Fifty years after the first AggieCon, pop culture lovers are gathering at the College Station Hilton this weekend to play video games, show off handmade costumes, purchase T-shirts and comic books, or take part in role-playing board games.
AggieCon 50: The Golden Con opened Friday in the halls and ballrooms of the Hilton and is scheduled to run through Sunday, when it concludes at 3 p.m.
The event is hosted by the student organization Cepheid Variable, also a licensed nonprofit. Each year’s event proceeds go toward hosting the next year’s convention and toward supporting Scotty’s House, a local children’s advocacy support center.
One of the founders of Cepheid Variable and of AggieCon 1 is on site this weekend. John Moffitt, a paleontologist from Houston, graduated from Texas A&M in 1969 and co-founded Cepheid Variable as a “nerd club.” His co-founders were students Annette Bristol Poth and Danielle Dabbs, both convention lovers and Star Trek fans, and Corps cadet Bill Dowden, a fellow science fiction novel fan who would go on to serve in the Vietnam War as an Army captain. The group started the club with actor Leonard Nimoy as its mascot, hosting panelists and a few novel and comic book vendors at the first convention.
“The fundamental way it’s changed is that we read a lot more back then,” he said. “And the gaming thing — a lot of that role-playing gaming stuff is here, and I’m about old-school games like bridge and chess.”
Moffitt has attended between 15 and 20 AggieCons, and though the 72-year-old can’t relate to all the modern movies, books, games and shows, he still connects to the Aggie students who share that same passion he once did. He only wishes that more of the old alumni — affectionately self-described “geezers” — were around to enjoy the convention with him.
“I could tell AggieCon was going to go on a long time, but I am surprised I’m still alive. A lot of the people from the beginning are dead. ... That was very sad. The people here today are like my grandchildren. This is a young crew, but I’m young at heart.”
Moffitt walked the hotel with a wide smile on his face, elated to see his creation living on in 2019.
“For me this is the 50th anniversary of my convention, and that is so cool,” he said.
In one of the hotel’s main ballroom areas on Friday, 50 vendors peddled everything from books, movies, comics, T-shirts, toys, collectible antiques, board games, fake weapons, artwork, costume pieces and re-created movie props. One of these vendors, Wendel Kurz of Conroe, was set up with his custom replica company Blackwolf Armor & Props.
Anyone who passed by Kurz’s booth would quickly notice the to-scale movie prop re-creations including weapons from the movie Hellboy, droids and an Imperial blaster from the Star Wars franchise, and life-sized armor from the tabletop game Warhammer. Kurz, who has attended AggieCon for the past several years, has customers from around the world but looks fondly upon the convention put on each year solely by a small group of Texas A&M students.
“This is AggieCon, and it’s been going for 50 years,” Kurz said. “But look at how small it is. I think should be as big as Comicpalooza ... but it is student-run, and they do a great job for what they have to work with.”
Kurz commended one of the event organizers, Jacquelyn Novelli, a Texas A&M sophomore who coordinates as second-in-command amongst a group of 15 student leaders and 70 volunteers. She organizes the convention vendors, and Kurz pointed out that the ability of young college students like Novelli and her colleagues to keep the convention running smoothly is worth admiring.
Novelli and convention director Tessa Thomas agreed that putting on AggieCon is no easy task. Over the past 50 years the event has had its ups and downs. It started humbly, grew significantly in the 1980s and 1990s, then shrank in size several years ago. A written history on display at the convention describes years during which the convention didn’t have special guests. This year, the convention has picked up more momentum, however, and organizers expect more than 600 people will have passed through by the end of the day Sunday.
Each year AggieCon has something new and different to offer visitors. In the 1980s, Game of Thrones book series creator George R.R. Martin attended AggieCon and still maintains a connection to the convention and to Texas A&M; he has donated various pieces of memorabilia from the television show to the Cushing Memorial Library. This year, convention leaders shook up the usual schedule with a dance party for convention guests at the hotel.
“We wanted to have something different, with a different flow,” Thomas said. “We wanted something to celebrate the anniversary of the convention, and to celebrate one of longest running student organizations [at Texas A&M]. Many student organizations come and go, while we have been around for over 50 years, and we want to celebrate that with our guests.”