I wasn’t surprised when my preparation for San Diego Comic-Con started out with a male employee at Home Depot questioning my ability to wield a power drill. Not that he cared, but this was only my first costume to involve a power drill, not my first time using one, thank you very much. The Bo Staff I later sawed, stained, and drilled to create is perfectly functional, and perfectly capable of whacking him over the head with should I ever run into him again.
Despite being a comic book consumer, for me the Con is less about the comics and more about the costumes. This has less (if anything) to do with my gender or the popular assumption that female comic book fans make up a small majority of readership, and more to do with the fact that I love attention and I get a sick satisfaction out of proving to myself that I can copy elaborate fictional costumes. I may have trouble dressing myself on a day-to-day basis, but trust I’ll make sure that my resemblance to Margaery Tyrell is uncanny. Well, OK, “uncanny.” I lack the ability to smile like I know exactly when the world is going to end, but what's probably more noticeable is the whole thing where I also lack white skin.
It’s pointed out occasionally as if, perhaps, I’ve maybe forgotten that Margaery isn’t black. I have not, and if I had, it would have been reinforced when I was pulled to the side at the airport on my way out to San Diego so a female TSA agent could pat down my hair. (I’ve since told myself that if my hair is really a weaponized threat to national security threat then I must be one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming the Black Widow.)
Don’t worry, I’m painfully aware at all times during cons that I’m both black and a woman. And, well, if exacting accuracy is your big sticking point, then boy do I have news for you Guy Wearing Jedi Robes Over His Jeans And Vans. Being a black woman is the single most prominent part of my identity so—cosplay or not—it’s never something I want lost in the shuffle when I’m attending a con.
As usual, I spent most of my time in awe of my fellow cosplaying women. The fact that I saw four Rule 63 Winter Soldiers on Thursday before seeing even one male in the costume the next day speaks volumes to the level dedication to comics and fandom that we female fans possess. There were Winter Soldiers complete with metal arms, gender-bent Captain Americas, She Hulks in lawyer power suits, and enough women dressed as Thor to fill The View's entire audience and then some. Of course, when you’re putting this much effort into a costume for one weekend out of the year, you probably didn’t need Marvel pandering at you via a morning talk show to keep you interested. I was showing up as Peggy Carter whether Whoopi Goldberg endorsed it or not.
Not only were we dominating the cosplay game, this is also a year of an increasing number of great panels geared toward gender and sexuality. Thursday alone had “The Most Dangerous Women at Comic Con,” “Creating Awesome Female Characters,” and even a panel on transgender trends in pop culture that I don’t remember existing last year. Plans didn’t allow much time to attend panels each day, but I did take great pleasure in walking past the lines to get in. Lines don’t lie. They’re a physical, visual manifestation of the mass desire to see someone other than the average straight white male represented at events like this. We want to see and hear from the people doing the work to further gender representation and equity in media, and we’re willing to wait for hours to do it.
The level of female participation in comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy fandom in contrast to the amount of popular media in those genres aimed at us is always a good shock to the system. Sadly, at this point it’s nothing when compared to the lack of media aimed at black women, or black people in general. This is never more apparent than when you’re sitting in on The Black Panel, in its 16th SDCC year, and it’s still one of the only panels specifically geared toward minority fans, and listening to fan favorites like actor J. August Richards talk about the common Hollywood assumption that black people (as the monolithic whole that we are) simply don’t like genre media and won’t consume it, even if it is geared toward us.
My Netflix account and, more importantly, my wallet would beg to differ. I’d guess that a good deal of the at least 50 percent black crowd at the after party for the Eisner Awards on Friday night would also agree. Let’s face it: The fact that there was an after party for the Oscar Awards of the comic book industry featuring Lil’ John DJing with Orlando Jones acting as hype man does a better job of showing the changing landscape of the comic book industry than any TV announcement stunt that Marvel could think of pulling.
Despite a rather disastrous series of events leading up to my Con (I’m capable of using a power drill, thank you), it was fun, if not as inclusive as I’d like. I’d love to see more panels featuring only women and I’d like to see even one panel featuring just women of color. If that seems like it should be a low bar to clear, well, you’re right. But this is Comic-Con, and I’ve learned to enjoy myself while I temper my expectations.