!”
Even as nerd cultural and its individual “fandom” communities have driven industry growth, it’s simultaneously opened into a more welcoming social experience. There is perhaps no better example of this than the con. Popularized primarily by the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which draws 130,000 fans, journalists and industry professionals for four-days of all things pop culture, these events are a chance for fans to enjoy a high-energy experience sharing their passions with like-minded people. Fandom conventions modeled after Comic-Con have popped up all around the country.
This year, Sandpoint enters the fray with its own con: Sandemonium. Set for Saturday, Aug. 29 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Sandpoint library, the free event brings local fans together in a celebration of pop culture.
“I’m really excited about Sandemonium,” said Sarah Alli Brotherton, who coordinated content planning for the event. “I have been going to conventions in Seattle and Portland for years, so it’s been really fun using that experience to try to build something I know people will really enjoy.”
A joint effort between East Bonner County Library District, the Reader, the Panida Theater and dozens of community members, Sandemonium is designed to provide local fan communities with a safe and enjoyable venue to enjoy their favorite movies, comics, video games, TV shows and anime. Event planners hope the convention will help centralize local fandom culture—a process already begun through new businesses like the Another World tabletop gaming store—and provide a venue for people to make new friends with similar interests.
I’m thankful for all the people I’ve gotten to meet in the process of planning this event, and meeting people really is the point of a con!” said Brotherton. “I think we’ve made something we can really be proud of and I hope everyone can come and see that.”
To that end, the single-day event will feature a host of events, including informative panels, workshops, demonstrations, video game tournaments, art spaces, contests, board games, pen-and-paper role-playing games, vendor booths, movies and much more. It’s an event with something for just about everyone, from kids to adults and hardcore devotees to casual fans.
“There is a magic and fun to comic-cons, and I’m happy to be a part of bringing that to Sandpoint,” said Patricia Walker White, Panida Theater executive director. “The movies are an important part of this fun, and the Panida is working on some classics.”
A defining feature of any fan convention is cosplay, or the practice of dressing up as your favorite fictional characters. In the past several years, cosplay has evolved into an artform in its own right, with the best of the best designing costumes so accurate, you’d swear they were stolen from the wardrobe department on a movie set. Sandemonium is yet another event where fans are encouraged to unleash their cosplay imaginations. Not only will contests for both purchased and homemade costumes encourage an extra spark of creativity—multiple workshops will also help attendees master different materials and techniques in costume crafting.
Cosplay is just one example of the intense creativity that surrounds fan communities, and Sandemonium aims to provide a forum for that creativity. To that end, the event also engages writers and artists with workshops on their favorite medium. There’s even a planned showcase on the nuances of designing convincing fight choreography for stage and screen productions.
Of course, there’s plenty of time for fun and games, too, and the event is designed so attendees can move seamlessly between workshops and panels to ongoing games and entertainment. For instance, gamers will want to check out a gaming room in the library’s new property next to the main building. Several stations featuring the popular Nintendo fighting game “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” will test the sharpest reflexes, with an official tournament during the day determining the first Sandemonium Smash Bros. champion. “Magic: The Gathering” players should find plenty of opponents to match decks against, and there are no shortage of board games available to keep others busy. Role-players aren’t forgotten, either—gaming maestro Andrew Sorg is coordinating a team of gamemasters on role-playing campaigns throughout the day.
Sandemonium’s first year grew out of the East Bonner County Library District’s summer reading program. With superheroes the theme of the year of their national association, library program development director Marcy Timblin and young adult services librarian Morgan Gariepy figured a con-style event could fill an empty space in the community. They quickly recruited a few community partners in the endeavor, including the Reader and the Panida Theater.
“Our original idea was to celebrate the superhero themed National Summer Reading Program with a comic con-style event, but our community partners very quickly took it to the next level,” Timblin said.
With only a few months to plan the first year of festivities, Sandemonium begins life as a smaller, single-day event. As for the future, however, community interest is the only limit to potential growth. Depending on response, planners hope the convention will eventually feature multiple days of events along with presentations by special guest authors, artists and more.
“Our hope is that it will become the next big draw event for our region and for fandom enthusiasts,” said Timblin.
Sandemonium takes place Saturday, Aug. 29 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Sandpoint library. The event is free to the public and suitable for all ages. To learn more, find event details on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sdptsandemonium
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