When I was in high school it was nearly impossible to find a convention of any sort anywhere near where I lived. To be fair, I lived in either rural upstate New York or rural Missouri in high school thanks to the US Army. That’s not exactly the sort of place you would have expected to find a comic book or anime convention back in 2006. But now – eight years later – it almost feels like you can find some kind of convention pretty much anywhere.

A lot has changed since I was in high school.

Nerd culture has come to the forefront and it’s actually being accepted. I think we probably owe a lot of that to the success of Iron Man in 2008 and Marvel’s subsequent series of interconnected films that ultimately brought us the Avengers in 2012. Yeah, sure, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series was popular but it wasn’t until Marvel took center stage and showed us comic book movies could be cool and that they could be something more than just singular films and series that people really started to take notice. Innovations by Nintendo helped, too, with the DS, Wii, and 3DS showing us that gaming can be for anyone. Suddenly all the things that we did that made us nerd seem un-cool was starting to become cool.

What it means to be a fan has changed a lot, too. We’re no longer the insular groups we used to be that hid away online or in secret after school sci-fi clubs. Everyone can join in and everyone these days seems to want to join in. Comic book conventions all across the country as seeing incredible growth in attendance as more and more people look to embrace the stuff we’ve always known is cool.

If you ask me, it’s a fantastic phenomenon and I hope it never ends.

About a month and a half ago or so I was walking to class from my house off-campus and came across a table for ‘Sun Devil Fan Fair.’ It was being staffed at the time by a group from Dumbledore’s Army which is a Harry Potter fan club at ASU. I thought to myself, “How cool is that?” I stopped by, gave them a card, and hurried on to class. Later, they emailed me an information packet and I was honestly impressed. They had reserved a ballroom at the Memorial Union (our on-campus student center) as well as a couple other rooms and were planning out a full mini-convention complete with booth space, performance space, and panels.

I had hoped to do a panel myself but unfortunately I wound up in the hospital again over spring break and wasn’t able to put one together in time. But I kind of wish I had some how made it happen because I would have loved the one on one interaction with the people that came. It wasn’t just students but also high schoolers and families. Booths were staffed not just by student clubs but by a number of Phoenix-based groups who brought everything from amazing, intricate Lego creations to a remote control Dalek and K9 from Doctor Who. There were cosplayers – including some incredibly impressive jaeger cosplayers from Pacific Rim.

It was such an accessible, safe environment.

Anyone was welcome to come and go as they pleased. The whole event was free. Anyone could set up a table. Anyone could attend. People who may not have been willing to put the $50 or so down for a pass to Phoenix Comicon or any of the local anime clubs were able to come in and hang out. They could talk to people. They could meet others who shared the same interests without feeling the same amount of pressure to stay or interact as you would at a club meeting. It was a no-pressure environment and people were really just looking to talk, have fun, and just enjoy the event.

These kinds of smaller conventions are popping up everywhere. High schools may sponsor them in smaller communities. Colleges, too. Kids in rural areas with a community college or state college within an hour or so drive away are finding places where they can find people with similar interests and explore fandom and nerdy community in a way they never would have had the chance to do so before. It’s great. Maybe I’m overhyping it. Maybe I’m being a bit too sentimental.

But the fact of the matter is that every small con is a chance for someone who may not have had a lot of experience with nerd culture or may not feel entirely comfortable with embracing their nerdier side to branch out. They get that opportunity to give in to that nerdy side of themselves even if just for a day or even the ten minutes it takes to walk the ‘exhibit hall.’

The Sun Devil Fan Fair was fun. It was laid back. It was welcoming. I hope it continues for many years to come and I hope other schools keep on hosting similar events even if/when this nerdy renaissance ends.

They really can make all the difference for some people.

I know high school Sam would have been all over something like the Sun Devil Fan Fair.

I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who would feel the same way, too.

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