I’m still wearing the bracelet pass–I don’t have it in me to take it off. I’ll have to before I go to work tomorrow, but I’m unwilling to accept being back in the real world just yet.
It’s strange: I’ve never considered myself someone to hide from the real world. I’ve always prided myself on being a nerd that doesn’t rely on escapism to be happy; the real world, as bleak as it might be at times, holds more allure to me than any fantasy world. Yet my own actions would argue otherwise: Studying theater, playing Dungeons and Dragons, writing about TV shows, etc… are all forms of escapism. Still, I denied my reliance on it. But tonight, getting ready to head to bed so that I might get up at 5am and drag myself to my last week at this job, I realize how much I need a fantasy world, and how much I love it. I really am a nerd, after all.
Pre-Comic Con: Ambivalence and Reluctance
I didn’t know about it until my birthday last December, when an old friend told me she was going. I looked it up, and figured I probably wouldn’t go, despite the appeals.
Months later, another friend tells me she is going, and bringing along yet another friend. Their express intention: Meet James Marsters. My interest is piqued again, but again I resign myself to missing it: I tell myself I am limited by funds and my work schedule, and that I don’t really want to go.
Finally, last week, Chad pours himself a scotch, looks at me, and says, “Dude. Let’s just go. Fuck it. We need to actually do something other than go to a bar, go home, and play boardgames.”
It’s true: our weekends have grown routine: bars, beers, boardgames, repeat. We need to mix it up, get out, meet people. He wants to tell his coworkers on Monday that he actually did something over the weekend, even if it was something as nerdy as Comic Con. So we decide, without any real planning or fanfare, that we would go.
I didn’t think I’d be able to go any day other than Sunday, but the next morning at work my coworker agrees to cover my Friday shift. Friday night, all day Sunday, even the last few hours of Saturday are suddenly available. Minutes after I leave work Chad has purchased the tickets. We are going to Comic Con.
Friday: Strange Beginnings.
I have no idea what to expect when I walk in the front doors, but I’m instantly overwhelmed. Lucky, I soon run into my friend Maddy, one of the girls who had come in to see Marsters. After catching up, we find our other friends, and wander the convention hall.
It’s a bizarre and new experience. People, many in costume, swarm the massive convention hall. Vendors hawk comics, merchandise, and brightly colored swag at inflated prices. A few celebrities sit at booths, signing photos and chatting with attendees who stand in long lines for the privilege. I spy a Cheerleader-Buffy, and shout, “Go Razorbacks!” receiving an enthusiastic smile and wave in response.
After a while, Chad and I decide to meet Brent Spiner, most popular for portraying Data on Star Trek the Next Generation (but you knew that, right?). It’s a disappointing experience for Chad, who had waited for years to meet the man, and went to the convention primarily for the experience. When we get up to Mr. Spiner, he immediately turns to address the people standing behind us, while Chad stands awkwardly waiting for his autograph. The couple is speaking in Russian, which was what attracted Data’s attention. After a brief moment, he turns to talk with Chad, but it’s too late: the magic is broken, as is Chad’s heart. Brent makes some comments about Chad’s name (he had asked for it addressed to his full name, Chadwick), and that’s it: we’re done. There’s a maxim that suggests meeting your heroes is inevitably disappointing. This experience definitely lends credence to that notion.
The rest of the evening is fairly uneventful: We check out people’s costumes, some of the booths, and I stare nervously at James Marsters. Rebecca and Maddy get their picture taken with him, and Rebecca is the first person to ever cry after a photo-shoot, according to the photographer. James Marsters had smiled and told her she was the same height as Sarah Michelle Gellar, which made him feel tall. Her entire week is made–The exact opposite of Chad’s demoralizing experience.
We aimlessly wander the hall for a few hours, taking in the spectacle. We see models dressed as risque superheroines, obese sweaty men with Morena Baccarin VIP tickets around their necks, children dressed as Doctor Who, or Jake from Adventure Time, and adoring fans nervously chatting up the celebrities. There are a lot of cliche sights, but the heart and enthusiasm is infectious, and exciting. It’s definitely fun, but a fear that the convention is a scam sets in: A person pays $60 for the privilege of entering the Con in order to purchase more items, signatures, and photo ops. I had fun, costumes were neat, but I decide it’s not a thing I need to experience again.
A bit cynical, and more than a bit tired, we decide to go home, watch a movie, and go to bed.
Saturday: Getting Into It.
I get up early, delightfully not hungover, and start planning my day: I need to be at work at 12:00, and hopefully be out by 4:oo, in time to catch a few hours of the con. I also discover there’s an after party at Holocene, a local club. While getting breakfast ready, I receive a message from the first friend who had informed me of the con: She’ll be there around noon, right when I start work. I resign myself to the fact that I will miss her, as there’s only so many hours of convention time a body can stand. Still, there’s always the after-party, which I inform her of.
I get out of work late when a last minute rush sets me behind in closing. Frustrated, I book it to the MAX, hop on, and make it to the convention center only minutes after I had originally planned; it’s a quicker commute than I thought. Upon entering, I notice a shock of red hair above a green and gold Phoenix costume. She’s here, but leaving. She’s glowing from all the adoration: Everyone wants a photo with the stunning Jean Grey. Still, all the attention and photo shoots are draining, and she’s on her way out. We make plans for meeting up at the after-party.
I find Chad: He’s standing in line to meet Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead. He’s been waiting an hour already, and is none too pleased about it. It’s his brother’s decision, and Chad is obligated to wait with him. I wander the Con again while Chad waits in line for another hour and a half.
While it’s still an aimless wandering, I’m feeling different about it already: The convention hall is packed with fans, twice the amount of the previous night. Far more costumes, many of them incredible.
I meet Morena Baccarin, who is even more beautiful in person than onscreen, and we talk about how she had just met my sister the previous day. She’s very sweet and has a little dog on her lap. I’m grateful to have something to talk with her about, but I’m still nervous and awkward.
I routinely check in on Chad while he’s standing in line. He’s bored, but I’m starting to have a great time. While I’m still too nervous to meet James Marsters, I’m starting to loosen up. I more readily approach cosplayers for photos, get a few photos taken of me, and generally start to enjoy the hubbub and chaos of a con. Plus, there’s Stan Lee! He’s 90 years old but he’s there signing autographs. The comparably ancient James Hong (Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China, as well as more than 500 other screen roles) is present. Lou Ferrigno, the original Incredible Hulk show, the Green Power Ranger, and Michael Rooker, also from The Walking Dead are all there. The legendary Bruce Campbell is there too, but I’ve already met him three times, even bussed his table at my last restaurant job. I’m still too nervous to meet William the Bloody, but I promise myself I will before the convention is over.
Still, my favorite part has to be the costumes. As a nerdy theatre major, cosplay is up my alley, despite my lack of a costume this weekend. I recognize the majority of the characters, and there’s a few models who pull of the costumes really well. There’s few things nerdier than dressing up as your favorite character, but I completely understand the charm of it now.
Chad finally gets his photo, and we cruise the hall some more: A good deal of the convention experience for us is wandering. We meet the eminent wonder that is Henry Winkler, who turns out to be very friendly and gracious. I’m growing more enthusiastic every moment; everyone is so friendly and dressed as characters I know! But Chad and I are both starving, and terribly sober, so we leave to get food and prepare for the after-party.
The After Party: Drunk Nerds
It starts off a bit quiet, of course, but soon into it a man is forcibly and roughly ejected from the premises. It’s exciting, and not something you’d expect at a comic convention after-party. With that, the party has officially began.
I see my friend, chat with her and Chad for a bit about lamentable TARDIS costumes, until a charming one enters the room with her Doctor.
Chad and I stumble a bit in our evening, drinking delicious yet expensive Aviation Gin cocktails while despairing over our inaction in the realm of women, as well as our general ennui. But as I have my third gin drink, the evening takes a turn: I lose Chad, only to be suddenly and dramatically hustled into a back room, where I find him. “What have you gotten us into?” I ask, as models dressed as aviators press their bodies against us and I am blinded by the flash of a camera.
“We’re so happy you enjoy Aviation Gin!”, says the photographer, “Let’s get another one of you two two drinking those Gin Rickeys!”
Awkwardly, I extricate my arm from its pinned position, to drape it around the model’s shoulders. “Oh yes, let’s get cozy, ” she croons. And as quickly as it began, we are ushered out. I drunkenly chat up the publicist about House spirits for a bit, and then we make our way back to the dance floor.
After a long overdue catch-up with Jean Grey, whose honor I protect from a roving Wolverine (“She’s a married woman, Logan!”), I hit the dance floor. By this time it’s packed; who knew nerds like hip-hop so much? I lose some time just dancing and enjoying myself, while occasionally trying to snap a photo of the Dark Knight canoodling with his favorite cat burglar.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything other than sit at a table and nurse (or pound) a drink, and this is a welcome change. It combines the revelry of John Henry’s 80’s night with a nerdfest, and the parts of myself that are so often at odds are suddenly, oddly consolidated.
Finally, Chad and I stumble out, and up Belmont, to further libations and discussions of the convention, our predicaments, and desires. We manage to maintain some composure, and make it to bed without any grievous humiliations.
Sunday: The Last Hurrah
Waking up hungover, I’m not immediately eager to return to Comic Con, but I promised my friend Tyler I’d attend with him. After some Pine State Biscuits I’m on my way, and excited again. I had had a wonderful previous night, and I’ve found my rhythm with the con. Tyler texts me he’s near the dancing cow, and I know exactly what he means.
I show him the various booths, the celebrities, the cute cosplay girls, and Chris Claremont’s desk. We marvel at the fact that arguably the most important Marvel writer since Stan Lee has a tiny, unadorned desk, and few fans approaching. We don’t talk to him, however; I had already awkwardly thanked him for “saving Marvel” the previous night, without specifying his treatment of Ms. Marvel and her horrific rape story. I should have been more specific, but oh well.
I pose with more cosplayers, take more photos, and finally get the courage to meet James Marsters with Tyler. Spike is incredibly friendly, funny, and charming. He’s also in great shape, and I wonder why that matters to me.
It’s a brief visit, but my favorite of the weekend. I’m finally comfortable and enjoying myself fully. But we have other obligations, and we decide to call it a weekend.
Sunday Night: Post-Show Low.
It’s just like finishing a theatrical production: the realization that life goes back to normal, that no one else really understands what you’ve experienced, and probably would mock you for it if you tried to explain. This weekend I saw a bunch of people standing in long lines to meet other people, dress up as fictional characters, and spend a lot of money on arcane and overpriced swag. Yet, for various reason, it was the best time I’ve had in months.
It wasn’t just seeing old friends, or meeting James Marsters, though those were definitely the highlights. It was also the raw enthusiasm, joy, and passion of a large group of people. The things we love may seem silly and inconsequential, but they bring us joy. To be around that many other people who love the same things is enriching. I might feel a bit of social superiority while standing next to the morbidly obese Spider-Man, but I know that in many ways we are kin.
I wasn’t ready to leave. I’m still not ready to leave, to go and face the real world, full of mounting bills, new jobs, obligations, and empty evenings. Right now, I just want to be back on a couch in bar, talking about the nerdiest things, while Batman and Catwoman make out on the dance floor, and a chubby Bane shakes his generous butt.
I’ll take off the bracelet before going to work tomorrow, before returning to my life. But I’m leaving it on a little longer yet.