Comic­Con: where conformity has no place

By: Kamel Benyahia

I honestly did not know what I was getting myself into. I volunteered to cover the Wizard World New Orleans Comic-Con at the last minute, but not before trying to pass the assignment off on anyone else who may have the slightest interest. In hindsight, this was the wrong frame of mind going into this. You could even say I came out of this enlightened, and with a newfound respect for people brave enough to let their freak-flag fly with pride on one crazy weekend, in a city that knows crazy very well.


I was expecting a gaggle of awkward, clumsy teenagers waving swords and shouting spells, but I saw people of all ages and from all walks of life come together to celebrate their love for art and fantasy. I suppose that is what a lot of these superhero stories, space sagas, and fantasy tales share as a common theme; the ability to bring unlikely people together.


This was also my first time in the convention center since moving down to the New Orleans area. I was not prepared for the sheer enormity of this place, but I digress. While waiting for the news crew to gather, I began to get a glimpse into the craziness just beyond the doors of the foyer. The first costume to catch my eye was an Elmo outfit inspired by Sesame Street, but this Elmo looked like he just came out of a bath-salt induced rampage in a dark alley around the corner.


I am sort of a casual comic fan, but I saw characters and costumes that I had never seen before. I was also incredibly wrong with some of my guesses. I thought the fez-hatted, tweed jacket-wearing guys were Morocco Moles, from Hanna-Barbera’s Secret Squirrel cartoon, but it was in fact a bunch of Dr. Whos. The doctor, Matt Smith, was here to interact with fans in his second visit to the U.S. Whovians (Dr. Who fans) from all over the country came to bask in the Timelord’s magnificence. Matt Smith recently ended his run as the Doctor and has brought a whole new generation of Whovians into the Dr. Who universe.


There was another group of four women who decided to paint their entire bodies green. I thought they were She-Hulks from the Incredible Hulk comic books, but once again I was terribly wrong. These women were some alien race from Star Trek that I have forgotten already. They rolled their eyes when I admitted I was a Star Wars fan, but luckily Chewbacca was nearby to defend me from overzealous Trekkies.


Izzy the Dolphin, Delgado’s mascot, made an appearance and surprised many conventioners who were not expecting a dolphin. Just like I was confused about what people were, people were confused about Izzy until we told them he was from Delgado. There were several people who thought Flipper was at Comic-Con, a few more thought perhaps Ecco the Dolphin. Izzy did make a splash (get it) with the younger patrons.


There were several other celebrities on hand for expensive autographs and photo-ops. Norman Reedus from “Boondock Saints” and “The Walking Dead” seemed to be popular amongst the crowd, second to Matt Smith of course.


The legendary Stan Lee was signing autographs, and in a surreal moment, he passed by me on the escalators. I did not acknowledge him, because we don’t bother celebrities here in New Orleans, but I did calmly reveal to my colleagues around me that we were about to pass greatness.


Comic book writers and artists of many different styles were on hand to display their works and autograph things for the fans. I am ashamed to admit that I did not know who most of the artists were, but I did take the time to check out their work. The art varied from simplistic animations to elaborate pieces that showed expertise.


Jason David Frank, the Green/White Ranger, was there to interact with fans and judge the costume show featuring Cosplayers (Costume Play). Cosplayers are a unique part of this event that allows fans to embody their favorite characters. Sometimes Cosplayers come up with completely original costumes that come from the depths of their imagination. The costumes ranged from poorly-designed, home-made contraptions to costumes that rival big-budget movie-costume designers.


Some of the Cosplayers have established groups like the fine folks of the Louisiana Steampunk Cosplayers. They form a guild of like-minded fans that share a passion for everything steampunk. They had an amazing booth of everyday items reimagined as steam-powered versions of themselves. Everything in the steam-punk culture revolves around steam-powered machinery.


There are even professional Cosplayers that follow Comic-Con around the country and display professionally made costumes. Some of these costumes are quite spectacular and the people in the costumes look eerily similar to the heroes they are mimicking.


I will say one of the highlights of my weekend was seeing K.I.T.T., the Knight Rider Trans Am that captured my fuel-driven heart as a child. The black beauty was there in all its glory, sans the Hoff (David Hasselhoff) though. The interior was an exact replica of the show car, but unfortunately no one was at the booth to let me get a closer look. I considered opening the door, but one thing I remember from the show is you don’t mess with K.I.T.T.


I enjoyed the mech-warrior booth as well. They featured seven mech-pods that were real life versions of the cockpits in the game. Imagine a giant robot you sat inside and controlled with a joystick and throttle. I am a videogame guy so I figured I would do pretty good my first time around. Too bad there was some professional mech-warrior guy who demolished myself and every other unsuspecting patron who wandered onto the battlefield with him. By the time it was all said and done, the pro had 18,000 points while the rest of us had fewer than 5,000 points. The competitive side of me wanted another shot, but at seven bucks a game, I passed.


I can respect these guys and gals that decide to throw conformity out the window for a weekend and dress in otherwise crazy outfits. I don’t think I could do something like this, but after my experience I think I could let my freak-flag fly for one weekend. If I did I would be the Stig (from Top Gear), that way I could at least hide my face under a racing helmet and not have to talk anyone.                


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