Karama Horne was moved to tears when she entered the room at 1100 Wicomico St. in Baltimore on Saturday morning. She knew people were going to show up but just how many, she wasn’t sure. The week prior, one of the largest, blackest, most diverse fan-organized conventions, Universal FanCon, had indefinitely postponed its 24-hour event leaving fans stranded with hotel bills and plane fares they couldn’t get out of. Knowing the financial hole people were in, but also understanding the longstanding stigma and perhaps the consequences of the cancellation of the convention, prompted Horne and her friends to band together to create and hold WICOMICON on the same day Universal FanCon was supposed to be held.
“I was so frightened that I couldn’t be there at the beginning,” Horne told Black Enterprise. “My team members were there and were working round the clock but I was just so frightened that people wouldn’t show up.” Nevertheless, she showed up soon after the convention kicked off.
Horne was right to be concerned. After all, she was one of the well connected black nerds (blerds) in the community. She had also promoted the Universal FanCon to her more than 15,000 Twitter followers. The inaugural comic book and genre convention for people of color also included LGBTQ and the disabled. Billy Dee Williams, comedian Orlando Jones, writer Roxane Gay, and many other superstar talents were already scheduled to feature. There was even going to be a rave by Kristian Nairn (Hodor of Game of Thrones.)
Stephanie Burke, 45, was not going to miss it for anything in the world. For one, the convention was being held in her backyard—Baltimore. As the author of over 70 fantasy and erotica books, a cosplayer, and a black woman with a disability, it was an opportunity to fellowship with like-minded individuals. Although the convention promised an experience of epic proportions, Burke wasn’t convinced they could pull it off so she erred on the side of caution. She didn’t purchase any tickets. A week before the convention was supposed to kick off, the organizers suddenly postponed (canceled) the event. There were rumors of misappropriated funds and out-of-control egos.
“I tend to research any event that I’m paying to go to and something didn’t seem quite right,” Burke said.
Others, however, weren’t as lucky as Burke.
Horne, a writer and producer at Syfy Networks had dipped into her personal and professional networks to help promote Universal FanCon. When she found out the event was never going to happen, she knew she had to shoulder some responsibility. People were coming from as far as Hawaii, London, even Japan, she said.
So, the friends came up with an idea: to host a similar convention, in the same city, as a replacement for the canceled Universal FanCon. Only this time, they had under a week to pull it off.
Uraeus of Black Heroes Matter, Patrick Strange of New Release Wednesday, Andre Robinson of Carbon Fibre Media, Keith Chow of The Nerds of Color, along with Horne, worked round the clock to launch the one-day pop-up event within a week. They delegated tasks between themselves and went to work.
Once again, they all dipped into their networks, this time, they would take anything they could get. “This was a labor of love,” Horne said. They all took personal financial hits. Chow, who is the founder of Hard Noc Media quickly slapped together a landing page on his company website. He was also in charge of making sure vendors were taken care of. Chuck Collins, a former bouncer coordinated with Baltimore Police Department to ensure the safety of convention attendees some of whom were potentially going to be dressed up in costumes with fake weapons. Horne worked on recruiting panelists. Robinson, who is partners with the building owners at 1100 Wicomico St., volunteered two floors in the building to house the pop-up event, spending days hanging lights and cleaning up. Elijah Kelley, founder of BeABossNow, an app that allows business owners to hire virtual assistants gave up his app for free. April Reign, the founder of #OscarSoWhite reached out to the group to ask how she could help. The cast of Syfy shows Killjoys and The Magicians, who had been scheduled to appear at Universal FanCon and had canceled, also reached out to WICOMICON. They insisted they wanted to be a part of WICOMICON and that they will shoulder the travel expenses on their end.
Every night, the organizers, who all lived in different cities (Uraeus, Robinson, and Chow live in Baltimore and Horne resides in Brooklyn.), would jump on a conference call to provide updates on how they were faring on individually assigned tasks.
They would name the event “Wicomicon,” just putting an “N” behind the Native American word which Horne said means “a place where homes are built.”
“The event was amazing, especially considering the circumstances,” Burke said. “The space, the vendors, the volunteers were all amazing and it was a shock that it came together.”
By day’s end on Saturday, close to a thousand people had walked through the doors at the convention space, to Horne’s amazement. Vendors, who most certainly would have lost money were able to get a space on the second floor, while panel discussions continued on the other. A cafe space was provided by Robinson on another floor where food and beverages were served.
“This is a labor of love,” Horne said. “Vendors who would have lost so much money were able to recoup some money and move inventory and we did that.”
Even with her affiliation with Universal FanCon and the Black Girl Nerd brand, she remains optimistic. She hopes that they’ve been able to change the narrative on what could have been a disappointing weekend for a lot of people. One that would have fractured trust between the black, disabled, and LGBTQ community.
“When you see things like this in the news, you hope it isn’t a brother or a sister. It’s not like we don’t know how to organize. We know how to do business,” Horne said. “But each of us brought something to the table, to change the narrative and give the artists attending some hope. Representation still matters and we wanted to show that.”
With the support and success of WICOMICON, fans are already asking about a WICOMICON 2019. Horne is not denying that there are ongoing discussions about a convention next year.
“We’re not saying that we’re not going to do it,” she said. “We just want to do it right.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated May 4, 2018.