The moment I met Steve “Captain” Kirk, I knew he was a serious business man. Aside from knowing he was a former Playstation and DEF CON executive, his appearance told me this. His glasses, thick lenses with thin-wire frames, reflected long hours of staring at computer screens. The zippered binder under his arm was thick with papers showed how organized he was with his ideas and other materials. If it weren’t for the Star Wars shirt with an unbuttoned checkered shirt over it, I wouldn’t have placed him as the man who was organizing a nerd convention.
InterGalactiCon markets itself as “a con where you can relax, interact, and participate without the stress of larger shows.” It hopes to draw the attention of both hardcore and casual fans. June 15th and 16th at the San Diego Town and Country Resort will be the days for this brand-spanking new convention. Very curious with his motivations for running this fledging convention, I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Kirk and pick his brain. In just the short time I had with him, I saw just how passionate he was about this inaugural convention.
Tell us about InterGalactiCon.
InterGalactiCon is positioned as more of a mid-tier con. San Diego is blessed with San Diego Comic-Con, which is the grand-daddy of everybody, right? Then we have a lot of small cons. You got Comic Fest and the last weekend was Rocket-Con, a brand-new con in town. There’s something for steampunk and Dr. Who… And a lot of those tend to focus on very specific genre’s or areas. So, we saw that there’s gap in between where there’s still a lot of people who can’t make Comic-Con for lots of various reasons. I’ve also ran into so many people who are not comfortable in those big cons.
We wanted to design this as an experience. Something broad like Comic-Con can be, but more accessible and more-easy to get into. More space and easier to interact with your friends. We’ve got places to sit down and just chill out. You don’t have that at Comic-con. You’re just cramped for space. You buy your lunch, grab your hot dog, and just sit in the hallway. That’s just the way it is! We’ve set aside space just for that, bringing in sofas and coffee tables. People can just chill out with their friends. We’re really focused on making this not just a con but a really good experience for people to come and be fans, celebrate what they do, whether it’s cosplay, or comics, or books, or anime, or gaming, whatever it is, and just feel comfortable doing it, have fun, make some new friends in their area of passion, come see talks, and have a couple parties while they’re at it.
To talk briefly about yourself, as former Playstation and DEF CON exec, why put together your own convention?
Having helped run DEF CON for almost twenty years, I really enjoyed it. But, I stepped away from it to focus on my career at Playstation. After I left that, I got the unique experience that not everyone gets to in just taking a break from life for a while. I sat back and thought, “What do I like doing? What do I want to do next?” I realized that I missed running cons. They were fun, there’s always lots of problems to solve, which I’ve been told I’m pretty good at, and I thought that this was a really-good chance; I’ve got the resources, I know people… I can do this! And especially here in San Diego when I did the research and talked to people, there really felt like a big demand for something like this. So, started figuring out what it would look like, and in the year and a half I’ve been planning it everybody is up in arms and ready for it. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “This is exactly what we need at the right time.”
How has that year and a half process been? How has been your life?
This has been my life. [Laughs] It’s currently at about eighteen-hour-days right now. From the moment I wake up to the time I go to bed. I’m always working. I’m always on the phone. Emails and social media. I’ve also got to stay up with the news, so I still need to actually find time to see Infinity War this week. It is a valid work meeting for the line of work we are in, so I’ve got to go do that.
It’s been a long train ride that is kind of like chugging up hill for the first year and in the last six months you reach the peak and suddenly everything goes into high-speed. Since the first of the year, everything has just been speeding up and there’s a ton of little things to do.
Where did the name “InterGalactiCon” come from?
Might have been a glass of wine I had had. [Laughs] I wanted to stay away from the Comic-Con nomenclature, for lots of reasons, including at the time a pending case between San Diego and Salt Lake Comic-Cons. I was going, “Okay, there’s obviously some controversy around that phraseology. Let’s get away from that.” We ended up down this path of using “galactic” because there was a bit sci-fi element to all fandoms in some way, shape, or form. We thought, “Let’s think bigger… Well then we’ll go ‘intergalactic.’” It literally was just kind of a brainchild of an afternoon. It’s different from other names, it’s kind of catchy, and you automatically start associating it with fandom. There’s just no question about it.
What does it mean in your press statement when you say, “Going away from the hyper-focused conventions?”
The comic-only cons and the steampunk-only cons are great, and I’m not throwing any shade because anybody who throws a con has a lot of courage and amen, halleluiah to them for trying. But, we wanted to get above that level and do something that has a little bit of everything for everybody.
Do you foresee InterGalactiCon using themes? As an example, the recent Comic Fest celebrated the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Not so much for the first year. This first year, we are really looking at it like a prototype. Let’s get the foundation down. Let’s listen to the fans, listen to the people who attend and see what works and what doesn’t work, and continue to adjust along the way.
We do have a background theme of wanting to find speakers who talk towards the theme of inspirations now. “What have you done in your career, in your work, that has inspired you? What do you do that inspires others?” Because that’s a very strong element in fandom; has something inspired you to become a cosplayer? Has something inspired you to get into comic books? And even in the community, there’s always this sense of passing it along to the next generation. And I LOVE building communities, so this is another way where “how do we hook people up together and continue to build this community of fandom, whatever your fandom is?” By talking about what inspires us, and maybe just through talking about it, somebody else will become inspired.
What sort of speakers do you have lined up so far for this convention?
We’ve really tried hard to get a diverse lineup. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so it would be so easy for me to make this all about Star Wars. I’ve tried really hard not to. So, we’ve got Claudia Christian from Babylon 5. She’s going to do our keynote and I’ve asked her to talk about her life, her career, her charity foundation, and what’s inspired her and how she inspires others. We’ve got Colin Cantwell, who’s the original designer of the Death Star and other Star Wars vehicles. Not a household name; he’s only in the last year, year and a half started going to cons and talking about what he did 30 or 40 years ago. I’ve got a couple of teachers coming who are going to do a panel. Both of them are comic books, Star Wars, DC, and Marvel fans. They will talk about how they actually use their fandom to teach kids in the classrooms. I’ve also got a music panel. I think music is one of those things that we don’t talk enough about. It’s in all our fandoms in some way, shape, or form and impacts us whether we know it or not. So, I’ve got a couple of composers/producers lined up to talk about where music comes from, how it affects us, where they use it in movies and video games, and how that impacts and inspires people. I’ve got the grand officer from Insomniac Games who did Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, and the new Spider-Man game. He’s coming down to talk about both his career and personal life and get again some kind of inspiration. I’ve got guys who are coming down from the east coast who are going to do a variation on Family Feud, Star Wars style. It’s going to be fantastic! And then I have another set of celebrities that we haven’t quite announced yet, but we’re doing a “mini-reunion” from a popular sci-fi show.
Because a majority of the con is one day, it’s not the thousand speakers, and to kind of to that point we want to hit on a lot of different target areas so that there was at least something for everybody.
As you said that this is the test run for the convention, will you see it expanding to multiple days?
Yes. We are already doing some early planning for 2019 and talking about 2020. So, the plan would be that next year we would go to a full-weekend format.
How has the planning been for the space needed for InterGalactiCon?
Because I’ve gotten the experience with DEF CON and other events, it’s relatively easy for me to do and doesn’t stress me out at all.
What does stress you out?
You mean besides the money? [Laughs] I will feel a lot less stressed out on June 17th once the first year [of this convention] is over. As a first-year con, it’s the little things. I’ve spent the last six weeks working on merchandise, ordering things and stuff and whatever. In a first-year scenario, you’re stressed out going, “How much do I order?” I don’t know how many people are going to show up. I know how man I want to show up. I have dreams. All our efforts are targeting trying to get a thousand people in our first year. So, do I order a thousand t-shirts? Do I order five-hundred t-shirts? Do I order two-hundred t-shirts? You do what a good executive does and say, “This is the best data I have right now, so let’s make a decision.” Then you roll the dice.
How much would you say work wise you have left to do for the convention?
We’re in the last twenty percent right now. It’s the details. The big stuff is done and settled. Even as I look at the budget and go, “You know what, most of this is paid for already. Good. Great. Now it’s just down to got to make travel arrangements for people, got to buy supplies for costume repair room, got to buy markers, got to get signage printed”… Now it’s just the last of the tactical details leading up to things.
Demographic wise, where would you say InterGalactiCon will find its place?
I think we’re going to pick up a percentage of really-hardcore fans, but probably, and this is where we are targeting itself, a big percentage will be casual fans. Now mind you at this point it’s just throwing spaghetti against a wall and seeing what sticks. Casual fans would love to go to [San Diego] Comic-Con, but they can’t get tickets, or get time off work, or whatever. So, this is where we talk about really trying to make sure this is an accessible experience to people. Easy to get in, not expensive, you can move around, meet your friends, you can even not do things if you don’t want to. There’s a lot of shy, anxiety driven people out there who don’t want to go to parties. Okay. Go see a talk. Sit in the back. We want to have that available to you. The hardcore fans will also bring their friends… I hope and plead. It’s going to be a mix between the hardcore and the casual folks, which is probably more what we want to pick up and provide to the community here is let those casual people have something else to do.
Finally, what are some of the biggest things you hope to get out of your first InterGalactiCon?
People show up? [Laughs] You know, my biggest goal to get out of this is to build community, to be honest. It kind of goes back to community and building a good experience. If it’s a good experience, people will show up, they’ll enjoy it, they’ll meet new people, it will be a place to gather, people will learn from each other and share their experiences, and this, as I sound like a broken record, will become a really-good and fun experience for people. Something they will look forward to. That’s what I want.
I’m excited to see how InterGalactiCon’s first run will go. If you’re interested in checking out more about it or attending the show, check out their website at www.intergalacticonsd.com.