by Polly Keary
– For The Capitol Hill Times –
A woman wrapped only in a sheet and carrying a laptop. A besuited villain with a glittery crown and fishnet nylons. A woman in a safari outfit with a stuffed tiger draped over her shoulder.
It was a colorful crowd, even by Capitol Hill standards, but to the 700 people attending the second annual Sherlock Con at the Broadway Performance Hall last weekend, the costumed characters made perfect sense.
The striking individuals were among dozens of people dressed up as characters from one of the many versions of Sherlock Holmes to appear over the years, and some had traveled from as far away as the East Coast to attend the convention, one of two large Sherlock conferences held annually in the United States.
The Seattle conference was only intended to be a party when it started last year, said Mimi Noyes of Seattle. A worker for the Seattle International Film Festival, all she meant to do was find a small theater to screen the second series of Sherlock, the BBC cult favorite, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
“I thought it would be awesome to show the BBC Sherlock on the big screen with a bunch of raving fan girls,” she said. “I figured I needed a place to seat 20-50 people. So I posted it on Tumblr.”
It became clear immediately that a larger place would be required. More than 150 people wanted to come, and some lived hundreds of miles away.
Noyes decided to bring in speakers and some of the fan fiction and fan art that creators most popular in the internet communities built around the show, as well as to include a local Sherlock club called “The Sound of the Baskervilles.”
“It’s surprisingly hard to find a place with both a theater and a classroom,” said Noyes. But the Broadway Performance Hall was perfect.
Last year about 200 people turned up, making it the second-largest convention of its kind in the United States, after the one held annually in Atlanta.
Encouraged, Noyes decided to do it again.
The event was a smashing success, drawing more than 400.
Saturday, an army of volunteers signed people in, organized autograph sessions with internet-famous fan artists and writers, and facilitated more than a dozen lectures provided by people ranging from serious scholars of the original stories to demonstrations of the weapons used in the various shows.
Seattle, as it happens, has a collegial community of fan geeks. Among the volunteers where devotees of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and other fandom-rich shows or genres.
“The various fandoms in Seattle like to support each other,” said Jason Wodicka, who is a member of a Redmond sci-fi and fantasy writers group. “A lot of folks help each other out.”
One thing that worried Noyes was the possibility of conflict between Arthur Conan Doyle purists and fans of the more recent versions of Sherlock, such as “Elementary” and the steampunk Robert Downey Jr. movies.
Many of today’s fans are far removed from the staid Holmes fans of yore. The vast majority of those in attendance at Sherlock Con were devotees of “slash” fiction, that is, fiction about romantic and sexual relationships between male characters, in this case, Sherlock Holmes and his friend and assistant John Watson.
Noyes found that in Seattle, at least, there was no reason to worry.
“The Sherlockians in the Seattle area are very accepting,” she said.
Slash fans take the art very seriously. A panel on Saturday called “Sherlock and Sexuality” was standing room only, with panelist including three famed slash writers, all highly educated and articulate, as well as a noted playwright and Sherlock scholar, a straight man interested in queer themes in media.
“When hetero-normative romance becomes the default, it excludes people,” said writer Liz Eckhart, a professor of English at Southern Oregon University who writes under the name “Professor Fangirl.”
Later, as a boisterous crowd entered the theater to judge the costume contest, one young man who flew up from Nashville to attend sighed happily, pondering the combination of ambiguous sexuality, raving fannishness, and intellectual inquiry that typify a Sherlock convention.
He himself was cross-dressed in a woman’s business suit with fishnet nylons and a crown, recognizable to any serious lover of fan fiction as a gender-swapped Jim Moriarty, the arch-villain of the BBC series.
“Going to conventions is pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s a completely different atmosphere, open and accepting, and there are a lot of socially awkward, really cool, really intelligent fantastic people all in one place.”