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.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

Trending News