I have been given tickets to Oz Comic-Con in exchange for writing this post. I have not been paid to write it, though I’ve done a truckload of research for it – it’s been a fun post to write! I’ve taken the appearance diversity and disability view – something the promotors had not considered until they read my draft.
When I put my hand up to write about Oz Comic-Con (held in Melbourne on 27 and 28 June at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibtiion Centre), I hadn’t considered the depth that this post could take. Sure, I am a fangirl from way back (though I’ve never been to a Comic-Con) and Adam is a regular Comic-Con devotee. But then I got chatting with Sandra about how else it could fit with my blog – and she mentioned disability. Lightbulb moment! In 2013, 33,000 people attended Comic-Con in Melbourne alone. So if 20% of Australians have a disability, perhaps 6,600 Oz Comic-Con attendees had a disability of some sort?! And Sandra and I wanted to hear from some of these attendees.First though – my devoted fiancé dressed up in costume for his lady’s blog! Nawww. When we first met online, I had a look through his profile pictures and there was one of him dressed up as Luke Skywalker. I dismissed this as cute, if not a little nerdy, and didn’t think about it until this post opportunity came up. I asked if he still has the costume – and of course, it was hanging in the cupboard!
I asked Adam what he likes about Oz Comic-Con. He’s a big fan of Star Wars and hopes to see more Star Wars exhibits this year. He is very quiet and introverted but loves dressing up as his favourite character, and he has the confidence to do so because there are other fans like him there. This is the cutest!
And now onto disability at Oz Comic-Con.
The Australian Comic-Con website dos not feature any accessibility information (but I will pass on this tip). However, I’ve been told by the an Oz Comic-Con representative that the venue is accessible and companion cards are accepted. My friend Melissa said there is wheelchair access and priority queues, but wait times can be long. She also told me there’t not always sun protection when queuing outside, and there is only the option to sit on the ground if you cannot stand. She said the “average day can be up to 10kms walking + 4-5 hrs in queues“. There is also an anti-harassment policy, encouraging respectful, inclusive behaviour. The international Comic-Con website provides extensive accessibility information.In the USA, the comic and fan convention culture extends to in-depth discussions and exhibitions around disability issues. ‘Cripping the Con’, held in March 2015, was a symposium discussing perceptions of people with disabilities, as well as the portrayal of disability in games, and possibilities of alternate bodies in the virtual world. And in May, Denver Comic-Con featured a program called Virtual Ability, to help people with disabilities receive support within virtual worlds. Virtual worlds allow PWDs the opportunity live life as an able-bodied person – they can do activities like dancing and hiking.
I love seeing people dressed for Comic-Con (and similar CosPlay events). I love the fandom, but more so, I love the willingness to stand out in regular spaces like on public transport before and after the event, and I love the connectedness of attendees when they find their tribe. It’s a hive of self expression.
The art of dressing up diverts onlookers’ attention to the features of the costume. Wendy, who has Ichthyosis and would like to go to a Comic-Con some day loves to dress up as Wonder Woman. “You can be who you want to be and it take the stares away from your skin so people focus on your outfit instead”, Wendy told me.The people I’ve known to partake in CosPlay and attend events like Oz Comic-Con (or ‘Cons’ as regulars call them) are sometimes shy and introverted, and perhaps haven’t always felt they could be themselves.
But these events allow them to fit in and be themselves, and as my friend Eliza pointed out, they might be dressing up as a character that they relate to or aspire to. Eliza, who will be dressing up as a character from FireFly, will be going to the Melbourne event for the first time this year. She is going because it is affordable and “will be cool to be around people who love nerd shit so much and meet really interesting people.” Eliza is a wheelchair user. She believes Oz Comic-Con is a form of escapism, and also relatability. “It can be comforting to people who are different because those characters are from such different worlds and are essentially them or their heroes”, Eliza said.
Eight year old Corbin (featured in the top photo and below) has Lymphatic Malformation which causes an enlarged face. He regularly goes to Comic-Con with his family. He sometimes has photos with other cosplayers, and recognises the characters they dress up as.”It’s just their “thing”, he said.
I think Corbin looks like a superhero even when he’s not in costume! He told me he loves dressing up because it’s fun! “It’s a bit like free dress day at school. It’s like I’m an actor in a movie or something, it makes me feel adventurous. Everyone else does, it makes me feel the same as everyone else”, he said. I love this! He told me it feels “normal” to be part of a big crowd of people in costume.
I asked Corbin if people stare at him for how awesome he looks? “Sometimes”, he told me. “Sometimes I’m shy. In the real world people stare at me because of my looks but at Con they stare because my dressing up is cool. I feel like I’m going to have lots of fun at the next Con because I’m cosplaying Toothless.”
Corbin feels very included – he said “Con is for everyone, I feel like I am part of those people.”
Corbin’s mum Roni offered another perspective, one of good intentions, but awkward for the person who commented on Corbin’s appearance. “We had an experience he had where he was not in costume, and a guy asked him where he got his cool mask and who he was supposed to be smile emoticon”, Roni said. “[The man] was terribly embarrassed when we told him it was his face, but I guess in the context of con the intent of asking such things seemed … less offensive than in regular space?”
That was such an interesting exchange – what was a compliment in a specific costumed setting could have been an insult outside of a Con.Kellie is another regular fan convention attendee, going as many as she can afford. She has brittle bones (Osteogenisis Imperfecta). She told me: “I am only 3ft tall (44 years old) and am in a wheelchair 99% of the time. I use a mobility scooter at the cons mainly because I feel safer in such a huge crowd, and also I get too tired pushing myself around in my chair all day. I can use crutches, but only for very short distances. I have found that most of the cons have had amazing accessibility. Oz Comic-Con being the best. They are really accommodating and the staff and volunteers are all incredibly helpful.”
“I go to at least 2 or 3 cons a year. So far this year I have been to Oz Comi-Con in Adelaide and to Supanova in Melbourne. I’m planning on going to Sydney for Oz Comi-Con in September. I’ve been going to them for about 7 years now”, she said. “I have made so many friends at the cons – all able bodied people. Its just awesome to be amongst people who have the same interests as you and are passionate about the same things. (And to not be laughed at for it).
“None of my family or friends here are into the same things I am, so they think I am strange. So its great to be in a place where you feel normal and can totally be yourself. I don’t dress up often. Mainly because I can’t afford to buy a decent costume. Also I find it difficult moving around in costume and going to the toilet and so forth. I have dressed mainly as Stargate SG-1 officers. You kind of just fit in, and don’t feel weird about it. There are so many more intricate costumes around that you just blend in.
“I really do love the Cons as I love meeting the actors, and hearing their panels. And they are all so welcoming and friendly. I also love going as I get to see my friends that I have made at them. I even keep in touch with them and see them between cons now. They are the most kind hearted and generous people you could ever meet”, Kellie said.Fitting in – and standing out for the right reasons – is so important for people with disabilities and facial differences. Events like Oz Comic-Con represent appearance diversity at its most voluntary and inclusive. I can’t wait to go!
Carly Findlay is an award-winning writer, speaker and appearance activist. She challenges people's thinking about what it’s like to have a visibly different appearance. She was named one of Australia’s 100 Females of Influence of 2014, and has won a variety of blogging awards. She blogs at http://carlyfindlay.blogspot.com.