In search of a more intimate comic convention experience, he starts one for fans like himself
Steve Kirk enjoys a good convention, both organizing them and attending, but he’d grown weary of the larger ones with big crowds and lines that lasted for hours. He wasn’t alone. Other comic book and science-fiction fans said they’d be interested in going to a convention that was a bit smaller with greater access to panelists and exhibitors. This week, Kirk and his team are bringing InterGalactiCon to San Diego.
“I’ve traveled, I’ve talked to people and tried to gather a good idea from other people about what would make a con more attractive to them. …(InterGalactiCon is) speakers and artists and exhibitors, foundational elements of a fan con, but also workshops, events, contests and parties,” he says of his inaugural convention at the Town & Country San Diego in Mission Valley Friday and Saturday.
Kirk, 47, spent 17 years previously running the network and audio and visual operations for DEF CON, the long-running hacker convention, and also managed the global information technology groups for PlayStation Worldwide Studio. Today, he owns F7 Productions and is the founder of this week’s more intimate comic convention, and lives in Ramona. He took some time to talk about InterGalactiCon, his own fandom and creating a memorable experience for other fans.
Q: Tell us about InterGalactiCon.
A: After leaving corporate life, I took some time off and started thinking about what I wanted to do going forward. I went down the path of, “What do I enjoy doing?” and realized that I missed running cons. After several ideas, I landed on the idea of running a comic con-type of event. There was a big market here in San Diego, many of whom could not go to San Diego Comic-Con International for various reasons, and the more I researched, the more I was getting feedback from fans saying they would love to see the type of show I was envisioning InterGalactiCon to be.
Q: Why did you feel like San Diego could use another comics and science-fiction convention?
A: Part of it was that no one else was doing this “mid-tier” type of convention. There are a number of smaller cons, which often focus on specific areas of the fan market. We found there was a great amount of demand for something more without being the size of San Diego Comic-Con, but still with broad content, accessibility to content, and also wanting to encapsulate it as more of an experience where it could be more interactive.
Q: What didn’t you like about larger, more traditional comic conventions?
A: Personally for me, the older I’ve gotten, the less tolerant I’ve become of waiting in lines and, let’s say, feeling disrespected as someone willing to give my money to a conference and its exhibitors. I’ve had too many experiences where I may shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars (if you include travel to far-away states) only to be denied various experiences and basically paying a lot of money and only being able to see the exhibits hall. Younger fans tolerate it much better than me. However, as fans grows older, I’ve also seen people who share my views. Nothing is universally good or bad, but why not look to offer a better experience?
What I love about Ramona ...
I grew up on farms and ranches, so Ramona offers me something that’s very comfortable for me: I can have some space around me. Neighbors wave at you as you drive down the road, or they’ll stop and talk to you at the mailbox. I lived down in urban San Diego the first few years I lived here, but I found I was close enough to work that when I was having a bad day at the office, by the time I got home, I was still having a bad day. After moving to Ramona, a switch flipped. I suddenly had left the office behind me and I could be home without that sense of burden. It was a distinct change of environment.
Q: How did you want InterGalactiCon be different from a traditional convention?
A: I’ve heard many stories of fans who, for example, don’t go to the bigger cons because they’re not comfortable with big crowds. Lots of fans are very introverted, shy, or have social anxiety. I understand this because I’m one of them. They’ve told me they’d be much more likely to come to something like InterGalactiCon with great content and without the enormous crowds because they’d feel more comfortable.
Q: What can people expect from the first year of this convention?
A: I hope they have an experience that they remember. A great experience leaves you with lasting memories; maybe it’s being able to actually share stories with a celebrity guest. Maybe it’s a new person you meet who becomes a genuine friend for years to come. Maybe it’s a random interaction that sticks in your head, someone who shared a story that perhaps inspired you. Those are the things I hope people will experience.
Q: What do you hope fans get from this experience?
A: Lasting memories. It’s about finding something or someone that inspires them. Twenty years ago, it was really tough being a nerd; you still had to hide that from many people. It’s gotten much easier as “geek” has become popular, but it still takes courage to expose that very personal, very passionate side of yourself and do something with it. We have an amazing community here in San Diego, and if we can bring people together and strengthen that community, inspire others, that’s the experience I hope they can take with them.
Q: Why did you select the people who are appearing as panelists at the convention this year?
A: I wanted people who genuinely looked to connect with their fans and I wanted talks and stories that people could connect with. The people we chose were real, genuine people with some inspiring stories. They had the ability to connect to people. Colin Cantwell, for example, designed the Death Star and it’s become iconic in our culture. His work has fundamentally impacted peoples’ lives for the last 40 years. That’s powerful! To meet the man who did that, whose name you maybe had never heard before, and be able to shake his hand and take a photo with him, that’s huge to a “Star Wars” fan.
Q: What comic book/movie/television show turned you into a science-fiction/fantasy super fan?
A: What DIDN’T? My mom bought me my first comic book from a local 7-11 in 1978: “Shogun Warriors #17.” I still have it, even though it’s in terrible condition. I got into video games around that same time, and computers, as well. I always enjoyed science-fiction television; the original “Star Trek,” or the original “Battlestar Galactica.” I remember being in third grade and we’d argue at recess about which girl was the prettiest on “Battlestar Galactica.” I think these shows helped me see possibilities in terms of science and technology. The future.
Q: When was the last time you participated in cosplay?
A: I wouldn’t classify myself as a cosplayer, especially having met so many who truly are. I’m an amateur at best, but even as a kid dressing up as a pirate or a devil for Halloween, the details were important. In college, I have to admit I had a “Star Trek” officer’s uniform, which I proudly wore to the first con I ever went to, a “Star Trek” con. Obviously, there’s never any chance of me escaping being “Captain Kirk,” so I fully embraced it. These days, I’m much more a “Star Wars” fan, so I do keep a set of Jedi robes in my closet.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: “Listen.” Listen to people, no matter who they are. Everyone brings something to the table, whether they’re the CEO or the guy in the mail room. Listen to the universe. Listen to yourself. Don’t get such a big ego that you think you know it all. You don’t.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: That I’m a huge introvert. If you take the full-blown Myers-Briggs personality test, the introvert/extrovert scale goes from 32 to 0 to 32. I’m a 31 on the introvert side. People hear me get up and talk in public, or with groups, or do all this press for InterGalactiCon, and then I tell them what a massive introvert I am and they are outright shocked and flabbergasted.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Meditating on the Ocean Beach cliffs at sunrise, hiking the hills near Poway, and a casual dinner with a nice wine in North Park or Little Italy.
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