Fandom Come

7 minutes

Naruto, Harley Quinn, and Jean-Luc Picard walk into the Embassy Suites in Norman. This isn’t the set up for a joke: It’s a typical day at Oklahoma’s largest gathering for lovers of science fiction, fantasy, comic books, anime, horror . . . really any genre of pop culture that generates die-hard fandoms.

There weren’t as many "Trek" reps at SoonerCon as I expected, but I was so happy to meet this human/Andorian Starfleet pair. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

There weren’t as many "Trek" reps at SoonerCon as I expected, but I was so happy to meet this human/Andorian Starfleet pair. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

SoonerCon has been around more or less since June 1986, when it was established by STAR OKC—a now-defunct science fiction and fantasy fan club. At first, organizers focused on the literature of those two genres. Fast forward to June 24-26, 2022, and those first attendees would not even recognize the juggernaut that SoonerCon has become.

Now, the Future Society of Central Oklahoma runs the show. The group’s aim is to “promote arts, literature, and the sciences through the lens of pop culture,” and their vision is to “learn from the past, work together today, and build a welcoming tomorrow.” A lofty goal for a gathering a geeks—a term used lovingly within the community—but SoonerCon lives up to it.

The picture doesn’t come close to doing this terrifying seraphim justice. Her halo glittered spectacularly when the light was just right. This costume must have taken ages! Photo by Karlie Ybarra

The picture doesn’t come close to doing this terrifying seraphim justice. Her halo glittered spectacularly when the light was just right. This costume must have taken ages! Photo by Karlie Ybarra

Cultivating an inclusive environment starts at the top with a wildly diverse panel of featured guests. SoonerCon 30’s lineup included artist Elizabeth Legget, author A. Lee Martinez, Johnny Yong Bosch—a voice actor and former black Power Ranger—cosplayer Beku.Cos, Muriel Fahrion (the Tulsa artist responsible for the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and the Get-Along Gang), Star Trek historian Larry Nemecek, and Dr. Donna Nelson, the University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who advised the science of Breaking Bad.

Those experts also covered a mindboggling array of topics in various discussions and demos throughout the three-day event. Writers looking to break into just about every genre could find inspiration in panels like The Psychology of Fear, Fiction and Politics: How Can Stories Make a Difference?, and 70s Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Workshops and demos offered cosplayers and model-builders a chance to develop their skills, including building a dress form and Photoshop skills for cosplay shoots. And giant room full of role-playing games and scheduled meet-ups gave everyone a chance to mingle—from furries to level nineteen Dungeons and Dragons wizards.

Proving once again that cosplay is art, this haute couture Ursula the sea witch is such a fabulous interpretation of the Disney villain. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

Proving once again that cosplay is art, this haute couture Ursula the sea witch is such a fabulous interpretation of the Disney villain. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

There’s also an impressive array of wares to purchase in between the sessions. Potions, wands, and other magical props add an air of authenticity to any RPG set up. Artisans peddling handmade pocket dragons, steampunk hats, light sabers, jewelry of all kinds . . . dozens of vendors from all over the region lined the hallways of the Embassy Suites Conference Center. And the art! I picked up an adorable owl print from Oklahoma artist Alexandra Brodt for $10, and an original painting of my fantasy boyfriend, Taika Watiti as Blackbeard in Our Flag Means Death, for $5!

There were so many things to see, do, play, buy, and learn at SoonerCon 30, but it wasn’t any of that that left me truly inspired. As a person with high anxiety, I’ve always tried to keep myself out of the spotlight as much as possible, to do nothing that could bring attention—and therefore shame—to myself. Even my creative endeavors are behind the scenes. Sure, my name’s been in many a byline, but that’s only the controlled, edited, and highly scrutinized version of myself. The idea of putting myself and my artistry on display is unthinkable. So is openly discussing the things I love: God forbid I misinterpret the underlying themes of Deep Space Nine or misidentify an actor from some obscure episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But at SoonerCon, people who’ve been called nerds their whole lives as an insult are taking that word back and making it into something beautiful. They put the full spectrum of their creativity and artistry into making mind-blowing costumes, or modeling fantastical miniature worlds, or cultivating a team of mages to take on a horde of ogres in an immersive RPG. Here, they know they won’t be judged for speaking Klingon—though why anyone would look down on someone for loving Star Trek so much they learn a whole language is beyond me—or wearing a giant mushroom as a hat. This is a safe space, and you can feel it the second you walk through the door. People just love the things they love, and they want to be around others who do the same.

I sure wouldn’t want to encounter this mythical monster at night. It was funny watching people turn around and suddenly see a 6-foot-tall wendigo in their face. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

I sure wouldn’t want to encounter this mythical monster at night. It was funny watching people turn around and suddenly see a 6-foot-tall wendigo in their face. Photo by Karlie Ybarra

If you’re one of those people who thinks showing enthusiasm for anything is lame, either tacitly or explicitly, SoonerCon isn’t for you. But if you want to share in a more inclusive, joyful, and generally better tomorrow, keep an eye out next June for SoonerCon 31.

soonercon.com

Written By
Karlie Ybarra

Managing editor Karlie Ybarra loves to explore her home state—and meet many of its animal citizens—any chance she gets.

Karlie Ybarra
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