The Icon Festival, Israel’s version of Comic-Con, is being held this week over the intermittent days of Sukkot. This is the 21st time that the festival for science fiction, fantasy and role-playing aficionados has taken place. This year it is a three day event, consisting of more than 250 proceedings, including lectures, panel discussions, contests, professional workshops, comical and musical shows, as well as comics and anime events.
The festivities are going on in and around the Tel Aviv Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Lectures are held in several of the movie theaters inside and in a neighboring community center building. The courtyard between the two buildings is filled with booths belonging to countless merchants where attendees can acquire anything from comic books to all manner of dolls (action figures if you prefer.) In the middle there is a spot where anyone can pick up a big plastic sword and have a big sword fight with friends or even strangers. And of course there is plenty of cross-play. On Sunday there were elves, characters from “Game of Thrones,” a Mad Hatter, some sort of green girl, vampires and of course some handmaids in big red gowns with big broad white hats. (If you have to ask what that is from, then you probably would not be interested in such a festival.)
Some very narrow minded people like to mock those who enjoy dressing up at these events. What for? It’s not like they go to work dressed that way. These conventions are an opportunity for people who have common interests to get together and have some fun. Plenty of sports fans show up to soccer matches and football games with painted faces and wearing ridiculous costumes, and that, for some reason, is more sociably acceptable. Yet unlike at sporting events, there is not one drop of alcohol to be seen anywhere. In fact, this is a family friendly event.
People come to Icon with their kids. Whole families attend in full costume. There are workshops just for children including one which teaches them how to make movies. They also have plenty of makeup stations for the kids to get into the action with everyone else and the whole lobby of the Cinematheque has been transformed into a play land for kids. This includes a cardboard maze where the kids need to crawl on hands and knees to go through. I could not possibly have fit inside the maze – yet another example of the anti-adult discrimination which is so pervasive in modern society.
Plenty of older kids came on their own like a brother and sister around fifteen and thirteen years old who came down from Pardes Hanna for the day. They wouldn’t give me their names, but let me take their picture.
Not all of the lectures or workshops were about comics or science fiction. I attended one which dealt with the very real science of how bacteria in our bodies can affect our psychology and moods. New research has shown that this bacteria may even cause anxiety and depression. Many teens were in the room, but the subject matter was clearly not on a level for smaller kids.
There is also plenty to do right nearby for when you want to take a break from the action. Across the street is a kosher Mike’s Place with a Sukkah. One block over is the newly opened Sarona Park where old homes which were once used as part of the extensive Defense Ministry offices have been renovated and converted into shops and restaurants. The outdoor area has real grass and a playground and some of the restaurants are kosher. The area is also within walking distance from Dizengoff Street.
People are so passionate about this that all of the staffers there are volunteers, including the lecturers. This certainly helps to defray the costs of holding such an event. Most of the workshops and lectures are free, but some cost money. And the merchants certainly pay for their stands. Shachar Bar, one of Icon’s organizers, explained that they do not pay for any of their guest speakers. Unfortunately, this means that unlike at Comic-Con there are no celebrities who play super heroes in the movies in attendance. Even Israel’s own Gal Gadot will not be dropping by. She chose instead to appear on Saturday Night Live last weekend.
So why do so many people give of their time for this. As Shachar put it, “I do all this hard work because I love the field of science fiction and role playing. I love this community and supporting the young kids who come here and get started themselves in this whole world.”
The one drawback is that everything is in Hebrew. So if you are a tourist, while you might enjoy the atmosphere at the convention you will need to pass on the workshops. Otherwise, if you already live here and even if only your children can peak Hebrew then it is certainly worth the day trip. Tuesday is the final day.