Adventures at Wasabi Con: The Pop Culture Convention of Jacksonville

Wasabi Con is one of the many conventions organized by Green Mustard Entertainment, and is a symbol of the best Jacksonville geek life has to offer. The venue is small, and if you’re a frequent convention goer it might seem underwhelming stepping into the halls of the Marriott. However it is the atmosphere that permeates the air that sets Wasabi Con a part from larger Florida conventions.

Walking down the halls of Wasabi Con there is a sense of Jacksonville, with local businesses, and groups setting up shop with happy and eager faces. The staff, decked out in black t-shirts, and some wearing adorable cat eared caps, smile as you register and walk through the pastel colored walls. Dispute the small space, nothing feels overly cramped or tight. There’s room to breath that tends to be missed at larger conventions. Make no mistake, there were plenty of fans in attendance, In fact Tom Croom, CEO for Green Mustard Entertainment, officially announced Wasabi Con will be moving after this year to a new, and bigger, location to match the growing attendance.

Tom Croom at Wasabi Con

This speaks to the overall organization of Wasabi Con, which moves like a well oiled machine. The staff appear to want to be there, working and helping to run the convention. It helps that, unlike most other larger conventions who call for volunteers, Wasabi Con’s staff are all paid for their time and effort. These foundations that exist within Green Mustard Entertainment, make up for the building blocks of Wasabi Con itself. The point wasn’t to simply create another pop culture convention, but a place to celebrate the fandom with a smaller group of people, and becoming integrated with the community of Jacksonville itself.

The sponsors of Wasabi Con are a mix of big names such as Funimation, and then more local fare such as Borderlands Comics and Games and Mythical Mountain. The latter of which donated 500 dollars worth of prizes for Wasabi Con’s costume contest. The guest list also included local groups such as Extra Life Team JAX, GAAM, the Jedi Academy of North Florida, Umbrella Corp. 219th, and local cosplay celebrities like Miss Fushi and Candy Keane.

One of the main ideals Croom has reiterated firmly was the desire to make Wasabi Con a part of Jacksonville life. Similar to the way Dragon Con is apart of Atlanta, Georgia, and Gen Con is apart of Indianapolis, Indiana, are a part of their cities culture. Wasabi Con is, currently, only four years old; a baby in the long life of Florida conventions. Even so there’s a rich history behind the convention that was created in the extremely short period of two months time. Dispute the nearly impossible time limit on which Wasabi Con was built that first year, it did happen as a one day event and fans flocked to it.

Kenneth Nabbe announcing Costume Contest Winnners

Since it’s only grown in size and fame each year building up credit within the Jacksonville community as a down-to-earth and real convention that celebrates pop culture in various aspects while supporting the local geek community.

 

I, myself, have been to the larger conventions on the circuit like Wizard World, and Otakon. The latter was very enjoyable – if crowded but they’re moving to a bigger location in Washington as well – the former was less so. Not that Wizard World wasn’t a fun experience, I was able to get autographs from Stan Lee and Manu Bennet one year, and another go to a panel featuring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan. Those larger, circus conventions – conventions that travel from city to city – have their place in our geeky world, but it’s nice to dial back some. Wasabi Con’s atmosphere is less stifling than a larger conventions, making it easier to find people, talk and meet new fans-turned-friends, and less wait time for panels and events.

The events, and panels were all received favorable as well. I attended the costume contest that featured forty cosplayers and each was given their time to shine on stage. An array of different genres walked, strutted, and skipped on stage to show off their craft while Kenneth Nabbe, CEO and Secretary of Green Mustard Entertainment, introduced each one with snarky relish that had the crowd tittering. The craftsmanship in these costumes is always rather awe inspiring. Even the more supposedly basic costumes take time and effort that should be – and was with enthusiasm – applauded.

Noise Complaint members performing their Fairytale Set

The contest itself ran over in time as the judges deliberated for longer than what was anticipated. This is where the organization and quick thinking of the Wasabi team came in. The following act, a tap dancing fandom group known as Noise Compliant, want invited to do a warm-up show while fans waited for the judges final decision. For many, this would be the first time seeing Noise Complaint live. Their twist on tap dancing was a modern mix of music, and classic tap, while incorporating costumes and humor. Their warm-up set was dubbed their “Fairytale Set” and when they finished, and the judges still hadn’t come to a decision Croom and Nabbe stepped in for an impromptu comedic shtick.

 

They took questions from the audience, made jokes, interacted with fans, told stories. Their open and friendly personalities, combined with the ability to laugh at themselves and the genuine interest they both have in pop culture kept the crowd settled and entertained. When they were finished, Noise Compliant took the stage again and performed their intended Horror themed set which included a great mix of humor, technical skill, and some great remixes of classic horror music.

When the judges came back out with their final decisions, Nabbe read the results, and the winners were given their prizes, and took a photo together. The winner of the content was a man named, John Repper, dressed as Commander Cain from The Living Legend, an episode of Battlestar Galactica 1978. Repper is a long-time convention goer himself, and when asked about win Repper said,

“It was very exciting. I worked on hard it. There were a lot of very talented entrees, people made really great designs, and workmanship. I was very happy to win because it was stiff competition.”

Costume Contest Winner dressed as Commander Cain

This was only one of the events of the weekend. Others included panels by Candy Keane (who discussed the ins and outs of working with worbla), voice acting 101 with David Sobolov, Group vs Solo Cosplay projects, Q&A’s with voice actor Amanda Miller, and many more. There was a mix of guest and fan made panels, as well as events and television viewings for fans to enjoy. The vendors room held a mix of anime, manga, comic books, and steampunk merchandise while housing autograph signings for fans. Something especially unquie to Wasabi Con was the inclusion of an amusement park themed event titled, “Universal vs Disney: Theme Park Smackdown” and guests Seth Kubersky (a theme park expert) and Tom Nabbe (a Disney legend).

It’s the inclusion of these unusual convention subjects, and the representation of local flare that gives Wasabi Con a different feel from bigger named conventions. Bringing in musical acts such as Noise Compliant, and Jig to a Milestone, also adds to the unique flag Wasabi Con waves proudly. These aspects also contribute to integrating Wasabi Con to the fabric of Jacksonville itself. If you’re well integrated in the Jacksonville geek scene you’d recognize the various local organizations like the Jedi Academy, or the Star Trek non-profit fan group 1701st Fleet. You may even know Candy Keane and have frequented her shop, Three Muses Clothing. Maybe you’ve walked into Borderlands, or Mythical Mountain and bought your fair share of comic books and toys. The point is, Wasabi Con reflects the geek culture already growing within Jacksonville, and is steadily becoming a part of it.

Sailor Moon Troupe L to R: Stephanie, Kristen, Brittney

 

When I spoke with cosplayers and fans they had nothing but good things to say. Three young women, Stephanie, Kristen, and Brittney, dressed as Sailor Venus, Sailor Moon, and Sailor Mercury respectively.

“Oh my god it’s so fun! Brittney gushed when asked how she was enjoying her time at Wasabi Con. Kristen also added, “Everyone is so friendly.”

Interacting with the three you’d think they were long time friends, and yet the three women had only known each other for a short while, brought together by Wasabi Con itself. Something Croom joked about during closing ceremonies as he named the various – many now married – couples Green Mustard Entertainment and Wasabi Con have brought together on his staff. Also discussed during closing ceremonies was how many new friends had been made, and the overall enjoyment had at the convention. One fan, Carol Rosato who’s part of the Digital Daydreamers cosplay troupe, when asked how her experience at Wasabi Con was had this to say:

“Very good, I would rate it ten out of ten stars. I have had so many – good things happen weekend. I got to see all my friends, and I drove two and a half hours to be here today and I am loving it!”

Even with all the positive feedback, Croom, Nabbe, and their team understand they can’t please everyone. There was some disgruntlement over the packed venue during peak hours on Saturday, along with how the vendors room was setup – though it should be noted only one staff member was available to organize and work the vendors room – and the overall lack of artists in the artists alley. It’s true, it wasn’t the biggest venue possible – which is why Wasabi Con will be moving next year – but for the most part, it was set up in such a way to make best usage of the space. The artists that were in attendance were diverse in styles and craft making the quality high, even if the quantity wasn’t.

There are certainly kinks for Croom, Nabbe, and their team to work out for next year, along with a whole new set of challenges awaiting them in the face of setting up a new venue. However if Wasabi Con could be summed up in a few simple words they’d be the potential to grow and develop into something uniquely Jacksonville. There’s an unashamed air that Wasabi Con brings as cosplayers rub shoulders with football fans in the halls of the Marriott. A sincerity Croom, Nabbe, and their capable staff bring to the table that gives fans an overall sense of ease and comfortable. Most people are happy to go and enjoy a low-key convention with good panels, pleasant guests, and a unique time. Oh, and a staff that smiles at you. As a convention goer myself of five years, trust me, that’s an unique aspect a convention to have.

For new fans who may be interested in testing out a convention for the first time ever, consider putting Wasabi Con on your list. It’s not big, it’s not flashy, but it is sincere to all things geek.

 

Check out more pictures from the event (taken by Tamara Dileo) on our Facebook page at – https://www.facebook.com/TheCampusVoiceFSCJ/

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