This weekend, if you’re in downtown Chattanooga, don’t be surprised to see hobbits, wizards, fairies and superheroes roaming the streets. There’s a good chance you may even see Darth Vader or a few stormtroopers. That’s because Chattacon is taking place at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Friday through Sunday, and fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy literature from as far as Wisconsin and Arizona will be descending upon our fair city for one of the oldest conventions of its kind to take place in the Southeast.
I spoke with KC Charland, director of publicity, media relations and publications for Chattacon, about the rise of fantasy literature in pop culture, what to expect for Chattacon 38 and the costume culture of the beloved local Con.
First of all, what is Chattacon? What kind of audience is it geared toward, and what kinds of things do you guys do at the convention? Explain it to outsiders like me.
Chattacon is a literary convention that supports all realms of speculative fiction, including science fiction, fantasy and horror ... just about anything. Chattacon is the fundraising event for Chattanooga Speculative Fiction Fans Inc., a 501c(3) corporation. This organization supports local school libraries, the Hamilton County library and various literary-based charities that provide scholarships for young writers—and includes a program to ship books to the troops in the wars.
Compare Chattacon with the upcoming Con-Nooga. What are the differences? Are the two conventions archenemies or more super-friends? In other words, do the same people who go to Chattacon go to Con-Nooga as well, or are the two events sort of like the "you-don't-drive-Chevy-trucks-if-you-drive-Ford-trucks, “Star-Wars”-vs.-“Star-Trek,” Bud-Light-vs.-Miller-Lite type of thing?
Con-Nooga is a very different sort of convention, but truthfully, we share a great deal of our fan base. They are a more media-related convention, meaning TV programs and movies. We focus more on literature and art, meaning they would focus on “The Hobbit” because of the movie and we focus on “The Hobbit” as a great fictional work. Things like "Star Trek" and "Dr. Who" cross mediums … books and TV shows. We also feature more games and a wider variety of activities. Both conventions are a lot of fun in their own ways. They do attract a bit of a younger crowd, but we have many young fans in attendance as well.
Have you noticed a spike in attendance over the years because of Peter Jackson's “Lord of the Rings” trilogy films, "Harry Potter" books and movies and, more recently, the “Game of Thrones” books and TV show? Does Chattacon cover “Star Wars” and other fantasy novels of that sort, you know, movie-world expansions?
We have noticed a great deal of younger folks coming in Harry Potter costumes and Tolkien-based costumes. It is always a good thing when Hollywood brings a great work of fiction to the big screen for us. Again, the classics like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” will always have a place at our Con.
Since Chattacon caters more to the fantasy crowd, have these book and movies sparked mass popularity in fantasy/sci-fi novels? If so, why do you think that is?
I think there have been several things to spike interest in the last few years, the “Twilight” series and the new huge interest in steampunk, along with blockbusters like “Avatar” and the “Lord of the Rings” movies. I think Chattacon as a whole supports anything that would cause an increase in literacy.
Why is Chattacon important to pop culture in general and to Chattanooga?
Chattacon first and probably most importantly is an opportunity for like-minds to gather and share thoughts and ideas with each other. It does bring a lot of people to downtown Chattanooga. Many do return and take advantage of the other things Chattanooga has to offer.
Talk about the history of Chattacon and its relevance to Chattanooga.
Chattacon is now 38. We are Chattanooga's oldest and largest convention. We have always been in January in the downtown area, and I believe we have brought a lot of attention to our town with our convention over the years.
Can you talk about some of the craziest Chattacon stories over the years? Are there costumes involved at Chattacon? What kind, and what's the craziest you've seen?
Some of the craziest things we would like to forget, like the nuclear incident, but we won’t bring that up. We have seen a lot over the years, some very good costumes, including Edward Scissorhands, dragons, ogres, elves, knights, warriors of all kinds. Some fans do go to the extreme and put so much time and effort into the costumes just to walk around and show off to friends. I do recommend going to our Web page and checking out some of the costumes.
Who are some of the highlighted guests this year, and what are they known for?
Tim Powers is our guest of honor. He is an acclaimed fantasy author. We will also welcome Cherie Priest, who just recently relocated to Chattanooga. Her specialty is American steampunk. We are very happy to have William Stout as our artist guest, who is legendary in the sci-fi art world, not just for his feature-length film, "Wizards," but for so many novel covers that would be too many to list.
Who would you say are some of the most famous guests you've had over the years? Anyone people might know who don't necessarily read fantasy literature?
Guests of the past include authors such as Larry Niven, Spider Robinson and James P. Hogan, NOVA Magazine Editor Ben Bova, legendary artists like Kelly Frease. All of our guests are very special to us. We have a rich history, and we look forward to many more years in Chattanooga.
And there you have it. Thirty-eight years of Chattacon and still going strong. If you’re feeling adventurous, check it out this weekend. Registration begins Friday at 3 p.m. Opening ceremonies begin that night at 7 p.m., and closing ceremonies are at 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, click here.
And if you’re curious about the costumes, click here. They’re fascinating.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.