Deadpool, Sailor Moon, and the Joker walk into a bar. You know there's a joke in there, but you can't find it. You've been mesmerized by the sight of Captain America with a mouthful of popcorn and a bulging beer belly. You're pulled from your reverie when a 23-year-old Ash Ketchum asks hurriedly if you've seen his Pikachu. He runs off before you can finish your apologies, and in his place is the most realistic Klingon you've ever seen taking a picture with — hold the phone. Is that William Shatner?
"It is a little sensory overload if you let it be," says Mike Broder, founder, president, and real-life Superman behind Florida Supercon.
Since 2006, Broder and his team have put on the largest comic, anime, sci-fi, game, and animation convention South Florida has ever seen. This weekend, the 11th edition will welcome 60,000 fans, cosplayers, and stars to the Miami Beach Convention Center.
This massive annual peak of geek is nothing short of a dream come true for many attendees — and for staffers pulling all-nighters getting ready for the massive show.
"From Mike and [his wife and business partner] Sandy to the volunteers, you can talk to any of them, and they really do love Supercon," says Zoe Nouel, who's 19. She started going to Supercon as an 11-year-old comic fan, volunteered throughout high school, and today she's on staff as head of comic guest relations. "[The staffers are] not doing it for hours or for money or things like that. They're doing it because they really love the convention, and I think it really does make a big difference."
Part of what makes Supercon so successful is the unique variety and attention paid to niche interests. Broder's vision was to create a world with something for everyone. Most conventions concentrate strictly on comics or videogames or Star Trek, but Broder knows some Trekkies are also gamers. This generation is crazy about anime, but they grew up watching Disney's full-feature cartoons. Broder grew up attending small, specific conventions that catered to just one facet of his many fandoms, and even back then, he didn't get it.
"I always thought it was weird," he says. "I don't like exclusivity. I don't ever want to say, 'Oh, you're not a fan of this thing, so you can't be here.' I love the fact that I get to bring in comic book artists and writers I grew up with... and again, bring in a lot of guests that I have no idea who they are, that I'm not necessarily a fan of, but I know they're going to make people happy."
That open-to-everyone mentality leads to one of the most diverse audiences in the con universe. Supercon draws a crowd of all ages, backgrounds, and styles, and thanks to the mainstream commodification of geekdom, reality has moved light years from the stereotype.
"Bridging that gap is the biggest thing that stands out to me," attendee Naseef Khan says. His love of comics, games, and models brought him to his first Supercon two years ago, but it's the people-watching that makes him return every year.
"I see the most beautiful women out there dressed in the most particular, niche outfit," he says. "You'll see a whole group of really hood-looking dudes walking around, and they'll be looking at all the Dragon Ball Z and Naruto stuff just losing their minds. It's just that everybody comes together with this common, shared, happy mentality. It's kind of like a music festival, but without all the drugs."
That's not to say there aren't plenty of timid, awkward teenagers in attendance, but even the kid who looks like he hasn't come out of his room in months knows Supercon is a sanctuary.
"I've had people who had profound experiences at our shows," Broder says. "People find people they decide to marry and spend the rest of their life with. People didn't know there were so many people like them; they couldn't talk about the thing they're into at school, but they found people at the show, and now they have friends. There are people who have decided to get into the industry based on our show, artists who got their big break at our show."
Adds Broder: "I've had people tell me that we helped with their depression, and that's powerful shit. To have somebody that has a problem tell us that this is their joy — that's humbling."
Sometimes the joy of Supercon is less about who you are, but rather who you pretend to be. A good half of the people at Supercon come dressed as their favorite characters, and they take their roles very seriously. Their passion is called cosplay, and true believers spend thousands of dollars and countless hours hand-crafting clothes, collecting accessories, and learning the mannerisms of the fictional stars they play.
"Meeting cosplayers is almost like meeting guests in itself, because sometimes they really act like they are the character," Nouel says. "Every year, there's at least one Deadpool who's full-on Deadpool — doesn't talk that much the whole time, goes around and starts dancing, will flirt with people without using words, and whatever craziness he can think up."
All of that hard work pays off at the costume contest Saturday night. Always drawing a packed house, it's the biggest moment of Supercon, and the winner walks away with $1,500 cash and a lifetime pass to all Supercon events. Even if you're not competing, it's a show that can't be beat. It might just be Broder's favorite part.
"It's having 2,500 people in an audience that are all blended and enjoying the thing that we put on," he says. "The costumes are great, and the people who take part in the contest are great. I don't want to take away from that, but at the end of the day, my joy comes from really making the people who are attending the show happy."
For the first time this year, Supercon is expanding outside the convention center into the Fillmore Miami Beach, which means more people than ever can witness the contest. That's also where the real William Shatner will hold a Q&A, which Broder expects to be an all-time highlight. The weekend also promises film screenings, workshop panels, videogame tournaments, and hours of meet-and-greets.
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There'll be anime-themed improv Friday at 10 p.m., a discussion about memes Saturday at 7:45 p.m., and a chance to learn K-pop dance routines Sunday at 11:15 a.m. Fans can meet pro wrestler Mick Foley, the voice of Mario, the Red Power Ranger, Kel Mitchell, the voice of Finn from Adventure Time, Henry Winkler, and many other actors and characters. Plus, there will be hundreds of vendors selling geek-themed wares and rare collectibles sure to drain bank accounts and make lives complete.
"I know someone personally who can and will only go one day because they'll spend $500 in one day and be so overwhelmed by the stuff that happens that they can't even handle another day of it," Khan says. "You can't even get to all the shit you want to get to at Supercon, whereas at other cons, you might not want to do half the stuff."
To Khan, there's nothing quite like a weekend at Supercon. "It's head and shoulders above everybody else. It's ridiculous."
Florida Supercon 2016
Friday through Monday, July 1 through 4, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach. Doors open at noon Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday through Monday. Tickets cost $5 to $250. Call 954-399-1330 or visit floridasupercon.com