For a city whose early summer is drowned in a cacophony of engine revving and Ted Nugent, Johnstown might be the last place anyone would expect to find a Stormtrooper.
But in May, the Cambria County War Memorial Arena will play host to undead, wizards, superheroes and space marines at “Sci-Fi in the Valley Con,” the area’s first-ever science-fiction convention.
Casey Bassett, 23, of South Fork, is the convention’s sole organizer, owner of Assett Conventions LLC and self-published author of “Z-SAT: The Zombie Survival Aptitude Test,” a scantron-style test that measures readers’ zombie apocalypse survival prowess, which has seen positive reviews on ThinkGeek.com and Amazon.com.
Recently laid off from his position at Concurrent Technologies Corporation’s Systems Tecnology Center, he’s been pouring himself into planning the convention.
“I eat, breathe and sleep this convention. That’s what it takes to make a convention successful. All day, every day I’m working on something to promote it. This first year is the most important,” said Bassett.
War Memorial General Manager Mike Silva is more than happy to see “new blood” filling his arena.
“I’ve seen what (other sci-fi cons do) across the country, so I fully expect a very motivated crowd,” said Silva.
Among the list of guests: Jeremy Ambler from AMC’s smash hit “The Walking Dead,” a tentative appearance from David Orange of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” authors Gary Lee Vincent and Rich Bottles Jr. and indie filmmakers John Johnson and Derek Young.
Also making rounds on the show floor will be models from Pittsburgh-based Black Hearts Clothing, showing off their line of provocative, steampunk-inspired womens’ outfits.
“I’ve been getting a ton of emails, at least five to six a day... I’ve got about 15-to 20 dealers and artists signed up officially but there should be a lot more coming in soon - authors, filmmakers, comic book artists... It’s pretty spread out. I have people coming from as far as Maryland, West Virginia, New York and Ohio.”
Bassett said that after the convention, he hopes to pay off his bachelor’s degree. With enough dealers locked into the con, his upfront expenses could be settled before the opening day.
“There are tons of Johnstown people - big sci-fi and horror fans - who are dying to attend the con because we never get anything like this around here,” said Bassett.
Silva, who said he is in the business of “community-building,” is hoping for the best.
“Even if it puts a toe in the water and it’s something that grows more every year, it’s something new and something exciting and something for the community - I think that’s exactly what we need to be doing,” said Silva.
Still, for Bassett, a marginal degree of risk is present. There are reasons why Johnstown hasn’t hosted something like this - no one else thought it would work. Bassett doesn’t let that get to him, though.
“I might lose a few thousand dollars,” he said, “but I’ve come too far to cancel it... It’s all or nothing now. It will be a success. There is no other option.”
Sci-Fi in the Valley Con is happening May 18-20 at the Cambria County War Memorial
- Friday: 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Saturday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Sunday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.