Geek squad: Local heroes and superheroes join forces for GeekOut Asheville

Superhero sightings: GeekOut Asheville provides opportunities for gaming, costuming, networking and meeting top fantasy artists and writers. Photo courtesy of Mutiverse Asheville

by John Granatino

Here’s what TV would have us believe about geeks: They live sheltered lives away from the public eye, stay up all night reading “Firefly” forums and only visit each other under the fluorescent light of a “Star Trek” convention. But while they may actually do those things, today’s geeks (nerds, Trekkies, techies) openly celebrate their superb reference-dropping skills and costume-making abilities at major delegations like Comic-Con, Dragon Con and Meta Con. From Friday through Sunday, June 6-8, locals can celebrate their inner (and outer) nerds at GeekOut Asheville.

“All conventions are about bonding over a shared enjoyment of movies, books, TV and comics,” says GeekOut director Ken Krahl. “The artistic culture in Asheville can’t help but flip that formula to make an event like GeekOut not just a celebration of what we consume, but of the things we create.” That’s a cool take on what makes this event special. Held at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center and Kimmel Arena, it taps such diverse worlds as pop culture, gaming, television, voice acting, makeup, costuming and comic book art.

That’s a lot of ground to cover — especially since last year’s GeekOut was a one-day event with just 14 booths. “Each of our main tracks is about as big as last year’s whole convention,” says Janae Elisabeth, the festival’s programming director. This year’s event is studded with artists, combat and stunt demonstrations and — for those in need of specter-removal counsel — Carolina Ghostbusters.

The all-star roster of presenters includes Emmy-winning voice actor Rob Paulsen (“Animaniacs,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”), Eisner Award winner and Asheville native Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time), Disney imagineer Katie Correll (“Sesame Street,” “King of the Nerds”), the cast from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and nationally acclaimed body paint artist Georgette Pressler.

The festival also extends an invitation to any hero who wishes to show off his or her brass in battle. In addition to the gathering’s 20-plus Dungeons & Dragons scenarios for tabletop play provided by the Asheville Pathfinder Lodge, and the free-to-enter card games hosted by The Deck Box, Alliance Crossroads promises a fully laid-out fantasy world for live-action role players. It’s not just people wandering around a park with cardboard swords — this staging comes with a waiver and a fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

And should anyone suggest that LARPing is, well, weird, there’ll be experts on hand who will speak to role playing’s benefits. “Gaming is good for you,” says Charlotte-based therapist Josué Cardona, who’ll give a presentation on geek therapy. “There’s a concept of ‘positive psychology’ that uses the good things in your life [and] all of your strengths to help you deal with all the bad stuff,” says the therapist, who references pop culture, television shows and video games in his practice.

At comic conventions in San Diego, New York and Atlanta, Cardona has joined forces with other presenters to discuss how geek culture has improved lives. At GeekOut, he’ll run his own booth. “I think it will give people a lot of time to ask their own questions and maybe give their own examples, because it’s just me,” he says.

In fact, besides enabling participants to showcase battle prowess and costume swagger, the convention will offer abundant opportunities to support and be supported in all things geek. Among those returning to the event is James Lyle, a veteran comic book artist who chairs the National Cartoonists Society’s Southeast Chapter. The Waynesville native says he’s looking forward to networking — which can happen in a cape just as well as in a business suit. “I want artists to come to me and show me their portfolios,” he says. “Hopefully [I can] give them some encouragement and steer them in the right direction.”

GeekOut Asheville,

The Sherrill Center at UNC Asheville

Friday through Sunday, June 6-8. Full schedule online. $15 Saturday or Sunday, $30 weekend pass, $5 kids age 6-11


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