Gen Con is a multisensory weekend getaway paradise for gamers, anime and manga lovers, artists, authors and nearly anyone with an interest in well-crafted world-building, fantasy and creativity.
Beyond the noise and chatter of hundreds of games and gamers riding the high of the convention sat Baltimore native Cait May. Hidden in the back of an expansive room full of gaming companies hocking everything from comics to plushies to dice and live gameplay was the Art Fair and Author Alley. May’s booth, Cait May Illustration, sat tucked neatly at the very end of a long line of artist tables.
Shimmering keychains, stickers, buttons and magnets lined her table and fantastical, colorful artwork was pinned to the walls behind her as she animatedly talked with guests and passersby about her graphic novel entitled “Another Kind” and the Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting she wrote called “Dust.”
Gen Con in IndyGen Con returns to downtown Indianapolis this week
This isn’t May’s first Gen Con, although it’s only her second year with a table. Coming in from Baltimore, Maryland, she said she’s mainly dealing in D&D-inspired fan art and original fantasy works but is offering her “Dust” campaign to guests for free.
“If you wanted to run a game in this world,” May said, “this is the gods and the locations and the factions and things that help inspire you for a D&D game.”
The largest tabletop gaming convention in the world returned this week, drawing tens of thousands of fans to downtown Indianapolis.
Beyond the cozy, relaxed corner of the art show, the exhibit hall of the Indiana Convention Center bustled with activity. Whether it is registering for live tournaments, sitting in on game demonstrations, shopping at various vendor booths or scoping out the scene for the next best game, everyone there was on a mission.
Many attendees adorned creatively niche costumes representing characters from a range of beloved media. However, most came comfortably dressed, traipsing around the convention center in anything from ripped jeans and a t-shirt to fandom-patterned dresses with flower crowns, elven ears and colorful wigs.
‘This causes us to pause:’Gen Con issues statement in favor of abortion rights
Changes to this year’s event include masks, proof of vaccination
This year’s event required proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks for all attendees. Most appeared to be following the guidelines.
Shortly after the doors opened, the vaccine verification station’s line wrapped around the convention center hall, but it moved quickly.
This year’s expected attendance was between 60,000 and 65,000, according to senior vice president for Visit Indy Chris Gahl, as Gen Con builds back up to the pre-pandemic attendance of around 70,000 in 2019. The convention was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. Organizers instead of hosted a series of free online events.
Gen Con Indy 2022 appeared well on its way to hitting that goal on Thursday.
Most of the more than 500 exhibitor booths and rooms seemed to have a steady stream moving through them, and some popular spots – the “My Hero Academia” and “Pokémon” trading card games, Gen Con’s merchandise booth and various custom dice and card sleeve stands – had consistent lines.
‘You’re only here if you’re a superfan’
Ellyn Lowery and Rachael Shoulders came to Indy from North Carolina and Kentucky, respectively, just for the convention.
Now a three-year tradition, Lowery said she thinks last year’s festival was “quieter” because people were still skeptical about being around so many others during the pandemic.
“Just seeing there are still a lot of people who are interested in the convention is pretty nice,” Lowery said. “Even with the state of things, people just wanting to play games and enjoy company with other people.”
This is the 12th for David Blanchard, vice president of business development at GPI, a game manufacturing company that produced several games for clients now on sale at the convention.
Blanchard was expecting to see a lot less people, but he said he was happy to see the turnout appeared to be pre-pandemic size.
“It feels like everyone’s in such a good mood because you’re only here if you’re a superfan,” Blanchard said. “So, everyone’s here for the same reason, and it’s just good vibes.”
Blanchard’s colleague Al Ullman, GPI’s project coordinator, never previously attended Gen Con, but he said for people in the game development industry, it’s like a toy store in the sense that it allows them to see things they usually necessarily wouldn’t.
“There are a lot of things that we would not necessarily have been exposed to without coming here in the first place,” Ullman said. “So, it’s always fun to see how other people’s brains are working creatively.”
2022 summer guideThings to do and entertainment to see in Indianapolis
Rob DenBleyker, co-creator of the popular webcomic “Cyanide and Happiness” and its “Joking Hazard” card game, said the convention’s energy appears to be getting back to what he saw at his first Gen Con in 2017.
“Apart from the masks, it’s really the same,” DenBleyker said. “It’s back in full force.”
DenBleyker traveled from Dallas for his first Gen Con in three years.
In October, DenBleyker will release “Master Dater,” a party-pleasing card game in which players create their own “Cyanide and Happiness” characters and attempt to sell their qualities to the player judging, who is working off of faux dating website parameters.
“At other conventions, you’re selling stuff and then you go back to your hotel room,” he said. “But here, half of your time is meant for sitting down with friends and seeing what they’ve been working on. When doing business is also fun, it’s just a blast.”
Cosplayers return to Gen Con
As the first day wound down, five costumed Greek gods – Zeus, Aries, Poseidon, Hades and Hermes – made their way through the crowded exhibit hall. Hundreds of attendees opted to cosplay for the entire convention, with the popular costume contest not set to start until Saturday.
Mount Olympus is apparently located in Michigan, where the five friends traveled from.
“It’s hard to come up with something for five people,” Mark Cummings, dressed as Poseidon, said.
Cummings was at his fourth Gen Con, having first visited in 2017.
Hermes, as one might expect, was the last deity chosen.
“We sort of asked him who he saw himself being, and he said Hermes, and we’re like good, that’s what we figured, too,” said Caleb Gulledge, the Ares.
Marc Groppi, decked in his helmet and winged sandals, said he did not mind.
Gen Con features more than gaming
But tablet games aren’t the only draw to Gen Con. In fact, local and national artists of other mediums, such as authors, illustrators and designers, set up shop to sell sci-fi, fantasy and adventure-based works.
One of these artists is Indianapolis-based painter Matt Huntley, who displayed his Vigilant Lioness project in the con’s art fair section. The series of paintings tastefully depicts giant, strong women, typically in athletic wear.
Huntley said the inspiration for the work stems from his childhood, when the traditional masculinity in the household led to a disconnect between him and someone close to him. Fusing those feelings with what he watched growing up, such as “Powerpuff Girls” and “Godzilla” allowed him the ability to create unique paintings.
Now, in his second year at Gen Con, seeing the people he respects in the industry reaffirms his artistic endeavors.
“It’s really cool to be in a space where I’m seeing people whose work I grew up loving, and I’m here now, which is really weird,” Huntley said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re the same,’ in a sense.”
Another vendor outside of the typical, tablet game niche is JW Troemner, a Germany-born, Indy-based author.
Troemner’s first published series was the three-book “Urban Dragon” series, which begins in Indianapolis and features the city’s skyline on its first book cover.
She also sells homemade bags, masks and pronoun badges at her booth, incorporating visual merchandise to draw more attendees to stop and browse.
Last year was her first at the convention, and she said it was a good introduction given the robustness of the 2022 crowd.
But, with more people comes more opportunity to make connections.
“I love having these conversations with people who come and stop by, and we’ll see something that we have in common, a common fandom or something like that,” Troemner said, “or I’ll see somebody’s shirt or their bag, and the conversations that happen are so fantastic.”
Gen Con runs Thursday-Sunday, and single day tickets are still available through gencon.com.
Looking for things to do? Our newsletter has the best concerts, art, shows and more — and the stories behind them
Rory Appleton is the pop culture reporter at IndyStar. Contact him at 317-552-9044 and email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.