GARDEN STATE COMIC FEST

JULY 25-26, 2015

gscf program passes

AMBER LOVE 27-JULY-2015 Last Saturday, I attended the first day of the GARDEN STATE COMIC FEST held in Morris Plains, New Jersey. After interviewing one of the founders, Dave O’Hare for Vodka O’Clock, I had good feelings about this small comic con’s success. Including the free children’s admissions, they figure they are just under 5,000 people in attendance.

Massive show floor view at @GS_Comic_Fest

A video posted by Amber Love (@amberunmasked) on

It was held in a beautiful area of NJ and in the Mennen Arena which is part of the county park system, so there were ample parking and security. The artist list was impressive and they incorporated cosplay without letting it define the show and take attention away from the heart of comics fandom. The convention tickets were so affordable that two days at GSCF is still less than a single day at a big con. Kate and I and our local friends had a great time! I’m sure she’ll have her own set of pictures to share. I uploaded all of mine already, but some are featured below.

VENUE

I saw several uniformed police officers inside the con and driving through the parking lots. As Dave said in our interview, there were also security cameras and plain clothes officers. When I sat through the Bullying in Cosplay panel, featured costumer Belle Chere even remarked about the high presence of officers and how this kind of show feels so much safer than San Diego or New York massive cons.

I didn’t check out the concessions because I brought my own snacks and water. The restrooms were clean and stocked – a big problem in every other comic book show. The facility was definitely handicapped accessible, but due to the congestion in the aisles, I do think it would’ve been challenging in the bottleneck areas of the floor plan for someone in a wheelchair or with crutches to get around. Once in an aisle, it opened up, but the aisles going across the long rows were extremely tight. The registration check-in could have been better. It seems none of the people outside knew anything and then the registration table inside took a bit of explaining for me to get my badge and get in; Kate said she got in without too much trouble. There were also issues in the volunteers not knowing the layout,   so it took a while for me to get help finding the proper exit to get to the tent. The map in the program wasn’t oriented properly to the front doors. But it wasn’t a big deal. The bleacher seats were wonderful, but I don’t think they were handicap accessible – maybe there was a lift somewhere down a side tunnel like the locker rooms.

Also, I was able to drop off my large box of comics for the Superheroes for Hospice charity drive. Spiro was happy to see me and glad to take them off my hands.

ARTISTS

My fangirl moment of this con was seeing GREG HILDEBRANDT. I’ve seen him before at the Montclair Art Museum, but it’s pretty much known that he rarely makes appearances anymore. We found his booth with all the gorgeous art you can imagine nicely displayed on backdrop walls and on the tables. Plus, he was working on a large painting of Joker and Harley at the end of his booth setup. He was seated facing his own space and not behind velvet ropes or anything. You could just go up and watch him work. I couldn’t see the child he was talking to when I got close, but I heard him giving advice about painting to a wee someone who was fascinated by him. Then, since a large herd of us in costume seemed to be unable to move forward while people took pictures, Greg came around the table. I thought for sure, when I saw his arms opened wide, that he was going to shoo us away because no one could look at the tables. But instead, he called for his wife Jean Scrocco to bring her camera. He wasn’t shooing us away at all! He made his way into the herd for a photo (if anyone has found that picture, please let me know!).

GREG HILDEBRANDT
GREG HILDEBRANDT

One of my con friends even said to me, “I can’t believe the artists they got!” They worked hard to get the people they wanted and maybe it wasn’t the most diverse list of creators, but there was a range of newer talent with people like Hildebrandt who are considered legends. To name a few: Billy Tucci, Ethan Van Sciver, and Neal Adams. To be honest, I missed most of my artist friends because I got tied up taking cosplay pictures. I got to see Jason Baroody and Charles Wilson III. That was it! But I have over 100 photos so you can tell I was busy. Though he may rest in peace, Frank Frazetta was not there, but some of his original art was. I was able to flip through a portfolio which contained some of his figure drawing sketches and they made my heart ache for missing out on modeling this year!

FRAZETTA
FRAZETTA

PANELS

There are a couple things where the panels could use improvement. The first was that even though it was a lovely day without rain, it was HOT! It was bright and sunny with almost no breezes at all. Being under the tent was pretty uncomfortable. The few breezes there were provided a couple seconds of relief, but they also blew the panel’s tablecloths into the mic stands. Also, they didn’t announce on the loud speaker before a panel started to give anyone time to get there. The announcements were as they had started. I went to two and was late to both just trying to cross the show floor and get to the tent outside.

MUSIC & COMICS

MUSIC & COMICS
MUSIC & COMICS

The first panel I wanted to see was the discussion on Music & Comics held by the DJs of WDHA and Sean Van Gorman, comic creator. The discussion was free form and not particularly focused. It was casual and all the panelists were interested in the subject matter. They covered the prolific comic output of metal band KISS and then mentioned others that are taking a different approach.

Instead of musicians putting themselves into comics, many of them also have artistic talent in writing and visual art to make the comics. Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance has written a few like Umbrella Academy which was drawn by Gabriel Ba. Personally I don’t consider Stone Sour a metal band, but according to Wikipedia they are; anyway, lead singer Corey Taylor wrote the House of Gold and Bone comics with a variety of artists spanning four issues including Richard Clark. Another medium adaptation that heavily crosses over with comics is animation; Metalocalypse was an Adult Swim cartoon created by Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha about the fictional metal band Dethklok.

This panel also mentioned how important soundtracks to comic book movie adaptations are. Guardians of the Galaxy, they said, resurrected and brought new fans to some old classics. Then there are fictional bands and characters in comics about music like Jem & the Holograms, Josie & the Pussycats, and Van Gorman’s own Toe Tag Riot. Unfortunately, none of the panelists seemed aware of The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie which is about gods and goddesses that spend 10 years of each century on Earth as pop/rock stars (and it happens to be what I was cosplaying).

COSPLAY BULLYING

The second panel was Mikomi Chan and Belle Chere talking about harassment and safety issues in cosplay. I can’t say this was the best panel on the subject I’ve ever seen. It’s a common discussion to have at larger conventions, but there was some misinformation said which could be passed along. The main points, however, held up and good advice was given. Belle said she does not support using the title Professional Cosplayer unless the person makes their living from it all the time, and she believes that’s no more than four people around the world. What they wanted to drive home to people in the audience was that you can’t get into cosplay thinking you’ll get famous and become a featured guest. On this, they’re totally correct. I used to be far more well known in cosplay back in 2009 than I am today. Part of that was because I was active on message boards and now I’m using that time for writing.

“If you’re going to cosplay, do it for yourself.” ~Belle Chere

Ignore internet comments unless you are given direct threats. Belle Chere said that in 2014, she was sent numerous Facebook messages from a man who said that if she showed up to New York Comic Con, he would find her and rape her. ReedPop failed to address her concerns privately; but when she took the matter public, they said there was nothing they could do.

COSPLAY BULLYING
COSPLAY BULLYING

Despite such a serious threat, Belle Chere seemed to flippantly say inappropriate touching has happened and waved her hand like it was no big deal. It is a big deal and sometimes it gets serious. She even mentioned the case of Adrienne Curry physically fighting back against someone who touched a cosplayer standing near her. Here’s one of the spots where it wasn’t the most accurate of information; both panelists said it was Curry who was touched, and though she was in the past at San Diego con, the situation where she fought someone was when her friend dressed as Tigra was touched. They also tried to discuss last year’s incident of the cosplayer who got hurt (by means of her own drinking and stumbling) which at the time as news was coming out, the police treated as an assault until they found surveillance footage proving what really happened. Unfortunately Mikomi Chan, in her attempts to discuss it, said, “when a girl was killed or kidnapped…” trailing off. No one was ever kidnapped at Comic Con International!

The reason it’s important to keep these discussions free from hyperbole and misinformation is that attendees need to feel safe and they don’t need urban legends scaring them about going to conventions. Cons also don’t need the dark shadow of misinformation regarding their safety and harassment policies keeping people from attending.

That particular bit of inaccurate information came after an audience member asked the panelists if they remembered, “San Diego promotions telling people to hug a cosplayer.” That audience member was completely wrong! It was Toronto Fan Expo and they had sent out ads which included “cuddle a cosplayer.” The ads were upsetting to the cosplay community and TFE addressed the concern saying that they expect anyone to get consent. I was interviewed by The Mary Sue about the language of the ad. If anyone wants to talk about the injuries acquired that weren’t self-inflicted and also confirmed to have happened at CCI in San Diego, just search for “pen stabbing at comic con” and “killed by car at Twilight panel” both of which were real cases.

Something important Mikomi and Belle talked about was internal drama in the cosplay community. They referred to people who get upset by others cosplaying the same character. Belle also said there are cosplayers who buy fake Likes and Followers so that they can look popular to get hired at conventions as featured guests. These are topics that are not discussed as much as trolling from strangers/outsiders.

Mikomi also said she is frequently quizzed, especially by gamers, to see if she’s a “fake geek girl” or real. Speaking of fake, Belle openly discussed how her breasts are often the subject of debate whether they’re real or implants; this is especially true of her trips to California where people assume all large breasts are fake.

In conclusion, Belle said that the community seems a lot friendlier outside of the United States. She’s been to Taiwan and Canada where she describes the photographers as being polite and photoshoots being the most well-organized; but mentioned that the Taiwan organizers didn’t fulfill even basic promises to her such as providing a hotel room and offered for her to sleep on a strange man’s couch.

COSPLAY

I was surprised to see so many excellent, high level costumes at a small local show. I think I was expecting a lot of closet cosplay (like my own that day) or Halloween store versions. I figure people will definitely journey to some place like Atlantic City for a big cosplay event, but this one really surprised me in a good way. I believe a lot of that success in getting great cosplayers there was because of the contest prizes included passes to New York Comic Con, something pretty rare to come by if you haven’t been lucky to get them. Four-day passes are going for around $300 on eBay right now. The other main factor was that large groups of cosplayers were there together and had booth space.

GSCF2015 (31)

Since I already posted my gallery, there’s not too much to add. The Mandos had a cool fundraiser going. You could seek their services in capturing someone and they would set the bounty hunters after them. Once caught, the person would go into their jail cell and they had to stay there until their bail – by means of a charity donation – allowed them to be released.

spiderverse cosplay gscf

There were massive photoshoots in the bleachers. It started from someone organizing a large DC group for photos. Marvel cosplayers obviously joined in. They did a “vs” set and that was that. It was as if no other publishers or properties existed (too bad if you were there as Doctor Who or a gaming character!). Being in the bleachers, I think this may also have made it impossible or at least quite difficult for any cosplayers with disabilities.

When the large photoshoots were over, almost all the cosplayers seemed to leave. It got pretty quiet. The first day ended reasonably at 6:00, but people were hungry and sweaty and wanted to leave.

MY EXPERIENCE

CREEP ALERT

Here’s the part where I get into the personal experience I had. Before I get into the part that disappointed me the most, I want to talk about creeps. They’re everywhere in this industry. I was hanging out with Kate and since we only get to talk on the phone, there were some things going on with me last week that I wanted to talk to her about in person. Getting Kate hugs are important to me when I’m having a shitty week.

AMBER AND KATE GSCF

We were in an aisle of the vendors next to an action figure booth wall. We moved as out of the way as we could without leaving the con floor entirely. We huddled next to a garbage can just to talk quietly. Whenever a person came close, we shifted slightly to make sure we weren’t blocking any of the action figures they maybe wanted to see. I was in the middle of a sentence about some upsetting sexts I’ve been getting; Kate said she wanted to walk because her feet hurt standing still. As we took two steps away, a podcaster with a press badge (Yes, I know who he is) let us know he was eavesdropping.

Kate said, “Let’s walk, but I really want to hear the rest of this.”

Asshole Podcaster said, “I want to hear the rest of it too!”

Seriously, large disgusting creeper with a press badge and a camera – butt the hell out of my private conversations! I know who you are! And yes, this asshole with a camera was at the large photoshoots.

Kate had her own more personal creeper problem, but I’ll leave that for her to talk about if she wants.

MY COSPLAY & OTHER STUFF

I briefly mentioned above that I was cosplaying as Amaterasu, a character from the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine (#WicDiv). Honestly, I expected a lot of people to ask me if I was Dazzler. I got a few of them, but most people didn’t even bother to ask. In fact, they basically ignored me all together. [Edit to add: this portion of the post closely relates to a follow up post].

I was asked for a couple photographs by Otis Casey and I think he may have been a reporter who didn’t have much knowledge of the scene. I was hanging out with my friends of the 501st dressed as pilots, Mercs, and Darth Vader. But my outfit was a billowy white ensemble. This photographer asked me to get into a photo with Joe who was dressed as a pilot. We snapped several posed shots, but I was still confused. Why did he want me in those shots and not alone since I wasn’t with a group? I think he mistook my dress for Princess Leia’s New Hope gown.

A couple other people said I could’ve passed for Jem too, but other than the makeup, there’s nothing Jem-like about the way I looked. Jem is usually covered in lots of pink.

Amaterasu-GSCF (7)

One woman even asked if I was a Renaissance character. I really couldn’t figure that out, but I was wearing a couple pieces of my witchcraft jewelry (the tiara/circlet and a necklace with different crystals) and I guess my braided belt was kind of hippy-dippy. I told the woman, who happened to be dressed as a Marvel character, that I was a character from Image Comics. She said she had never heard of them before. I know some “big two” die hards. We have guys at the comic shop that won’t look at anything else, but I’m pretty sure they are aware of the existence of other publishers like Image, IDW, and Dynamite. I don’t expect people to necessarily know Action Lab, 215ink or even Oni Press. But Image? They’re the third largest publisher.

Amaterasu-GSCF (10)

I had already been hesitant to cosplay at all this year because of my stress, skin condition and my weight. Not only do none of my favorite costumes fit, but even if they did, I’m really aware of all these scars showing. I don’t care exactly, you can’t control scars, but I still know how people perceive sight first and unconsciously react to appearances whether it’s burns or tattoos. And with costuming, the visual matters most. I managed to survive Free Comic Book Day mainly because it’s at Comic Fusion which is a home-away-from-home for all of us misfit toys. A small, humble event where people are there to have a good time and there’s no competitive drama. I haven’t been in a contest in several years. My Firestar outfit won something once, but overall, I find contests terribly organized, very time consuming, and not much fun. I dress up because it’s fun to prance around in a costume and take a lot of photos.

PHOTO BY OTIS CASEY
PHOTO BY OTIS CASEY

This leads me to the other thing that disappointed me. I used to go to cons dressed as really popular characters like Firestar or Wonder Woman. After the cons, I could spend a week doing searches for photos and finding myself on blogs and in newspapers. This hasn’t happened in a long time. Last year, we had great coverage from NJ.com for our Comic Fusion charity event, Superhero Weekend, but even though I’m one of the main organizers, I don’t think there were any solo pictures of me like there were of other people. And then I went to NYCC in the same costume, Madame Web, in order to be with the Spiderverse group which was a large group. I only got to see them for five minutes at the end of the Spidey panel and I have one photo to show for it. Now come on – that’s Madame Web. She may be a B-List character, but she’s been in the comics, cartoons, and video games. Unlike Amaterasu, who I fully admit is indie niche.

I had a premonition of exactly this happening to me at GSCF. I felt completely and utterly invisible. I wasn’t considered to be a guest for my writing, my podcasting, nor my cosplay which I’ve been doing since 2006 – in other words, longer than some of the guests they had. I didn’t table as a creator or even host a panel. This was a small local show and I’m a local creator who wasn’t even asked. And yes, they know me because we’ve been acquainted for a year. I even got published by Northwest Press this year and that’s a big thing to me and the LGBTQ creators. This guest list was lacking in diversity as I said to begin with. I’m in books with people like Marc Guggenheim and Harlan Ellison. It even gets to me that I read the newsletters from Comics Experience about all the cool things my fellow students have gone on to do, but despite my various projects, my achievements aren’t mentioned.

Plus, my feeling of invisibility continued on the show floor; I was hanging out with Kate who was dressed as Emma Frost. And… well… you know what happens when there’s a hot girl dressed in underwear at con. I may as well not be there. Even her boyfriend and his other guy friend were photographed while I stood there being ignored. I took advantage of the situation and when Kate was asked to pose, I took my own pictures of her and I had a complete blast recoloring them with VSCO cam and Instagram. I needed a good reason to practice with VSCO besides my daily cat photos.

BeforeAfterKate

I know this is all personal and pertains only to me. No one else there felt my “absence” in any capacity. I guess I’m officially a has-been when I haven’t even been in the business long enough to be considered “breaking in” (if you don’t know, the winners of awards like Most Promising New Talent go to people with 15 years of experience). I got home Saturday evening and had a pity party with Caico. I don’t know if this experience means I’m done with cosplaying at cons for good. I already wasn’t doing much at cons to begin with keeping to maybe one day at NYCC, but it’s a giant pain in the ass commuting and cosplaying. That leaves the comic shop appearances, charity events, and private photoshoots. Bottom line: I don’t feel welcome anymore.

Related:

Jesse attended the show on Sunday and wrote about the great cosplay and activities.

Kate’s GSCF coverage