Prelude, A Tale of Transmogrification
I moved downtown after my local comic shop closed its old location and reopened on Washington Avenue in St. Louis. I found out, braving the tight city corridor for the weekly comic book pull and the occasional visit to the city museum. I then found some of my favorite restaurants along the street, as well as a great movie theater, and eventually I found myself going downtown or wanting to go every other day. When my lease at my old place ran out, I moved to Washington Avenue, in a nice loft, and a year later, I got my first press pass to my first con. America’s Convention Center is two blocks away from my current apartment. It’s funny how fate works out sometimes.
I spent the night before Wizard World 2018 – St. Louis, trying to figure out what I was going to wear, knowing that I’d be going from my day job directly to the con floor. This was the first con that I’ve ever gone to and the first con that I’d be covering like some sort of journalist. I chose a plain blue button down and a Superman t-shirt. I did not know if I was doing a corporate cosplay or a journalist one. I thought of transmogrification, a type of magic that changes the appearance. I learned the term from video games, and it kept coming up in my head. When I got into the office in the morning, I took a good look at my cubicle.
I quickly accepted that my nerd aesthetic betrayed me, and above all else, I am a fan going to a convention with hundreds, if not thousands of other fans. I didn’t actually know what I was getting into. I think that was part of the fun.
Day 1, A Tale of Evocation
Walking the main floor, it took a second for me to realize how big America’s Convention Center is. After navigating the different halls, I found “the Dome” and proceeded to the registration desk to get my press wristband.
I entered the stadium bewildered and began wandering the floor. Vendors left and right, people in cosplay. It was a lot to take in. I wandered around for about an hour. I visited the booth of my local comic shop and said hi. I made figure eights around, unsure exactly what I was looking for, until I saw a little dragon coiled up. I have a soft spot for dragons, and with my little buddy in tow, we walked out with slightly more gusto.
I circled around to the signing booths. A voice over the loudspeaker announced that there would be a small opening ceremony where a representative of St. Louis would present Nichelle Nichols with a proclamation making February 2 “Nichelle Nichols Day” for being a beacon of inspiration. It was a good use of government power, and I appreciated it. I’m not a Trekkie myself, but I too have been shaped by science fiction and seeing the city of St. Louis honor a black woman to start off Black History Month made me smile.
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I walked to an ATM in the back and acquired some cash to purchase some wares. There was a wide diversity of merchandise to pick up and walk away with. Some fun stuff for my already nerd-dense office cubicle.
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I chose to end the day by going to a couple panels. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Dome, the conventions were lowkey, with noises of quidditch and laughter in the background. I settled into Room 141 and watched as the presenter readied their computer to talk about Miyazaki. He was excitable and obviously passionate as he elaborated on all of the details of Miyzaki’s life and how his work is interwoven with his experiences. I am familiar with a lot of the stories and themes, but then he informed the crowd how Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro were packaged as a double feature because Miyazaki’s first two films weren’t financially successful. Takahata implored the studios to help his friends and it was a great story of artists supporting artists.
After another panel, I walked home for the night. Since this was Wizard World, I tried to think about an appropriate type of magic to describe the night. I landed on evocation. The con, while draining, was equally uplifting. Seeing people who are unabashedly passionate was everything this 26-year-old needed.
Day 2, A Tale of Conjuration
Trying to make sure I’m not susceptible to the notorious con flu, I took a couple extra hours to sleep and made my way to the Dome late in the morning. The line was four times as long as it was yesterday. It snaked out the building into the courtyard. Somehow I was surprised that more people showed up on a Saturday but I realized how silly that statement actually is.
I took a seat in a room that hosted “Unbreakable Skin Too.” John Jennings and Stacey Robinson upon taking their seats at the front of the room, opened by asking how many people were excited about Black Panther. What followed was an exceedingly sobering conversation about diversity in comics. How things have gotten better, but how there is still room for improvement. How the idea of the comic has been “democratized,” so that anyone is capable of making a comic if they want to. They asked the room how many people know about Lion Forge Comics and when myself and two other people raised their hands, they explained how there’s a black-owned comic publisher in St. Louis that is taking over production of their latest project.
They talked about how easy it is to measure success against someone like Jay-Z, and how “You don’t need to be Jay-Z-famous. You can be Tech N9ne-famous. You can be you-famous.” As the event closed, Jennings made a joke about he only expected three people to attend the panel. When I talked to him at his table, he explained that he was used to being the one organizing the event and that he wasn’t sure how many people would support the panel, and how he was glad to see such a diverse population in the crowd. I thanked him and Robinson for what they’re doing and picked up copies of their books to end my purchase.
I navigated my way back to the panels, and in a very surreal moment John Barrowman drove by me with a very large Rice Krispies treat. When he was out of view, a functional R2-D2 unit drove up to the room across from mine. It’s these types of coincidental encounters that conjure up a smile. I was still a little shy and nervous, but I knew that this place was home.
Day 3, A Tale of Enchantment
Two days of Wizard World have left me exhausted, but there is one last event I want to attend: J. Jonah Jameson vs The Crowd. In what was one more utterly bonkers events I had the fortune to attend, Karl Brevik embraced the character and proceeded to chew the scenery beautifully. After boldly proclaiming that Star Wars is better than Star Trek because Star Wars taught people that villains wear masks, Jameson invited the crowd to try and convince him he was wrong. What followed was a very strange parody of the current media cycle and it was truly absurd. The jumps of logic, the twisting words (“With great power comes great accountability”), the escalation. The audience drew very deeply from the Marvel canon which was to be expected. And in a beautifully meta moment, Jameson made it clear that he didn’t like talking about fictional characters and cities like Superman and Metropolis. Brevik knew how to rile up the crowd and I loved him for it. I laughed deeply and heartily for a good 45 minutes and even asked my own question to the editor-in-chief himself.
Yet the moment at the end that stood out to me was when a little kid dressed as Spiderman walked to the mic. An older kid helped them adjust it, and they proudly proclaimed, “You’re wrong. Spiderman’s a good guy. He helps people. If you can’t see that, you’re the bad guy.” The crowd exploded in cheers, and a roaring standing ovation.
And that’s textbook enchantment right there: the honesty of a kid who knows in his heart who their hero is and what it means. That’s what I’m mostly thankful about at the end of the day. Wizard World allowed this moment to happen. This simple moment of joy. That’s what fandom is about. That’s what nerdom promotes. I’m here for it. And I’m looking forward to next year.