Sunday, March 29, 2015

I came, I saw, I conned....

So, this weekend marked the Emerald City Comic Con, an event that has grown in 13 years from a small local gathering drawing fewer than 3,000 people to the third-largest comic con in the country, with an attendance of over 80,000 this year. Since I was shut out last year after foolishly thinking I could get tickets a mere six weeks before the convention, I bought tickets well in advance this time, and attended two of the three days with my geek pal and cosplay fan Margaret. (Wonder Wife, after handling a day of Geek Girl Con last year, chose to skip the sensory overload this time around.)

I have to say, at the risk of sounding like a crotchety old cliche, that the comic-con isn't about comics anymore. No longer is a con a dealers' room, and artists' alley, and some panels with comics creators. The Hollywoodization of geek culture is a fait accompli at this point, and comics qua comics as a common denominator for all the participants is sketchy: a number of elements of the con have only a tangential relationship to comics at best and even those are much better known for representations in other media. The biggest booth seemed to be The Walking Dead, which did at least start as a comic but which is much better known as a television show.

This is not at all a bad thing, but it is a thing. Historically, there have always been fuzzy lines between comics culture and sci-fi culture, and more recently with gaming, and all of those interests overlap with movies and television and video and of course art, so it doesn't seem that this change is unnatural, but more like an evolution.

At the forefront of my mind, however, was the question of what any convention is for at all anymore. 

Back in the day, the dealers' rooms at a con were literally the only place you might find an item to complete your collection and the only place you might run across something you didn't even know existed. Nowadays, no matter where you are, you can find anything you need through an online seller, and there's a wealth of websites and blogs reviewing and critiquing comics old and new to let you know about what's out there. Way back when, meeting an artist at a con might be the only way to get some original art or sketch. Now, just about every artist has their own website selling stuff directly to fans, and many even accept commissions online. Cons have always been when the latest and the greatest developments were previewed or revealed; all of that is leaked online almost immediately now. Conventions have always been the place to meet industry professionals and get that autograph; well, you can still do that today, except that instead of a chance meeting on the convention floor it will be a highly managed photo op that will cost you anywhere from $20 to $90.

I guess what hasn't changed much is the community aspect of a convention: there is a certain feeling that comes from being in a room filled with people who share your interests that cannot be had elsewhere. The panels are nice, the events are fun, the displays are great, but being able to share your experience with others who appreciate many of the same things you do, in much the same way and to a similar level of intensity - that's the cool. It's sort of like the mood at a superbowl party, but with thousands of people over a whole weekend instead of a few friends for a few hours.

Perhaps the best example of this bonding took place when Margaret and I went to the Red Dwarf Fan panel, which was billed pretty much as just a conversation among local fans. Instead, there was a surprise guest: Danny John-Jules, who played Cat in the series, was Skyping in from somewhere in the U.K., right in the middle of location filming for his current TV series. The delight in the room was palpable, magnified by the community that had been created by this particular collection of people self-selecting for this particular fandom. You can't quite get that electric feeling online.

In any case, something is pulling these people in - ECCC was as crowded as all get out. And of course, a significant fraction of those present were in costume. Maybe cosplay is the reason that conventions still exist. It can certainly be an elaborate avocation these days. There were tons of very professional-level designs, and some actual professionals, folks who are paid to come to cons and show off. It was great to see just as much crossplay here as at Geek Girl Con, and Margaret and I got into a very academic discussion about the difference between crossplay (playing a character of a different gender without modifying the costume) and gender-swapping (creating a modified version of the character for a different gender). And there are all the other variations: steampunk versions of anything and mashups being the most frequent.

Saturday night saw a fantastic costume contest with some of the most dramatic and well-executed stuff. Three things things stood out as we watched the parade of characters.

First of all, I just don't get some of these mash-ups, even at the pro level. For example, one entry combined Elphaba from Wicked and Elsa from Frozen. Hunh? Does that even make sense? Or how is it ironic?

Second, the hours and hours of work that go into the competitive costumes make for impressive results - and pretty much guarantee that the pro-am divide is going to remain or even widen. Even Margaret, who loves cosplay and has a pretty mean hand with a sewing needle, says she would never dedicate the time and effort that it would take to make something at that level. Forget about mooks like me. We wished there was some way to showcase the more casual cosplayer.

Third, some of the presentations went beyond costumes into what would have to be classified as practical effects or puppetry. A full-sized Star Wars Tauntaun or Bioshock Big Daddy manipulated by an operator inside, complete with articulated parts and sound effects, is not a costume. Entering these was the equivalent of bringing a submarine to a scuba suit competition. Crazy!

Anyway, I am sure you'll be able to find any number of high-def, high-res videos and stills of the major league cosplayers, so here are some shots of folks just having fun. We especially liked the highly specific and/or obscure stuff.

A great Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky. 
They were just tickled  as all get out to be cosplaying.

ST:TOS family fun! I met them right after attending the "Mature Fan" panel.

Get it?

Lobster Johnson in the house!

This young woman captured both the look and the spirit of the Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel.

 Not just one...

... but two Jack Knight Starmans. Starmen?

This young Velma-Daphne duo was totally charming.

 Victorian women, Super- and Wonder-wise.

 Awesome Black Manta!

 Bwa-ha-ha! The JLI redux! 
Hey, I've sorta said that before... but this was a nice nostalgia.

Brilliant JLU Hawkgirl - in brilliant sunshine outside!

I stood in line with a friendly She-Ra!

Best FTM gender-bending: Tank Boy! We heart Tank Boy!

Season Two Scully! (Wish she had posed so you could see her great FBI I.D.)

So, as usual, Margaret and I ventured into the cosplay world ourselves. The first day, Margaret cosplayed The Dude and I was Walter from The Big Liebowksi. Margaret had a beard all ready to wear, but her first event was Geek Speed-dating, so she chose not to wear it right away, and actually never got a chance to put it on. Nonetheless, in her bathrobe and shorts and with her container of half-and half, she got a lot of props.

At the bus top on the way to the con.

No one guessed I was Walter. I just looked like a guy in a hunting vest and cargo shorts. I tried to attribute this to my being alone most of the day, but even when Margaret and I were together, and even when I put on my yellow range glasses with the aviator frames, people didn't go "Ah!"

On the second day, Margaret went as Alex Millar from the fifth season of the British series Being Human. That's about as obscure a character as one can cosplay, and since the outfit is a green dress and  leather jacket, it doesn't immediately read as a costume. So, just like with Walter, no one recognized it. In shame, Margaret borrowed a Steampunk Boba Fett helmet to create the mashup Steampunk Boba Alex.

I made that last part up, she was just playing with the guy.

I had given up on cosplay for the second day and just wore my normal clothes. About a half-dozen people commented on my appearance, telling me how much they liked my look. That's an example of comic-book irony for sure.

Fan-Walaka action figure, comes with with water bottle and con program.

Believe it or not, this is actually an abbreviated report: I skipped Sunday at the con, giving my ticket to a pal so he could attempt to get his model TARDIS signed by some Doctor Who cast members, and Margaret had to go it alone (and went as Ianto from Torchwood). It worked out okay; it was a great time, but totally exhausting, just because of the scale and scope.

We'll see about next year.

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