San Diego Comic-Con 2018

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 has come and gone. This year was my second year covering / attending the show for The Verge, and it was a good time all around. I wrote about a bunch of things: DC's new streaming service, new Star Wars novels, the return of The Clone Wars, interviewed Timothy Zahn, reported a UFO sighting, and rode a couple of scooters. A couple of things fell through, which was unfortunate, but it was a good time all around. 

Along the way, I got to catch up with a bunch of friends and colleagues from around the science fiction community, which was fun. The trip back had a bunch of delays, but it was bearable because of fellow Vermont fantasy author Katherine Arden, whom was on the same flight.

There's a lot of people who complain about the convention: it's too big, too crowded, too commercial, not enough comics, and so forth — I've complained as well, in that it's 5-6 days of flat-out running from place to place to cover things — but I've enjoyed myself the last two years. The main crux of it is that it's a gathering point of like-minded people. I saw people dressed in costumes from just about everything — it was especially cool to see people dressed up as characters from The Expanse — and I ran into a bunch of fellow 501st members from California, Texas, and elsewhere. 

There's been a lot of talk about how fans have been incredibly shitty in recent years (mind, it's not a new occurrence) and Timothy Zahn had a good observation that while a lot of these attitudes have been around for a while, they're amplified by social media. We've seen actors and directors become the focus of intense scrutiny by "fans" with an ax to grind because they're upset about women being in Star Wars or something. 

But I didn't see any of that while I was there. I don't doubt that it existed, but what I saw was people reveling in what they really love. When a room full of Clone Wars fans learned that the show was coming back, there were actual tears. I saw costumers who'd (presumably) never met one another strike up conversations, and people posing for countless pictures. It was a good reminder that fandom isn't always this awful thing. The internet has a habit of equalizing various groups, which isn't the case. 


Star Wars is For Everyone

Heather, from the NEG

Last night, I came across a story out of Chicago about a girl named Katie. Katie lives in Chicago, and for the school year, she had picked out a Star Wars backpack, lunch box and water bottle. She packed her lunch with her mother for a couple of months, before wanting to abruptly switch to a different water bottle. When her mom asked about what happened, the entire story tumbled out: a couple of boys had been making fun of her every day, saying that Star Wars was for boys, and to try and make them stop, she wanted to change.

It's a sad story, and there were a couple of points that struck me. Her mother caught the change in behavior in her daughter, and questioned her on it. One of my past jobs was working at a summer camp, working with boys for a couple of weeks at a time, and kids are strange. Their social interactions are different, as well as their perceptions of what happened. The first, and most important thing out of this whole story is that the problem was caught, identified and Katie was reassured. The article's since gone viral, with the internet showing their support for her, and the fact that there's tons of other women out there reaffirming that it's not only for boys is a good thing.

When it comes to the idea of Star Wars is only for Boys, it's easy to see why that perception is out there. As Erika on Club Jade wrote the other day, it's heavily marketed towards guys, and it has been for years: men make up a large part of the Star Wars universe. That's changing, gradually, that that's good, because it's decidely not the case. The first thing that ran through my mind after reading the article was: "I know a couple of girls who are proof positive that that Star Wars is for everyone.", and went and posted the article to the 501st Facebook wall, soliciting support for Katie. This morning, I've asked for pictures of women in armor.

Marie, from the Canadian Garrison

The Star Wars universe, (and Science Fiction / Fantasy in general, for that matter), isn't a male-only playground, despite perceptions that it is. Star Wars alone has a number of strong female leads throughout the books, comics, movies and TV show. The same thing goes on with a number of other shows and films throughout the genre in every medium. While there are the strong points, there's the weaker characters that also exist from within, and I'm hopeful that we'll see more characters such as Ashoka Tano, Kara Thrace, Sam Carter and Shan Franklin that will serve as good role models for kids and fans of the genre, which is what will ultimately overturn the general perceptions. Within fandom, I hope to see more people like Vivienne, Megan, Marie, Heather, Terry, Amanda and Jodi, amongst many others, demonstrating their passions like we do in the 501st.

Bullying seems to be a hot button issue at the moment, between the 'It Gets Better' campaign that's been working its away across the country, as well as countless other stories that appear: kids humiliated for being who they are, which is possibly the worst thing for their self-esteem, outlook on life and general health. Bullies can be powerful motivators with the right environment: a problem to overcome, or they can be detrimental. I hope that most kids can learn to move above the problems, but it's something that takes patience, work and the right attitude.

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl who was different: Angela. I remember some of my classmates making fun of her for something stupid, and I had joined in at one point. I can't imagine that she was happy there. At one point, she fell or hurt herself on the playground, and I remember stopping to ask if she was okay, or waiting with her while a teacher came up. I've always regretted making fun of her then, and I hope that wherever she ended up, she's overcome our mindless thoughts and inconsiderate behavior at that age. As I became more of a geek in middle and high school, I came across my share of bullies, who made fun of the books I read, my glasses and clothing. It made me an angry kid at times, but I'd like to think that I made it out okay with a bit of maturity. Talking with some friends, I got off easy, and I feel for the kids who have worse troubles than I ever did.

Star Wars is for Everyone, and it's in a unique place in that it has a major, world-wide build in community of fans who have a similar interest, regardless of gender, race, class or orientation. Take a look at the growing gallery of 501st women that we've collected, and spread the word: Star Wars is for Everyone, and Bullying is not okay.

Costumes and Fandom

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My parents have been longtime subscribers to The New Yorker magazine. I never really read a whole lot of the issues, but I did come across an interesting article by author Michael Chabon, the author of one of my favorite books of all time, the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which follows the history of comics pretty closely, and has brought out a couple of comics based off of its title character, the Escapist. The article, called Secret Skin, is part biographical essay and part examination at the characters in the superhero genre, mainly in what their costumes mean and represent. It's a brilliant article, covering a number of things that I'd never really given any thought to. The first real theme of the article is how people immerse themselves into their fantasy characters. He starts with an antidotal story that a teach told him in class, about how a boy tied a red towel around his neck as a cape and jumped from a building, hoping to fly, with the explanation being that the boy could not distinguish between reality and the reality that he saw in comic books. He then goes on to reminisce about times when he dressed up as a superhero, as Batman or Superman, to some of his own superheroes that were created out of pure convenience, and he then goes on to speak on transformation. This, I feel is one of the defining elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom, at least a part of it. I don't do a whole lot with costuming - only armor from the Star Wars movies, but I think that this applies somewhat. Chabon describes what he sees in conventions (which he frequents often - an audio interview with him via the New Yorker's site speaks on this) as a disappointment. He describes, in the article that oftentimes, despite extensive attention to detail and elaborate care, costumes fall short of what they resemble: "Without exception, even the most splendid of these getups is at best a disappointment . . . acts to spoil what is instantly revealed to have been, all along, an illusion." (Chabon, The New Yorker, March 10, 2008, 66) I don't believe that he intends these remarks as a criticism of fans that spend the time and effort, or of their accuracy, but rather, that they miss the point. Merely putting on a costume doesn't automatically turn one into a superhero, as the boy who jumped off the roof found. The costumes aren't real, they aren't a character, and their creators are creating a replica of an illusion. From here on, he discusses some of the elements that make up a superhero's costume, and chiefly examines them as an extension of the character. This is one of the interesting points where form seems to follow function, at least to some extent. He looks at the components, the mask, gloves, boots, suits, capes, and symbols, and most importantly, how all of these components relate to the person's identity. Symbols relate to very personal elements to the characters, to how this tells a story. In the audio interview, he describes the costume as an idea that wraps up a person in a number of sub stories and meanings, and how that translates the person underneath into the embodiment of an idea. "Now the time has come to propose, or confront, a fundamental truth: like the being who wears it, the superhero costume is, by definition, an impossible object. It cannot exist." (Chabon, 66) Not to say that it can't be replicated down to exacting details. I think that with a replication, you only get the appearance, nothing more. However, I think that it's how people perceive these characters that have come to life, rather than what the costume itself brings to the table - people around you make it more than just a costume. The costumer and viewer need to come together in order to make the illusion work. One instills wonder, and there has to be wonder, excitement, coming from the viewer. I've sort of found this when I don my TK armor. A friend of mine once told me that I hold myself much differently once it's on, almost like I'm a different person. I've sort of felt that as well. In a way, I think all costumers have a similar feeling - we don't become the character at all, we represent their ideas, that feeling that we'd get as children reading a comic book under the covers or watching Star Wars for the first time. It's a way of honoring the character or figure, not becoming them. The time and energy spent on their creation is almost a work of love, an homage to something that really inspires us. Michael Chabon isn't really criticizing fans for their efforts, I think. I think that a lot of other people do, because they don't really get this depth and this love. I don't really agree that costumes are a disappointment really - although there are some really strange ones out there - it's quite something, especially for the younger kids, to see your favorite character walking around, right there, in the flesh, and he shakes your hand. I do think that he's right when he says that when you see a character as an adult, you think "cool costume" and look at it in purely practical terms, whereas a child might see that and encapsulate that with everything that they've read and seen, not making the distinction that all you really have is a representation. Maybe even some adults. And that's what makes it all worth doing. I highly, highly recommend checking out this article if you've been to a Con, do costuming, a SF/F genre fan or even someone outside of all that. Read it, and let me know what you think, I'd be interested in hearing other reactions beyond my own. I have a feeling that this'll prompt a couple more things from me, which I'll be interested to see what direction it takes me in.

The full article can be read here: