Every geek should hit PAX or San Diego Comic-Con once in their lifetime just to soak it all in, but after wading through the mobs on the showfloor and waiting in hour-long queues, it’s easy to see why a lot of fans (and big-name celebrities) prefer hitting the less mainstream cons: the sense of community is stronger, the lines are shorter, and the number of Deadpool conga lines is significantly lower. Here are some of the hidden gems of the con circuit—and beyond!
To be honest, I thought “MisCon” was a reference to Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University ever since I met the director of MisCon back in 2014 (it’s actually short for Missoula, Montana, its home). Either way, it’s an absolute goldmine for aspiring sci-fi/fantasy writers: the con is packed with talks that cover everything from how to get an editor to creating magic systems.
The best part? That presentation on creating magic systems is being taught by Brandon Sanderson.
MisCon always brings in industry pros as special guests to talk about what it takes to make it to the big time (especially book publishing), and previous years’ Guests of Honor have included George R.R. Martin, Christopher Paolini, and Jim Butcher. If you’re ever going to get a chance to hang with your heroes, MisCon is a pretty good shot.
If you’re not looking to become a writer, that’s fine too—MisCon has a big focus on tabletop gaming, cosplay, and author readings as well!
Dates: May 25 – 28th, 2018
Location: Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown, Missoula, Montana
Escape Velocity is one of those small, high-quality cons that’s on the verge of hitting the big-time—if you count having guest appearances from Cas Anvar (The Expanse), Greg Nicotero (the makeup guru for The Walking Dead), Greg Bear, Joe Haldeman (author of The Forever War), and Marc Okrand (the creator of Klingon) as “not hitting it big.”
Escape Velocity is also one of a new generations of cons that’s embracing the fact that we’re already living in the sci-fi future, so why divide science from sci-fi? At EV, you can hear about the future of cyber warfare and virtual reality and how close we are to merging the internet and reality (like in the 1998 anime Serial Experiments Lain), and then go compete in a lightsaber fighting tournament.
The cosplay at EV has also been amazing—last time I attended, I was speaking to the Museum of Science Fiction’s Charles Hildebrant when a group of Klingons walked up in full regalia and informed him he was being taken to jail. Don’t worry—it was a charity thing.
This year, Escape Velocity’s highlights include being able to sit in the Millennium Falcon, a sci-fi film festival, a costume competition, and special programming for members of Asgardia, the world’s first ‘space nation.’ [Editor's note: The Portalist and Escape Velocity previously partnered on a giveaway, and Escape Velocity is offering readers 20% off tickets to Escape Velocity 2018.]
Dates: May 25 - 27th, 2018
Location: Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, MD
Heading into its fourth year, Flame Con is “the world’s largest queer comic con,” and welcomes anyone and everyone, regardless of sex, gender, or race. According to blogger Jamie Sugah: “Flame Con 2017 was probably the most welcoming convention that I have ever been to […] Every part of the convention was designed to be as inclusive as possible.”
Last year, Flame Con saw about 6,000 attendees and featured 200 creators, as well as fan-favorite actors like Robin Lord Taylor (who plays the Penguin on Gotham), comic book artists like Sana Amanat (Ms. Marvel) and Phil Jimenez (Midnighter), and podcast personalities like Cecil Baldwin (Welcome to Nightvale). This year, the con features comic book illustrator Brittney Williams (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! and Goldie Vance) and James Tynion IV (Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures).
Like any good con, Flame Con’s programming is a combination of panels, workshops, signings, cosplay contests, and gaming sessions—the 2018 schedule is still being constructed, but last year included panels on LGBTQ+ characters in media and a Smash Bros. tournament!
Dates: August 18th & 19th, 2018
Location: Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel
Coming August 3rd, WakandaCon is the brainchild of a team of black creatives and geeks who were so inspired by Black Panther that they decided to create a con that brings the ideals of Wakanda to life. According to the official site:
“The moment we saw Wakanda in film, we wanted a space to gather and talk about everything African-Americans are passionate about. Afro-Futurism is about imagining a future for Black people all around the world. WakandaCon is a space for Black people to look past the present and into our future.”
Right now the programming and list of exhibitors is still being created, but the organization I Play Games! has been confirmed as hosting head-to-head gaming at the event. There will also be a “a marketplace for African-American small business owners” to check out!
Dates: August 3 - 5th, 2018
Location: Hilton Downtown, Chicago IL
Silicon Valley Comic Con
Before I attended Silicon Valley Comic-Con, I had never heard Steve Wozniak referred to as the “Wizard of Woz.” As soon as I stepped onto the convention floor and saw volunteers with shirts that said “WOZ SQUAD,” however, I knew I had come to a magical place.
Silicon Valley Comic-Con is Steve Wozniak’s passion project, and is definitely one of the coolest little cons for sci-fi fans on the west coast. Like Escape Velocity, it’s also a miniature tech showcase where companies can show off new gadgets (last year had SoftBank’s Pepper robot) and a STEM playground for kids.
The show floor is packed with everything you’d expect from a top-notch con—vendors selling high-quality lightsaber replicas, roaming R2-D2’s, and giant replicas of movie props like the spinners from Blade Runner.
They’ve also snagged some incredible guests—this year, they had Mads Mikkelsen, Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Stan Lee, Adam Savage, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from Star Trek), Michio Kaku, Andy Weir, and David Tennant (Dr. Who).
Dates: 2019 dates TBA
Location: San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, California