Real Thoughts About Real Interactions with Real People at San Diego Comic-Con -The Toast

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Previously by Kendra James: If Idris Elba Were Your Boyfriend

Here are the reasons I make an annual trip out to San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC):

a) To get my picture taken by multitudes while dressed in costume (cosplaying) as my favourite characters from comics, television, and film.

b) To order drinks that match the designer dresses I have no other opportunity to wear while eating delicious, bacon-wrapped, finger-sized appetizers and catching glimpses of celebrities at star-studded parties that I, a weirdo commoner from New Jersey, have no business being at.

c) To attend panels, tweet the news, and take in the general ambience of the whole thing so that I can write about the experience for awesome websites like The Toast.

I’ve been attending large comic conventions since 2011, though I didn’t start actively participating in con culture until I decided to squeeze myself into a red jumpsuit and become Marvel comic heroine Misty Knight for New York Comic-Con (NYCC) 2012. That same year I began writing and reporting on my con experiences, so I can look back at a fairly robust record of my time at conventions to help me conclude that, overall, my participation has been a fairly decent experience — full of good times and great panels paired with only the occasional, if predictable, occurrences of behavioral BS and outright racism. (My 15+ years of participating in online fandom spaces has, without a doubt, been more far more unpleasant in that regard.) Perhaps the man I saw as I left Chicago’s C2E2 convention this year who was dressed in some strange combination of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Nazi drag cosplay probably should have been a sign of the change in my convention luck that was to come.

SDCC 2015 was simultaneously the best and the worst comic convention I’ve ever attended. Its highs surpassed that one time I ended up doing karaoke with a group of my favourite comic writers and artists into the small hours of the morning after NYCC. Its lows surpassed even the old man cosplaying in Nazi drag with red swastika bands all over his arms.

And I get it: a weirdo commoner from New Jersey like myself can’t expect to be blessed with eye contact, a smile, and a compliment from Matt Bomer without The Universe immediately realizing it’s had too much to drink and making a hard left to correct. I just feel like that hard left could have been, say, the revealed Batman vs. Superman trailer sucking spectacularly; as the one person in the world who genuinely loved Man of Steel, that would have been punishment enough for me. The unsolicited viewing of a stranger’s genitals — which is what The Universe chose to go with — really seemed like a bit much.

I had a wide variety of interactions with people at San Diego Comic-Con this year. Some of them were amazing. Some of them made me consider paying United Airlines any amount of money it asked for, a vial of blood, and my firstborn so that I could fly out as soon as the convention floor closed on Sunday. I ended up taking a red-eye out instead, and while I was in the air I scribbled down some of the real thoughts I had about some of the real live adult people I interacted with at SDCC 2015.


Thoughts about Stefan at the LucasFilms booth, who let me sit on Rey’s speeder:

I want to start on a positive note. So, Stefan? You were awesome. You were letting all the people cosplaying as Rey, Daisy Ridley’s character from the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, jump on the speeder. You let this happen:


I’ve been a Star Wars fan since childhood and, Han Solo’s retconned wife aside, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Black human woman anywhere near that franchise. You rock, Stefan.


Thoughts about the lady who came out of nowhere on a sidewalk to make sure I heard her “compliment”:

I know I looked fantastic. I had just changed out of a cosplay that included a vintage girdle (I take my Peggy Carter cosplay more seriously than is absolutely necessary), showered with real soap, and gotten my hair in order for the first time since arriving in San Diego the night before. I was done with the con for the day and headed over to Nordstrom to try on some expensive shoes, as one does when one needs to relax. I had the added advantage of a Beyonce playlist pumping through my earbuds, so I really was stomping that sidewalk and deeply feeling myself when you very suddenly came out of nowhere and grabbed my arm.

“I just wanted to tell you that you look so lovely and exotic!”

You looked so pleased with yourself, clearly believing you were making my life with these words. And yet the absolute last thing I need during a convention is to be so casually othered based on my appearance. Cons are fun for me, but they’re also rife with anxiety over my appearance as I gear up for four straight days of cosplaying. Do I look bloated? Am I breaking out? Have my ears always been that uneven? Are people going to recognize this costume I’m wearing if I’m a completely different race than the character? Even when everything goes smoothly, cons do plenty to remind me that I’m not living my life at the peak standard of American beauty. I really didn’t need your help.

I ended up buying some cute sandals at Nordstrom to make myself feel better. You owe me $250, and Beyonce an apology for interrupting “Love on Top.”


Thoughts about the multiple white girls and women here — and at every con — who ask me where I get my cosplay wigs:

It’s not the question itself that I take issue with, it’s the fact that when I start talking about “Black beauty stores” and “haggling” or “Newark” and “Harlem,” you get either a glazed-over or terrified look in your eyes. That’s cool. You keep spending stupid amounts of money on your subpar wigs. I know a nice Dominican woman on 116th street who’ll hook a wannabe Margaery Tyrell up.


Thoughts about the parents who decided to put their child in one of those sampan hats for no discernible reason:

When I was on the “Is My Halloween Costume Offensive?” episode of The Brian Lehrer Show back in 2013, one parent called in and told us that he was planning on dressing his child up as Timothy McVeigh. My immediate thought was, “Why do you want to set your kid up for failure just so you can have a laugh and get a picture?”

That’s why I was so confused when I saw you and your otherwise fantastic family cosplay from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — which is, admittedly, not without its own racial and cultural issues. I may be a little overly sensitive to costumes from the film because of the amount of yellowface and taped-back eyes I’ve seen at conventions over the years. In comparison, the unnecessary addition of a stereotypical “rice paddy” hat to your daughter’s Willie Scott cheongsam outfit isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen, but it still caused me to heave a heavy sigh. (And please do appreciate the effort it takes to sigh heavily while locked inside a vintage girdle.) Here’s the thing: Willie never actually wears that hat in the movie. There was literally no need for you to put it on your child’s head. That hat was something you added for, dare I say, exotic flair, and it was just a step too far.

Why do you all do this to your kids? It’s so easy to not make your kids wear racist costumes. It’s so easy not to buy a sampan hat for a character who never wears one in the first place. It’s beyond easy to not dress your kid up as Timothy McVeigh. Parents, let’s all agree not to set your children up for failure, or worse yet…think pieces.


Thoughts about the rest of the unoffensive cosplaying kids at Comic-Con:

One of the things I love most about cons are all the children who show up in elaborate costumes.


This kid might not love this picture when his parents whip it out in ten years to show his prom date, but it’s adorable and entirely inoffensive.

Kids, I never know what I’m going to get when I stop to ask one of you what you’re doing there and why you chose the costume you chose. Sometimes it’s clear your parents have been making all the decisions:

Me: Who are you dressed as?
Kid: I don’t know.
Me: Do you know where you are?
Kid: ….the comic book store?

Sometimes you scare me:

Me: Why did you choose to dress as Darth Vader?
Kid: I plan to kill all the Ewoks on Ewok World.

Sometimes you’re confused:

Who’s your favourite Batman character?
Kid: Aquaman.

Sometimes you say something so cute that I consider kidnapping as a serious option:

Me: Who are you dressed as?
Kid: Daddy.
Me: Okay, who’s Daddy dressed as?
Kid: Spider-Man.
Me: And who’s your favourite superhero?


You are all delightful. Please stay unjaded babies forever.


Thoughts about the homeless man who flashed me on the street at 11:30 at night:




So, first off, had this simply been a case of you changing or peeing on the street because you had nowhere else to do it, I’d have been a lot more understanding. But that wasn’t what this was. This was a case of you waiting until I was alone, whipping your dick out, and making masturbatory motions while grinning at me. You were absolutely in the wrong here and I was pissed.

I’m still pissed. But I know that Comic-Con is a huge event that brings tens of thousands of people and tourists into downtown San Diego. I’ve always said that I prefer SDCC to NYCC because it feels to me like more of San Diego gets wholeheartedly involved in the event than New York. In reality it’s that more of The Gaslamp District of San Diego gets involved in the event– not the entire city. While the hotels, restaurants, and other businesses downtown are reaping the financial benefits of the con, there’s an entire population of the city that isn’t being helped or represented. The San Diego Free Press very pointedly noted that no outreach had been done to include the city’s low-income residents or communities of colour.

Still, you, homeless flasher, are not getting a pass on sexual harassment. That’s what that was, and you’re still the worst. As in any tourist-filled city, there’s a deeper truth under the shiny varnished event the SDCC organizers present. I spend a lot of time advocating for and demanding representation in the media being presented at Comic-Con. Maybe it’s time to shine that same spotlight on the city hosting the con we’re all flocking in to enjoy.


Thoughts about Walton Goggins:

When you politely asked me how my evening was going as we rode the elevator up to a party together, you probably weren’t expecting a response of, “Well, a homeless dude just showed me his dick and now I want to drink heavily.”

Thanks for taking that so well. I really enjoyed Justified.


Thoughts about Orlando Jones:

Thanks for letting me cut in front of you in line at the open bar so I could get that much-needed drink. You, sir, are a true gentleman.

Thoughts about the creep who took pictures of me eating a lollipop:

I hate you. I almost hate you more than the flasher, because I eat candy like a fiend and this lollipop was the first real candy I’d had in a smooth ten days. I went off the stuff before arriving in San Diego because in three years I’ve never once seen a vegetable on a plate of food I’ve eaten during SDCC, and I was trying to be proactive.

On Friday I caved and was thoroughly enjoying Step 245 toward my future diabetic coma while I waited for the light to change, when I noticed that you had a camera pointed at me and were snapping pictures from all the way across the street. I was in a cosplay, so it didn’t actually bother me until I was close enough for you to say, “Suck it harder, baby.”

I’m still confused about why you didn’t seem to appreciate it when I threw the lollipop at your camera.


Thoughts about the people choosing, scheduling, and assigning which panels go where and at what time:

Thanks for putting the We Are All Heroes diversity panel (featuring Katrina Law) at the same time as the actual Arrow panel. That wasn’t a Sophie’s Choice-like decision for me at all. Also, thanks for putting that diversity panel at 7pm on Saturday. I wasn’t too exhausted to attend after a whole day on the on floor. I didn’t have to drag myself out of my bed after the thirty-minute nap I managed to squeeze in, pinch some life back into my cheeks, and limp my way back over to the convention center.

KUDOS on not scheduling a panel like Women of Colour in Comics on-site at your convention. A panel made up entirely of women of colour? Who would want to see that? Definitely not all the con-goers who had to trek twenty minutes away from the convention center to a satellite library location to attend. They all had more chutzpah and energy than I did.

Thank you for scheduling the Black Panel opposite the Gender, Diversity, and Representation in comics panel. Of course I didn’t want to go to both. Obviously — as pop culture has taught us — when it comes to diversity, you can only have one thing at a time. Two if you’re lucky and the actress is light-skinned and ethnically ambiguous.

And thank you so much for only having one panel featuring exclusively Black panelists. Thanks for only having one panel featuring exclusively Asian panelists. Thanks for having zero panels featuring exclusively Latino panelists. There are only 54 million of them in the country, after all.


Thoughts about the people who took time out of their con to sit on panels about diversity and inclusion:

There may not have been as many of you as I would have liked, but you were all fantastic. You guys are the reason I always leave Comic-Con inspired with Big Plans For The Rest Of The Summer. (Those plans inevitably morph into some sort of Dance Moms binge, but it’s the thought that counts.)


The Super Asia America panelists, photo by Sunpech Photography

An entire panel of librarians hosted by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on Thursday reminded everyone in the room just how badass librarians have to be when faced with parents who want to ban diverse books from their shelves. Chloe Bennett, you made me feel better about my own beauty-related anxiety with your candid admission that, as a half-Chinese woman, you’ve only just started to feel comfortable with your looks and feel truly “pretty.” Michael Davis, we haven’t always agreed on everything, but when you broke down behind the podium while speaking about the murder of your sister and the death of your mother, I could recognize the amount of personal experience you poured into the creation of Static Shock. Katrina Law, I was delighted by the depth of your knowledge of comic book history. Ryan Coogler, I hope you realize how important your reminders of Marvel’s history of copping from the Black experience (the X-Men and the Civil Rights movement, anyone?) are, as Marvel does it yet again with October’s parody “hip-hop variant covers.” (For each cover they release, they should have to hire one Black creator, am I right, Ryan?)

Every year I have to pad my time waiting in line to get into your panels by an additional 15 minutes, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay each and every one of you. I watched people give a hearty “fuck you” to the fire marshall’s code to make sure they got a good seat in Racebending’s Super Asian America panel and queue for almost an hour to get into The Black Panel. Your panels draw crowds and fill rooms and inspire people; I hope the convention organizers take note.


Finally, thoughts about Matt Bomer:

Were you a bit weirded out when, after you very kindly held the elevator door for me, I didn’t immediately look you in the eyes to thank you? Once I realized who you were, it took me a good fifteen seconds to convince myself that looking someone so preternaturally beautiful directly in the eye wouldn’t have dire consequences. I was in that elevator finalizing a plan to sneak into a party I had no business being at — it seemed entirely plausible that Security knew that and stuck us in the elevator together so you could either turn me into stone or transport me away to whichever faerie realm you were exiled from thirty years before. It wasn’t until after I’d finally thanked you, you’d smiled at me and complimented my dress, and we’d both exited the elevator that I thought to wonder why you were leaving that party before it even got going. I can only assume you were having a bad reaction after ingesting pure iron.


All photos — with the exception of the Super Asia America panel — were used courtesy of Kendra James.

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