Florida Supercon, the largest geek gathering in South Florida, announced this week that it plans to hold its 2017 event in Fort Lauderdale rather than at its usual venue, the Miami Beach Convention Center. Some Dade County superfans are disappointed by the news, but Irving Santiago is taking it in stride.
Santiago, the founder of Ultracon of South Florida, formerly held his comic convention at the Broward County Convention Center, but next month, he'll bring Ultracon to the Miami Airport Convention Center instead. The cross-county convention swap is a coincidence Santiago humbly welcomes.
“It’s awesome. It’s going to open new doors," he says. "I’m not here competing with anybody. I’m here because I love what I do.”
This weekend, comic fans and cosplayers will get a taste of Ultracon when the geek fest partners with the Adrienne Arsht Center at its annual ARTSLAUNCH event. For the second year in a row, Ultracon's Comic Book and Cosplay Mania event invites fans of all ages and genres to the Ziff Ballet Opera House inside the Arsht for a miniconvention. Attendees can peruse a bevy of comic books, toys, and memorabilia. This year, crowds are also encouraged to dress up as their favorite Pokémon character. The winner of the costume contest will win a pair of tickets to the Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions concert December 3, plus two passes to the center’s exquisite onsite restaurant, Brava, helmed by famed chef Bradley Kilgore.
Like all of the events at ARTSLAUNCH, this mini-comic con is completely free and serves as the precursor to Santiago’s baby, Ultracon 2016, scheduled for October 8 and 9 at the Miami Airport Convention Center. In addition to the typical comic-con fare of anime, collectibles, cosplay, and special guests from around the industry, television, and film, Ultracon is also “the only comic con that does sanctioned MMA fight and cosplay wrestling,” Santiago says.
He’s been in the business for 35 years and worked with an untold number of brands, but the birth of Santiago’s career began with his first, singular true love: G.I. Joe. He wound up amassing more than 14,000 of the action figures and 3,000-plus vehicles. When Hasbro’s vice president of boys toys marketing, Kirk Bozigian, caught wind of Santiago’s unmatched loyalty, the company honored him with a unique ring, “in recognition of my collection,” Santiago explains. Eventually, he sold large parts of that extensive collection and used the money to buy a house (in cash, he points out) and run toy events in the '90s that have now morphed into Ultracon.
As far as how this unlikely teamup of a performing arts venue and a G.I. Joe (and “Transformers too,” he adds) aficionado came about, Santiago says the Arsht Center initiated the relationship last year. The center's desire is to cover every aspect of culture, including geek fandom.
“It’s a mixture of worlds,” Santiago says, “and that mixture has been phenomenal. It’s brought in thousands and thousands of people [to ARTSLAUNCH].”
That's not an exaggeration. Santiago says both he and Arsht personnel were astonished at the turnout to last year's minicon.
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“When we did this last year, it was more than what they expected. They had more people than they’d ever had at any event because of our presence. For a small event that wasn’t promoted a lot, we had over 60 contestants, and we had to leave 20 out. I told them we’d have maybe five contestants, and we had a lot more.”
In fact, the fire marshal had to oversee crowd control last year. That shouldn’t be a problem this year, because the Arsht Center has expanded the con’s play space to the stage of the Ziff Ballet Opera House, which boasts a seating capacity of 2,400.
Then again, with Florida Supercon on its way out, more of Miami's geeks might be inspired to check out the new show in town. Who’s to say what marvels may occur next?