HawaiiCon is science, sci-fi, anime, film, television, gaming, cosplay, pop culture, comic books and fantasy art all rolled into one fun, family-friendly event. Now in its sixth year on Hawaii island, it draws some 2,000 enthusiasts for four days of events, activities and tours that lead to lively discussions and exciting discoveries about art, nature, science, technology and sustainable living.
Jessica Gauthier is the convention coordinator and president of HawaiiCon, Inc., the nonprofit organization that puts on the event. She has been actively involved with HawaiiCon since the group’s inception in 2013 and the event’s premiere a year later.
“‘Con’ stands for convention, specifically referring to the thousands of ‘fandom’ conventions that are held worldwide each year,” she said. “The first such events were reportedly held in the 1930s and increased slightly in number through the 1960s.”
A surge of “Cons” came in the 1970s, influenced largely by the renewed popularity of comic-book superheroes introduced during the late 1930s and early 1940s, including Batman, Superman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman.
Scores of devoted fans also followed sci-fi TV series in the 1960s and 1970s, “Star Trek” being the most notable. During the same era, sci-fi blockbuster films such as “Star Wars,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were seminal achievements.
The introduction of video and computer gaming in the early 1970s (remember Pong, Pac-Man and Space Invaders?) also contributed to the rise of the events. No one recognized it back then, but all of these — the games, comic book characters and sci-fi TV shows and movies — revolved around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math).
“You can’t have great technology, including ideas for superheroes’ amazing powers, without art,” Gauthier said. “Art is how we communicate the look, the visual presentation of the technology. Consider the difference between the first clunky cellphone bricks and today’s smartphones, which have sleek, beautiful designs. I love that HawaiiCon’s mission is to promote STEAM education for Hawaii’s children.”
The event is homegrown — implemented entirely with the help of volunteers and funds from grants, ticket sales, sponsorships and the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Community Enrichment Program. Profits from each HawaiiCon have benefited Hilo’s Performing Arts Learning Center, Hilo High School’s robotics program and other nonprofits that champion STEAM programs on Hawaii island.
As in years past, HawaiiCon’s presenters come from diverse fields: authors, poets, artists, educators, scientists, cultural practitioners and leaders in technology. You’ll be able to attend panel discussions featuring, among other celebrity guests, Mindy Sterling (she starred as Frau Farbissina in the “Austin Powers” movie series); Aron Eisenberg (who played Nog in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”); John Rhys-Davis (his screen credits include “Aquaman,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Wayne Lo (the special effects whiz for “Van Helsing,” “Men in Black II” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”).
The celebrities will be visible throughout HawaiiCon, signing autographs, posing for photos, leading workshops and mingling with attendees during off-site tours and at the Paniolo Friday Night Dinner.
Also of note are the hands-on workshops. Specifics hadn’t been firmed up at press time, but previous offerings have included wig styling, improv acting, lightsaber training and mask, wand and rocket making.
Reserve plenty of time to browse in the HawaiiCon Exhibit Hall, where books, masks, costumes, pop art, T-shirts, steampunk jewelry and more will be available for sale. Meanwhile, local and internationally known comic artists in the Artist’s Alley will be eager to chat about their trade.
A Zombie Walk, Zombie Ball and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” sing-along hosted by Aloha Theatre are all new this year. Casino Night, launched last year as a fundraiser for the theater, will return with poker, craps, blackjack, board games and more. In exchange for a donation to the theater, you’ll receive a stash of chips to play your choice of games.
“It’s gaming, not gambling,” Gauthier said. “The objectives are to have fun and support local theater.”
Always delighting a full house are the masquerade contests, which showcase adults’ and kids’ talents in performance and costume creation. Contestants don’t submit a description of what they’re going to do or wear in advance, so you never know what to expect. Of course, it’s understood everything should be suited for families.
“People have danced jigs, put on a skit with friends and recited a monologue from the show their costume represented,” Gauthier said. “On the technical side, we’ve seen costumes constructed with intricate stitching, foam and cardboard as well as fabrics that are hard to work with. Last year, one of our winners made a full spandex bodysuit a la Rogue from the X-Men.”
Gauthier works on HawaiiCon year-round, and, as with the rest of the convention’s staff, she doesn’t receive any monetary compensation. Twenty people give their time and talents to serve as committee leaders. About 85 more volunteers help with everything from setting up and running errands to registering attendees and selling merchandise.
“What drives me are all the smart, fun, driven team members who make HawaiiCon happen,” Gauthier said. “We stand on the foundation of science and history, and we soar with innovation and new technologies. As we learn about ancient Polynesian voyages and voyages to space, both real and fictional, we reflect on what it means to be human — to explore, to wonder, to dream. HawaiiCon encourages creative thinking, and with creative thinking, we can accomplish anything.”
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.