Geeked out: The rise of Memphis fandom

Among the BBQ lovers and Elvis devotees walking around the city, another kind of ardent fan can be found in the Bluff City. Memphis is home to a thriving geek community, and this passionate fandom (a "fan kingdom") support a variety of niche local businesses and annual events.
You may be surprised to learn that Memphis has a flourishing "geek fandom" community, a subculture of people who share a love of science fiction, fantasy, anime, costume play or cosplay, or anything else in the geek cannon. The contingent is so strong, in fact, that Memphis is home to several conventions, an art gallery, a radio show, and several well established comic book stores that cater to the geek fan.

IONS: A Geek Gallery, located at 546 South Main in the South Main Arts District, is home to 22 artists, both local and beyond, whose talents range from superhero art to general sci-fi and fantasy subjects. You'll find art dedicated to Steampunk (described as "Victorian science fiction with a twist"), dark fantasy, and television show personalities like Doctor Who and cast members from The Walking Dead. IONS is also offers sign ups for paranormal tours and investigations provided by Historical Haunts Memphis, a local paranormal investigation group.  The day manager, Alissa Brielle Diggs, is a prime example of the typical chic geek in Memphis. In addition managing IONS, he is also a member of the Steering Committee of Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention (MCFC) and of the Memphis Gaming Expo.
Alissa Brielle Diggs at IONS: A Geek Gallery on South Main
"I went to my first con in 2012, and I had no idea that fandom even existed in Memphis," she said. "I loved being at the con so much that I applied to be a volunteer the next year. I later became the promoter for MCFC and now handle all of the con's social media.”

To her, the fandom scene in Memphis provides a sense of community, a family that looks out for each other in a positive way. She has attended or volunteered at Anime Blues Con, a convention focused on Asian culture and anime, Memphis Comic Expo, an expo that showcases the talents of comic book artists, and Midsouth Con, a general sci-fi and fantasy convention that has something for everyone. “It's so amazing that Memphis has so many conventions,” added Diggs, “and that each one is so approachable.”

Allan Gilbreath, Co-Director for IONS: A Geek Gallery, is also a firm supporter of the fandom community in Memphis. His first convention was Midsouth Con in 1979 in which he was a martial artist demonstrator through the Society for Creative Anachronism (a non-profit educational medieval re-creationist society that focuses on the period of history from the fall of the Roman Empire to the period of widespread gunpowder use, or from about 600 AD to 1600 AD). That was the first time Gilbreath had ever heard of Midsouth Con and since then he has become a familiar face of not only Midsouth Con, but also MCFC. He now serves as a Director for MCFC as well as for Midsouth Con.

According to Gilbreath, “IONS: A Geek Gallery was an idea whose time had come after several years of discussion. We decided that the South Main Arts District was the obvious choice for the gallery's location. As far as foot traffic is concerned, we tend to see a wide variety of people, ranging from tourists to people in fandom. And when they step through the doors, their eyes widen as they see familiar superheroes like Superman, Batman, Moon Knight, and others who grace our walls. We provide art that is not typically readily accessible, unless you are attending a con or an expo.”

Gilbreath says he has plans to expand the gallery and to possibly launch IONS in other cities in the future, but for now he's busy with his Memphis location. Memphis feels like a good spot for fandom, and the community is the right size to support what the city has to offer.

"Memphis is just the right size to hold at least three to four mid-sized conventions every year and give the people of fandom what they want, and more." Although many of the con goers do attend all of the cons and expos, each event has its own individual "style" and no two are alike.

Gilbreath is also the publisher at Dark Oak Press, a small publishing house located in Memphis since 1997.

"We are known for a variety of subjects such as general sci-fi and fantasy, Steampunk, horror, mystery, and literary fiction with hints of dark urban fantasy," he said. The publishing company and several of the authors make appearances at various cons and expos throughout the country and are a staple at the fandom events in Memphis. They are another reason why fandom in Memphis is a vibrant and growing community.

"Since 1979, I have seen fandom in Memphis undergo drastic changes, yet it seems to be all for the best. The community continues to thrive and the number of people attending the events continue to grow every year. It's good to know that Memphis as a city continues to support these events."

Gilbreath is also one of the voices on Geek Tank Radio, a radio show on 600 WREC Memphis that broadcasts every Saturday at 1pm. The program humorously covers all topics related to fandom, both in Memphis and around the world.

Read more articles by Kimberly Richardson.

Kimberly Richardson is an author and Acquisitions Editor of Dark Oak Press in Memphis. Ms. Richardson is also the 2015 David McCrosky Volunteer Photographer in Residence at Elmwood Cemetery; her photography is represented at IONS: A Geek Gallery in the South Main District of Downtown Memphis. 
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