I don’t always attend Oklahoma Cons, but when I do I attend the oldest and longest-running Con in Oklahoma.
Its name: SoonerCon; it celebrated its 24th “fan-run extravaganza” at the Reed Conference Center and Sheraton Hotel from June 26-28 this year.
Coming from Florida, where Cons are almost as big as the local theme parks, I felt Sooner to be an experience that offered all the necessities—celebrities, vendors, artists, outdoor activities, panels, gaming rooms, and film screenings—in a much more concise package. The vending halls and art galleries were smaller than the table-top gaming room on the second floor, but no less professional. Unlike the character-faced galleries that adorn many a Floridan Con Artist Ally, SoonerCon featured many more “original” designs composed primarily of Celtic, Steampunk, fantasy, and Gothic inspirations. In fact, the number of artists who offered character- and franchise-based artistry were in the minority.
In that sense, I found SoonerCon to be more of an “art and trade show” than traditional Con experience, but that’s far from being a bad thing. From cosplay to individual craftsmanship, this Con displayed more original talent than most others I’ve attended throughout my travels. Steampunk and Renaissance seemed to be the genre-favored cosplay, but numerous anime characters, from Sailor Moon to Kill La Kill, also found their way into the mix, likely thanks to guest appearances by Chuck Huber (Dragon Ball Z, YuYu Hakusho), Ian Sinclair (Attack on Titan, One Piece, Space Dandy), and Jamie Marchi (Fairy Tale, Panty and Stocking).
Due to the small size of the Con, special guests lines offered feasible wait times, allowing actors to engage guests with energized enthusiasm in the most down-to-earth of meet-and-greets. Autographs, photos, and hugs all came without a price tag, and I experienced some of the most unforced, chummy interactions with these amazing talents since my time at OMNI Expo in Orlando, Florida. Sinclair and I discussed everything from our pet dogs to Nile Dok’s underratedness, while Huber informed me of a new anime series releasing in the near future (one in which he holds a prominent role).
Balmy breezes afforded perfect weather for outdoor activities like Quidditch, Nerf wars, and a humanoid reenactment of Hungry Hungry Hippos (which had to be seen to be believed). Unfortunately, most all outdoor areas were also on-limits for smokers, and I found myself moving camp multiple times in order to avoid puffs of tobacco.
Inside, the Art Show paraded itself as one of the Con’s big draws, featuring a variety of beautiful original artwork to be auctioned off at the Con’s annual charity (the National Alliance on Mental Illness this year). Tables displayed Steampunk hats, jewelry and general wares, while standees collaged watercolors, acrylics, and digitals. The subject medium consisted of mostly original characters and designs, but a few fandom references to Godzilla, Pokémon, and the like managed to sneak into the mix.
Sooner pitches itself as a family Con—one that appropriately drew everyone from children to grandparents—and offered activities for every age group, including various workshops for the aspiring artist. Despite formalized rules about keeping all things child-friendly, however, I was surprised at the manner many artists openly displayed nudes of both the male and female variety. In my experience, even among less family-friendly Cons, all nude or “adult” artwork is required to be displayed separately or covered with appropriate sticky notes or other on-hand censoring tools. To be fair, a majority of this nude artwork was featured only in the Art Show gallery, but without any real warning or out-of-sight displays for the little eyes.
On the more positive end of the spectrum was the 501st Legion, who showed up in their iconic Storm Trooper and Bounty Hunter suits and made many a young Starwars fan’s day. Between endless photoshoots and suction-cup, suit-sticking, nerf gun blasts, these guys and gals were real “troopers” for their organization, not to mention tireless and passionate. Stationed on the second floor of the two-story experience, the 501st Legion was a welcome sight.
If, like me, you’re just passing through SoonerCon to browse the wares, shoot the cosplay, and meet the VIPs, then you’re not likely to spend more than few hours of your time there. But if you’re attending SoonerCon for the long haul, participating in the tabletop gaming, outdoor activities, panels, workshops, and contests, then the all-day pass—not to mention the weekend pass—will occupy your time.
If you’re less into the fandom-y side of things and more into original works and genres, SoonerCon will have you feeling right at home. It’s not that Sooner neglects the obligatory Batman, Sailor Moon, Ghost Busters, and Rainbow Dash, but established franchises are clearly not its selling point. And, as I said before, that’s not at all a bad thing. I’ve attended over twenty Cons, primarily in the southeast, and none of them have had as much unique focus on individuality and genre cosplay/merchandise/artwork as this Con. Steampunk fans, especially, will have no end of fun at Sooner.
This is a Con that has attendees faithfully coming back year after year; a homey, crafty, nerdy fling that returning attendees claim gets better with every installment. The only real downside to it is that it’s over for this year.
The good news? SoonerCon has announced that it’ll be back in 2016 for another round of nerdiness, so be sure to check them out if you happen to be in the Midwest or Oklahoma area.
For more information about SoonerCon, visit their website.
You can also follow SoonerCon on Facebook for the latest updates.