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Annual Spa-Con in Hot Springs continues to grow

By Sam Pierce

This article was published September 17, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

Bill Solleder, the special-events manager for Visit Hot Springs, poses with a poster for this year’s Spa-Con, a comic-book and entertainment convention set for Friday through Sunday at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Tickets are available at www.spa-con.org.

In only its second year, Spa-Con in Hot Springs has become one of the largest comic-book and entertainment conventions in the state.

“We haven’t deleted anything. We are just adding this year — learning from the first year, what worked and didn’t work and moving on from there,” said Bill Solleder, the special events manager for Visit Hot Springs.

Last year, Solleder said, about 4,000 guests attended the three-day event, and as of last week, the event had already sold three times the amount of tickets that it had by this time last year.

“The biggest thing we took away from last year was not to underestimate the size of the comic-book, cosplay and general fandom of the area,” Solleder said. “That was a big shock.

“We were hoping for 1,000, and we ended up with 4,000. We need to prepare for a larger crowd than what we expect.”

Spa-Con, which will begin Friday and last until Sunday evening, is presented through a partnership between the Hot Springs Convention Center and the Garland County Library.

Tickets are available at www.spa-con.org and range from $25 in advance or $35 at the door for a weekend pass; $125 for a VIP ticket, which includes a meet-and-greet with the special guests and VIP parties with food and drink; a day pass for $20; and an expo-only pass for $10. Kids 12 and younger will get in free.

Solleder said Spa-Con organizers pride themselves in providing activities.

“I attend the other cons and see what they are doing,” Solleder said. “And in most cases with the regional cons, you pay an admission, check out the expo hall, shop for some cool stuff and visit your comic artists, illustrators and special guests.”

He said that usually takes maybe an hour or two; then you leave.

“That’s a problem; I don’t want people to leave,” Solleder said. “So we create all these activities so there is enough to do for the entire weekend.

“I don’t think you could do everything in one day at Spa-Con because we put in a laser-tag arena, the virtual-reality room, the escape room and the starship-bridge simulator.”

Shannon Purser, who portrayed Barb in the Netflix series Stranger Things, and Sherilyn Fenn and Sheryl Lee from the revived television series Twin Peaks will highlight the special guests appearing at this year’s Spa-Con.

Stranger Things is up for 18 Emmys, which happens this weekend,” Solleder said. “Purser is up for Best Guest Actress for her role as Barb. We are pulling for Barb that she will get that award, a week before Spa-Con.

“And I am a huge Twin Peaks fan, and they just completed their third season after 25 years. So they’ve got a lot of buzz going, too.”

Solleder said the partnership with the Garland County Library has been extremely beneficial because members of the library staff are “master programmers.”

“I am excited for so many of these panels,” Solleder said, “but there is a panel that we just added, called Teleportation: Fiction or Nonfiction.’

“Author Tal L. Klein wrote a book called The Punch Escrow, and it is set in a time when teleportation is an everyday thing. So he is promoting his book in preparation for it to be made into a movie.”

Solleder said Klein will bring his friend Steven Schowalter from NASA, and they will also have two teachers from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs.

“So we are going to have three [teachers] and an author who will discuss teleportation. Panels like that, I think make it interesting and make Spa-Con really creative and smart.”

Another panel that Solleder said he is really excited about is called Beyond the Man in the Rubber Suit, a Godzilla panel with Bill Tsutsui, a professor and the president at Hendrix College in Conway.

“He is an expert in Japanese culture and has written a book on Godzilla,” Solleder said. “The president of Hendrix College is coming here to lead a discussion on Godzilla.

“And those are just a couple of examples.”

There will also be several workshops throughout the weekend, including a comic-illustration workshop with Pat Moriarity, a mask-making class and a cosplay medallion workshop.

“The workshops are limited because of supplies,” Solleder said. “There are a lot of great workshops on hand for people to participate in.”

The Kid Con area will return this year and feature a Harry Potter wand-making workshop, face-painting and a Harry Potter Sorting Hat.

“We will also have things like the 501st Legion, which is a local chapter that dresses up like characters from Star Wars …,” he said. “These are all examples of how masterful the library is with programming.”

One of the biggest additions this year is the Spa-Con Showdown, a Wii Smash Brothers video-game tournament that will take place both days.

“This tournament has gained attention from players around the country,” Solleder said. “I think at this point, there are five states represented that are coming in to play, including the No. 1 player in Texas and the No. 6 player in the world — Larry Lurr.

“He is flying in from California to play in the Wii Smash Brothers tournament. It is going to be the largest Smash Brothers tournament in the region and, definitely, Arkansas.”

The three-day convention will kick off Friday with a free screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at 5:30 p.m. The event will end Sunday with The Spacademy Awards — a spoof on the Academy Awards — and a closing ceremony at 4 p.m.

For a full schedule, visit the event’s website.

“To be the biggest and best in Arkansas, I think we are well on track,” Solleder said. “It is important for us to focus on presentation so that when people show up, it looks good.

“We want it to be an experience when people attend, and we are definitely trying to create a big impression.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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