For many of the attendees of the eighth annual Nashville Geek Media Expo (GMX), the weekend before Halloween was a lot like a return to a beloved summer camp.
The event, which was held at the Sheraton Music City Hotel Oct. 28-30, featured some celebrities – Cartoon Network voice acting stars Olivia Olson and Zach Callison – but mainly it served as a way for fans to reconnect and celebrate the nerdy things they love.
“The community has gotten to be very social,” said Doreen Ireland, director of gaming and charity relations. “We know each other very well at this point. It feels less like going to a convention, like a normal convention, when you go and you are like ‘Oh, look, other nerds.’ Now it is more like a family reunion.”
It is a sentiment that was repeated over and over again by the staff and attendees.
There is just something different, and maybe a bit special, about the closeness of this particular convention.
“I have been to a very fair share of them, being in the animation world, so I have been to things like San Diego Comic-Con, which are huge and overwhelming but awesome,” said Olson, who voices the character Marceline the Vampire Queen on the show Adventure Time. “Coming to a smaller convention, like Geek Media Expo, it is really nice.”
While Olson said that the larger conventions are fun in their own way, she appreciates the level of interaction fans get at something like the GMX, compared to the impersonal feel of the bigger ones.
“I hate that kind of stuff, because you can kind of see the hope in people’s eyes disappear, which is depressing,” she said. “At a place like this, it is awesome. I am just kind of hanging out at my booth and I can have someone come over.”
Olson spoke three different times during the convention: two Q and A sessions with fans, and one larger panel on what it is like working in voice acting.
“I would rather sit here and be able to have a conversation with fans about my show that they are so passionate about, and I am so passionate about, and we can connect on that level.”
The schedule gave fans an opportunity to see one of their stars without having to miss out on any of the panels that were offered during the weekend. Panel topics included the history of the Knights Templar to the history of the world of the Fallout games.
“Fan conventions are great, because you know that everyone is there for the same reason,” Ireland said.
Apart of what makes GMX so great in Ireland’s eyes is the level of communication between the staff and the fans attending.
“A couple of years ago, and I do not remember if it started with GMX or MTAC (Middle Tennessee Anime Convention), but a few years ago a fan suggested to me that we should have a lip-sync battle. I ended up starting a lip-sync group myself.”
That extends to beyond just events for the fans, however.
Each year, the staff behind the convention selects a charity organization to partner with.
Like last year, Ireland said, they once again partnered with Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, a Nashville-based organization that helps foster and find homes for big fluffy dogs across the South and New England.
“For me, personally what I have noticed is that fandom crowds tend to be more giving,” said Christi Binkley, who was at the convention representing Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. “There is more camaraderie and more ‘Yes, we are all family here. Yes, what can I do to support you.’ It does mesh really well with charity because you have so many people with a little extra cash to burn sometimes in this small space.”
In addition to the charity partner, there were several other groups fundraising money.
Although Ireland said that total amount of money raised by the various groups won’t be known for some time, last year the convention raised more than $15,000 and she said she expects the number will be similar.
“It looks good to people. We can say ‘Hey, we have this really cool thing with unique things going on and also, we have this really cool charity,’” she said. “Even if you are into Star Wars, you can find a way to like dogs and Star Wars, and learn a little bit about both.”
Other groups raising money included the Mandalorian Mercs, a group of Star Wars fans decked out in homemade Boba Fett style armor that could be seen “kidnapping” con-goers and charging them money to be released from their prison.
“We do this because of love of the fandom, but it is also about sharing it, and there is no better way to share your love of a fandom than to reach out to other people and help brighten their day,” said Susan Rasbury, who also goes by Ihala when in costume, and serves as the public relations officer for the Bes’uliik Clan, the Tennessee-Arkansas chapter of the Mandalorian Mercs.
While helping with the charities is a good thing, at the end of the day GMX is still a celebration of fans and the things that they love.
“Coming to conventions, I love to see everyone dressed up,” said Zach Jacob, a 26 year old fan from Knoxville. “I love going to the panels and listening to everybody’s opinions on various works of fiction and video games, movies and whatnot. It is just a lot of fun to be with a whole bunch of nerds.”
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