Marshall convention brings together pop culture fanatics

March 17, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Pop culture fans descended on Marshall University on Saturday to “nerd out” for all things gaming, movies, literature, comics and television.

More than 800 people gathered in the university’s Memorial Student Center and Drinko Library for the inaugural HerdCon, a multi-genre entertainment and comic convention.

Many said they came for different reasons, whether to showcase their nicest costumes, compete in a tabletop gaming tournament or browse for the rarest fan-friendly collectibles. They said the main reason they came, however, was to experience a feeling of unity that arises only when a group of fanatics get together to discuss their favorite franchises.

A group of Marshall staff came up with the idea to create and host a pop culture convention last year, said Michelle Alford, one of the convention’s organizers and a senior IT consultant for the library. An opportunity had presented itself after the organizers of Tsubasacon, a three-day anime convention held in the fall, announced it would move from the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington to the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, she said.

“We thought this is a great recruitment tool and a great tool for bringing people to Huntington,” Alford said. “We get a lot of bad press with the opioid epidemic. This gives us a medium for a family-friendly event that helps gather good press for Huntington and Marshall.”

The one-day event featured a variety of activities on its schedule, including several panel discussions, a Nintendo Smash Brothers gaming tournament, a dance troupe performance and a “cosplay” costume contest, among others.

Dozens of people showcased their best cosplay, which is a performance art of dressing up in outfits to represent a specific character.

CD Collins, a senior theater major, wore a costume resembling a Pokemon character, complete with makeup and a 3D-printed skull. Collins said he likes attending conventions because of the overall accepting atmosphere. There’s something special about recognizing other fans of a particular genre, he said.

“It’s always a very welcoming and a community-based place,” he said. “You have people generally who have really bad anxiety and they don’t really like leaving the house, but they are willing to go to cons because there’s an expectation of acceptance there.”

Anyone can get into cosplay and there is no judgment for wearing something homemade compared to more expensive pieces, said Nicole Saoud and Rachel Griffith.

Saoud, of Fairmont, West Virginia, was dressed as Wonder Woman from the 2018 blockbuster and Griffith, of Bridgeport, West Virginia, was dressed as Hela, a villain from the “Thor” movies. Together they hosted a panel discussion on getting started in cosplay.

“There’s no wrong way to cosplay,” Griffith said. “It can be a T-shirt with hand-painted design or by spending months molding foam or having something commissioned for you.”

Pop culture conventions are becoming more popular as superhero movies dominate the box office, said Jackie Bennett, an organizer of Parkersburg’s Pop Con, that city’s own pop culture convention scheduled Sept. 28.

Conventions also transcend generations because children are becoming fans of movies released before they were born, while adults are becoming fans of the newest games and gadgets, she said.

“It’s a shared experience with all these people where you get to say, ‘Oh, my gosh. I like that, too,’” she said.

Karshara Spaulding, an artist from Huntington, said she appreciates pop culture conventions for giving space to people who want to attend something different from sporting events or concerts. Spaulding was selling prints of her artwork and also creating on-the-spot commissions.

“It’s nice being around people I feel a connection to,” she said. “Even though it’s a different fandom, we are brought here because we’re nerds basically.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.