When throngs of Stony Brook University students depart for spring break this weekend, what they may not know is in their absence an often magical, sometimes sinister, always interesting force will take over their otherwise typical college campus for three days.
The annual convention, now in its 30th year, will unite lovers of science fiction, fantasy, anime, gaming, comics and other genres – all of which were once considered underground at some point in their histories but which are now very much in the mainstream spotlight, according to Bliss Casey, I-CON's vice chair of marketing.
"You say the words 'World of Warcraft' and people know what you’re talking about," said Casey, a self-described gamer geek. "We were once a sub-group, we were once minorities, and now we are maintream. We’re so out there that you can’t avoid us anymore. ... There’s enough of us."
There will be costumes and cosplay: Expect an influx of paladins and warriors, warlocks and mages; anime schoolgirls; Starfleet uniforms; Hogwarts attire; alien accessories and comic book imagery; and probably way too many Sucker Punch outfits than the actual movie should get credit for inspiring.
Hundreds of individual events – celebrity signings, author talks, panel discussions, film screenings, art shows, games and tournaments, storytelling, trivia contests, a masquerade party and more – have been planned over the course of three days, starting Friday at 5 p.m. Click here for a full event listing.
Over the years, I-CON has welcomed guests like Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry; George Takei, a star of the original series; and numerous authors, actors, experts, game designers, creative minds and more. This year's convention will feature guests like Dexter's Julie Benz, Star Trek: TNG's Denise Crosby, Battlestar Galactica's Nicki Clyne, and a wide range of other guests.
Paul DiMuzio of Medford has been both a guest panelist and a coordinator of original LARPs – Live Action Role Playing games – which have been featured the last four years. Almost 40, DiMuzio is a consummate fan of gaming, Star Trek, comic books and fantasy genres who has been attending I-CON since the age of 15. His company, Vermin & Valor Productions, will run its "Gods & Monsters" LARP on Friday night at 6 p.m. and Sunday morning at 10 a.m.
"I still feel like I am 15 years old when I go to I-CON," DiMuzio said. "And even though the convention has changed, the magic has not. It has that 'Disney' feeling to me that some people get going to Disney World!"
I-CON has its roots at Stony Brook, where a group of students who loved science fiction took it upon themselves 30 years ago to organize an event honoring the genre. About a hundred people attended, Casey said, with a couple of guests, that hardly packed the Javits Center on campus. In recent years, the convention has seen more than 6,000 attend in a weekend, and has expanded in scope beyond its original theme of science fiction. It has been held at Stony Brook every year with the exception of 2009, when construction on campus forced its relocation to Suffolk Community College's Brentwood facility. I-CON completely takes over several campus buildings and is supported by two student groups, the Sci Fi Forum and the I-CON Campus Chapter, but is not considered a university event, according to a spokesperson who declined to discuss the convention.
I-CON bears many similarities to events like Comic Con, Wizard World, and Blizzcon: the spirit of fandom crosses genres, cross-pollinates interest between them, and creates a certain kind of energy found only in the gathering of those who have an appreciation for things like Magic: The Gathering. There is one major difference, however.
"We’re a charity-run convention. Volunteer, not for profit," Casey said. "The staff, they’re doing it out of their free time. Their love of the convention, the fact, the fantasy."
Casey advised conventiongoers to get a pocket events guide as soon as they arrive, and to follow I-CON on Twitter (@I_CONSF) for up-to-the-minute information. A special program guide will serve as a retrospective on 30 years of I-CON.
The convention sells "memberships" rather than tickets, which will run $59 for adult three-day admission. Single-day passes $29 for Friday, $49 for Saturday, and $39 for Sunday. Children can attend the entire weekend for a mere $10 – trying to hook lifetime fans early, perhaps?
Prices are a little under what New York Comic Con charges; individual day passes to that event, set for this coming October, run between $35 and $60. And even though people may be low on cash due to the economy, the only way it has really affected I-CON is in the level of celebrity which its organizers can bring in. Back in the 1980s most actors would come for free, Casey said, but the majority now have agents and charge for appearances.
Still, the fans show up.
"Ever since the economy tanked and all of us felt it, every year we go towards icon a little tedious, a little curious," Casey said. "Oddly enough, it hasn't affected us so much. The people still come. They still want us there."