'Hood: A Star Wars Story' is one of the films that will be seen at this weekend's AtomaCon | Screenshot

“My Star Wars collection is big enough to take up an entire room, and my fandom has grown beyond a galaxy far, far away,” Janet Iannantuono modestly divulges.

George Lucas’ classic was such a perfect melding of her interests in mythology, science fiction, and fantasy that she became a collector of all things Star Wars-related. Through her geekdom journey, she added Doctor Who, Farscape, Marvel, Stargate, Star Trek, a multitude of sci-fi/fantasy authors, and anything involving kaiju to her list of interests. Eventually she’d find herself attending conventions like DragonCon, the annual fandom extravaganza in Atlanta, which brings together like-minded souls from all over the globe.

In time, Iannantuono became an active participant in the fan community, volunteering to work conventions like DragonCon, San Diego Comic Con, and Star Wars Celebration. She became a founding board member and staffer for ConCarolinas, the yearly event based out of Charlotte. In 2012, after over a decade working for ConCarolinas, she and daughter Michelle, an accomplished novelist and filmmaker, decided to create a convention a little bit closer to home.

Enter AtomaCon, short for All Types of Media Arts Convention. When asked what sets AtomaCon apart from other conventions in South Carolina, she’s happy to elaborate.

“We are not a Comic Con,” says Iannantuono. “We are a panel driven convention for fans, by fans. We have the common aspects one would find at the big ComicCons like a vendor room and cosplay contest, but we also have discussion panels that focus on sci-fi, fantasy, horror and paranormal, interactive activities like make-and-takes, trivia, contests, and more.” And it’s almost entirely local talent.

After having to cancel last year’s event due to the pandemic, the family-friendly convention returns with a guest of honor, Nebula Award-winning author Catherine Asaro, as well as over 35 guest authors, paranormal experts, artists and film professionals. Other attractions include a charity auction and raffle to benefit Toby’s Fund for sick and abused animals. There will also be the annual costume contest, a vendor room, virtual reality game demos, workshops and panels.

AtomaCon will host its third annual Independent Short Film Festival, showcasing short films in the sci-fi, horror, and comedy genres with one block of shorts devoted entirely to regional filmmakers. Featured in this year’s lineup are the comedic fan film Hood: A Star Wars Story, the bleak alternate history satire Democrasaurus Rex, the award-winning short sci-fi drama Can’t Go Home Again, the social media-inspired horror of Witches of Bushwick, the caped-crusader film The Confessions of the Bat, and Koreatown Ghost Story, produced by and starring Margaret Cho. Friday night’s opening ceremonies will include the South Carolina premiere of Jaysen Buterin’s award-winning coulrophobia horror feature, Kill Giggles.

Starting up this year’s festivities has not been easy. When one takes into account facilities fees, web domains and hosting, insurance, lodging for traveling guests, advertising, badge supplies and the printing of program books, putting together a convention can get very pricey. Not to mention there is always the risk of not having enough vendors or attendees to cover the costs. Add on top of that the extra expenses of COVID precautions and limits on the number of attendees. It’s a delicate balance.

Still, Iannantuono is thankful AtomaCon is able to come back this year. 

“We are already seeing the smaller, local events coming back, at least in South Carolina and North Carolina. Many of the larger events have been canceled or have gone virtual for the second year. These are corporate conventions. They have salaries and other fixed expenses to pay. They generate their income from sponsors, vendors and attendees. Canceled events over and over must be difficult for them. The smaller regional events tend to be volunteer run. We don’t need the amount of revenue like the larger cons.”

AtomaCon sits in a privilege position amongst cons. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have long-time sponsors like Falstaff Books and BAEN Publishing to help me with some of those fixed expenses,” says Iannantuono. I’ve also been fortunate that the staff of the Hilton Garden Inn has been very understanding as far as having to cancel because of Covid.”

Janet would like to take Atomacon further, keeping the literary aspect as its main focus while growing the short film festival and bringing more distinguished guests, like next year’s Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal. When asked what drives her to continue putting AtomaCon together each year, Iannantuono keeps it simple.

“I’ve developed many friends over the past twenty-plus years, and this gives me the opportunity to see them. I love helping to provide a safe space for geeks of all colors, shapes, sizes, and gender identities to gather and share their love of geek culture.”

AtomaCon 2021 is Fri., May 7 through Sun., May 9 at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Charleston (5265 International Blvd.). Tickets must be purchased in advance at AtomaCon.org.