• Chattacon 37
Dates: Jan. 20-22.
Price: $50 for three-day pass; $25 ages 6-13.
Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St.
For fans of: Fantasy and science-fiction literature but programming is also available for television shows, films, video games and more.
Special guests: Include Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, Laura Anne Gilman and John Picacio.
• AnimÉ & Comic Con
Dates: Jan. 21-22.
Price: $30 all-access pass; $5 single-day pass.
Where: Clarion Inn & Suites, 2227 Old Fort Parkway, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
For fans of: Comics, Japanese animé, video and board games, sci-fi TV shows and steampunk costuming.
Special guests: Include Eric Powell, Janet Lee and Stephanie Gladden.
• Kami-Con 4
Dates: Feb. 3-5.
Price: $30 three-day pass; $25 two-day pass; $15 single-day pass.
Where: Ferguson Center, University of Alabama, 1000 McCorvey Drive, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
For fans of: Japanese animé.
Special guests: Include Crispin Freeman, Eric Stuart and Sonny Strait.
• Atlanta Comic Convention
Date: Feb. 5.
Where: Marriott Hotel, 2000 Century Boulevard, Atlanta.
For fans of: Comic collections.
Special guests: Include Ashleigh Jo Sizemore, Dan Riker, Rodney Hall and Jason Pearson.
• Con Nooga
Dates: Feb. 17-19.
Price: $40 three-day pass; $15 ages 6-13; $10-$30 single-day passes.
Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St.
For fans of: Science fiction, horror, fantasy, gaming, comics, anime, paranormal study, movies and more.
Special guests: Include M.B. Weston, Michael and Paul Bielaczyc, and Debi Derryberry.
Dates: Feb. 24-26.
Where: Holiday Inn Select Perimeter, 4386 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta.
For fans of: Steampunk, history, alternate history, science, sci-fi literature and costuming.
Special guests: Olivia M. Grey, Thomas Willeford, The Sci-Fi Janitors, presidential re-enactors.
• Days of the Dead 2
Dates: March 9-11.
Price: $40 weekend pass; $20 single-day pass.
Where: Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center, 2443 Highway 54 West, Peachtree City, Ga.
For fans of: Zombie pop culture, horror films and TV shows.
Special guests: Include Roddy Piper, Sid Haig, Gary Busey and Bill Moseley.
Dates: March 30-April 1.
Where: Clarion Hotel, 5216 Messer Airport Highway, Birmingham, Ala.
For fans of: Japanese animé.
Special guests: To be announced.
• Middle Tennessee Anime Convention Omega
Dates: April 6-8.
Price: $40 three-day pass, $36 two-day pass; $18-$22 single-day passes.
Where: Nashville Convention Center and Renaissance Nashville Hotel, 601 Commerce St.
For fans of: Japanese animé, manga and video gaming.
Special guests: Include Jason Charles Miller, Kyle Herbert, Eric Stuart and Symphonic Anime Orchestra.
Many of them wear ears with pointy tips. Some have slaved away for months making suits of chainmail or Stormtrooper armor. More than a few wouldn't blink at strapping on an eye patch or slathering on a bit of zombie makeup.
Despite sharing a devotion to one genre of pop subculture or another, however, attendees of fandom conventions aren't a uniform bunch, not even the ones all dressed as Star Trek ensigns.
As they gear up in the coming weeks to attend annual gatherings throughout the region, beginning Friday with Chattacon 37, local conventioneers said they're drawn to them for a variety of reasons.
"I used to be into autographs. That's kind of died down for me," said Jeff Hickey, 42, who co-founded the ConNooga convention with Todd Patton in 2007 and now serves as its programming director.
"Now that I know a lot more people, it's definitely the experience of being around ... people who also are into the same thing," Hickey continued. "It's definitely a community experience."
By day, Hickey is a production planner at Pigeon Mountain Industries in LaFayette, Ga. He became hooked on conventions when he attended his first, the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, in 1992 after moving to Chattanooga from Chicago. Now, he goes to four conventions a year and makes a bi-annual pilgrimage to Orlando, Fla., for the Star Wars Celebration. Eventually, he said he would like to attend San Diego Comic-Con, one of the nation's largest conventions held every July.
Some of the stereotypes about conventions are accurate, if perhaps misunderstood, conventioneers said.
Like many who attend conventions, Hickey is a fan of costuming. By day, he wears street clothes to the convention to attend workshops, panel discussions and other events. By night, however, he dons the robes of a Jedi and, on occasion, those of a certain hawk-nosed professor of potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hickey has also made appearances as a Stormtrooper, pirate, zombie and, at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, fried-chicken mogul Col. Sanders.
Costuming is not a required part of the convention experience, but it offers a chance to stand in the spotlight and have your devotion and ingenuity applauded, said Sarah Smith, 27, who said dressing up is one of her favorite activities at larger gatherings.
"At Dragon*Con, if you dress up and it's decent enough, people will stop you all the time and ask for photos," she said. "You can do themed costumes and get in the parade, which is fun since you get to wave at kids and stuff."
Smith, 27, began attending conventions as a child, but she became interested for her own sake at age 11 when her father convinced her join in a tabletop role-playing game session at a convention in Michigan.
Now a billing coordinator at CBL & Associates Properties, Smith attends about nine conventions annually. She often receives free admission as an entertainer with the local Irish band The Molly Maguires, which often plays at fandom conventions.
One of the biggest misconceptions about conventions is that they target a narrow interest group, Smith said.
"There are lots of people who come and don't know even know anything about role-playing games or sci-fi and fantasy," she said. "The bulk of us are nerds, but you don't have to be."
Many conventioneers said attending their first event showed them that, specialized or not, other people shared their interest in niche subjects. The experience, they said, was often revelatory and had a profound impact on them, socially.
"That was one of the things that really left an impression on me, being surrounded by so many people who could relate to all those things," said Robbie Hilliard, 46, of his experience at his first convention, Chattacon, in 1982.
"A big part of my first experience is still there, which is simply being in a community of like-minded people," added Hilliard, who now directs writing and musical programming at ConNooga and Dragon*Con. "The sense of tribe is the biggest driving factor."
With film screenings, costume contests, masquerade balls, novel readings, quiz shows, concerts and workshops, the schedules at most conventions can be densely packed, especially at events offering multiple tracks of specialized programming for different interest groups.
After attending more than 200 conventions in the last 22 years, Marc Michael, 40, said he has realized the main attraction of cons is the people, not the events. Having long ago outgrown the need to put on a costume and go celebrity spotting, Michael said the reason he feels compelled to drive 300 miles to events like RiverCon in Louisville, Ky., is to reconnect with his friends.
Ultimately, though, the reason for attending a convention is irrelevant as long as you have a good time, Michael said.
"Everyone has their own reason for going, and most everyone will try to convince you that this is the reason everyone else goes, which is, of course, bull," he said. "Whatever misconceptions people have, any kind of convention is an opportunity for people to get together and enjoy each other's company."