Hello friends. I have gathered you all here today to proudly announce that I am no longer a Comic-Con virgin. I went, I saw, I conquered, and now I stand before you a new woman. In my 26 years of fangirling, the only other time I've felt this kind of rush, this kind of deep camaraderie was the first time I stumbled upon fictionalley.org. And even that headlong dive into my first (and forever) fandom was checked quickly by insidious 'ship wars, the Big Name Fan/regular fan divide and the feeling of being lost in a crowd, a lurker looking in at a party that I was only tangentially part of.
Over the years my fandoms and my love for them grew, but so did my awareness of the ways they fucked up. Misogyny, racism, even just plain-old schoolyard bullying among fans now constantly temper the unbridled love I have for my favorite fandoms. And that's a great thing. That means for every fanboy who insists that stormtroopers can't be black, there's a hundred fangirls who are aware of the problems in their favorite works and are incredibly happy to see a world they love reflect the one that they actually live in. But it does make it hard sometimes to reach that place of deep unproblematic love that we all once had as young fangirls. That's how I felt anyway, until I went to SDCC.
Now I've been to Comic-Cons before, and I'm a member of the press, so I've definitely stuttered all over my words while meeting my favorite actors and gazed slackjawed as my favorite comic book artists did personalized sketches for me. I've waited in disgustingly long lines waiting for insanely packed panels and talked to random strangers just to marvel at their cosplays. I've drunkenly declared each and every Comic-Con party the best one ever, no really, I totally mean it this time. But by the time I go home and settle back into the internet, the rush of the weekend is gone and I'm back tagging my problematic faves with #SweetSummerChild.
But there was something just a little more magical about San Diego.
1. My Internet Squad became my IRL Squad.
Because I have the audacity to be a woman of color who writes on the internet about things that men consider to be theirs, the internet for me often becomes a cesspool of comments ranging from the illiterate to the genuinely life-threatening. Often the one shining light amid all of that is a small band of internet friends. Other women, other writers, other fangirls whom I've never met in real life but who know me weirdly well anyway because we often find ourselves in the same dark corner. There's nothing else like the sweet, sweet bond that comes from being told that there's no place for us here, and that our love and our way of expressing that love for fandom is somehow less valid than everybody else's.
Meeting those women, those writers, in real life in San Diego was so incredibly validating. I finally matched soft-spoken voices and booming laughs to the sharp and cutting words they use on Twitter. I was gifted with their insightful thoughts and experience about how to get the most out of the minefield that is the press room. And most importantly we got to collectively side-eye and laugh at the shade that is occasionally thrown our way in press rooms by men who think the size and quantity of their camera equipment makes them better than everybody else in the room. There is nothing more satisfying than being part of a group of professionals who support each other and getting to experience it in more than 140 characters at a time was immensely rewarding. Thank you ladies, for forever keeping me from logging off permanently.
2. Hall H is a crazy, magical rabbit hole that will leave you changed forever.
Anytime I hear the words Hall H from now till the end of my days the first thing I'm gonna think of is the deafening sound. Omg, the applause, the cheers, and the feeling of 7,000 people roaring around you — the only word I have to describe it is ferocious. It was honestly Borg-like; the hivemind is so strong in there. Sitting in Hall H, surrounded by pure unadulterated joy, it's easy to set aside the problems of your problematic faves — especially when they come out ready to listen and learn. If you're lucky, leaving Hall H feels like a great conversation you had drunkenly with a person you might never see again, but think about all the time. You'll always be a little mad at yourself for not getting their number.
3. I met some of my heroes and none of them flinched at my sweaty-ass palms.
I'm pretty sure my palms have never been sweatier than when I introduced myself to Peter Capaldi. Peter if you're reading this (lol) thank you for not flinching at the clamminess of my hand. That's when I knew that you were truly a terrific actor; that poker face was unshakable.
I was so focused on not fucking up in front of the Doctor that it wasn't until afterward when I was cutting the interview that I realized how focused and attentive he was. The patience and kindness with which he spoke and the genuine consideration he gave each question posed to him was honestly surprising. And I'm not saying that because I thought he secretly might be an asshole, but simply because I don't think anyone expects an actor of that caliber and fame to have time for anything more than a quick, glib quip. There's nothing like meeting someone you deeply admire and being treated with the same amount of respect you have for them.
4. I saw some unicorns.
It's a rare white dude that gets it, that really understands privilege theory and goes out of their way to interact with people who aren't like them. Honestly, they're basically unicorns. If they have a modicum of real power, like for example they run a show, or direct movies, then forget about it; they'll never have to listen to critiques of their work and be forced to take them seriously. Especially not from lowly peons like us, the fans.
So the fact that Joss Whedon acknowledged that he does in fact need to get better about race and diversity in casting in a Hall H panel feels like a blessed moment. Hearing Steven Moffat use the term genderfluidity correctly in an interview while making it clear the Doctor could be a woman at any time makes me hopeful about the future of the show. Watching Bryan Fuller talk about how he needed to make Alana Bloom the best character on Hannibal because he hated the fact that she became the girlfriend character last season literally made my heart grow three times that day.
All these tiny little gems give me hope that I will get to see myself represented fully in the things I love one day, and like that day will be sooner than I originally thought.
5. Hearing from more than one cosplayer while doing a Cosplay Is Not Consent post that they've actually had a really respectful time at SDCC.
Doing BuzzFeed's annual "Cosplay is not consent" post is simultaneously horrific and hilarious and empowering. It's gut-wrenching to be reminded that young teenage girls aren't allowed to enjoy things they love without being objectified. It's hilarious, and honestly a relief to drag all those creepy bros with your new comrade in arms. And ultimately it gives these cosplayers some space to retaliate in a constructive way. This is the first year that I've personally (this post has been done by the wonderful Ryan Broderick and Ellie Hall in the past) talked to any cosplayer who couldn't be in the post — not because they didn't support it — but because they hadn't experienced any harassment in cosplay. It was so heartening to hear young teenage girls dressed as Storm and Emma Frost say that everyone had been respectful, both on the floor and in terms of asking for pictures. This was of course a very, very, very small percentage of people I talked to, but still: one small step for equality, one giant leap for cosplayers.
6. I was shocked to discover that in the right context, I can indeed make friends and not be a grumpy old bastard.
One of the best parts of any Con is making new friends. But I'm notoriously bad at it. I'm that person who goes to a party and sits in the corner with the people she knows. But there's something about SDCC that suddenly made me eager to talk to everyone, to know how their Con was going, to see what was worth checking out and what I should skip. Spending most of each day working in press rooms and panels means that you're by yourself most of the day. But the second I had free time at SDCC I realized it was impossible to be there and stand quietly in a line. There's too many good conversations to jump into.
"What do you think Donna Noble is doing right now?"
"OK but why wasn't Chris Pratt shirtless in Jurassic World?"
"Who do you think they're going to cast for John and Susie in the Sex Criminals TV show?"
I can honestly say I think SDCC is one of the few places where every single person I talked to in the drudgery of line wanted another opinion, wanted to hear differing views, was happy to debate and fangirl together respectfully. Not once did someone gatekeep me, not once did anyone even seem to be fighting that urge. The openness and diverseness of fandom at Comic-Con took me back to a simpler time when I thought I could post on message boards and everybody would be nice to me. Except this time instead of being flamed off the internet, everyone delivered. God bless you nerds, you are everything.
7. Having a creator I deeply respect shut down misogyny thrown in my direction.
I don't know Chip Zdarsky personally at all, but somehow I know deep in my heart that this story will embarrass him. But it was the best thing that happened to me all Con and I have to tell it (sorry Chip).
Some of you may be familiar with Chip from his excellent work on a comic book called Sex Criminals, which is about two people who can stop time when they have sex. They rob a bank. They discover they're not the only people with that ability. They face the consequences of the Sex Police. It's hilarious and earnest and wonderful and you should definitely pick it up if you're not reading it already. One of the best things about the comic is the nonsensical sex positions that are graffitied in the background of scenes (often in the womens bathroom). In fact the fandom calls itself Brimpers, after a fake sex position called Brimping. It is the act of fucking someone's hair. Like on their head. Maybe it feels good (brimpers let me know in the comments)? But mostly it makes a hilarious stick figure drawing.
So when I got in line to have Chip Zdarsky draw a personalized sketch for me I knew I wanted to request an original Sex Criminals sex position named after me. And man did Chip deliver. Here's all my favorite things in one scribble. Like any other excited fan I asked for a photo of Chip and me Vanna White-ing my new prized possession. An older gentleman in his fifties who was at the booth next to Chip's said he could take the picture for us. Chip and I smized our little hearts out, my new art on display.
And then it got creepy as fuck. This older gentleman whose name I don't know but will call Gary (the most fuckboy name I can think of, sorry Garys of the world) for the sake of this story then held my cell phone up, looked at the frame, and instead of taking the picture said, "You know you could re-create that right now if you wanted."
Now as you can see, this drawing is of the queer persuasion, so not only was that comment gross as fuck, but physically impossible at that moment in time. I can't imagine what my face must have looked like at that moment —
— but there's no fucking way it was anywhere close to pleasant. But before I even formulated a response beyond uncomfortable laughter, Chip cut in with a very terse, "No. No. Nope. No. Just take the picture."
That's what he said, but what everyone heard, definitely, was , dear god why, and fuck you, and I can't believe I have to tell you to stop creeping on people who are fans of mine and are willing spending their time and money to be here, please treat them with respect.
In a flash the photo was over and before I sprinted as far away from Gary as I could possibly get, Chip and I made one fleeting moment of eye contact. I'm not telepathic but Chip might be, so I imagine he was thinking at me: We survived Gary. We did it. Safe journey through this Con floor, safe journey into the only safe space in the world for you, your mother's arms.
Thanks for caring about the emotional well-being of your fans Chip. Keep it 100.
8. My IRL Squad became my Soul Bonded Forever From Trial By Fire Squad.
There's something about being shoved into a tiny Airbnb with people that leaves you with Stockholm syndrome. Somehow by the end of an insane four days you start feeling like you might actually miss living directly on top of another human being. Maybe it's the fact that bobby pins are always handy and there's always someone to tell you if your cosplay looks good (because omg, how are there no full-length mirrors in this hellhole), and to drag your ass out of bed early so you don't miss any of the good stuff. Maybe it's just that you're all so excited to be there that the exhaustion that sets in around 3 p.m. every day isn't enough to defeat you.
But I can guarantee this — no other place in the world can make sleeping on a shitty leather futon without A/C in the middle of July feel like an acceptable choice. And that's the true magic of SDCC. It gifts you with so much hope and joy that it lifts the heavy burdens that comes with fandom. Being aware of your problematic faves, being heavily sexualized and demeaned for enjoying something you love, being told that this space isn't for you; it's all still there, don't get me wrong. But this weekend I met so many non-Garys, heard creators with power tell me they want to represent people like me in their work, and watched my internet life suddenly spring into the real world in the most amazing and supportive way. It's honestly given me life.
Thank you to the squad for supporting all my terrible decisions this weekend and being a huge part of the reason that my faith in fandom is, at least a little bit, restored.
Thumbnail image by Gage Skidmore.