Whatever Happened to the Indianapolis Geek Convention Boom?


An outtake from our Indiana Comic Con 2015 cosplay photos, starring three Deadpools and a pair of kids who are each probably a foot taller by now.

Large-scale geek conventions weren’t a thing in Indianapolis when I was a kid. We had tiny comic shows in hotel ballrooms, but nothing requiring the spacious accommodations of the Indiana Convention Center. My young-adult years saw the advent of an annual Star Trek convention that brought great joy on several occasions and would become beloved by many, though their fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past two decades. In 2003 Gen Con became the first super-sized company to believe in the considerable forces of local geek dollars, and they’ve been rewarded handsomely ever since for their benevolence by tens of thousands of Midwest gamers as well as folks like me who weren’t strictly gamers but were content to enjoy any sort of hobbyist gathering validation. We took what we could get, and we liked it.

Another full decade passed before other convention companies and wannabe startups noticed we’re here and began bringing their medicine wagons to town in hopes of finagling our approval and our wads of cash, and not necessarily in that order. Over the past four years we here at Midlife Crisis Crossover have shared our photos and our experiences — the good, the bad, the distressingly inept — as we’ve explored these new contenders in hopes that sooner or later, someone would establish the Greatest Indianapolis Comic Convention of All Time. My wife and I still find ourselves driving to Chicago twice per year for geek satisfaction, but it’s nice to know folks are trying to save us some gas money. And they’re welcome to keep trying.

Anne and I are now preparing for our next con this coming weekend, for which we’re mostly excited but reserving the right to retain our qualms after the rockiness of the showrunners’ last two events, each of which ran more like dry-run learning experiences than like professional expositions. While we’re selecting our personal artifacts for autographing and deciding what camping gear is most suitable for an unsupervised photo-op line, let’s take stock of the cons that have been courting us Hoosiers, praise those who did right by us, bury those who aren’t coming back, and look ahead to what’s on the Circle City calendar so far for 2016.

* Wizard World Indianapolis: WWIndy was one of many beachheads that Wizard World set up in new markets with an eye on nationwide geek domination. For their first and only try here, they debuted on Valentine’s Day weekend 2015 during an icy winter, had to share the Convention Center with other events, and reserved a limited amount of rooms and just one exhibit hall. Anne and I had fun for most of a single day, but not enough of us showed up for Wizard World’s liking. I guess no one warned them about winters or holidays. After a year that saw cumulative losses here and elsewhere, Wizard World recently saw their CEO resign, appointed a longtime entertainment lawyer from their board of directors as his replacement, and currently have no sequels on their schedule for WWIndy and several other erstwhile WW shows in other states.

* Awesome Con: Normally based in Washington, DC, where they’re successful enough that they’ve snagged the Peter Capaldi and a few high-end Doctor Who costars as headliners for their next show in June. Back in October 2014 they took a stab at duplicating their success here, albeit with a guest list that was interesting to us but fatally short on the kind of “hot” names needed to sell multiple thousands of tickets. They later pulled the plug on a follow-up show in Milwaukee and have retreated to home base for the foreseeable future.

* Starbase Indy: What was once our biggest game in town and a must-do con spent a few years in post-scandal limbo until a group of dedicated fans took it over, recalibrated its sights, and ushered in a new era with bigger hearts and more modest guest lists. We’ve attended more Starbase Indy shows than we have any other con, but 2015 was not their best year. They assembled a riskier guest list and relocated to the other side of the city, parting ways with the hotel that SBI called home for ages. I don’t know if fans didn’t get the news and all showed up at the wrong hotel, or if the actors on hand weren’t enticing enough, or if everyone was busy on Thanksgiving weekend for a change. All we know is we were only there for about an hour (partly due to our own scheduling issues) and never saw more than a handful of fans in the same place at the same time. Maybe everyone had flocked to panels to the point of violating fire codes and we totally missed them, but this was the sparsest SBI we’ve ever seen. They announced their 2016 dates at the end of March, but location still appears to be pending. We hope they’re well and we look forward to future news.

* Gen Con: Still going on, still the largest geek rendezvous in all of Indiana, still expanding their territory to its farthest reaches yet for their 2016 shindig. We skipped Gen Con in 2015 for reasons that mean more to me than they might to you. We’re not saying “never again”, but an awful lot of stars would have to align for it to happen. Nothing against them, mind you — the TL;DR version is “It’s not them, it’s me.” If you’re a fan of TCGs or tabletop gaming, you really ought to try Gen Con in as many Augusts as possible.

* Horror Hound Indy: Horror isn’t really my thing nowadays, but twice in the last three years their impressive guest list has intersected with our interests. Their 2015 gala was pretty great for what it was. They’re returning in September but their guest list is still in its early stages. We’re keeping an eye on this one just in case.

* Indy Toy and Comic Expo, and other smaller shows: A variety of cons in varying sizes and mission statements dot the Indianapolis landscape and other cities statewide, but we’ve missed out on most of those. Anne and I are social wallflowers, fairly disconnected from most local fan bases, and tend to get fidgety at cons where the primary objectives are old-inventory sales, best toys ever, and/or networking. For better reference from a higher authority, I direct you to the detailed calendar of Indiana Geeking, a local blog whose head honcho is top-notch at keeping track of all the opportunities out there that we misfits too often miss.

* Indy Pop Con: Their inaugural multifaceted 2014 show was one of our favorite convention experiences of all time and I can’t gush nearly enough about it, except that I wish attendance had been hundredfold what it was. As a means of course correction, their 2015 follow-up rebalanced the guest list heavily in favor of YouTube all-stars. Attendance skyrocketed exponentially and the poor, unsuspecting volunteers found themselves overwhelmed to the breaking point. Those young, hip, beloved whippersnappers with millions of online groupies didn’t mean quite so much to us old folks, so the lines we chose could be measured in mere minutes rather than in stressful hours or days. Lucky us. Their 2016 guest list is bigger than ever, once again heavy on the YouTubers and accentuating monetized cosplayers. As of this writing I see one (1) comics writer I absolutely have to meet because he’s on my bucket list, so I’ll be there on Saturday for at least a short while. Hopefully we can find other fun things to do and people to meet.

* Indiana Comic Con: This weekend! Despite their inaugural 2014 amateur hour (see here and here for the full disgruntlement) and their 2015 improved performance with unresolved management issues, they’re trying again. In the past week we’ve seen billboards around town and commercials during our morning news shows, so they’ve obviously got a budget to work with this time. We’ll be there once again because guest list and stubbornness. We know folks who refuse to give them another dime ever again, so for us one of the perks and responsibilities of attending the show is to watch it happen firsthand and invoke our storytelling privileges to report whatever we witness to You, the Viewers at Home. If we can tell they’ve learned a lesson, we’ll let you know. If not, don’t expect silence here. And hey, if you’re in the area, feel free to say hi and try drawing us out of our shells! If you could also bring some extra supplies to our base camp inside one of Emperor Palpatine’s multiple lines, we’ll probably need them to survive the day.

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