Imagine a convention created for nerds, by nerds, with everything a nerd could ever dream of. That’s what’s coming to Escondido this month with the world premiere of Nerd Con.
As many as 3,500 nerds are expected to descend on the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, on Aug. 22 for an all-day program of cosplay, panel discussions, simulated battles, video gaming, anime, comics art, celebrity guests, costume guilds, live music on two stages, street performers, vendor booths and much more.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22.
Where: California Center for the Arts Conference Center, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido.
Tickets: $20, adults. $12, youth. $50, VIP pass. Parking is free.
Nerd Con is the creation of four proud nerds from the Temecula area who wanted to create a more-intimate convention that combines all the nerdy things they love in a location that doesn’t require a drive to San Diego or Los Angeles.
“We’ve been going to conventions for years, getting hotel rooms and spending money in other cities. There was nothing we could call our own locally. But we decided that if we just sat back and wait for somebody else to do it, they might not necessarily do it the right way,” said Joel Jones, 30, who co-founded Nerd Con with his girlfriend, Trisha Murphy, and her friends Rachel Yauch and Stephanie Pandes.
For many years, Jones has worked with his father organizing bridal conventions. He knew how to work with venues, recruit vendors, build schedules and manage marketing and social media, but he had no passion for the wedding business. Creating a convention for nerds like himself was a project he could get behind.
“People ask me all the time how I define a nerd,” said Jones, the event’s president and CEO. “There are all types of nerds. Some are into video games, some do tabletop gaming, cosplay, technology or science. What they all have in common is that they’re absolutely passionate about these things.”
The seeds for Nerd Con were sewn two years ago when Jones met Murphy at Club Cosplay, a nightclub in Corona for people who enjoy cosplay, which is short for “costume play,” where people dress up and role play as characters from comics, TV, film and their own imagination.
Murphy, 24, is a literature and writing graduate student at Cal State San Marcos whose cosplay name is “Trish Toxic.” She likes to dress up as vixen characters like Black Widow and Poison Ivy. Jones’ alter-ego is Hawkeye, the archer character from “The Avengers.” Murphy, Nerd Con’s executive director, works part-time in retail, which is where she first met Rauch and Pandes, who are both in their 30s and do cosplay as well. Rauch, Nerd Con’s program director, has cosplay characters including Scarlet Witch and a female Han Solo. Pandes, Nerd Con’s creative director, does a female version of The Doctor from “Dr. Who.”
About a year ago, the four started talking about creating their own event and tested the water by organizing cosplay meet-ups in Temecula at the openings of fantasy and comics-based movies like “The Hobbit” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Over several months, they gathered feedback from more than 3,000 people in San Diego and Southwest Riverside counties about what type of event they’d like to see, where it should be held and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.
Eventually, they launched a Nerd Con Facebook page and finally a website, nerd-con.com, which has drawn more than 30,000 visitors since the convention was announced in March. Nerd Con has no relation to NerdCon, a storytellers group that will host a literary-themed convention in Minneapolis in October.
While San Diego’s huge Comic-Con convention was an inspiration for Nerd Con, it’s also so large that it can be daunting for convention-goers as well as small companies that have a hard time getting noticed at the mega-event. Jones said Nerd Con was designed to be more intimate and regional.
“Our main focus wasn’t to bring people from the other side of the world, but to strengthen and unite the local community and give small vendors who don’t have a voice at the big conventions a chance to be seen and heard,” he said.
Another feature of Nerd Con is its inclusiveness. Murphy and Jones said many conventions cater to niche segments of the nerd world, like cosplay or anime. Nerd Con will bring all the nerd genres together in one place.
“A lot of time what happens is there are so many different aspects of nerd culture that a wedge gets driven between people. We want to take out the wedge and celebrate the fact that we’re all nerds,” Jones said. “Let’s focus on the things that bring us together rather than what separates us.”
The foursome is volunteering its time and have recruited more than 100 other volunteers to work the event. Most of the production costs are being covered by sponsors and the more than 70 vendors who will line the conference center floor.
Ticket prices are low - just $20 for adults and $12 for children - but as a way to seed the first-time event, Murphy said more than 1,000 tickets were given away this summer to high school graduates in the region. She said the event will have a wide range of activities and events to appeal to people from age 8 to 80.
Convention highlights include an outdoor battle by members of the Lamia Knights, a medieval martial arts guild from Hemet; all-day 3D and tabletop gaming areas; concerts by Doll Skin, On Being Human, Green Jello and The Video Games; a nerd chic fashion show; cosplay contests; an appearance by Star Wars Steam Punk Universe; famed cosplay stars including Lonster Mash, Thor TV, Loki Hates You, Deaden Pool and Red Kat Cosplay; panel discussions and a raffle with more than $10,000 in donated merchandise.
Jones said there is already talk about hosting another Nerd Con next year in Escondido that could expand to three days. And some guests and vendors have asked about taking the concept nationwide.