What convinces adults to dress up like it’s Halloween, shell out a small fortune to see others similarly dressed, and is one of the most fun things to do with any type of clothes on? It’s time for Comicon!
In 1970, a group of comic book connoisseurs from San Diego decided to hold a comic book convention and, from that, Comicon was born. In August of that year, the Golden State Comic Book Convention opened its doors. The show, held at the Hotel U.S. Grant, ran for three days and was attended by about 300 people. The 2015 conference will encompass the San Diego Convention Center and venues at eight surrounding hotels. Total financial impact to the area is expected to be well north of $200,000,000.
For those that have never been to or heard of Comicon, let me try to explain. Comicon was originally a gathering of like-minded comic book aficionados. It was a place to buy and swap new and used comic books. It also showcased science fiction and fantasy related film and television products that were of great interest to comic book collectors. Today, the convention has diversified. It now covers a much broader range of pop culture subjects including horror, animation, anime and fantasy novels.
Several decades ago, I attended a Sci-Fi convention in the Philadelphia area, sort of a precursor to Comicon. The only guest of honor at that show was Brent Spiner who played the character Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. At Comicon Phoenix, there were dozens of actors and actresses, authors, voice over artists, and celebrities galore. What in the world would entice A and B level actors to uncomfortably sit in a hot convention center for three days, posing for pictures and answering the endless inane questions of legions of geeky fans? Why, money, of course.
The notables, be they actors and actresses or, in some cases, authors, sit at tables with lines of die-hard fans in front of them. The adherents stand in these long lines to get an autograph or have their picture taken with the famous actors and celebrities – for a price of course. As an example, the actors Edward James Olmos and Mary MacDonnell, stars of the hit sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica, were available for autographs and for pictures, singly or together. An autograph would set you back $60. A photo with either one of the actors would cost $70. A photo with both actors together costs $120. Be sure you bring your wallet.
Other actors included Ron Pearlman who was asking $50 for a signature and $60 for a picture; Barry Bostwick of Rocky Horror fame charged $30 and $43.25, a bargain; and Lou Ferrigno was charging $40, but would only do autographs. The DeLorean car from the Back to the Future movies was there and also available for photo ops. For $25, you could get your picture taken standing next to the car. For $50, you could sit in the car. And, for $102.75 – I’m guessing that figure would include sales tax – you can have your picture taken with the car and Christopher Lloyd, the actor who played Dr. Emmett Brown in those movies. The most improbable offering came from Tom Kane who voiced Yoda in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie. For $25, Kane would record a voice mail message for you. As Yoda might say, “For $25, personal, for you, my voicemail message is.”
On the exhibition floor, there were booths representing a large number of organizations. Among those groups were the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Arizona Cactusbrick Lego Club, The Dark Empire International Costume Club, and tons of anti-zombie organizations just waiting to recruit new members to fight the undead – when they finally show up, that is. Like the Boy Scouts, zombie hunters want to always be prepared.
There were many seminars and speaker panels among the activities at Comicon. As I browsed through the listings on the schedule, I came across titles like “How to Geek Out Your Wedding,” “The British Zombie Invasion,” “Steampunk X-Men,” and lots of classes on how to do costumes and makeup for Comicon.
One of the more intriguing activities was titled “Sci-Fi Speed Dating.” It was promoted with taglines like “Are sick of looking for love in Alderran places?” and “Are you ready to Terminate your single life?” Eight sessions were scheduled during the four day event including one specifically for the LGBT community. After seeing that, I wondered if there were also costume and makeup seminars for crossdressers. I also wondered what a crossdresser would wear to Comicon – everyday clothes, stepping out clothes, or dinner party on Mars clothes. Many crossdressers I’ve seen have already mastered the makeup part.
I did manage to peek in during one of the speed dating seminars. Seeing Darth Vader flirting with Tinker Bell from across the table seemed just a bit disturbing.
In my opinion however, the highlight of Comicon is the cosplay, which is short for costume play. At a cosplay event, such as Comicon, attendees dress up in costumes that represent various characters from the fantasy world. It’s apparent which comic book characters many cosplayers represent in their Batman, Iron Man, or Incredible Hulk garb. Others dress up in costumes that reflect movies or TV shows such as Firefly, Sons of Anarchy, or Power Rangers. With the release of the newest Mad Max movie, the halls were rife with post-apocalyptic warriors who looked like refugees from the last Metallica tour. At lunch time, magic staffs were stacked like old muskets. A young boxer passed by, complete with gloves, which had me wondering what he would do when it came time for a bathroom break. There were more bustiers per square foot than you could find in Madonna’s closet. Acres of pink hair, gold hair, green hair, and purple hair made me wish I was in the wig business. There were quite a number of Wonder Women, including a few that had outgrown their costumes twenty years ago. Hercules looked like the before picture from a Jenny Craig ad. And there seemed to be an inordinate number of Picachus, a yellow rabbit-like character from the Pokemon card game series. At one point though, I had a really hard time telling if one was actually Picachu or Jabba the Hut in a yellow rabbit disguise.
There is no shame when you’re wearing a mask.
As with Mardi Gras and Halloween, Comicon allows adults to dress up in weird costumes, put on a mask or make up, and act totally silly. Without the alcohol. To a first timer like me, this was the best part of Comicon. As I sat drinking a cup of coffee in one of the hallways, a parade of strangeness streamed by my table. In an epic cosplay battle, Harry Potter defeated a patrol of Imperial Stormtroopers as easily as if Obi Wan Kenobi himself had put in a good word for this not-so-young wizard. Thor versus Gumby was a total mismatch as the little green guy got hammered. The mother-daughter Batwoman team reigned supreme over the Ninja Turtle brigade. And all of this was watched by Princess Leia as she contentedly gazed from her stroller, armed with her R2D2 binky and guarded by her father in his Chewbacca costume.
The costume that surprised me the most was the eponymous character from The Big Lebowski. The Dude, with his long hair, sunglasses, bathrobe, and flip flops, looked lost, like he was desperately trying to find the White Russian booth. All that was missing was his bowling ball.
It was refreshing to see the family aspect of Comicon. There were many families in which the parents and the children were in costume. A lot of parents accompanied their dressed children even though they weren’t in costume. One embarrassed and totally traumatized teenager in street clothes trailed behind his parents in their Hansel and Predator costumes. Overall, the crowd was very festive and upbeat making it the perfect place to spend a family afternoon together.
I had so much fun that I decided I may just dress up myself next year. I’m thinking maybe a Steampunk motif with a fez and vest and goggles, something like Lon Chaney meets Jules Verne. In any case, I’m sold.
Or as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back!”