By AMANDA BEAM
Heralded by men wearing tights and women wearing superhero masks, the pop culture convention known as Fandomfest drew a crowd of more than 20,000 to the Galt House and Kentucky International Convention Center this past weekend. In its ninth year, the event that infuses anime, sci-fi, fantasy, and other popular genres enticed people from all over the world to the Derby city. While some attendees choose to wear a variety of costumes, fans of all ages and dress were able to rub elbows with some pretty impressive movie and comic legends to boot.
As an illustrator, Jeffersonville resident Kyle Hutchings and his wife and colorist Marly rented a booth to showcase some of their art. Hutchings is no stranger to the comic book scene. Drawing characters has been his passion since high school. Next year he hopes to release “The Dark Three,” a comic book he has both designed and illustrated.
“If you’re in your 30s or 40s these days, you grew up with Saturday morning cartoons in the 80s. During that time, comic books weren’t as popular but everybody watched cartoons,” Hutchings said. “It’s escapism but it’s in its purest form. And because you have it starting to work its way into the mainstream, you don’t have people going, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous.’”
Not everyone quite understands the world of comic book fans. Hutchings said that’s what makes conventions like these all the more special.
“If you come to a show like this and you’re not the only person dressed in a costume, or you’re not the only person wearing a T-shirt with your favorite character on it, or you’re not the only person going gaga over the latest Spiderman comic, it makes it a lot easier for someone to not feel self-conscious about enjoying something that there’s not really a reason to feel self-conscious about,” the Jeff High graduate said.
While some shared their love of illustration in the business setting, others showed their dedication by simply waiting. After spending nearly two hours in line just to obtain general admission tickets, Jeffersonville native Jason Tate visited the vintage toy vendors around the main hall of the convention. His eyes lit up when he found a special edition Transformers action figure. In third grade, he became enthralled by the cartoon. Thirty years later, Tate has more than 1,000 Transformers in his ever-growing collection.
“Anything that was in the J.C. Penney Wishbook when I was a kid, I love coming across in real life. I’m just really excited to see pop culture collectibles,” Tate said while clasping a newly bought exclusive Soundblaster figure that was only sold in Japan.
“Everybody here, you can kind of tell when they grew up by what they’re wearing. It’s a total nostalgia trip.”
Completing that trip down memory lane, movie and television celebrities who traveled to Louisville for the event participated in autograph sessions and photo opportunities. Professional wrestler and Louisville resident Al Snow talked to fans at his booth at the convention. Like Tate, he agreed the event gave attendants the chance to relive childhood memories.
“It’s an opportunity to reminisce,” Snow said. “Butch Patrick is here, you know. And all those memories of watching ‘The Munsters’ when you grew up come flooding up. It’s not necessarily the autographs that people come for. It’s the opportunity to meet, interact and actually share a moment with a person that they liked.”
“Game of Thrones” and “Conan the Barbarian” star Jason Momoa also attended Fandomfest. No matter what the shared interest, he said he understands why people who have things in common would enjoy meeting up at conventions like this.
“When they have a collection of people with the same like minds and things, I enjoy going to them whether it’s music or guitars or whatever you love or that you’re passionate about. It’s nice,” Momoa said. “It’s always good to meet some people that support you.”
Unfortunately, not everyone who went to Fandomfest said they had a good time. After the weekend, unsatisfied patrons created Facebook pages and started Reddit sites to voice their complaints against the convention. Long lines and lack of signage and communication weren’t the only issues raised.
Through Facebook posts on one of these pages, Cave City, Ky., resident Christy Schroeder shared her story of the afternoon.
“I paid $75 for a Dixon Brothers (of ‘The Walking Dead’) photo op. I waited in line all day long from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and never received my photo,” Schroeder wrote.
Another site commenter, Heather Jones of Louisville, also paid for two photos with celebrities but, as of press time, has still never received either one of them. Both Jones and Schroeder gave permission for their stories and names to be published for this article. Other people under similar circumstances have written about their attempts to have their credit card payments voided for the disputed transactions.
Volunteers of Fandomfest had some issues with the convention, too. Louisville Gaming Club Organizer Garry Mattingly said in an email that he and other volunteers were promised perks for helping out at the event, but they also ended up empty handed.
“I was in charge of 15 volunteers and we did not receive about $1,000 of stuff that was promised to us. Books, shirts, badges and food. All of it promised and the promise of which drew some of my Dungeon Masters to drive here from Connecticut and Texas; none of it was delivered,” Mattingly said in the email.
Fandomfest organizers issued the following statement on Wednesday:
"While Fandomfest experienced some growing pains, we made a lot of people very happy. We thank all of those who attended All people who purchased photo ops will be sent their photos in the mail. The hallway was shut down for a brief time only. All photo ops were taken," organizer Ken Daniels said in an emailed statement.