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badge from the 1976 Star Trek convention held at the Commodore Hotel in New York City
art by Sandy Chandler Shelton portraying a Beauty and the Beast con in Las Vegas, click to enlarge
cover of early con program from 1968 University of Iowa Digital Library There were about 300 attendees.[1]

A convention is a pre-arranged gathering of fans at a specific place and time. Conventions vary widely in their scope and size. Some conventions are small fancons, that is run by fans for fans, focusing on a specific topic or fandom, e.g., Vividcon, a 125-person convention devoted specifically to fannish vidding. [1] At the other end of the spectrum are procons like the commercially-run San Diego Comic-Con, with hundreds of professional guests and over 125,000 fans attending.[2] Comic-Con is also characterized by a huge corporate presence, with virtually every major Hollywood studio attending to promote upcoming television and films.[2] Middle of the road are non-profit fan run cons with invited professional guests, such as Scorpio or Anglicon.

Distinguishing Features and Common Elements of Conventions

  • Are they fan-run cons or commercial cons? Fan-run conventions generally run on a break-even basis (or, commonly, at a loss) and are organized by fans in their spare time. Commercial conventions are generally professionally organized with the intent of making a profit. Some believe that commercial conventions exist to "rip off" fans.[3][4] On the other hand, some feel fan-run endeavors may be more prone to financial problems.[5]
  • Do they have professional guests? (Both fan-run cons like Anglicon and Scorpio, and commercial cons like Comic-Con may have professionals as guests.) Pro guests are fun, but they tend to raise con costs (since they have to be paid for their attendance), and back in the day, cons with guests restricted some fan activities (such as selling slash zines, and showing songtapes) that were felt to be inappropriate around pros.
  • Are they for one specific fandom, or for all fandoms of their type (media, sf, slash, etc.)? SHareCon is a Starsky & Hutch slash con; Escapade is an example of a general slash con, open to all slash fans. (Often, if a specific fandom con last long enough, it will become a more general convention: many general media cons started as Star Trek cons; ZebraCon started as a Starsky & Hutch con, but gradually became a cops and robbers media con. Winchestercon went multi-fandom and was renamed Wincon.)

From Boldly Writing writes of a fan-run con Love of Trek that had professional aspects: "DeForest Kelley was guest of honor. The fans running it seemed to have had little or no experience with fan-run conventions; they modeled it on a professional convention. For instance, fan-run conventions normally give attendees a badge with their name on it. This name tag has two purposes. The first is to admit attendees to convention events. The second is to allow fans who know each other's names through fanzines but who have never met to identify each other on sight. Love of Trek gave attendees only a plain plastic band to admit them to convention events. Love of Trek also had no hospitality suite, which is common to fan-run conventions but almost always absent at professional conventions."

Many types of conventions may include some or more of the following:

Early History of Science Fiction Cons

"Con" has been used since before 1942 to mean a specifically fannish convention.

Science fiction writer Frederick Pohl claims that the first science fiction convention was a trip that he and seven other New York-area fans took to meet a similar group of fans in Philadelphia in 1936. A group of British science fiction fans had a more carefully planned public event in Leeds on January 3, 1937.[6] The first World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held over the July 4, 1939 weekend in New York City and, aside from a few breaks during the second world war, has been held annually ever since.[7]

The first annual 日本SF大会 Nihon SF Taikai was MEG-CON in 1962[8]. (This convention became famous among international anime fans for the short opening videos at Osaka's 1981 and 1983 cons (DAICON 3 and DAICON 4)[9]. These fan animators went on to form the animation company Gainax, which produced Evangelion[10]) The Nippon 2007 convention in Yokohama doubled as World Con that year.

Comiket (コミ) more formally known as the Comic Market (コミックマーケット) is a twice-yearly gathering of fans first held in December 1975. It started as a spinoff from Nihon SF Taikai to encourage freer and more creative approaches in fanzine circles, and has grown into a three-day extravaganza of fanzine and manga making, cosplay and other fan and pro activity. Attendance for the three days is currently over half a million, with more than 15,000 cosplayers. Overseas visitors to Comiket are increasing, placing additional strain on its resources: although there are now a small number of paid staff and the convention has been incorporated, the vast majority are still volunteers.

Italy had its first science fiction convention, EmpireCon, in 1994.

Early Media Cons


Though it's commonly thought that the first Star Trek convention was held in 1972 at the Hilton Holtel in Manhattan, according to die-hard Trek historians, the first one actually took place in March 1969 at the Newark Public Library. Organzied by librarian Sherna Comerford Burley, the low-key, celebrity-free event featured slide shows of Trek aliens, skits and a fan panel to discuss "The Star Trek Phenomenon." [11]

Arguably the first SF convention of any type was a media convention, The Vril-Ya Bazaar and Fete, held in the Albert Hall, London, in 1891. It was planned as a three-day charity event themed around Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Vril: The Power of The Coming Race, featuring costumes, magic acts, and other material based on the novel. Unfortunately it was not a success and it eventually ran to five days, in an unsuccessful attempt to recoup financial losses which bankrupted the organizer. The idea seems to have been abandoned and forgotten completely until well into the 20th century.[12]

The first major Star Trek convention, run by Joan Winston and others, was held in New York in 1972 and drew 3,000 people. The 1973 convention drew 6,000, and in 1974, 15,000 people attended and 6,000 more were turned away at the door. These cons vied to have the largest number of professional guest stars. For more information, see Star Trek Convention.

The first media fan-run cons (small, no guest stars, no profit) were ReKWest*Con in July 1975 and August Party in August 1975.

This first con that would become MediaWest*Con was called T'Con and held in 1978 at the Lansing Hilton Inn. It was organized by Lori Chapek-Carleton and Gordon Carleton, who were zine publishers. The convention was formally re-established as MediaWest*Con in 1981. MediaWest*Con was one of the first cons (if not the very first) to feature a Fanzine Reading Room.

The first unabashed slash con was IDICon in Houston, in 1984, run by Pam Rose, Linn O'Brien, Barb Lewis and others.

The current longest-running slash con is Escapade (2010 was its 20th!) held every year near Santa Barbara, California by Megan Kent and Charlotte C Hill.

Star Trek Cons

See Star Trek Convention.

Security at Conventions

The larger conventions have a need for a security force of some sort. Doors and autograph lines need to be monitored, the art room guarded, the celebrities protected, and general order needs to be maintained. Some cons rely on volunteers and gofers. Some cons hire professional security. Other cons hire or negotiate with smaller, fan-run security "companies." The Dorsai Irregulars, FLARE, Allied Forces Security are examples of the latter.

Convention Program Covers

Lists of Cons

A list of slash and slash-friendly cons can be found at the slash cons page. An anime-specific list can be found at Anime Conventions. Recurring conventions are at List of Conventions Past and Present.

Additional Reading

External Resources

See also


  1. ^ Vividcon. (Accessed 07 Aug. 2008.)
  2. ^ a b Comic-Con is bursting at the seams by Geoff Boucher, July 2008. (Accessed 07 Aug. 2008.)
  3. ^ Creation Entertain (Creation Entertainment spoof site). (Accessed 7 Aug. 2008.)
  4. ^ Conventions That Don't Suck posted by psychodave on rec.arts.sf.fandom, 2006. (Accessed 7 Aug. 2008.)
  5. ^ Personal Statement from Denise Adams posted by rowanceleste, 2001. (Accessed 7 Aug. 2008.)
  6. ^ THE FIRST EVER CONVENTION. ROB HANSEN'S FAN STUFF website. text reproduction of THE STORY SO FAR, a 1987 Worldcon publication. See also photographs from the Leeds convention. (Accessed 4 January 2012)
  7. ^ Francesca Coppa, "A Brief History of Media Fandom." In: K. Hellekson, K. Busse (eds.) Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. New Essays McFarland, 2006. p 43.
  8. ^ SF大会リスト (SF Taikai List) (accessed 23 January 2009)
  9. ^ Gainax's official page for the videos (accessed 23 January 2009
  10. ^ Fans Who Would Be Kings: the author describes Gainax as 'by fans for fans'. (accessed 23 January 2009)
  11. ^ See the second slide in the series of Rare snapshots from early Star Trek conventions,, accessed 15 December 2009
  12. ^ The Strange Story of the Vril-Ya Bazaar and Fete, the 'World's First Sci-Fi Convention'