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Safe Spaces Found in Fan Conventions By Anjeanette LeBoeuf

This is the post where we are going to enter the world of fan conventions. Fan Conventions can be considered anything that carries a fan base – film, television, comics, books, actors, or genres of literature. Fan conventions have evolved to include aspects of role-playing, costume play, and direct interaction with the producers, actors, and writers of the selected item.

There is a large and prospering community that centers around comics, anime, television, and movies. As early as 1936, science fiction conventions were starting to develop. They range from local, regional, national, and international. They can carry broad topics to specific films, shows, or genres.

1966 saw the first Star Trek Convention and with it a growing space and society. A documentary called Trekkies explores the phenomenon of the television Sci-Fi show created by Gene Roddenberry. More importantly it goes into detailed over the significance that conventions play for people. The success of the Star Trek Convention helped to lead to more and more conventions popping up. Now, during certain times of year there can be a different convention happening every week, across the globe.

One convention that we will be looking at is the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, later coined WonderCon. WonderCon was first established in 1987 by retailer John Barrett. In 2001, a deal was made to incorporate WonderCon into the ComicCon International family. As of 2011, over 49,000 people attended the convention and grew to over 60,000 this past year. WonderCon hosts panels regarding comics, television shows, movies, and art – the main draw is having actors, directors, and writers being participants. WonderCon also participates in something that only the official ComicCon in San Diego hosts, the Comics Arts Conference. This concurrent conference sessions holds academic panels dealing with the same topics being presented by scholars, professionals and historians.

Conventions become an interesting and more importantly a safe space. A space where people can connect with others who shared their passions, their hobbies, and their views on the world. It is a safe space to explore sexuality and gender. Where people are emboldened to dress a certain way – to dawn that bow tie, to put that makeup on, to take on a different identity and persona.

Cosplay – or costume play is the art of dawning costumes and accessories to represent a specific character. This cosplay paired with conventions have created subcultures where many people can interact with each other and their character’s worlds. This cosplay is highly saturated within the Japanese culture. Crossplay is also now just as important, crossplay is when something dresses and acts as a character of a different gender.

Cosplay and Crossplay are some of the main things being essential to conventions. While it is much more common for women to crossplay – either dressing as the male character or turning the character female – there were quite a few men who choose to crossplay female characters. I asked one attendee who was merely cosplaying if he would ever consider dawning a female character and he said that in the last few years he has noticed a change in the amount of female characters being written and that now there are some really cool options.

On March 31 the 2017 WonderCon took place at the Anaheim Convention center. Throngs and throngs of people flocked to this convention. Many thousands dressed to the extreme or with subtle nods to their favorite characters and series. Panels focused on positive female characters, body issues within comics, displaying queer characters within the comic and television realms were just a tidbit of what was being offered this year. Main event panels included exclusive television premiers, first time showings of new trailers and scenes of upcoming movies. This year, the new season of Prison Break allowed the WonderCon attendees to see the first full episode before it aired the following week along with a cast panel.

The exhibit hall housed thousands of vendors and artists. One of the great things about WonderCon is Artist Alley, were you can go from row to row seeing the latest artists from comics, to paintings, shirts, and other cute things but more than that you can converse with the artists. A few years ago I attended a WonderCon and came across a lovely female artist who were later become one of the principle designers on the Disney’s Epic Hit Frozen.

The main thing that has stayed with me since my very first convention, was the fundamental notion of safe space. Safe space to be for just if two days a fragment of yourself even if it is under the guise of a character. And it seemed like year after year more and more people started to get really comfortable in the art of cosplay/crossplay. Social media started to maintain and foster the connections that people were forming. All genders, all walks of life grace the halls and find solace, find empowerment, and maybe find more of themselves.

Feminist and Queer Advocates know the importance of safe spaces. They know the importance of creating and maintaining a rich and thriving communities – from the thriving Castro District in San Francisco, the establishment of the Trevor Project to help support and alleviate the massive epidemic of suicide rates amongst young LGBTQ+, to simply wearing a rainbow pin to show your support or role as an ally. This has been picked up on at fan conventions, where people have flocked to and have find a refuge. Over the course of five years, I have seen a large growth of queer presence and of women who are demanding an equal and fully clothed (if they so choose) spot amongst the superheroes, villains, and characters.

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