the con is on

Houston artist launches virtual pop culture convention

Scream queen actress Tiffany Shepis will make an appearance at QuarantinedCon. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Shepis

Though states around the country— including Texas— have been slowly but surely been trying to reopen businesses and public places and so forth amid this global pandemic, there have been many events that are still cancelled and won't go down until sometime next year.

For those disappointed that Comicpalooza had to cancel its festivities this year, a new online convention is ready to sate your geeky thirst. On Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3, locals can go online and attend QuarantinedCon, a new pop-culture convention where guests can hang out with celebs, get items from vendors, and enjoy the same convention fun right in the comfort of their own home.

The con is mainly the brainchild of Dirk Strangely, a Las Vegas-born, Houston-based multimedia artist and frequent guest at comic-book conventions. He has built that convention over at his online platform known as ArtFarm.tv.

"It's something that me and a few people in my network have been building for about three years now," Strangely (government name: John Christopher Carson), tells CultureMap. "We've been helping artists manage their online business and offline business. But, when the pandemic hit, I realized the whole industry basically tanked, and all the people in my network have been wondering how they're gonna make a living… And my platform is the perfect place to have a convention.

So, what I did was put my network to use to get the word out to supply and provide people in my community and in my industry a means to continue business in a pop-culture convention industry."

This convention is a free-for-all in every sense of the term. People can check out everything from magicians to people doing balloon-animal tutorials to live concerts to watch parties over on Facebook — all for free. Strangely has already rounded up quite a collection of guests.

John Kassir, who voiced the Crypt Keeper from HBO's Tales from the Crypt, will be in the house, along with horror icon Kane Hodder (who has played Jason in many a Friday the 13th movie) and Deadwood cast members Peter Jason, Larry Cedar, and Pasha D. Lychnikoff, among others.

"Once I started getting some of them set up," says Strangely, "word of mouth started spreading like wildfire. And even with the celebrities, when I got one of them, they would tell their friends that they're doing it, and their friends — obviously they're gonna have other celebrity friends. So, they tell their friends and their friends are calling me like, 'Hey, I'd love to be part of this too.'"

Strangely is hoping that this online convention will entice other well-known conventions to hit him and his platform up about doing online extensions of their conventions that people all over the world can attend.

"Conventions are a huge part of our industry and, yes, we're helping all the people who go to conventions," he says. "But what about the actual conventions themselves. We are going to help them do their own virtual, online conventions and provide a full-blown experience like they provide physically. And, if we do go back to gathering again soon, we're also gonna do it to supplement their convention. So, they're not limited to who can come to their convention geographically."

For more info on QuarantinedCon, visit the official site.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. Courtesy of BioBQ

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

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