I ended up going to Steel City Con by chance. My friend Kim had done the Kickstarter for Reading Rainbow, and one of the backer bonuses was the chance to meet LeVar Burton at a con of your choice with a guest. Kim invited me to be her guest (thanks, Kim!), and so I found myself flying to my hometown this weekend with no idea what to expect. What I found was pretty awesome.
Steel City Con was held at the Monroeville Convention Center, a venue I hadn’t visited since I was in high school when some friends and I went to meet Tim Wakefield, a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time (translation: “in the early 90’s,” further translation: “I’m old”). Being used to the cavernous Javits Center, the Monroeville space felt a bit small to me, but they made good use of it: the front half was devoted to sellers and the back area was for signings and an Artists’ Alley (although this was by no means where all the artists were; we came across several as we wove our way through the front section).
I think the biggest difference between Steel City Con and NYCC (other than size) was the focus of the show. NYCC, while it includes TV and films, is at its heart a comic con—comics are a major focus. Steel City Con bills itself as a “Toy, Comic Book & Celebrity Mega Show” “Where Pop Culture Rules.” So while there were comics, it felt like a nostalgia fest in the best of ways—in addition to LeVar Burton, Penny Marshall, Verne Troyer, Billy Dee Williams, and Dean Cain, several Power Rangers and stars from The Munsters and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory were there. There were replicas of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, the Batmobile from the Bat-Man TV show, and KITT from Knight Rider were there. I lost count of the number of times Kim and I said “Hey, I had that toy!” as we were browsing the tables; Star Wars action figures and Matchbox cars were in abundance. I felt like I was taking a walk through my childhood and kicked myself at least ten times for letting my mother get rid of a toy that was now worth big money.
But there was also a strong cosplay presence, just like you’d see at NYCC. While Pittsburgh’s favorite cosplay is always a Steelers/Pirates/Penguins jersey (observed in abundance), we also caught a lot of Doctor Who (including the first War Doctor cosplay I’ve seen), more Stormtroopers than I could count, several Harley Quinns, some Elsas from Frozen, a number of pirates (apparently just pirates, not Jack Sparrow), and a Gandalf trekking across the parking lot in his Nikes, along with the requisite amount of Starfleet officers of all ages. Geek culture shirts were also in abundance, from Marvel (my own Phil Coulson shirt included) to Legend of Zelda, and everything in between. We were obviously among our people, and life was good.
SDCC is massive, and NYCC is headed that direction. Even the “smaller” cons like Boston Comic Con are growing exponentially each year (I’ve heard from attendees nearby businesses weren’t prepared for BCC’s growth this year and temporarily ran out of food). While I think eventually the same will be said of Steel City Con, this year at least it had more of a homegrown feel to it, a thoroughly Pittsburgh twist on the standard con vibe that I appreciated. There was a nice, calm, friendly feeling to it that can be missing at some of the larger cons, and we had a great day on Saturday as a result. I would definitely go back.
I know, none of this is about us meeting LeVar Burton. Don’t worry, a full description of that is coming up, including some details from the Q&A he hosted.
Check out www.steelcitycon.com for info on this years con, and watch for updates on the December 5-7 show!