It’s my first time attending San Diego Comic-Con. Of course, I don’t need to tell anyone around me that. You’ll know me by my frantic gait. I spent the first two days earning my stripes as the proverbial chicken sans head. I wish I could say this is how it is for everyone. But, in truth, I am the only person who cannot locate my chill. In fact, everyone around me is having the time of their lives. I am in constant search of snacks. I’ve eaten mostly scrambled eggs, Twizzlers, and pizza (in that order, on repeat) since I arrived. How can I describe Comic-Con? Imagine downtown San Diego turned into a college campus — except everyone cannot wait to go to class. They have been waiting years to go to class. The sidewalks are swarmed with way too many people to move more than a few steps at a time. There are TV and movie stars everywhere. The stages are usually filled with A-listers l admire from afar and sometimes interview — like a hungry Jennifer Lawrence, a subdued Ben Affleck (whom I have taken to calling Batfleck), a Ryan Reynolds in such top form he brought down the house, and the cast of The Walking Dead. Sometimes, you’re just walking along the street and a fucking zombie jumps out at you as part of an activation of the latest TV show about the undead. It scares the shit out of you, so you jump, then try to be cool about it. Comic-Con, at its heart, is about fandom and celebrating a passionate sect of people (men! women! babies!) who keep the geek world spinning. But, Comic-Con is also about lines — lots of them. There are Mrs. Fields cookie kiosks every few hundred feet throughout the Convention Center. They are cash only. In between panels and presentations that included a homoerotic bromance between Harry Potter and Professor X, I spent a good part of the four-day circus asking female cosplayers to talk to me because I’m curious about why they cosplay and how it makes them feel.
I’m especially interested in fans dressed as different iterations of their favorite characters, like Steampunk Leia, Dia de los muertos Leia, Slave Leia, and Canadian Batman. (Okay, he was a dude, but still.) I run after a woman dressed as Darth Peach. (That’s Darth Vader and Princess Peach in one getup.) I run after another woman whose dress is made of comics, because it’s so meta I can’t take it. So, why do these women cosplay? The short is answer is because it’s fun and empowering. The long answer? Well, cosplaying is great, but there are lots of personal boundaries issues and sometimes guys can be creepy and also there is body shaming. Kimmi, 30 from Ocean Side, Calif., is a super-tall, beautiful Black woman. She’s dressed as Wonder Woman, and she looks amazing. But, some people give her a hard time about what she’s wearing. “She’s an icon for women's empowerment and an American icon,” she told me. But, at another convention recently, she got some backlash for her costume. “[Some people] said because I am a woman of color I am not supposed to do the character,” she said. As in, Wonder Woman is white, so Kimmi should choose from only black female characters to cosplay. It’s a special brand of bullshit that made me mad for her. But, she just rolled her eyes about it. “I told them it’s just a hobby. There are no rules to this. It’s just fun.” I begin to think maybe Kimmi knows the location of my chill. Athena Rose, 26, from Long Beach, is dressed as Poison Ivy. She’s been cosplaying since 2005. She’s all about making her own costumes, like so many cosplayers are. Athena said that she picks her cosplay characters not on their personalities, but on which outfits will look good on her. “It’s good to feel sexy,” she said, though she feels that skipping the craftsman aspect of cosplay is “attention-whoring.” Sometimes men stick their cameras in female cosplayers’ faces, take a picture of them without asking, and walk away. This isn’t just a story someone told me, either. As I was speaking to a woman cosplaying as Harley Quinn, a man shoved his arm between us, took a picture of Harley’s face, and then walked away. What the fuck was that? I asked her. “Yeah, it happens all the time.” It’s disturbing. Comic-Con is one of those places where, even though everyone’s always bumping into everyone else, no one gets mad. Everyone is patient about the fact that you have to wait in line just to cross the street.
The days are long and I am constantly in search of snacks. When I leave the Convention Center to find lunch on Fifth Avenue, I’m immersed in even more Comic-Con. I am convinced, now, that there’s no escaping it. I end up just walking back and digging a stray Twizzler out of my backpack. When the Twizzlers run out, this becomes a piece of gum. One day I tried eating at the Hard Rock Hotel, since I had a press conference there shortly after. But, the hostess informed me that the kitchen had gotten so backed up with orders they’d just stopped taking new food orders altogether until further notice. Hall H is the main event, the place where the biggest panels happen. People camp out just to get in. For this reason, industry friends warned me it might smell a little funky. (It did not.) The room has massive screens that nearly surround the audience. It’s where new trailers drop. There’s a constant feeling of exclusivity and die-hard fandom in the air. Security guards walk the aisles with binoculars to make sure no one’s recording this super-secret footage. Just before midnight on Saturday, I leave my final event of the night. I have logged 20,000 steps on my step counter. I am so hungry, but the restaurants all have lines around the corner. I can’t find a cab or an Uber, so I hire a pedicab to take me back to my hotel in Little Italy. I feel bad that he’s biking me around like this. But, he tells me not to worry because he’s used to transporting “families of fat Americans” all the time and I am “just a small girl.” Just as I’m prepared to hate him, he reads my mind. “Are you hungry?” He knows a pizza place that’s still open, close to where I’m staying. He pulls over so I can run in and get a slice while he waits for me outside. Before I can even sit back down in the pedicab I’m biting into the pizza. Someone give this guy a cape, because he’s my superhero.
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