Steel City Con celebrates 30 years in Monroeville
Mike Devine has seen a lot of costumes, celebrities and shenanigans through the years at Steel City Con.
The exclusive pop culture convention of the Monroeville Convention Center recently wrapped up its 30th anniversary celebration.
Devine, 60, of Lawrenceville attended many as a fan and helped coordinate and host its special events and costume contests the past seven years.
“They started this with no (question and answer sessions), no trivia contest, no costume contest,” Devine said. “It was just meeting celebrities and vendors … I came in. I looked at other cons (like) San Diego (Comic-Con). I saw that their Q&A’s were kind of stiff. They weren’t for the fans.”
Devine brought a lot of energy and opportunity for fans and guests. He ensures celebrities walk into standing ovations and attendees get to ask the questions. That tradition, as well as the ever-growing costume contest, continued this month.
“Everybody’s on their best behavior,” he said. “It’s just really such a great, positive thing. The audience brings two things to everything. They bring respect and enthusiasm.”
More than 100 people participated in the costume contest. Three judges narrowed down the participants to about a dozen finalists. They each had a chance to explain their design and crafting process.
Arija Lee, 26, of Canton, Ohio, won Best in Class for Craftsmanship in the professional category. She came as Fawkes, the phoenix from Harry Potter.
She said it took her about six months to make the outfit, including more than 200 feathers out of fabric, wires and other materials.
Her nearly 8-foot wings moved. Everything was detailed down to the gold trim on her boots.
Lee works at a bank when she’s not creating or mingling with fellow cosplayers.
“I’m an artist at heart,” Lee said. “Unfortunately, to make a living, artists have to work a 9-5. Building costumes is a great outlet to express my creativity, be able to interact with the people who do the same thing that I do. It helps me cope with everyday life.”
Lee attended Steel City Con in the past and was impressed with what it’s become.
“I’m really impressed with this one,” she said. “From the last time I came, it’s grown quite a bit. They also have some really cool guests. It’s a large enough con you can come and have a lot to do, but it’s not so large that you’re overwhelmed. It’s not so small that you run out of things to do.”
Rachel Meikle, 31, of Youngstown, Ohio, took home Best in Class for Craftsmanship in the amateur category. She transformed into Queen Talanji, a troll queen and ruler of the Zandalari Empire from World of Warcraft.
It took her about six months as well to contort foam, 3D print pieces, paint and style her favorite character.
“She’s just a powerful leader,” Meikle said. “I’ve always loved the troll characters, and her god is a dinosaur so sign me up.”
It was her second time at Steel City Con.
“Most of my cosplay friends are from Pittsburgh,” she said. “Every time I come here, I keep getting more Pittsburgh friends.”
Some lucky attendees marked the anniversary with a special after party Aug. 9 at the DoubleTree by Hilton, one of the hotels within walking distance of the convention center. Actor Ryan Hurst of “Remember the Titans,” “Taken” and “Sons of Anarchy” hosted a yoga session early Aug. 11 before the venue opened.
Another celebrity headliner was George Takei of “Star Trek” fame. The Hollywood icon was in Pittsburgh years ago for a few months working on Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninjas.”
“I got to know the city,” he said. “I call the soles of my shoes my urban tongue. I taste a city by walking around it. This is an eminently walkable city. Market Square, not only walkable but eatable … The whole city is fascinating.”
Artists from as far away as Chicago made the trek to Monroeville to showcase books, prints and various memorabilia.
The convention was taken over last year by Denise DeSimone of Uniontown and Bob Stein of Gibsonia.
Stein is executive director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
DeSimone is the founder of several companies, including C-leveled, a strategic marketing firm in Pittsburgh.
“We had a great weekend here for our 30th anniversary at Steel City Con,” Stein said. “We had 26 celebrities and thousands of folks came out to have a good, family fun-filled time. It was a success for the customers, the vendors and the celebrities. We love being here in the Monroeville Convention Center.”
Late night talk show host Seth Meyers briefly talked about the convention with Takei on his program Aug. 12.
Steel City Con usually takes place about three times a year with events in April, August and December.
The next one is scheduled for Dec. 6-8. Celebrities currently on the ticket include WWE Hall of Famers Trish Stratus, Amy Dumas (“Lita”) and Devon Dudley and Carmen Electra, Neve Campbell, Cary Elwes and “Saved by the Bell” trio Mark Paul Gosselaar, Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley.
More information is available at www.steelcitycon.com.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .