Sci-fi fan convention returns to the area
If you’re on Broad Avenue in Altoona next weekend and see a swarm of superheroes, aliens and Imperial stormtroopers, don’t be concerned. You’re not dreaming and there’s no invasion.
It’s the Sci-Fi Valley Con making its Altoona debut.
The science fiction and fantasy convention will hold its second event at the Jaffa Shrine Center May 17 to 19. The convention will feature exhibitors – artists, authors, actors, comic book and toy dealers and more – in the Jaffa exhibition hall, guest appearances from actors and directors, a professional wrestling exhibition, an independent film festival, desktop game tournaments and a costume contest on Saturday. A charity art auction at 3 p.m. Saturday will raise money for the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children.
“Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been going to the conventions in Pittsburgh,” said Casey Bassett, Sci-Fi Valley Con’s founder and promoter. “Then one year, I went to the conventions and said, ‘Why don’t we have one of these in the Johnstown-Altoona area?'”
Bassett and his team presented the first Sci-Fi Valley Con last year at the North Central Recreational Center in Ebensburg, and it was a success, bringing approximately 1,000 attendees into the small venue. The money made and the number of guests allowed Bassett, of Johnstown, to move to a bigger locale.
“It’s our second year, and we’ve pretty much filled up the whole Jaffa ground floor,” he said. “We’ll have over 100 tables set up for the tournament, the guests, the dealers and the artists.”
The success of the inaugural convention allowed for this year’s expansion in terms of guests, as well.
“All the people from last year are back, as well as 40 or 50 new ones,” Bassett said. “The word is getting out there. Hopefully next year, we’ll have all of them back and get even more new people.
“Once we had a successful show last year, a lot of the artists who came told other artists. It was all word-of-mouth.”
One of the artists who has been involved in the convention’s upgrade is Altoona’s Tod Allen Smith. Smith is an officially licensed Lucasfilm artist who works with Topps Trading Cards. He attends many big conventions during the year, including the Pittsburgh Comic Con, Wizard World Chicago and the Baltimore Comic Con.
He attended the first Sci-Fi Valley Con and liked it, and is excited for this year’s show.
“Starting off for the first show, it was really good for the location and everything,” Smith said. “I enjoyed the day and I enjoyed meeting the people there.
“I was working with the promoter to try and get them into a bigger spot. I was happy that he chose the Jaffa in Altoona.”
He thinks there is a built-in audience for the event.
“At one time, Altoona had a few comic book stores and [they] had quite a few customers,” Smith said. “It’s nice that [a convention] is coming here, instead of having to drive to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Hopefully, it’ll have some success and be able to stay here in Altoona for years to come.”
Help from artists like Smith has been vital, Bassett said.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without all the independent artists and authors who bought tables,” he said.
One of last year’s exhibitors made it possible for the convention to snag its biggest guest this year: Brian O’Halloran, who played Dante in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” series.
“As of right now, we don’t have the budget for the A-list people, or even some of the B-list people,” Bassett said. “I got some people from ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ ‘Day of the Dead’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ and we got Brian O’Halloran from ‘Clerks,’ because he worked with one of the guys who was here last year.
“He’s pretty much the first recognizable guy we have coming to the convention.”
The convention’s packed schedule – which can be viewed online at scifivalleycon.com – should keep Bassett pretty busy next weekend.
“I think we’re going to have a really good show,” he said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s been worth it.”
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.