11 unconventional conventions you have to geek out at

Contributed by
May 25, 2017

Conventions are about being unconventional.

That could mean proving yourself as a master gamer or Klingon warrior, pondering the mysteries of space or the Necronomicon, swimming with mermaids or flying with faeries, chasing UFOs or fantastical ponies over the rainbow — though your geek genius about something so niche could get lost in the costumed fray of the more epic cons like San Diego and New York. That is, if it isn't trampled by legions of Walking Dead fans first.

Do you wish for a fantastical place where everything is rainbows, tentacled things lurk in every corner or old-school Nintendo never went obsolete? Where you can speak fluent Klingon because everyone actually understands it? Where everyone there (for once) believes you actually witnessed a UFO hovering over your backyard? What if you knew conventions for Cthulhu and mermaids and mysterious flying saucers actually existed?

Prance with ponies, party with Klingons and zap-ping-pow your way to arcade victory at these 11 strange and surreal cons that are anything but conventional.

Monsterpalooza

Nightmare fuel from aliens to zombies haunts every creepy corner of Monsterpalooza. This hair-raising expo of horror movie FX is the ultimate testament to the fandom of creepdom, able to rival any Halloween haunted house with its aisles and aisles of carnivorous creatures, blood-spattered props, disembodied masks and unapologetically terrifying life-sized wax figures of such unforgettable phantoms as Quint from Jaws and Forry Ackerman. Experience a close encounter with the disturbingly lifelike Alien vs. Predator mock-up or lose yourself in the labyrinth that is the Monsterpalooza museum.

Just remember not to feed the Gremlins.

Past guests have included former Fangoria editor-in-chief Tony Timpone and the twisted brains behind the upcoming Cult of Chucky and an undead horde of genre luminaries. Something is going to shock you no matter where you turn, like the nun from The Conjuring, who flies in your face like a holy specter no matter how much you beg for mercy.

Can’t get enough screams? Son of Monsterpalooza, the spawn of this hellish horrorshow, will be creeping up in the fall.

Geek out

International UFO Congress

This may be the closet you'll get to living The X-Files if you don't work for the FBI. If you want to believe, you won't find any tinfoil hats here. The International UFO Congress is the real deal, with extraterrestrial experts who range from amateur UFOlogists to hardcore astrobiologists. Past guests have included former FBI Agent Ben Hansen, better known as the host of Syfy's Fact or Faked, Star Wars and Alien sculptor Alan Groves, Area 51-famous scientist Bob Lazar, Alien Hunter Derrel Sims and an alien invasion of investigators and experiencers.

Take a selfie with the little gray men that serve as the con’s unofficial mascots, browse a universe of vendors from the earthly to the bizarre and let yourself be mesmerized by an otherworldly film festival. There are even private sessions for those who actually have had close encounters. Panels will attempt to probe sometimes controversial topics such as sightings, crashes, crop circles, abduction and anything else paranormal that came from beyond the atmosphere.

The after party? A sky watch to search for UFOs, of course.

Geek out

The Steampunk World's Fair

Travel back to a time warp of Victorian anachronisms and let the gears of your imagination turn in a neo-Victorian world straight out of the pages of Jules Verne. If you like the whole RenFaire idea but it makes you feel like you're stuck in the wrong era, then you might belong at the historically inaccurate and fantastically splendid Steampunk World's Fair.

Steampunk imagines a past that clank-booms into the future with steam-powered gadgetry from mechanical wings to all sorts of contraptions you never dreamed could be made of metal tubing and dismantled clocks. There is an otherworldly feeling to the Goblin Market of guests and vendors who range from the fire dancers and aerialists of the KarnEvil sideshow to the guy who designed Nathan Filion's legendary steampunk arm from Castle. VIP Luminary guests can even attend Cogsday festivities, because the discovery of the Antikythera Mechanism aka the first cog ever is the holiest day of the year to the gear-obsessed.

Geek out

NecronomiCon

! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph'nglui mglw'nfah Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

That’s Hail! Hail! Cthulhu Dreams! In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming for all you mortals. Whether or not you show up shrouded in a hooded robe with arcane symbols, every student of the Necronomicon who deserves a degree in weird fiction from Miskatonic University should crawl over to this tentacle-fest, held whenever the stars are right (every other year) in H.P. Lovecraft’s birthplace of Providence, Rhode Island. This con swarms with Shoggoths and other unthinkable things from the deep. Panels are like a Lovecraft-phile's maddening dream syllabus, including Lovecraft 101, MIskatonic University and the Mythos, The Weird, Weird West and The Dreaded Surreal. Great Old Ones include a swarm of authors, artists and academics who have immersed themselves in weird fiction.

It gets weirder. The Grand Emporium of the Weird is infested with vendors who will tempt you with things like tentacled slippers and the knit Cthulhu ski mask I am guilty of owning, Ars Necronomica is the most disturbingly fascinating art show in the universe, and there's even an Eldritch Ball.

Geek out

Spacefest

There is no convention more literally out of this world than Spacefest. The final frontier of cons was founded by the owner of a space art gallery and has since expanded to galactic proportions. Not to be confused with the UFO con, Spacefest explores what's floating out there from our own solar system to the outer reaches of the universe. You don’t need to have a Ph.D. in astrophysics or rocket science to blast off into this cosmic world of space enthusiasts without ever leaving Earth's atmosphere.

Panels have included celestial conversations with stellar speakers like Mike Collins, John Young, Buzz Aldrin and everyone else who has ever put a boot on the moon, Seth Shostak of the SETI Insitute, New Horizons' Alan Stern and our very own Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. Expect to orbit topics from planetary defense to Mars and beyond. The star party promises a different set of luminaries — hours of viewing an almost full moon and other heavenly bodies from a variety of telescopes. There's even an after party called (what else?) Space Jam.

Geek out

The Retro Gaming Expo

It's never game over for pixel power at the Retro Gaming Expo, where you can relive the days of sugar-fueled Pac-Man marathons. Engage in throwback Nintendo tournaments, listen to vintage video game pros and hunt down rare retro games you might have thought were forever lost in a digital grave.

If the epic list of games like Alien vs. Predator, Donkey Kong II, Double Dragon, Galaga, Mortal Kombat 2, Ms. Pac-Man, Dungeons and Dragons, No Fear Pinball and Star Wars Trilogy doesn't make you salivate, the events will. Battle it out in a digital fight to the death or try to control your heavy breathing when you finally come face-to-face with the only known Nintendo PlayStation prototype. Convert yourself into a pixelated character for the Nerd Mafia cosplay contest. Level up to a giant freeplay arcade like you've never seen since 1995. Even the bands are gamers, if names like The Koopas and Super Madness Heavy Metal system are an indication — and you get to party in the arcade.

Geek out

Klingon Feast

Bring your bat'leh and go boldly to the annual Klingon Feast, where you won't get stared at for having a ridged forehead, because everyone has a ridged forehead. You'll probably look out of place if you don't appear to have the DNA of House Martok (though humans are more than welcome to come out and play). While the cuisine of this alien species may be hard to swallow on Star Trek, you don't have to eat anything of questionable origin — or anything that's still moving — at this feast.

Klingon warriors can test their strength in physical and mental competitions including space battle simulations on the IKV WidowMaker and a grueling test to prove one's heritage. Not to mention the pool party, costume contest, warrior contest, synthahol contest, target practice, battle simulation, movies, games, meet and greet, arm wrestling and the ultimate extragalactic nightclub. There is even a holodeck, and while it probably isn't loaded with any of Worf's training programs, it still sounds pretty far-out.

Geek out

BronyCon

You don't have to jump through cotton candy clouds to get to the most epic herd of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans this side of Equestria. To think, what started in the '80s as a plastic pony parade has turned into the most magical fandom in all the land. Over 10,000 bronies and pegasisters gallop to BronyCon for a kaleidoscope of panels, contests, screenings, merch and a chance to meet the voices and artists behind MLP:FIM and the IDW MLP comic.

Prance over to activity rooms for art, cosplay and video games, or enter a MLP card game tourney. You can even design your own custom pony. If you think you've seen everything a rainbow could possibly produce, ponies can party at Bronypalooza, which features music from every genre within the brony fandom (yes, this is a thing). Cosplays range from every color of spandex and wigs (plus some you never knew existed) to full-on pony suits that could convince you you're actually frolicking with Fluttershy or Twilight Sparkle. There might even be a few pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.

Geek out

Blobfest

Do you have a killer obsession with The Blob? Have you always been dying to reenact the famous Run Out scene from the original theater where the movie was filmed? You can at Blobfest, which emerges from that very same theater (The Colonial Theatre in Philadelphia) which even has an inflatable Blob oozing over its coming attractions sign during the con. Come in costume as The Blob itself or one of many other vintage creepers, scare yourself silly as you run screaming from the theater, then jitter and jive at the retro '50s Blob Ball, which is just about the scariest sock hop you've ever cut a rug at.

The whole weekend is positively crawling with fiendish fun including the Fire Extinguisher Parade, costume contest, short film competition with an appropriate Blob-shaped trophy, special guests and back-to-back double features like Queen of Blood, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. You'd better run if you want tickets to the Run Out — this thing sells out paranormally fast.

Geek out

FaerieCon

Fae from every hidden realm can enter the enchanted otherworld of Faeriecon. Whether or not you're in wings, you won't have to look under rocks and behind petals to find every ethereal species of faerie, from flower faeries to woodland faeries to ice faeries, fire faeries, ocean faeries, sun and moon faeries, centaurs, fauns, unicorns and all sorts of surreal creatures.

Did I mention faeries?

Theme days like Good Faeries Day and Bad Faeries Day let you bring out your inner Glinda or Maleficent. The mystical marketplace will bewitch you with faerie fashion, jewelry, books, art and magical live music, not to mention the chance to meet faerie and fantasy authors and artists from different realms. After dark, fall under the spell of the Faerie Masquerade Ball. Jim Henson collaborator and Modern Master of Faerie Brian Froud approves of this con, so your argument is invalid. Even the font used on the website is eerily close to The Dark Crystal (which ironically had no faeries) and Labyrinth. You may even spot a mermaid or two.

If you really want to swim with mermaids, read on ...

Geek out

Merfest

If you really are a mermaid like those infamous T-shirts say, dive into this glittering undersea cavern (okay, the local aquatic center) that's swimming with merfolk. Here there even be pirates. Merfest is more than just pretending to be part of that world. This submerged world of waterproof makeup, shell bras, elaborate jewels that could pass for pirate ship plunder, and custom tails with shimmering scales that can set you back up to $4,000 sings its siren song to those who wish to temporarily leave the mortal realm and live as their amphibious 'mersonas.'

While humans may feel this is off the deep end, many mermaids and mermen feel the transformative power of a tail — which is actually quite a process if you're trying to shimmy into one. There is also no shortage of sunken treasure, from underwater performers and poolside vendors to themed mer-balls. Merfest also made a splash in 2015 with the first mer-wedding at which guests enthusiastically flapped their tails.

Geek out