WonderCon: Saturday's sociology

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All photos by Luis Allen

“You gotta get down here,” my roommate texted me bright and early (11 a.m.) on WonderCon Saturday. “Oh my goodness, the costumes!” The costumes indeed! As you can see from photographer Luis Allen's snaps from the day, Saturday was all about the clothes -- the comic convention's annual WonderCon Masquerade was slated as the day's grand finale, so all the superfans were out in their homemade Wolverine-Boba Fett concotions and the like. Groups of manga characters lounged in the Moscone Center's hallways, and Alien swung his crowd-defying tail about the artist alley as though he (she? It?) owned the place. Wide load, folks.

There are various trails one can follow through an event of the size, complexity, and passion of WonderCon. To choose your own adventure, you must introspect to find out in what field one's nerdery lies. Are you a sci-fi series nerd? A DIY ambitious nerd looking to sharpen your animation/armor construction/intellectual property rights knowledge, perhaps network your way into the world of indie sci-fi? You may be a superhero nerd, or a comic gossip nerd. For each brand of enthusiasm there was a corresponding weekend's worth of expert panels, celebrity sightings, movies, and artist booths to plan out.

Quickly, I pegged myself a sociology nerd, which meant that after getting my foodie fix from Chris Cosentino's entry into the Marvel universe, I dove into the convention's thick programming booklet, circling away on events entitled “Comics for Social Justice,” “Alt Weekly Political Cartooning” (note to organizers of this panel: although we enjoy Bad Reporter, the Chronicle does not qualify as an alt weekly. Clearly, the heyday of alt weekly cartoon budgets is long past, but please, rename or reconsider your premise), “Writing Queer,”  and “Geek Slant: Pop Culture from an Asian American Perspective.”

Dammit if they weren't all fantastic – minus aforementioned reference to the Chronicle as an alt weekly – but they did set me to thinking outside of the DC/Marvel brand of bicep-bulgers. Because as utterly exciting and vein-poppingly entertaining as the headlining comics at WonderCon are, there are few forms of media today that are more stuck in the Stone Age than the missives we receive from the superhero universe. Pertinent exceptions notwithstanding, superheroes are hard-bodied, white, heterosexual men, and (how could we forget) women who surely must number among their superpowers the ability to stay agile despite extraordinarily uneven bust-to-waist ratios. 

I found this somewhat limited state of affairs incongruous particularly considering the diversity of the WonderCon attendees, who represented all ends and middles of the age, race, gender, and body type spectrums. Underneath the posters proclaiming frat boy-extraordinaire Ryan Reynolds' upcoming cinematic turn as the Green Lantern, thousands of these enthusiastic, knowlegable souls strode mindfully (or wandered aimlessly) down their particular superfan track, unconcerned with what others thought of their baby's Batman mask, or whether three straight hours spent in the anime movie room was overdoing it. 

Haykel S. Aria, an Indonesian eight year old wearing an island print shirt and becoming pony tail, quietly sketched away at his booth in the small press section of the convention floor. Even when a crowd gathers to check out his drawings, priced at a reasonable $5 for a color sketch of a comic god, he barely looked up from his pencil and paper even when being grilled by a local alternative journalist.

“Since pre-school,” he's been drawing comic art. “Yes,” he wants to do this for a living when he grows up. When asked what it is about comics he finds inspiring, no visible response is forthcoming. That's right kid, make 'em work for it!

That night, a darkened Esplanade Ballroom screened previews to upcoming summer blockbusters. A blonde Thor battled monsters to save a town (the townspeople featuring a becoming young lady who gazes appreciatively at the he-man's juiced musculature), all the various tropes of who-will-save-us flashing across the double big screens on either side of the stage.

But then the costume show began, and I totally forget about gender stereotyping, monocultures, and hegemony (told you, sociology nerd). Men and women strut and kick and quip across the stage in their own creations – and though there are some storyboard-ready bodies present, by no means are all the contestants reflections of their surrealistically bulging print counterparts. Towards the end, a curvy woman in a tutu and heart-shaped sunglasses burst on stage, the announcer proclaiming that her super power is “to spread love.” She pauses her blissful jumping about and pulls her hands into a prayer position, still for a moment before bursting back into movement, to uproarious applause and only a smattering of heckler Haterade from the back of the room. 

I guess comics are like all other forms of mass media art: there's a big difference between what goes on in the bright lights and the power that fans can take from it. WonderConventioneers, I salute you. 

Tomorrow: more of Luis Allen's WonderCon photos and a run-down of dope local comics