I ventured to the Pop Culture Expo, a fledgling convention held in Wilmington, Massachusetts. From the start the experience had a carnival feel, from the parking attendants directing me to park in the dirt lot, to the three food trucks in front of the worn out ticket booths, to the gym-esque auditorium complete with bleachers folded into the side walls. And at random intervals a man’s voice boomed over a microphone with reminders for signings.
That voice belonged to organizer Gary Sohmers, who has been producing collectible shows since about 1986 with time off in between. Recently, he’s been developing new technology, Image Meet and Greet, for fans to get a video recording of their autograph experience with the celebrity, and a sense of authenticity and personalization.
I arrived at the expo the afternoon of the first day and the floor was relatively quiet, so I roamed around, checking out vendor and guest tables. Autograph experiences with celebrities like Pete Best appeared to be one of the main draws and Ghostbuster fans could pay to get a photograph with actor Ernie Hudson and the Ecto 1.
One of the more unique exhibitors was Aldebaran Robotics demonstrating their NAO robots, currently used in higher education and research. Chatting with repair specialist Russell Nickerson, I watched as a NAO robot ran through a pre-programmed demo, played an animal guessing game and responded to both touch and voice commands. The robot is fully programmable, using languages such as C++, Python , JAVA and .NET.
On the cosplay side, things seemed a little light. Sabrina Newman and Ashley Tilton, cosplaying as the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit respectively, noted that they expected to see more people in costume. This was their first convention outside of Anime Boston, a convention where they feel the majority of folks dress in costume. On Saturday, they noted that they saw maybe fifty people dress up.
Also light was the gaming area. It was fairly small and aimed at video gamers although I did notice a Magic game wrapping up. The main focus appeared to be watching a player vs player competition on the big screen.
Although it was hard to find a printout of scheduled events, the voice on the microphone informed us that a Game of Thrones panel would start at three. Finding the obscure stairwell to the second floor space was a bit of a challenge, so by the time I found it, the panel was underway with about about thirty people in the audience. Actors Kristian Nairn (Hodor) and Esme Bianco (Ros) were asked questions by the moderator. Esme revealed she was not a fantasy fan and apologized for the fact that she didn’t like Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile Kristian’s mom was already a fan, nearly had a heart attack and told him to take the part.
On my last lap around, I found artist Selina Briggs and her robot character Jelly. Jelly’s backstory is that he travelled the universe in search of planets to experience and learn and when he came to Earth he in love with it. Selina started doing 2D drawings of the character about five years ago, and has since expanded to plush toys, comic books, accessories, t-shirts and stickers. Jelly originally started off as an eggplant, but then Selina got more into sci-fi, the character became a little robot.
The highlight of the show for me was meeting the couple who owned the full sized TARDIS replica, Justin Nyquist and Clara Kim. While taking my photo with it and admiring its inner workings, I started a conversation about their TARDIS. It’s not every day you meet another couple with a wedding TARDIS. As we shared photos of our weddings, I was reminded why I love conventions. It’s not the venue or the panels or the vendors, it’s about the really cool people you meet. Although my experience at the Pop Culture Expo was a distinctly different from other cons I’ve been to meeting other fans is an experience that happily remains the same.