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Home: The Toast

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Sulagna Misra’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

This could have been an essay about how long it takes to get from New Jersey to Javits Center in New York. My train ride, which was packed with fellow New York Comic Con-goers ranging from adorable braces-wearing teens to adorable adults with shiny neon wigs, gave me ample time to reflect on my last New York Comic Con experience. Five years ago I was still an undergrad in the city. I bought tickets to NYCC for what seemed a pittance back then, but was unable to convince any of my friends to come along. Compared to San Diego Comic Con, they said, NYCC sounded stupid, not for “real” fans. 

Back then I felt more than a little self-conscious going alone. But I still enjoyed a panel with Bruce Timm on his Wonder Woman movie and what was going to be the Futurama series finale movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder. I enjoyed the audience just as much — the oohs and ahhs and coordinated laughs — which reminded me of late-night Harry Potter movie viewings, and how much more enjoyable it is to watch movies with a crowd.

This year I knew that my friend Constance E. Gibbs, would be coming in later. I had hoped to get a three-day pass, but only got a ticket for Saturday. This made me pouty until I arrived at New York Comic Con and saw the hundreds of thousands of people around me. At this point I could have written an essay about how, oh God, there are so many people in the world, they are all in one place and bumping into me NOBODY TOUCH ME I HATE YOU ALL.

As I stood anxiously in the corner, watching more people stream in, my focus shifted to the cosplayers. Let me be real with you for a moment: I wish I could cosplay. But there are so few Indian women in the science fiction and superhero movies I so enjoy. And I don’t want to be just any character — I want to be a character that speaks to my soul. (The other problem is that I am cheap and lazy and can barely dress myself in real life, which are all guaranteed ways to be bad at cosplay.)

I attempted a variation on Captain America, hoping to match my friend Connie. Together, we’d be a Black & Tan Captain America! I put blue in my hair and wore a t-shirt sporting a Captain America symbol, and woke up at 6:00 that morning to turn a frying pan into Cap’s shield. One man who searched my bag said it was “the funniest thing he’d seen all day.” Pretty good, considering the stiff competition.

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Connie texted me around 1:00 to let me know she was waiting in line for a panel. Meanwhile, as I waited for an author to sign a free advance copy of a book, I met Toastie Paulette. She was dressed as a female version of the SuperFriends incarnation of Brainiac, a costume combo with her husband, Lex Luthor.

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Why did you choose this costume, Paulette? Among several reasons: “I get to be green!” Later, in an email, she wrote, “There’s a level of pleasure present in doing a classic version of any character, especially if it’s a character most people might not recognize. Because if someone does recognize you, there’s a connection there that wouldn’t otherwise happen. By cosplaying, you’re saying, HEY YOU! I LIKE THIS THING! DO YOU LIKE THIS THING? and by recognizing and taking pictures of your costume, people are saying back, HEY YOU! I ALSO LIKE THIS THING! WE ARE THE SAAAAAAME.”

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This was generally my m.o. for talking to cosplayers. I wasn’t in too many active fandoms (I wasn’t sure I needed to meet someone in the Hannibal fandom), but luckily the Marvel Cinematic Universe is huge, so I found more than enough people to talk to. Like Arista (above), who was dressed as the Winter Soldier, complete with metal arm and toy AK-47. She had to keep pulling off the metal arm because she was sweating so hard under all the duct tape. “The worst was going to the bathroom,” she said.

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When I saw Captain America, I thought, “I might as well.” Mike (and his fellow cosplayer, Black Widow) kept being waylaid by people trying to take pictures of them. (The picture above is from his Instagram.)

I also bumped into Rose, who I’d met at a friend’s engagement earlier this year. She was, of course, dressed as Steve. She told me that while NYCC can be hectic, she considered it a “fun break with reality.” 

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I had forgotten to give myself a budget and ended up buying comics upon comics, including the final book of Y the Last Man, a long series I’d read years ago about all the men on Earth dying except for one. I also picked up a new book by Jen Wang, an artist I’d loved as a teenager learning to draw from the Internet.

By the end of the day, my feet were throbbing from walking in terrible shoes and my back hurt from all the books but especially that damn frying pan. I checked out the panel “Breaking Good: Addressing World Challenges Through Comic Books and Video Games” with comics writer Brian K. Vaughn, author Cory Doctorow, FBI victims specialist Alexis Krieger (who worked with comic book writer Thomas Estler on Abolitionista!), and Asi Burak, the president of Games for Change. I lined up for the panel beforehand and saw my friend Connie; she had just left the Arrow panel, and was grabbing dinner before trying to make it to the exhibition floor. “I got to hug Stephen Amell!” she told me, grinning.

After the first panel – about comics school, which made me miss drawing – I scooted to the second-to-the-front row for the next panel. On the panel, Estler discussed the power of stories by citing Stetson Kennedy, a spy who infiltrated the KKK and used the information in a Superman radio show. Estler’s Abolitionista! was created with FBI agent Krieger to give children an idea of what they could do to escape human trafficking. 

The panel also discussed the video game Re-Mission, created specifically for children undergoing cancer treatments. Asi Burak showed us a video game he had produced called “Peacemaker,” intended to help inform people about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promote peace. I found that one especially exciting, as Burak had won an award from the public diplomacy program at which I’d studied.

Cory Doctorow spoke about the comic book he’d written, which turned out to be one I had bought earlier (In Real Life), as well as the fact that he’d just learned through the recent documentary that Edward Snowden considered his book Little Brother one of his childhood inspirations. Finally, Brian K. Vaughn talked about how he didn’t really like extemporaneous speaking, and yielded most of his time to us for questions.

Somehow every single question managed to be on point, respectful of time, and well phrased — well, except for mine; I rambled excitedly about Burak’s game and how Vaughn’s writing inspired me to write about international subjects. I asked Burak about the global impact of such games, and asked Vaughn and Doctorow about international depictions of the apocalypse in stories (like Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man and movies like Pacific Rim, which attempts to give a global crisis a global reaction). Vaughn said his wife, who had grown up living with a UN family, was very helpful and able to point out which changes were American and which were international. (Does anyone whose parents were in the Foreign Service want to marry me? I’m adorable.)

The whole panel reminded me how deeply I love comics, movies, books, and TV shows, and how much I appreciate the power they can have for positive change. As I looked around at the cosplayers dressed as characters from Brian K. Vaughn’s latest series, Saga, I was also reminded how special it is to meet creators of art that has not only moved you emotionally, but also had an impact on your young psyche. While Cory Doctorow painstakingly avoided misspelling my name as he signed my book, I buzzed with a specific, lovely kind of happiness: the tired elation of a day well spent.

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Sulagna Misra writes about the weird things that pop into her head when she's not paying attention. She's on Twitter so she can not pay attention more effectively.

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