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A drag queen, squid, and a wolf on stilts all have a place at Montana's longest-running sci-fi convention

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Security is a fraction of the behind-the-scenes planning and on-the-ground work required to pull off MisCon. The entire event is DIY, reliant on a year-round planning committee (ConCom), membership dues ($35, or the cost of the Con) and more than 50 volunteers. Each of the 20 ConCom sub-committees—costuming, marketing, registration, etc.—has a chairperson and, if they're lucky, a couple volunteers helping with tasks. The grassroots setup separates MisCon from some of the big-city Cons that can feel more commercial or impersonal.

But MisCon didn't always have the luxury of volunteers and money, and it didn't always run smoothly. MisCon 5, for instance, became LawnCon. The host hotel had booked a postal convention the same weekend as MisCon and apparently figured it could do without the nerds: On the eve of the first day, the hotel demanded full payment from MisCon up front. MisCon didn't have the money. Left without a venue, Elaine Higgins and Ron and Brenda Martino moved the merchant tables and art show to their front lawn. "That's the sort of thing that would have killed it," says Ron Martino, an employee at KECI-TV who returned to MisCon 25 after spending a few years away from the event. "The merchants and artists need to sell things for the gas money to get home...Luckily, they didn't give up on us after that. They still came back the next year."

By all accounts, Lovely brought some much-needed stability to MisCon, but even his ascent was rocky. After just one year of volunteering, he listened as the chair announced on the eve of MisCon 11 that she was done running the event. When nobody else stepped up, Lovely offered to take the reins. "It was an exercise in selfishness on my part," he says. "I just wanted a Con to happen in the town where I live. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea about anything."

click to enlarge Jennifer Jones as Lulu from “Final Fantasy X” competes in the costume contest. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Jennifer Jones as Lulu from “Final Fantasy X” competes in the costume contest.

Lovely refuses to confirm any details, but other ConCom members are quick to list the ways he's influenced or outright saved the event since taking over in 1997. He's covered printing costs, travel costs, and other bills out of his own pocket. One year he reportedly fronted the hotel bill on his credit card. He travels to Cons across the country to promote MisCon and recruit big-name VIPs. His ability to build a reliable volunteer staff and spread MisCon's image has no doubt led to the recent increase in attendance.

In a world that's hard to stand out in, Lovely's done so by giving everything he has to MisCon.

"He's like Yoda," says Justin Barba. "Did you ever see that one movie? The one where Yoda's hobbling around the whole movie and then he goes to fight Count Dooku and all of a sudden he's bouncing off the walls? That's how Bob is. He can muster up this energy when he needs it and put on a show. He does it every year."

"My husband's a huge nerd..."

The fate of the world rests in the hands of three men sitting around a table full of Butterfinger wrappers and bottles of Corona.

Things don't look good.

Atlanta just got hit with an outbreak of a virulent disease—ironic, it's pointed out, since the Centers for Disease Control is based in Atlanta—and the scientist who may be able to quell the situation is located clear across the globe in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"We're fucked," says Kyle Hood, an IT specialist from Great Falls wearing a camouflaged Oak-land Raiders hat. "There's not much to do now."

Hood and his two friends, Greg Eitzen and Kevin Carney, are in a group called the Sandbaggers Game Club. Based out of Great Falls, the group meets two or three times a week to for role-playing games, war games, board games, or card games. During MisCon, the Sandbaggers run nonstop games out of Room 260. Four card tables fill the space that once contained twin beds and three beverage coolers are arranged on a nearby desk. In one corner, dozens of boxed games are stacked on the floor—Risk 2210 AD, Diplomacy, and at least four versions of Ticket to Ride: Europe ("...features brand new gameplay elements including Tunnels, Ferries and Train Stations!").

Hood, Eitzen and Carney are currently playing Pandemic, a board game that asks them to work as a team to save the world from the simultaneous outbreaks of four plagues. "It's like golf—you're playing the course, not against each other," says Hood. "And this course is really hard. That's why we like it."

click to enlarge The Sandbaggers run nonstop gaming throughout MisCon. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

The Sandbaggers are part of MisCon's most popular attraction—gaming. Events like the drag show and Sunday morning's medieval sword fighting may present the best eye candy, but the real action occurs in a dozen cramped hotel rooms and in the expansive basement next door at Joker's Wild Casino. In those spaces, hundreds of attendees bunker down for games that can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to, in some cases, 16 hours spread across all four days of the conference.

"When simultaneous kidnappings of Pathfinder and Aspis Consortium agents rock Cassomir's Imperial Naval Shipyards, the Society orders you to join forces with hated Aspis agents to solve the mystery," reads the program description for the four-day game of Shipyard Rats. "Can you work together with the enemies of the Society to uncover the source of the kidnappings, or will you perish in the shipyards of Cassomir?"

The gaming schedule takes up 12 pages of the MisCon program book. "It's the biggest track at the Con, no question," says Barba, who arranges the entire schedule. "The challenge is you have so many different genres and sub-genres of games, and everyone is crazy about their favorite. We've had to add rooms to meet demand."

The gaming obsession shows late at night, after all the other panels and programming have ended. Conventional wisdom would suggest that attendees would spend their evenings filling the room parties. After all, that's where a trio of specialty alcoholic drinks is served: Toxic Waste (full of fruit rinds), Marmot Juice (heavy on coconut-spiced rum), and Cthulhu Goo (the "goo" comes courtesy of grape Jell-O). It's also where the diminutive doctor and impossibly tall and barely dressed nurse offer to whip guests on a bed adorned with leather straps.

But these party rooms are hardly crowded. The majority of attendees still awake are playing games.

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