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ETSUCon grants visitors chance to escape into fantasy

March 1st, 2014 8:46 pm by Tony Casey

ETSUCon grants visitors chance to escape into fantasy

Charles Martinet, the voice behind video game character icon Mario, had Casey Jones and Samantha Haynes in hysterics when he introduced himself at East Tennessee State University’s ETSUCon 2014 multimedia convention Saturday.

“It’s a-me, Mario!” Martinet announced to the crowd at the opening ceremonies of the event.

Jones and Haynes could barely contain themselves. Much like the others in attendance for the second installment of ETSUCon, they couldn’t believe they were seeing the man behind the voice they’d heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

“We’re obsessed with Nintendo, and we wanted to fulfill our childhood dreams of hearing the voice behind Mario,” Haynes said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Haynes said Jones is the real talent at playing the long-running series of Mario games. Jones said Super Mario Sunshine is her favorite of them all. The two of them had on Mario shirts and Mushroom earrings. They had brought Mario-related items, hoping to get Martinet’s signature, but regretted not going full-on with costumes like many other in attendance to the convention.

Looking around and seeing some of the elaborate, adventurous and inventive costumes, the two wished they’d taken part.

“Every ounce of me regrets not wearing my costume,” Haynes said.

That doesn’t mean there was a lack of costumes at the event. For some, that’s the best part of the whole convention, which has everything from comic books and video game rooms to costume contests and vendor rooms where swords and old video game systems can be purchased.

Jessica Clear and Lily Head, both seniors from Sullivan North High School, said the would be attending ETSU the following year to pursue degrees in the arts. They were both dressed up as characters from the webcomic series Homestuck, extremely popular on the Internet and in conventions like ETSUCon.

Clear was Dave Strider, and Head was Dave’s brother in the series, Bro. While the web series might not have entirely hit the mainstream yet, Clear and Head said they’re well recognized at similar conventions, which they attend five to six times a year. Multimedia events like ETSUCon draw in the kind of people with whom the two high schoolers want to make friends.

“We’re artists,” Clear said. “And this is as great place to make new friends.”

Dressing up in costume, or cosplay, as it’s called by convention goers, gives people a chance to put forth their love of certain video game or comic characters and be artistic in assembling the costume. Many times, Head said, they’ll dress up and go to conventions, meet people only through the costumes they’re wearing and be surprised to learn what they really look like after checking them out on social media sites later on.

Two thousand people are expected over the two-day weekend event, said organizer Zack James, born and raised in Johnson City. What he says he likes best about the convention is that it gives not typically social people a chance to come out and enjoy themselves with other people who have similar interests.

“We wanted to give shy people a chance to come out of their shells and give them a fun and comfortable time,” James said. “I’m glad everyone came out to celebrate their nerdom.”

There’s a big need for events like this, James said, and it shows with the top-notch media personalities they were able to bring in.

Other than Martinet, Martha Harms, who plays the voice of Maya in the popular video game Borderlands, as well as Robert Axelrod, the man behind Lord Zedd, the bad guy in the 1990s show “Mighty Morphing Power Rangers” were some of the featured guests. Also guesting was Christopher Sabat, the voice of many popular characters, including Vegeta and Piccolo from “Dragonball Z.”

A more local celebrity brought in is Morristown’s D.A. Adams, who is the author behind the Brotherhood of Dwarves series. He’s been operating as a writer while supplementing his work by teaching English at Walters State Community College. With the success of his Dwarves series, he’s currently transitioning away from his teaching days into becoming a full-time writer.

Adams said he sells e-books rather than hard copies of his work at a rate of 50 to 1, but had a table set up in the vendor section of the convention, selling and signing for his fans.

The camaraderie he’s experienced since he began coming to conventions about eight years ago is unlike any other he’s witnessed, he said. He describes it as a big family of people interested in the same topics. Even the biggest celebrities featured there realize they wouldn’t be able to live off their fame without all the fans, embrace it, and try to give back however they can.

“There’s an instant bond between these people, city to city,” Adams said.

He remembers going to one convention and seeing Karen Allen, well-known from her role in “Indiana Jones” movies, and other celebrity guests who had remembered him from event to event.

You’re not going to find that just anywhere else, he said, and that’s one of the best qualities of multimedia events like ETSUCon.

The convention will resume today, its last day, at ETSU’s Culp Center from 8 a.m.-10 p.m., and will feature a mixture of different discussions, presentations, giveaways, contests, games and more.

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