Return of Sci-Fi: Convention brings other worldly and more to the Jaffa this weekend

Sequels do not always live up to expectations, especially when the original is just so darn good.

But a local sequel kicking off tomorrow has all the right elements in place to make it happen.

Friday afternoon Sci-Fi Valley Con, Part III, will open at the Jaffa Shrine with two floors of more than 140 exhibitors, including artists, authors and celebrity guests.

“So I’ve pretty much completely maxed out the Jaffa Shrine, and I’ve had people who want to get tables, and I have to say I can’t because we physically have run out of table space,” said Casey Bassett, Sci-Fi Valley Con’s founder and promoter. “I’m looking at the hallways trying to figure out where I can squeeze in a couple more tables … Next year we actually have to go to the Blair County Convention Center because we’ve outgrown the Jaffa Shrine within two years of being up in Altoona.”

The convention moved from Ebensburg to Altoona in 2013 thanks to its success and need for a larger venue. About 2,000 people attended last year’s convention, and Bassett is hoping to double that number this year, he said. Pre-sale tickets have soared above last years numbers, he said.

“I hope that we draw a lot of people in from out of the area,” he said. “A ton of the pre-orders were from people outside the area – Pittsburgh, we’ve had Erie, I had someone from Canada pre-order one – so we’re going to be having people coming from out of state and people throughout Pennsylvania all coming to Altoona. … It’s going to be good to be able to draw people in for a weekend.”

Pop culture specialist and consultant Robert Bruce, who appears on Kevin Smith’s top-rated television show airing on AMC, “Comic Book Men,” is a guest this year, along with stage actor Brian O’Halloran, who starred in Smith’s films “Clerks” and “Clerks II” and appeared in “Dogma,” and Scott Schiaffo, an actor and musician who played the Chewlies Gum Guy in “Clerks” and has appeared in feature films and shorts.

Bruce, the producer of other conventions such as the Asbury Park Comicon, will participate in panels, appraise items for free, and have items for sale, he said.

Bruce, who went as a high schooler in 1976 to hear author Isaac Asimov speak, said he has “a great interest in science-fiction.”

“I’m an avid collector and reader of science fiction stories, big Philip K. Dick fan, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, so I sort of have this feel of science fiction and do a lot of conventions,” Bruce said.

“That’s what we do. We go out every other weekend to a convention somewhere in America. It’s sort of almost like a movable feast in some ways, but I’m really excited to go into Altoona for a lot of reasons: I need to sort of decompress and it seems to be right up my alley; it’s a science-fiction convention, not necessarily a comic-con and they are fewer and further in between; and I’m a huge supporter of science fiction,” he added.

“I think without that the comic book industry would be flat on its face. If you really look at a comic and you read a comic, you read a Superman story, Superman’s an alien from outer space, it’s a science-fiction story. A lot of people have lost track of that, so I think the whole concept of sci-fi and having a convention that is primarily science-fiction centric is a great idea. And we love Altoona. We love Pennsylvania. I’m really excited to come out. You have no idea,” he said, laughing.

Bruce is slated to have his own upcoming show on AMC, which he said will focus on flea markets, and he’s checking out locations for filming in the fall while he’s in town.

The convention also brings several movie car replicas to fans, including a “Back to the Future” DeLorean, Ecto-1 from “Ghost-busters,” the Plymouth from John Carpenter’s “Christine” and the 1966 Batmobile, an event press release said.

The convention’s first official vehicle: a Jurassic Park Jeep Wrangler, which its promoting company, Assett Conventions LLC, built and funded, will be on display, along with a Jurassic Park: Tour Concept Car, a lifesize “Dr. Who” Tardis replica and a 21-foot inflatable Stay Puft marshmallow man from the “Ghostbusters” movie, it said.

Guest panels, which there is a complete schedule available online at, will include “How to Become a Successful Sci-Fi Author,” “Cosplay 101” and “Girls Are Geeks Too.”

Also at the convention – independent film directors, a film festival, a charity auction, a costume contest, an inflatable laser tag arena, video game tournaments sponsored by Altoona’s Retrospect Games, and table-top games such as Warhammer 40K, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, HeroClix sponsored by Altoona’s Snake Eyes Gaming.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030. Follow Amanda Gabeletto on Twitter (@AmandaGabeletto) or on Facebook (Amanda Gabeletto Altoona Mirror).