Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 6, 2015

River City Roundabout

They only come out at Con Nooga

I was at a urinal in a men’s room at the Chattanooga Convention Center when I saw something strange.

Sticking out from under a stall behind me was a tail. It was thick, gray, and had purple spikes along its length. I could only imagine what was attached to the other end of it. A dragon? An alien? A demon from Hell?

Not wanting to know, I wrapped things up as quickly as I could and exited the restroom. I thought I’d be safe in the main hall, where I’d be among other people, but once I was there, I could see an invasion of sorts was taking place. Everywhere I looked, bizarre creatures were standing in clusters, holding conferences of the damned. Witches, orcs, and satyrs glanced sideways at me as I walked by. No doubt they were planning my gory demise.

Then I saw even stranger things: Indiana Jones escorting Marion Ravenwood into a large showroom; Bumblebee from “Transformers” entertaining a circle of children, his robotic bulk all flashing lights and moving parts; and the X-Men – Mystique, Magneto, Rogue, Storm, and Wolverine – posing for a photograph. Perhaps they’d come to save me!

Or perhaps I was at ... Con Nooga!

I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in this bit of fantasy. Since roaming the halls of the Convention Center and the Choo Choo Hotel during Con Nooga last weekend, my imagination has had a tendency to get carried away.

Held once a year, Con Nooga is best described as a convention for fans of the fantastical. It offers, first and foremost, a chance for people who love various science fiction and fantasy worlds to express their affection. Whether you’re into “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek,” or “Ghostbusters,” you can dress up as your favorite character and have a blast. My favorite part of Con Nooga is taking pictures of people in costume. Some folks even stay in character. Frankenstein only groaned in response to my requests, and the fellow who dolled up as Captain Jack Sparrow spat a stream of drunken gags in the pseudo-British accent actor Johnny Depp uses when playing the part.

Con Nooga also offers fans a chance to delve more deeply into the worlds they love. For example, this year’s slate of activities included a panel with actors who have appeared on “The Walking Dead.” Granted, they were bit actors you’d miss if you blinked (one was signing photos of himself barely visible between the stars of the show), but it was still cool to meet and talk with people who have been on the most popular show on television.

Then there are the celebrity panels, which allow fans to meet some of the bigger names behind their favorite stories. Last year, Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl on “The Walking Dead,” showed what a nice kid he is by signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. This year’s Con Nooga didn’t have someone with that much draw, but it did feature a few high caliber appearances, including actor Nicholas Brendon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Criminal Minds”), comic book artist Tom Nguyen (DC Comics and Marvel Comics), and author Timothy Zahn (the “Thrawn” series of “Star Wars” novels).

Zahn was my big geek out moment at the convention. Although I’m a big “Star Wars” fan, I’ve contained my love of the property to the movies, and have dabbled only slightly in what was once known as the expanded universe (EU) of novels, comic books, and television shows. Among my dabblings was the “Thrawn” trilogy. As I watched Zahn read a short story he’s written about a new superhero, I couldn’t get over being in the same room with the guy who single-handedly began the explosion of EU content.

When Zahn was done reading and asked if anyone had a question, I couldn’t resist asking him what he thought about Disney relegating his books and all other EU materials to “Legends” status. I loved his reply.

“Imagine you’re on a camping trip a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And you’re sitting around a fire eating s’mores and telling stories about Luke Skywalker. Maybe the stories are true, maybe they’re fabricated, or maybe they contain a kernel of truth. That’s the beauty of storytelling,” he said.

That moment, and others like it, are what’s beautiful about Con Nooga. There are no class, age, racial, or gender divisions; there are no judgments about what you like or don’t like; and no boundaries are placed on your imagination. During my rounds taking photos, I met white collar workers outfitted in Steampunk fashion, college students on a nerd binge, and an elderly husband and wife doubling as Jedi Knights. And every last one of them was gracious and friendly, and asked about the things I like. Clearly, geekdom is no longer the domain of the 30-something antisocial male who still lives with mom and dad.

It wouldn’t be possible for me to present a comprehensive account of what takes place at Con Nooga. How could I cover the board game demonstrations, the vendor booths, the skills workshops (e.g., “Writing Believable Dialogue”), the panels meant to encourage discussion about social issues (e.g., “Women in Sci-Fi and Fantasy”), and the stuff that’s just for fun (e.g., the info session on how to survive a zombie apocalypse)?

And that’s not even touching on the parade, the costume contest, the live role-playing events, the kids activities, and the sighting of a strange tail sticking out from under the door to a stall in a men’s room.

Con Nooga grew leaps and bounds over last year, and shows no signs of slowing down. The organizers have said they intend to take over the entire Convention Center in 2016. I’m already looking forward to it. Instead of being a passive participant who roams the halls taking photographs, though, I might get into costume, perhaps as the marine from the video game “DOOM.”

Join me?