A long exposure shot of one of the many stands at Mountain Con. This stand was selling little collectible superheros, action figures, and multi sided dice. Mar 23, 2024.
A long exposure shot of one of the many stands at Mountain Con. This stand was selling little collectible superheros, action figures, and multi sided dice. Mar 23, 2024.
Max Sanborn

Cultivating passion: The purpose behind Watauga High School’s MountainCon

As people wandered through a transformed Watauga High School Saturday March 23, Ori Massengale of Ori’s Game Corner was frantically assisting a swarm of kids and their mother’s credit cards as they wished to buy a medley of pop culture memorabilia. 

Items such as Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering cards, video games spanning across decades, like Super Nintendo and games for the Wii, as well as Dungeons and Dragons dice sets were for sale at their booth. Alongside fifty other vendor tables, cosplayers and fans alike were scattered across the floor that usually is the school’s cafeteria. Taking photos, sharing and reveling in the convention’s aura of excitement. That convention was MountainCon 2024.

With a background in event planning and a passion for comic books, the librarian at Watauga High, Dana Lowery, hosted the first MountainCon in 2018. During her time as librarian, she has always expanded the comic books section of her schools, armed with the knowledge that not only are the books checked out frequently, but that her students also love these mediums. 

“I feel like comic books have had a place in spaces where kids either don’t like to read, don’t know what to read, or they’re more of a visual learner like myself,” Lowery said.

The owner of the company Beardy Weirdy’s Buy-Sell-Trade company posing with his comic books. The owners shop is based in Concord, NC and has attended over 60 comic conventions last year. Mar 23, 2024

Walking around the event, the love of pop culture could be seen on the patron’s faces. It was nearly impossible not to bear witness to a land of zealous adoration. 

Though the event’s attendants were primarily high school students, there were patrons from every generation, from babies to older adults. Kids ran around with stars in their eyes, zig-zagging from vendor to vendor, cosplayer to cosplayer. Adults were dressed in ornate, well-designed costumes of their favorite characters or their own original designs as they checked out the vendors selling drawings, wood carvings and jewelry.

 For some, like Massengale, being a “nerd” was considered taboo. They recounted how they were bullied growing up because of their interest in collecting the merchandise they found joy in. Massengale and Lowery wish to cultivate a safe space for pop culture, where no one is prone to judgment and anyone can express their true selves. 

“My storefront came from a necessity of helping the community experience, games new and old, while not pushing pricing into the market,” Massengale said once the crowd died down. “This is a community we want to grow and expand, not one we want to shut off and gatekeep.”

Jason Basden, a cosplayer and artist vending at the event, shared similar sentiments. 

“When you talk about the community, people that have a common interest in something like this, this is a judgment-free zone for them,” Basden said.

Since its inception five years ago, MountainCon has offered a place where comic fans, cosplayers and gamers can go to express themselves freely and safely.

Two ‘Star Wars’ enthusiasts dressed up as Princess Leia and Ashoka. Mar 23, 2024.
(Olivia Cal)

“When I first did it in 2018, I was terrified that people would not feel comfortable. It was completely the opposite,” Lowery said. “It was people just rearing each other on and untucking themselves and being their own true character. We have those celebrations for athletes and people in theater. There wasn’t a space for these people who had a true passion in pop culture.” 

With efforts from people like Lowery and Massengale, the safe spaces they wish to foster come to fruition. Whether it be hole-in-the-wall hobby shops like Ori’s Game Corner or sizable events of spectacle like MountainCon.

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