See more of Shannon Cottrell's photos from Power-Con/ThunderCon in “Celebrating He-Man, She-Ra and ThunderCats at Power-Con/ThunderCon.”
It's not too often that we go to a convention and end up sitting poolside as we sip on themed cocktails, but that's exactly what happened when we went to Power-Con/ThunderCon, the first convention in the U.S. catering to the fandoms for Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats. I had a Skeletor, a mixture of gin, grape juice, blueberries and apple pucker. Shannon ordered a She-Ra, which brought together pineapple and grenadine with Le Blon Cachaca. There was a He-Man drink too, but we didn't try it on account of the fact that we weren't in the mood for Red Bull. Clearly, we were at an adult convention, even if it focused around lines of children's toys.
Power-Con/ThunderCon was the rare convention where most of the attendees appeared to be from our generation pop culture fanatics. There were very few children there. Those who attended seemed to be tagging along with their parents, unaware of the fuss over vintage toys that can now cost as much as several hundred to one thousand dollars. Unlike an anime convention, the teenage contingent was non-existent and, unlike PowerMorphicon, there the under-25 crowd was thin.
Neither Masters of the Universe nor ThunderCats disappeared entirely from the cartoon and toy landscape. He-Man has been revived several times since the 1980s. Just last year, She-Ra received a special 25th anniversary DVD release. Very recently, ThunderCats was relaunched as a can't-miss epic that currently airs on Cartoon Network alongside Ben 10: Ultimate Alien and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Yet, the three series are still firmly entrenched in '80s pop culture. Needless to say, the bulk of the attendees at this convention were children of the 1980s.
“I was born in 1982, so I was born kind of when He-Man came out,” says Jon Kallis, who hosts a He-Man podcast and was part of the volunteer staff for the convention. “The way my parents tell me, I just liked He-Man and She-Ra for as long as they can remember.”
As is the case of smaller, fan-run conventions like MacrossWorld, Power-Con/ThunderCon's roots can be found online. The convention was conceived by Val Staples, owner of the site He-Man.org. Members of the convention staff, as well as many attendees, are people who frequent the site. They came from all over the country for this event. Kallis is from Pennsylvania and Staples is from Kentucky. Kallis says that other organizers came from places like Ohio, North Carolina and Massachusetts. Some have known each other for at least fifteen years, their relationship going back to a He-Man fan mailing list that existed before Staples' site did.
Kallis credits Internet culture for keeping interest in Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats alive over the years.
“All these properties from the '80s that have all these fans, I think that the Internet really drove them because, when the Internet was hitting, that's when we were teenagers and using the Internet,” he says. “We would come together over these familiar properties that we all loved.”
Though Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats are, technically, unrelated series, the two franchises have enough artistic and thematic similarities that they work well together in a convention setting.
“A lot of He-Man and She-Ra fans are also ThunderCats fans,” says Kallis. “He-Man doesn't really mesh with Transformers or GI Joe, those type of properties.”
ThunderCats, with its otherworldly setting and focus on fantasy rather than science fiction, complements Masters of the Universe nicely.
The weekend-long convention, held at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel near LAX, was small. It consisted of one dealer hall, a gallery-style room featuring an exhibit of toys and production art, and one panel room. For its size, though, the convention had a lot to offer fans. Panels focused on the big names in both Masters of the Universe and ThunderCats history. Amongst the panels Kallis moderated were discussions with the people behind the original Masters of the Universe toys and voice actors Melendy Britt (She-Ra) and Alan Oppenheimer (Skeletor). I attended one panel dedicated to Corey Landis and Roger Lay, Jr.'s forthcoming documentary Toy Masters, which looks at the controversial history of Masters of the Universe. Voice actors from both the original and current ThunderCats series appeared.
Meanwhile, inside the dealer hall, people could find an array of collectibles, including toys, posters and other odds and ends. The selection of fan art was diverse, including JAW Art's watercolors, Steve Seeley's mash-up posters, Johnny Bilson's custom-made costumes and a variety of digital prints and sketches.
Power-Con/ThunderCon is obviously off to a good start. It's a convention that I can see growing in years to come as more people learn of its existence, whether or not any new incarnations of Masters of the Universe arise.
“For myself, I never gave up He-Man and She-Ra,” says Kallis. “While [He-Man] hasn't been around as much as Transformers, something that's huge…he keeps progressing. He keeps the fans interested.”
Follow @lizohanesian @ShannonCottrell and @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.