If you know anything about the fandom that surrounds comics and sci-fi, you’re aware that there are massive gatherings of devotees, many of whom spend enormous amounts of time and money on elaborate costumes that turn the wearer into a character from a favorite movie, TV show or comic book.
While people dressed as an imperial storm trooper or Boba Fett are nothing new, the phenomenon is wider and deeper than just Star Wars fandom. It stretches from major movies’ esoteric characters to Disney to niche fantasy characters to Furries (to infinity) and beyond.
Due to the enormous attention to detail that many people put into their costumes to fully recreate a character, I went to ComicCon 2017 in Denver to research the weapons of ComicCon, get some cool pictures and talk to people about how they made or what they paid for their E-11 Blaster Rifle.
However, due to some unforeseen changes made to the Con this year, things didn’t go quite as as I’d planned….
Before we get into it, some housekeeping. Mad thanks to Jessica (pictured above) from Alter-Ego Productions for guiding me through the perplexing maze of rules, areas, tickets, booths, security and general craziness that is a ComicCon. This event is massive. Without her assistance I would’ve either gotten lost or ended up ogling the Fallout Pipboys (see below) that were for sale. And not getting anything done.
This guy is a member of the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service from Resident Evil. Notice anything wrong with his costume?
I did and I found it very odd. I couldn’t much talk to this gentleman, though, as he was part of a rather elaborate display, a portion of which you can see in the background. And his gas mask combined with the crowd noise limited us to hand signals.
Walking around I noted quite a few different characters from Star Wars and few of them were “armed.” Those who were armed were characters that would be armed solely with a lightsaber. But some of them weren’t carrying their Jedi weaponry. What exactly was going on here?
These people put a lot of time and energy (and a fair amount of money) into some of these costumes and at this event many are strangely incomplete.
The answer: a combination of confusion about new “family friendly” rule changes for this year’s Con and what I can only describe as a completely uneven application of those rules (which you can read here.)
Listed in the prohibited props section are items that include “Firearms of any kind — this includes BB guns, cap guns, paintball and pellet guns… Replica firearms of any kind… bladed metal or wooden weapons…” While the rules, as written, would seem to be a hindrance to, say, someone who wanted to go as G.I Joe, does a blaster really constitute a “firearm”?
This is Alex E. in his Ghostbuster costume with proton pack complete with a neutrona wand. Alex is part of a volunteer group that does charity work with groups like Toys 4 Tots and Tiny Tots Halloween. He was able to get his “weapon” into the Con, and not only was it damn cool, it was also built at home for about $20.
This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see at this year’s Con. Unfortunately many people left their weapons in the car or didn’t bring them at all because they feared being turned away by security. With one exception, a guy who was dressed as Han Solo and got his DL-44 blaster into the Con but wouldn’t talk to me once he found out I was writing for for The Truth About Guns. Everyone I talked to about this expressed displeasure about the rules to some degree or another.
Andrew S., a member of the Rebel Alliance, has an empty holster because he didn’t think he could get his DH-17 blaster pistol into the Con. That holster is a custom job made just for that blaster and was made locally in Colorado. I’m no expert on leatherwork but I’m guessing that wasn’t cheap. Alex has been going to the Denver Con since 2011 and carrying his blaster without incident until this year. He said he was “annoyed” by the new rules and I can’t say I blame him.
Eric T. and Josh G. left their weapons in the car, too. And they weren’t happy about it. It was plainly obvious they’d have loved to have shown them to me, but that would have required leaving and returning to the Con which is a long involved process and that wasn’t going to happen. These costumes, except for the helmets, are home made and very detailed. Again, note the empty holster (lower left of picture).
The uneven application of rules meant that some people were able to bring elaborate “weapons” into the Con, but these were generally melee type weapons. Jordan J. made this giant mallet at home out of PVC Pipe and a water jug. Perhaps I’m just not artistically inclined but the level of craftsmanship and attention to detail of something like this mallet or the previously pictured Neutrona Wand is mind-blowing to me. These folks have some real talent and obviously truly enjoy what they do.
Note the yellow band near the top of the mallet and the band on Jordan’s right wrist. That signifies that she has “peace bonded” the prop.
At events like a Renaissance Festival it generally means swords and daggers, which are usually real, and have been zip-tied into a sheath so that they can’t be drawn. At ComicCon it’s more of a seal of approval and an agreement by the person bringing the prop in that they won’t menace anyone with it or otherwise break the rules. You can see above that Alex E. got his Neutrona wand peace bonded, too.
U.B.C.S. members weren’t the only ones missing their weapons. Even the Lone Ranger was armed with nothing more than tree fruit. I didn’t get this gentleman’s name because he was in a hurry, but he had time for a picture and to tell me that the reason he was carrying bananas was because to carry a facsimile weapon would have required him to make them out of foam.
Another gentleman, dressed as Star Lord, declined to have his photo taken or provide a name, but was willing to let me photograph his homemade PVC and EVA foam prop rifle that appears in the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Note that this prop isn’t peace bonded which leads to questions as to how well event security was being run.
Some weapons are a mix between store-bought items and home made customization. Jessica had a sword (also not peace bonded) that started life as a store-bought item which she then painted and sanded to get the look she wanted.
Most events like this feature vendors and ComicCon is no exception. However, while you could spend $600 on a StormTrooper helmet, the weapons selection, which I’m told is usually pretty good, was reduced to this:
Don’t get me wrong, some of that stuff is cool, especially that HALO Type 1 Energy Sword but where does an aspiring Han Solo get his mitts on a modified DL-44 heavy blaster?
Just to give you an idea of the detail and thought people put into relatively minor props, check out this Pipboy and the Nuka-Cola bottle (from the Fallout franchise) that were for sale.
That’s the level of detail some of these people get into and it would have been really cool to be able to see how people worked their magic on the appropriate weaponry rather than being reduced to carrying fruit. Or nothing at all. Those weapons are often an integral part of a costume and the rules this year put a damper of the event.
Numerous people I talked to expressed significant displeasure about the rule changes for this year. Vendors, costumed Con-goers and just people who wanted to see some cool costumes all expressed annoyance.
Then there’s this: while (some) fake costume weaponry was explicitly banned, concealed carry of real firearms wasn’t. And the security was lax enough that the “bag check” — which I endured twice — was perfunctory at best. I unzipped my pack and the security person glanced at (not in) it before telling me I was good to go. They had no idea what was in that pack and didn’t really seem to care.
In short, ComiCon was a lot of fun (and I apologize to the Furry whose tail I stepped on). But I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see as many cool homemade prop weapons as I’d hoped and the rules clearly disappointed many fans who’ve been dedicated Con-goers for years. The unclear and unevenly applied rules put a damper on the Con for a goodly number of people.
Far be it from be to decide what’s “kid friendly,” but based on the people I talked to, it seems the organizers went too far and seriously annoyed a fair number of their adult fans/customers who are the ones with the money and the real dedication to this event.
When people spend this amount of time and effort on the details like that scar above, telling them a major part of their costume isn’t allowed because it’s not “kid friendly” isn’t going to please your customer base.