Blackface Cosplay

 Cosplay is a big part of geek culture, especially at conventions. I have mentioned it before in discussing how people react to it and the effort people put in it. I recently attended Emerald City Comicon and of course there were a ton of people cosplaying.

Unfortunately there were a few costumes that caused something of a stir.

I don’t normally refer to the thumbnail pictures I use here, but this is an exception. The picture I chose today is from Emerald City this year. If you are not sure what you are looking at, it is a man dressed as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The man is clearly white, and has (badly) applied make-up to attempt to make himself appear black. There was also a trio of kids dressed as Michonne from The Walking Dead and her two tamed zombies. These kids were also white and wearing make-up and wigs to appear black.

In both cases, when I saw them, I got the impression that none of them understood the history of blackface, and that not one of them were being malicious. This did not stop several people from taking offense, especially on twitter.  As far as I know there were no direct confrontations on the floor.

For those of you confused about why this would be offensive, I suggest you look up the terms “blackface” and “minstrel show.”  The quick version is that there was a theatrical tradition that had white performers put on make-up to appear black, with exaggerated features. These shows are a major source of many negative stereotypes of African-Americans. These shows were common up to the beginning of the civil rights movement. Since then, due to these connections people appearing in blackface are consider a racist insult or at the very least racially insensitive.

I want to be clear that I am not saying you cannot cosplay a character of a different ethnicity. At the show I saw very well done She-Ra, Wonder Woman, and Superman costumes done by African-Americans. The difference is that they did not attempt to make themselves look white. They just showed up in costumes of characters they liked and owned it. In fact there is a great Tumblr site, Cosplaying While Black, that you can check out. This is not completely free of controversy as there are some people not comfortable with seeing their favorite characters being portrayed by a different ethnicity. I do not feel these people have a leg to stand on. Just because you are uncomfortable does not mean the cosplayers needs to conform to your tastes.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people using the exact same argument to defend the blackface cosplay. I do not find these equitable arguments.

Basically it comes down a couple of factors.

One is that while blackface is still viewed as a form of racism I think there are a lot of people that are not familiar with it and so had no idea how offensive they were being.

The other is good old fashion white privilege. I assume that these people did not know it was wrong or even take a moment to consider the ramifications. I think that even the attempts to defend them come down to white privilege. For those not sure what I mean, white privilege is the perceived advantages and attitudes that come with being born white in our culture. It also is used to refer to the inability of people born white to understand the perspective of other ethnicities, such as why a person in blackface would be offensive.

And to be clear, I am a white man of middle class background, so I can fall into this trap myself.  The reason I usually don’t is that I have been educated enough to know the history and to avoid making those mistakes.

In the case of our four unintentional offenders at Emerald City Comicon, I think the man in the thumbnail is just ignorant and will hopefully learn from this to not go there again. In the case of the kids I think their parents let them down by not educating them on how their choices may not go over as well as they hoped.

And if not I think the world will provide the needed education soon enough.

Creative Expression in Fandom

It should go without saying that fandom and geek culture produces a lot of passion. Lately I have been writing about the down side of that passion. While I think it is important to bring those subjects to light, I do not want to lose sight of what it is I and so many others love that brings us together.

So I thought I would talk a bit about the artistic side of being in geek culture.

When you go to a fandom event one thing you will find is that at their heart they are a celebration of some form of art. Be it comic books, film, animation, or literature, they all are based on a form of creative output. And this will carry over to the fans themselves. So let’s take a look at the ways fans will find to express their creative side.

Before I go on I want to make one thing clear: this is more of an overview look at these different creative areas. Each one could support an entire article of its own. In fact I could very possibly do those articles in the future. I am just doing this an overall celebration of creativeness in our community and hopefully as a jumping off point for discussion.

Ok, with that out of the way here we go.

At many conventions there will be an art show, where people will display artwork they have created, usually a painting, often for sale, or as part of a charity auction. Now this art is usually geared towards the specific theme of the event, but not always. Some of it will be what is known as fan art, a piece that is based on an already existing property. Star Trek and Star Wars for years were the dominate fandoms for this, but today it could be anything that has any kind of fandom. While it is easy for some people to dismiss this kind of art since the artist is basing it on something someone else already created, that ignores the time, effort, skill, and passion that go into its creation.  Many successful artists got their start this way.

Fanfiction is another creative activity that is prevalent in the fan community. I know that it gets a lot of flak for the slashfic aspect of it, which for the uninitiated among you is where a story will focus on a romantic pairing, rarely one that appears in canon, and often homosexual in nature. Now a lot of people think Fanfiction is something born of the internet, however writing stories about a favorite character or franchise is a long standing practice. There were published Sherlock Holmes stories at the same time Arthur Conan Doyle was writing.  As for directly fandom based fanfiction, there were homemade zines about Star Trek as in the 70s. Like with the artists there are cases of fanfiction writers making the transition into published authors, and I am not just referencing 50 Shades of Grey. One year at San Diego Comic Con I heard Denny O’Neil say that he gave Devin Grayson a shot at writing for him based on her batman fanfiction.

A variation of fanfiction is the fan film. This is one area where thanks to technical advancements it is no longer the realm of the really passionate fans that can get the resources together to make a film. Now with digital recording, editing programs and the means of online distribution whole groups of fans can get together to make films. I would break fan films down to two categories. The first is the film based on a franchise. There are groups that are dedicated to making fan films based on Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly.  The other type is the film based on a geek friendly premise, such as Gamers: Dorkness Rising, or the Collectibles.  The advantage of the second type is that it is something the creators can generate income from. The first type on the other hand is something that gets made because the people involved love the franchise, love making films, and want to combine them. I will admit this one is near to my heart as I was involved with a group of fan film makers and made films based on Star Trek, Doctor Who and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The one creative area of fandom that has gotten a lot of attention lately is cosplay.  I sometimes think the creative side of this gets lost in all the discussion of how sexy someone is or if the costume was appropriate for the convention. Again cosplayers tend to take two forms. The first is the person who looks at a fan event as a chance to dress up and comes in a costume that was purchased elsewhere. Usually this is a store bought Halloween costume. The second type is the person who takes the time to research the character they are making a costume of, find or make patterns for the costume and then take the time to make the costume. Technically there is a third type, a person whose costume is made for them by someone else, but I tend to think of them as just a variant of the second type.

It should come as no surprise that there are people who are of the type two cosplayers that look down on type one as poseurs. I am of the opinion that if someone wants to dress up as a character and the only way they can do so is to buy from a costume shop, than more power to them.

Getting back to cosplay as art, just go out and look up cosplay and look at all the variations you will see. Sure you will have the faithful reproduction of a Wonder Woman costume, but you will also have steampunk Wonder Woman, Victorian Wonder Woman, or as I saw once, a hybrid Wonder Woman/Slave Girl Leia.

Despite the flak that cosplaying is getting lately, it’s creativity has always been appreciated at conventions through the costume contests. These are often a highlight of most conventions. And again people who are really good at it can go pro. Here in the Seattle area there was a costumer named Dragon Dronet, who use to do elaborate costumes with impressive props. Based on his work at conventions he ended up working in Hollywood and is now a respected Prop maker, having worked on various Star Trek shows, Batman Returns, Alien Nation, and even casting puppets for Jeff Dunham.

I would be remiss if I did not take some time to talk about filking. Filking, or filk music, is basically fandom folk music. While it has never been my cup of tea, it has a huge following. And by huge I mean that there are whole conventions devoted to filking. A filk song can either be a parody of a known song with a fannish twist, or an original composition.

A form of creative that often gets overlooked in fandom is crafting. This is just making things with a geeky slant. You see them in most convention dealer rooms, next to the book stores, and video vendors. These are the people who are selling things they have made themselves. And it can be so many different things. Jeweler, costume pieces and accessories, ceramics, t-shirts, art prints. My wife is part of this, she makes soaps shaped like gaming dice, gelatinous cubes (complete with finger puppet monsters inside), and gems.  I have also seen perfumers, corset makers, and fitted fang makers. Obviously crafters who are vending at a convention are hoping to make a profit and even a living from their work, but this does not take away from their creativity.

The last type of creativity is one that is so close to me that I almost overlooked it for this article. It is the one I practice myself. It’s the people who blog, or make podcasts, or online videos about geek culture. Sure there is an argument that it really isn’t that creative as we are just commenting on what is out there, or reviewing geek friendly media. However it still takes time and effort to put these things together and like all of the above it comes out of a love of the culture and wanting to find ways to participate in it. Again some people are able to take this to the limit and go pro, just look at Chris Hardwick.

One thing I have heard a lot is people saying “I wish I could do that, but I’m not good enough”, to which I so “so what”?

Honestly, I think people should at least give something they want to do a shot.

When I started Fanboy News Network it was out of a need for expression. I had spent some time away from the convention scene and had been working on Community Theatrical productions, mostly behind the scenes. Those productions were great, but I realized that I was missing something, my own voice. I decided to start writing as a creative outlet, and using the old saying “write what you know” decided to focus on geek culture. And let’s face it, there are a lot better writers out there covering the same things I do. But I do not let that stop me. I am doing this because I want to, and I want to get good at it. The only way to do that is to actually write.

In the year and a half I have been writing Fanboy News Network I have learned a lot. I have learned what many of my writing habits, both good and bad, are and am working to improve. I have been able to find a writing voice. I have also joined a writers group, and I am now working on projects not directly related to the site.

So if you want to try any of these things, go for it. Just do not be put off by the idea that you may stumble, or even fail at first. This is part of the learning process.

And go out and try to find other people who share your particular interest. You may find mentors or at least a support network. At worst you’ll make some new friends.

And never forget there is an aspiring writer in Seattle that is pulling for you.

Emerald City Comicon the final 2012 update

After a few days rest and the prep for another convention I am ready to look back on Emerald City Comicon.
For any convention after it is over there are two central questions to you need to ask to gauge it’s success: Did I enjoy myself and will I be back next year. For me the answer to both is a clear yes. I had a good time and I look forward to attending again.
With that covered there are a few things I would like to go over.
First is the size of the crowd. As I covered in the day two update attendance was so high on Saturday that the fire marshal shut down registration.  One rumor I heard was that Saturday’s numbers were greater than all of last year’s. I can’t say for sure as I have not seen any officially numbers yet.  ECCC has been a steadily growing convention, and has slowly been using more and more of the Washington State Convention center. Based on this year’s event they will probably need to use even more of the facility next year.
Due to some of the behavior’s I witnessed at the show, after I finish with Norwescon this upcoming weekend I will need to write more on con attending etiquette. Someone suggested I need to write a book on the subject, but let’s start with a couple more articles and see where we go.
The panels still tend to be centered on the comic book industry. Yes you have the media guests and they do get the biggest room, but the majority of the other rooms are used for panels based on the comic book industry. This has certainly given the show a good reputation in the industry and I hope they stay the course on this.
Cosplay was in fine form during the show. The one down side was that the area set aside for cosplay photo ops was right outside the main dealer floor. When the crowding happened on Saturday you could barely move.
And for those who were following my cosplay tally, here are the final numbers for the show.
·         Doctor who: 29
·         Captain America: 18
·         Joker: 14
·         Batman: 14
·         Superman: 14
·         Harley Quinn: 13
·         Poison Ivy: 11
·         Batgirl: 11
·         Robin: 11
·         Wonder Woman: 9
·         The TARDIS:9
·         Supergirl: 7
·         Spider-man: 7
·         Green Lantern: 7
·         Catwoman: 7
·         Riddler: 7
·         Zatanna: 6
·         Black Canary: 4
·         Phoenix: 4
·         Iron Man: 3
·         Nightwing: 3
·         Rogue: 3
·         Death (from Sandman): 3
·         Doctor Octopus: 2
·         Powergirl: 2
·         Hulk: 2
·         Batwoman: 2
·         Green Hornet: 2
·         Dalek: 2
·         Red Ranger: 2
·         Doctor Horrible: 2
·         Captain Hammer: 2
An Honorable mention goes to Hawkman. Only one person went as him, but his wings moved.
That wraps up this show. I will have a new post mid next week after I recover from Norwescon detailing how that show goes.

Emerald City Comicon Day Three

The final day of a convention can be a bitter sweet affair. You have had a great team, you will miss all the experiences, and you are exhausted and just want to get home and soak your poor abused feet.

I only attended two panels, the Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin panels. The Browncoat in me required it. They were fun panels. Summer is obviously a sweet girl and was adorable on stage. Adam is an old veteran who knows how to connect to the crowd.
I spent the rest of the day checking out booths I had not gotten to previously and catching up with old WotC colleagues I had not seen in a while. Towards the end of the day I ended up helping out at the booth my wife was vending at. This led to my awesome moment of the day.
One of the items my wife makes is a bracelet with a heat sensitive stone like an old mood ring at the center. A little girl about 4 or 5 years old was with her parents at the table and I encouraged her to touch the stone. As the stone turned color I could see the gears in her head start working. She was trying to figure out how I was making the color change. She keep looking at her had expecting ink. And she was not going to take this nonsense I was telling her about science and body heat. Somehow I was making the green stone turn blue and she was going to work it out.
And before I give you the tally of today’s cosplay I want to share a revelation I had. My identifying and recording the various costumes I saw was basically the fannish equivalent of trainspotting.
And with that thought firmly in place here are the results for Sunday.
·         Superman: 7 finally knocking Doctor Who out of the top spot.
·         Doctor Who: 6
·         Captain America: 4
·         The TARDIS: 3
·         Supergirl: 3
·         Spider-man: 3
·         Riddler: 3
·         Power Girl: 2
·         Green Lantern: 2
·         Robin: 2
·         Harley Quinn: 2
·         Joker: 2
·         Poison Ivy: 2
·         Wonder Woman: 2
Tomorrow I will do the final review of the convention, after I get a good night’s sleep.

Emerald City Comicon Day Two

Second day of the convention.
The big news was the show hitting capacity. Someone told me it was 10,000 people. It seemed like more. It was bad enough that the fire marshal had registration shut down and was not letting people who stepped outside to come back in until the crowd thinned. This crowding was most evident in the area outside of the dealer floor. It has been where cosplayers have gone for photo ops. It was so crowded that you could barely move. I think some expansion of space may need to happen next year. An upside of this is that everyone I know that is running a booth had very good sales.
Panels I attended.
Will Wheaton’s 90 minute awesome hour. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. I have never seen anyone able to work a crowd as well as Will Wheaton. He knows his audience and knows how to play to them to perfection.
Marvel: pint of O’ C.B., which is basically Marvels big news panel. It was a good show case for what Marvel is up to. There were two highlights for me. One was a very honest answer to the question of the lack of female creators. They are aware of it and looking for ways to address it, but right now it is a continuing issue that plagues the whole industry and will probably take years to turn around. The other highlight was when Matt Fraction was asked about his writing of Dr. Strange as very creepy. Fraction countered that Strange is creepy and used that fact that he entered into a romantic relationship with his student Clea. Fraction felt that crossing that line informed a lot about the character.
DC Comics: The New 52. This was a lot better than the DC panel from the previous day. Tough questions were not ignored. A big one was how DC addresses old readers leaving in wake of the New 52 does. Gail Simone led the way in answering that stating that change can be hard but the writers are dedicated to doing their best by the characters. This led the rest of the panel to give their opinions as well. Overall a much more satisfying experience than the day before.
Next were back to back panels featuring Christopher Judge of Stargate SG-1 and George Takei. I will save fuller write-ups on these for the post con report. But let’s just say both were great speakers.
Most awesome moment of the day came early on when I met up with an old friend of mine, Ryan K. Johnson. Ryan is a film maker and it the late eighties and early nineties I worked with him on several fannish films, including Star Trek the Pepsi generation. While talking he told me that he really likes the blog. As a creative person I really respect his praise meant a lot to me.
As for my little cosplay contest, here are the scores for Saturday. Please note that these are new people in the costumes. If it was someone from the day before wearing the same costume I did not count them.
·         Doctor Who: 15 our winner the second day in a row.
·         Joker: 10
·         Batman:9
·         Captain America: 8
·         Batgirl: 7
·         Wonder Woman: 6
·         Robin: 6
·         Harley Quinn: 6
·         Poison Ivy: 5
·         Superman: 4
·         Thor: 4
·         Catwoman: 4
·         Zatanna: 4
·         Green Lantern: 3
·         Deadpool: 3
·         Phoenix: 3
·         Rogue: 3
·         Batwoman: 2
·         Hulk 2
·         Doctor Octopus: 2
·         Nightwing: 2
·         Iron Man: 2
·         Supergirl: 2
·         Spider-man:2
·         TARDIS: 2
·         Riddler: 2
See everyone tomorrow for the last day of the Con.

Emerald City Comicon Day One

Quick overview of Day one of Emerald City Comicon.
First up, the panels.
I attended the Women of Webseries panel. It was definitely what the title suggested, local women working on producing, writing, directing, and staring in webseries. I got some good ideas for the projects I want to work on and a lot of inspiration.
DC All Access panel was next. You would think that a panel at a comic convention that is the news panel for one of the big two it would be kick ass. No such luck. The pros on the panel did some quick shilling of their upcoming projects. When it got to question and answer time that was a lot of deflection. One question asked about the status of Wally West and Donna Troy in the new 52 DCU, the answer was to make a joke and then ask the audience if they would like to win a prize for answering a trivia question.
The next panel was about the history of Wonder Woman for an academic and psychological perspective. The speaker was a tenured professor at Oregon State University for teaches minors program on comic book studies. He was awesome. And as much as I have researched at lot of the same history he covered I still learned some new stuff.
I wanted to get into a panel featuring noted voice actors but it was too full a room.
Next is the dealer floor.
This year has a good mix of comic shops, convention dealers, comic companies, artists and everything else you would expect. Due to the show still growing, this year the gaming based dealers were moved to a new area. It’s a bit of a walk to get there, but it is nice to see the growth.
My wife is a vendor this year and that fact lead to my most awesome moment of the day. She makes gaming dice shaped soap. I took a set to Randy Milholland, the creator of Something Positive. When I gave them to him his face lit up, and he had to show his booth mate Danielle Corsetto, creator of Girls with Slingshots. Mission accomplished and he gave me a sketch and print in return.
So I have decided to keep score of the characters people cosplay as this year. Basically if I see at least two people as a character I start keeping track. I will declare a daily winner and an overall convention winner. Here are today’s scores.
·         Doctor Who: 8 Today’s winner
·         Captain America: 6
·         Harley Quinn: 5
·         Batman: 4
·         Poison Ivy: 4
·         The TARDIS: 4
·         Robin: 3
·         Black Canary: 3
·         Superman: 3
·         Batgirl: 3
·         Green Lantern: 2
·         Catwoman: 2
·         Supergirl: 2
·         Spider Man:2
·         Doctor Horrible:2
·         Captain Hammer: 2
·         Death from Sandman: 2
·         Dalek: 2
·         Red Power Ranger: 2
·         Riddler: 2
·         Green Hornet: 2
See you tomorrow for the next update.