Rise of the Nerds

If you didn’t know that the Yukon has a thriving nerd community, you aren’t alone.

Given both the North’s reputation for robustness and the long-ingrained notion of fragility associated with nerds, it isn’t surprising that a comic and gaming convention hasn’t happened here before.

And yet the apt name of this weekend’s first-ever comic convention in Canada’s North — YukomiCon — so naturally blends the Yukon name with the ComiCon tradition.

The name also reflects how naturally YukomiCon came into existence, as if the desire for such an event was in the mountain air.

Planning began eight months ago in Titan Games and Hobbies on Main St. in Whitehorse at an open-call meeting with the purpose of gauging interest; interest was high.

According to Zvonko Jovanovic, who works at Titan, around 65 people showed up. The small basement was standing room only.

The meeting was spearheaded by Caitlin Beaulieu, who Jovanovic describes as “the spark that started the forest fire.” But she wasn’t the only one with the idea. Christi Matthews is rumored to have entered Titan only a day before the meeting with her own idea to have a ComiCon in Whitehorse. And she had something important with her — funding.

A board was quickly put together, on which both Beaulieu and Matthews now sit. Additional sponsorship showed up out of the blue. A few hundred tickets have already been pre-sold. According to Vice-President of the board, Colin Prentice, support has been overwhelming, and comes from all over.

“This isn’t limited to a small group of people,” says Prentice. “Everyone likes something, whether they identify as nerd or not.”

So what is YukomiCon?

It’s a three-day convention celebrating all things nerd at Coast High Country Inn and Yukon Convention Centre, from August 8 to 10. Yes, there will be celebrities, like Kevin Sorbo, or as everyone from a certain generation knows him, Hercules.

But that’s just the beginning, says Prentice. This is to be a distinctly Yukon event.

“It’s by Yukoners for Yukoners — it’s right in the name.”

This means inclusivity is important. Tickets are set at a reasonable $45 to make the event accessible. Endless volunteer opportunities are available for those interested in trading 12 hours of their time for a weekend pass. They’ve even partnered with the Whitehorse Boys and Girls club to offer kids a variety of ways to attend the convention for free.

There are workshops on Cosplay, animation, and scriptwriting; there are discussion panels on how to break into different industries ranging from film to graphic novels; There’s an Artist Alley where local artists, like cartoonist Jim Robb, can hold tables and exhibit their work.

There’s also the Edge of Reality gallery show working in conjunction with YukomiCon, which opened August 1 at Arts Underground. It’s all science fiction and fantasy art with submissions accepted from anyone and everyone.

There’s a costume ball; there are game tournaments ranging from LAN to cards to boards to roleplaying.

More than a chance to see your favourite sci-fi actor, says Prentice, YukomiCon is “an attempt to engage and foster nerd community in the Yukon, to make connections and space for the many creatives living and working here.”

And what is nerd community?

According to Prentice, who self-identifies as “a huge nerd”, it’s about being “unironically, enthusiastically, emphatically excited about anything.”

There can be sports nerds and classical music nerds.

“Nerd,” says Prentice, “is changing — once upon a time it was an othered group, a bullied group. But everyone saw Lord of the Rings when it came out, let’s be honest. With wider acceptance of nerd culture, nerdy things have been able to start exploring important humanitarian issues, like feminism, racism, LGBTQ, etcetera.”

Although this nerd convention will primarily focus on sci-fi and fantasy fandom, these genres are, when boiled down, vehicles for stories. And stories, says Prentice, are tools of social examination and change.

“Stories allow us to explore and accept views that are different from our own,” he says. “Plus, they’re a lot of fun.”

Prentice hopes people attending the convention will really get into it, especially with their costumes. But his sincerest hope, he says, is that YukomiCon continues. Especially because his job will prevent him from attending this year.

“Come hell or high water, I will be there next year.”

Jovanovic has similarly big dreams for YukomiCon. “William Shatner,” he says, “or Joss Whedon. That’s who I’d like to see up here.”

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