You don’t realize how big a nerd you are until you’re stalking Princess Bubblegum at Planet Comicon.
Let me explain. I spot someone dressed as the “Adventure Time” genius as we drive up to Bartle Hall over the weekend for KC’s giant annual pop culture and comic book convention. She is perfection, down to her pink painted skin. I just want a picture with the mathematical ruler of Candy Kingdom.
Once inside, I see her “Adventure Time” cohorts: Finn, Fiona, Jake and the Ice King, too. But every turn I take in the maze of comic books, toys, T-shirts, posters and more, someone says I just missed Princess Bubblegum. She is elusive.
On my search, I do find every variant of Spider-Man, plus Batman, Deadpool, Pyramid Head, Predator and, surprisingly, a handful of Harley Quinn types. I never knew the Joker’s girlfriend was so popular. But that’s the cool thing about Planet Comicon. Every character is welcome. In the land of costumes and geek celebrations, everyone is a star.
People don’t just stop you if you’re wearing a costume. They stop you to compliment you on even the smallest aspects of your pop culture personality. Like my Cyborg socks. This bit of Teen Titans leads to conversations with a 7-year-old Nightwing and a woman dressed as Raven from the DC Comics universe.
At this convention, no one is strange. No matter how wild your outfit is, you’re welcome in this community. Trekkers, “Star Wars” fanatics, “Potter” heads, all manner of comic book lovers, everyone. When I’m staring in awe at “InuYasha” and “Sailor Moon” toys, no one calls me crazy. A guy behind the table is impressed I know my anime. But in my early 20s I would skip out on parties for marathons of “InuYasha,” and my friends thought I’d lost my cool. In the aisles of Bartle Hall, being nerdtastic is cool.
“There are no judgments here,” says Cody Matthews, 20, dressed as Wonder Woman. Statuesque and striking are the only ways to describe her. Cameras are constantly flashing around her and her friends. “You don’t stand out for being a nerd. I feel powerful. Everyone wants a picture.”
Yes, cameras are a major part of the weekend. Attendees can pay $25 to $50 or more for a picture with a celebrity (they even charge for autographs), but I found the picture-taking among fellow fans to be most amazing. In a world where we’ve lost touch with the power of simply saying “hello,” it is awesome to see so many strangers talking and straight-up bonding. At Planet Comicon, people readily put their arms around one another and take pictures for the love of superheroes and beloved characters.
And despite the male-dominated world of comics and pop culture icons, the ladies are in full force. Wonder Woman hangs with the femmes fatales of the movie “Sucker Punch” for U.S. Toy and Magic Costume Shop. Some might see them, scantily clad, and think sexism. That’s not the case.
“It’s empowering,” says Robin Ussher, 24, dressed as Amber. “Maybe it’s a hair exploitative because it is sexualized. But the women kick ass. They beat the male antagonist.”
Shea Ketchum, dressed as Sweat Pea, adds that it feels good to see so many parents bringing their daughters over to her group. “The girls want to take pictures with strong women.”
Anthony Xiong and his friends are also a big draw for photos. Dressed as X-Men, they even have a Stan Lee, the mastermind of Marvel Comics, and a frosty, full-body-painted Ice Man in tow.
“Getting together with a team is what makes it fun,” says Anthony, 32, dressed as Gambit. “It’s nice to be around people who are into the same things as you are.”
And so many of us really are into the same things. But I am surprised to see so many of my fellow super geeks are into hip-hop as much as me. The DJ for the Live Art stage is Jamel Rockwell, the legendary DMC (of Run DMC fame), rocking the mic. At any given time, you can see dance-offs and breakers. A little girl dressed as Freddy Krueger even serves somebody on the dance floor. Talk about epic.
DMC is there to promote his graphic novel, “DMC
,” where he goes from rapper to superhero. Yes, he still rocks the iconic shell-toe Adidas.
“Hip-hop and comics isn’t something that is brand new,” he says. “Mostly everyone in hip-hop grew up as a kid re-creating, loving and enjoying comic books. We came up in an era when it was Bruce Lee, comic books and taking turntables to the park and jamming until we had to go home. ‘DMC’ is a tribute to hip-hop, writing and visual arts. The relationship is there. In hip-hop it’s all about being creatively free. We have our own fashion and our own language. Look around, all of those elements are here, too.”
I look around. And he’s right. We’re in our own world, doing our own thing, and it feels good. Four hours have flown by on this Saturday afternoon. I never do find Princess Bubblegum. But I find something even more special: my people.