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May 18, 2013

VIDEO | Sci-Fi expo connects with fans

ALTOONA — The Force is strong with Casey Bassett.

In two years of feverish planning and laborious love, the 24-year-old has roughly tripled the size of his homegrown geek convention, Sci-Fi Valley Con, being held this year at the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona. Today is the 2013 convention’s final day.

“My first thought was how impressed I am that Casey is so young and he’s pulling off something of this magnitude,” said Blair Murphy, owner of Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel, as he milled about the show floor.

“It’s a cool move. This has got some strength going on; it doesn’t look like it’s petering out.”

Bassett was able to pack the Jaffa Shrine to capacity with a full gamut of artists, vendors, authors and filmmakers – any who share a love for all things fantasy, sci-fi, horror or anime can find something to pique their interest. And Bassett – not to mention many other exhibitors and show guests – said it’s picking up lots of steam.

“We’ve already surpassed how much we made last year and then some,” Bassett said halfway through the con’s second day. “That’s all profit to go into next year’s convention, so we’ll have almost three times as much as we had for this one before this is all said and done.”

The con also drew out around $1,500 through the charity auction held Saturday, with nearly all this year’s exhibitors donating a piece of artwork or other crafted goods. Those proceeds will go to benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Murphy, who said he “loves this kind of stuff,” organizes the smaller horrorfest Draculacon. He said Sci-Fi Valley Con is setting an incredible precedent in an area that’s normally bereft of the kind of social and creative outlet a local science fiction convention provides.

“There’s just so much more money involved with this event - we’re not even on the same page,” he said. “Mine’s barely an event. It’s more of like a party with a lot of my friends, where he’s really got something going on with this event, so, kudos to him.”

More attendees means more exhibitors and celebrity guests, which in turn means even more attendees.

“We’ve had an extraordinary turnout,” Bassett said. “And Brian O’Halloran.”

O’Halloran, known best to the community as slacker convenience store attendant Dante Hicks from Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” films, had a weekend open when his friend, director David Lee Madison, invited him to the show. Bassett beamed when he learned about the extra boost of star power to his small town event.

Both Madison and O’Halloran said they were stunned by how Bassett’s show had come together and plan to return next year.

And Bassett has already started planning for 2014 – with this year’s 1960s Batmobile appearance, he’s thinking about getting a DeLorean or an Ecto-1 for next year.

“I’ve already had people tell me, ‘sign me up for next time’ and I haven’t even got a date yet,” he said. “They’re like, ‘just sign me up. Doesn’t matter when it is.’

“So, that’s a good sign.”

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