Last weekend, I had the strange good fortune of being able to attend Philadelphia Comic Con at the Philadelphia Convention Center. For those of you not in the know - much like me, before last week - a "comic con" is technically just what it sounds like: a comic book convention. In reality, however, the term encompasses a broad range of niche interests, from comic books, to anything superhero-related, to cosplaying (costume role-playing) and art, to horror movies, and more. Go to one of these conventions, and you'll find that "nerd" is a term reclaimed and worn proudly by all kinds of people.
When I entered the convention center, the first thing I encountered was a zombie on stilts who tried to hug me. I did run away screaming, but as a big fan of horror movies, I felt as if it was an auspicious beginning to my first Con. As I slowed my sprint, I soon found myself inside a giant structure made entirely of t-shirts, emblazoned with every superhero, cinema serial killer, and Star Wars character you could imagine. Again, despite the fact that I can count all the comic books I've ever read on one hand, and I've never watched a Star Wars movie all the way through, I felt as if I'd unwittingly stumbled onto my own personal mothership. Shopping is one of my top five favorite hobbies, after all.
After tottering through the dizzying maze of merchandise, I finally found my way onto the main floor of the Con. It was no less dizzying, but it was twice as fascinating. I was in another world; a world populated by masked men and winged women, enormous monsters on stilts and tiny munchkin superheroes (who I quickly realized were actually just children). There were scantily clad women (as an overwhelming number of female superheroes are barely clothed, and I'm sure they wanted to be faithful to the source material), but also scantily clad men. Comic Con is equal opportunity, it seems, and there was gender bending galore, including a "Mr. Mystique," modeled after the naked blue female mutant from X-Men. (Don't worry, though, he wasn't naked, just shirtless and very, very blue.) And those were just the folks who showed up for fun, unpaid.
As I ambled towards the back, I noticed there were "professional cosplayers" - i.e. "hot chicks" who charged ten dollars apiece to let people take pictures with them in their revealing outfits. Judging by the lack of lines at their booths, coupled with their unwillingness to chat, I don't think they were so much a part of the community as they were nerd-wannabes, which struck me as ironic. Here the "unprofessional" cosplayers - many of whom had far more impressive, handmade costumes - were the welcoming kings and queens of the Con, inclined to take (free) pictures and talk for hours with their fans.
My favorite aspect of the Con, however, was the art. While I appreciate art in general, I have to admit that I am a true fan of kitsch. Much like horror movies, tacky, pop culture-infused artwork hits some pleasure center where fine art meets cheesy schlock and makes me want to hang it all over my walls (Monet lovers, for example, would cringe at the Grindhouse posters adorning my home). Well, this Con had cheesy, showy work in spades. (It also had technically impeccable, beautiful comic book art, but I of course zoned in on the more garish work.) I eventually settled on a gorgeously rendered, but somewhat terrifying, "Nightmare on Elm Street" poster. Freddy's freaky face will happily bedeck my halls from now on.
Before I knew it, they were flashing the lights and shooing us outside. My first Con was over. It was only once we were all herded out into the broad light of day that I looked around and realized there was one common denominator uniting us all (aside from a unique taste in fashion): 90%, at least, of Con-goers were in their thirties or younger. Which leads me to wonder, with the recent spate of Marvel movies in the last several years and a growing interest in the superhuman among younger and younger crowds, what do the older generations think of us? Do they see the costumes and the role-playing and secretly wish they could join in? Or do they only worry more for the future and pray to be gone before head-to-toe blue makeup is common practice?
My daughter is engaged to a guy who owns a Spider Man body suit. And, scarier still, he looks good in it.
As a lad, I was not a Marvel Comics fan. Call me a sissy, if you will, but my favorite comic books featured Donald, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Their adventures were excitement enough for me.
Back in my day, Charleton Heston's parting of the Red Sea was the cutting edge of special effects on the big screen. The little screen was dominated by puppets such as Berty the Bunyip and Howdy Doody. Uncle Pete Boyle got by using a rubber Froggy whom Pete sometimes punished by hanging him from a cloths line. "I'll be good, I'll be good," Froggy would promise as he dangled there.
Horror movies relied on stop-action photography and miniatures of dinosaurs and monsters. Ed Wood, named Hollywood's worst director of all time, used paper plates suspended from strings for his flying saucers in "Plan 9 from Outer Space," Bela Lugosi's last and worst film.
Some of my generation, when they got to college, made up for the shortcomings of entertainment technology by ingesting certain helpful chemicals. An acquaintance of mine once told me that on an "acid trip," he had watched Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and the gang scamper across his bed. This guy later dropped out of school and vanished from history.
Movies and TV today are far better than they were in my youth, no matter what the film scholars and nostalgia junkies may say to the contrary. However, were I to don a Spiderman suit - assuming they even come in my size - I'd look like Governor Chris Christie walking the Sandy-shattered Shore in his one-piece coverall last November. He looked like a beach ball that had been over-inflated and then grown arms, legs and a head. I'd look much the same. So I can't personally pay homage to the super heroes who populate some of today's most popular fare.
Consequently, I'm jealous of my son-in-law-to-be, that he can look good as Spidy. But, so long as he hangs onto his (excellent) day job, I don't mind what colors he and Claire paint themselves on their weekends. I'll be with them in spirit from the comfort of my home theater.