Living the “Con Life”
We waited outside of the thin, black curtain with anticipation. Katie had no idea who was waiting for her on the other side. Well… she partly knew. We couldn’t completely hide the fact that we had traveled 800 miles to St. Louis for a special Comic Convention. And all of the “Whovians” wandering the convention center dressed as their favorite Doctor Who characters definitely made her realize that something special was in store. There were plenty of fans dressed in getups as simple as a fez and bowtie, while others were more elaborately decked out in creepy Weeping Angel costumes and remote-controlled Dalek replicas. My favorite group of cosplayers were four friends, each dressed as the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th regenerations of The Doctor himself and they stayed completely in character all through the long line, happily posing for pictures and selfies with other fans.
My husband and I did our best to distract Katie from the massive posters that hung across the various levels and doorways of the America’s Center. She knew that we would be meeting David Tennant. She was so excited about seeing any of the actors who portrayed her hero, even though his 10th Doctor wasn’t her favorite. At the time, Katie was ten years old and her biggest dream was to become a part of Doctor Who’s fantastically wonderful world, and travel with him through time and space, like his many famous companions. She proudly wore her favorite little, blue t-shirt like a job application, advertising herself as the “Future Companion.” She stood on tippy-toes trying to catch a glimpse of Tennant…The Doctor… even though he was not “her” Doctor….
When we finally made our way to the front of the line, and the curtains parted enough that she could see inside, there was a squeal of delight. Whether this came from Katie or myself from witnessing the sheer joy on my daughter’s face, I honestly still do not know. As we made our way into the makeshift room, we were greeted, not only by Mr. Tennant, but by another tall and smiling figure. Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, leaned down, reading Katie’s shirt, and in his soft and gentle voice, thick with a British accent and every bit of warmth that made him truly embody his Doctor Who character, said, “Hello, Future Companion.”
While this moment will forever be etched in my mind as one of my favorite Comic Con memories, it is also a great example of just what the heart and soul of these fun and unusual gatherings of fans is truly all about. Comic Con brings fantasy and reality together. There is a sense when you are at a Con that the world outside of you has disappeared and you are exactly where you need to be. Besides being surrounded by countless celebrities, artists and authors from every Science Fiction, Comic Book or Fantasy world imaginable, you are also in the presence of thousands of friends, who obsess and “geek out” about all the same things that you do. There is a family atmosphere to Comic Con, and that doesn’t mean that it’s Disney World. It means that everyone in the room is family, brought together by a kinship of mutual obsessions and “Fandoms.” On our trips to various Comic Conventions, we have met people from all around the world, many of whom we stay in contact with on a regular basis, and who we look forward to seeing again on our many Con excursions.
One such friend, Tony Tomayo, lives in Austin, Texas. I met Tony through social media and we had an instant connection, due to our love of Comic Conventions. Tony is an avid “Con-goer.” In fact, he has been attending conventions for 25 years. When I asked Tony what makes Comic Con special to him, he recalled that his favorite thing about Comic Con is, “The experience of meeting people that I’ve admired for so long and talking to them, even if it’s brief.” One such meeting was last year at Comicpalooza, when he met his childhood hero, Chuck Norris. Tony recalled that he, “Got teary eyed” at the meeting and that Mr. Norris responded by. “Giving him a huge hug.”
Meetings like Tony’s with favorite celebrities, are one of the things that make Comic Con such an exciting experience. There’s just nothing quite like standing in the presence of an actor or actress that you admire and watching them step out of the roles that they are famous for and spending time having fun and joking with their fans. It is a bit like living out a fantasy, existing in the same world as these inspiring individuals. In fact, the feeling of leaving reality for a few days in a sort of fantasy realm is what makes Comic Con so addictive to me.
One way that Comic Con attendees escape from their everyday lives is by dressing up in costume as their favorite characters, or “Cosplaying.” My family has enjoyed cosplaying a few times. Another favorite “Con-Moment” of mine was when Katie and I made her a Dalek costume for the children’s cosplay contest. She marched on the stage, all-smiles, in her little red dress decorated with glued on ribbon and Styrofoam balls. The outfit was complete with her makeshift Dalek “weapons,” a whisk and a plunger, which she clutched joyfully in each hand. She entertained the audience with her improvised, “Happy Dalek” impersonation, and won the contest. Well…actually, all of the kids were winners. The participants were professionally photographed and featured in a pamphlet that was distributed to New Orleans area schools, declaring that “We are all Heroes” as part of an anti-bullying campaign. This is just another example of what is at the heart of Comic Con.
The atmosphere of Comic Conventions promotes an acceptance that encourages people from all different backgrounds and lifestyles to come together and embrace their uniqueness. Cosability is an organization that was founded by Brett and Amy Passmore, along with their daughter Kirsten, who has Cerebral Palsy. Cosability was created to encourage and empower people in the special needs community through Cosplaying. We have been fortunate enough to have attended quite a few conventions with the Passmore family, and I am always blown away by what an amazing group of people they are. I spoke with Kirsten recently about what makes Comic Con so special to her, and she summed it up beautifully:
“Comics, such as X-Men, take the time to tackle socially relevant issues such as thriving in a society when you are perceived as different… I believe that comics and Comic Cons have grown not only due to financial success due to movies, but because people realize that they can connect with these characters…When you enter the Comic Con world, it’s phenomenal! It’s busy and loud. People are dressed up representing their fandoms. Cosplaying allows you to step into the life of a character and provides an amazing boost of self-confidence… Cosplaying is something everybody can participate in, leave the worries of tomorrow and yesterday behind, and have a great time!”
Kirsten is not alone in her belief that Comic Con has grown due to the connection that people feel with the characters portrayed in the many genre’s that Comic Con famously supports. There is definitely a draw for folks to connect with these many characters that Comic Con brings to life, and those who help portray them.
While it could be argued that this escape from the “Real World” could be unhealthy, there is actually evidence to the contrary. Lynn S. Zubernis is a self-proclaimed “fangirl” of the CW series, Supernatural, and has been such a frequent visitor of the respective Supernatural Conventions, that she has come to know many of the actors and fellow fans of the show on a personal level. She also happens to be a clinical psychologist and professor. Zubernis put together a collaboration of essays from fans and cast members of the show titled, “Family Don’t End with Blood.” In her forward of this collection she makes a very powerful statement, which resonates the feeling of acceptance that any Con-goer can easily relate to. As she states, “[She’s] learned quite a bit about human nature and what we yearn for in that constant search for things that make us feel okay about ourselves and everyone else: Belonging and acceptance” (Zubernis 1).
I was inspired as I read these words because I felt as if Zurbernis had very eloquently put my own feelings into words as she continued, “Aside from the family aspect, Comic Con also feeds our need to escape from the reality and monotony of our daily routines.” While some might scoff that living in a life of fantasy can’t possibly be healthy, Zubernis would beg to differ, “Escape itself has its benefits…It’s healthy for us to pursue the things that bring us joy, and allow ourselves to experience those positive feelings” (Zubernis 3). So that Cosplayer, who dusts off his Stormtrooper outfit whenever the occasion arises, is a lot more mentally stable then society would like to portray him. Comic Con has a way of allowing us to engage in the fantasizing side of ourselves, in a welcoming and accepting environment. This is a deep and psychological need that can only be filled within the crowds of a Comic Convention.
And while at one time, attending a Comic Convention was considered to be socially suicidal, it seems that there are many more people, who are starting to catch on. In 2017, the major Comic Conventions all reached record breaking numbers in attendance. San Diego Comic Con, which started 46 years ago with an estimated 300 people in attendance, saw numbers of 130,000 plus last year. In the twelve years since New York Comic Con began, the attendance has grown from 33,000 to 180,000. And Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con saw its 7th year reach a whopping attendance of over 100,000 fans. Ultimately, it seems that the industry that Comic-Con has become, while impactful, is also irrelevant. The powers that be have obviously taken notice in the fact that the heart of Comic Con is powerful and have used it to their advantage to make a quick buck however they can. But while this has no doubt made the events bigger and brought in more crowds to see what all the “hub-bub” is about, it does not change the simple fact of what brings Con-goers coming back for more, willing to pay whatever price to live the experience again and again.
As my long-time friend and fellow “Con-addict,” Angie Cancellieri put it:
“The Con is an amazing place. It is a place to bring the whole family, a place where our little geek hearts can be thrilled. I love the Con because people of all ages, religions, etcetera can come together and have a fantastic time…. As I often say, it’s Geek Heaven!”
If you’ve never attended a Con yourself, I can’t encourage you enough to give it a shot. In Comic Con we are able to be ourselves in ways that the rest of the world typically doesn’t allow. I love that my daughter has spent so much of her free time in this environment, because I feel that it has extended to her overall views in life. I am thrilled that she has learned that all people are just people, whether celebrity or “nerd,” and that we can all share this planet and welcome one another with open arms. This feeling of welcome and acceptance is what will keep us going back to Comic Con again and again. And as the crowds grow, those who, like my family, have already embraced the “Con Life,” won’t look at it as a negative experience. We will think of it as our family getting bigger.
Acuna, Kirsten, “One chart shows how much New York City Comic Con has exploded in 12 years.” Insider, October 5, 2017, http://www.thisisinsider.com/new-york-comic-con-nycc-attendance-2017-10, Accessed 4 Feb 2018.
Berry, Dan, “Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con 2017 breaks attendance record.” An Englishman in San Diego, November 10, 2017, http://www.anenglishmaninsandiego.com/connews/stan-lees-l-a-comic-con-2017-breaks-attendance-record, Accessed 4 Feb 2018.
Passmore, Brett, Cosability. Cosability, 2018, www.cosability.com. Accessed 24 Feb 2018.
Rowe, Peter, “Comic-Con by the Numbers.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 15, 2017, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/comic-con/sd-me-con-numbers-20170715-story.html, Accessed 4 Feb 2018.
Zubernis, Lynn S., editor. Family Don’t End with Blood, BenBella Books, Inc., 2017.