On my 21st birthday, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to keep in touch with the 9 year-old version of myself that I had supposedly “outgrown.” I solemnly swore to live a life that mini Andy Borbely would think was totally awesome. These days, nothing—and I mean nothing—breaks down the walls to that land of forgotten youth than a visit to Comic Con.
The event itself is more than a convention of vendors selling picture books out of cardboard boxes. Attendees arrive in costume as fan- boys and fan-girls mingle with the artists who gave life to their favorite superheroes. Sci-fi celebrities sell face time and photo ops to legions of devoted followers. Burlesque dancers moonlighting as scantily clad femme fatale characters somehow manage to maintain an aura of family-friendly respectability as husbands and wives pose for group photos. The sheer magnitude of imagination resonating throughout the room can be over- stimulating to those who enter without a gameplan.
Within this cacophony of color and characters, the logical first question to ask is, “Where do I even start?” Comic Con answered that question for me as I approached a wall of illuminated Star Wars light sabers up for sale. A hand- written sign on the table read, “Yes, you may handle the light sabers.” And so I was faced with my first conundrum of the evening: If I had to pick a light saber that defined me, would I select a Jedi variety or would I go with the Sith aesthetic? And most importantly, which color would I choose?
I felt like a bit of a standard-issue amateur when I concluded I was a royal blue Jedi with a silver handle… especially when I stood hip-to-hip with a guy in a hand-crafted tie-fighter jumpsuit. His costume was impeccable. I didn’t have time to ask him how he fabricated the facemask or where he found the parts for the chest plate. As he walked away, it occurred to me that, because he never removed his helmet, I had no clue at all what he actually looked like. I will not remember that man by his name or as an accountant or an offshore oil field technician or a used car salesman. Within the walls of Comic Con, that man was a goddamned tie fighter and I was a loser in blue jeans.
My brief interaction with the tie-fighter left me with a considerable amount of respect for the cosplay scene. In a fantasy universe of Marvel, DC, Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, ad nauseam… that man knew exactly who he wanted to be. He was not Boba Fett or Han Solo or Darth Vader. He was a tie-fighter and he knew it. The first lesson I learned from Comic Con was that while one can be anything, one cannot be everything. I respect the folks who know exactly who they are.
I remained deep in thought as I walked the aisles of the convention floor. I flipped through a few boxes of comic books to familiarize myself with what had happened to some of my favorite super heroes in the years since I had stopped adding to my collection. I stopped in my tracks in the middle of the aisle as my eyes fell upon the cover of a specific X-Men comic I owned when I was a kid. It was the issue I was holding in my hands the very first time my big brother let it slip that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. Casting eyes upon that relic brought back all the intricate details in what would later prove to be a pivotal moment in my childhood. This was the second lesson I learned from Comic Con: The innocence of youth is worth defending. I eventually learned the truth about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Dukes of Hazzard, but I appreciate the fact that my mother kept those ideas alive for me for as long as possible. The world needs more unbounded imagination, not less.
As I continued to explore the event, I ran into the bank of booths where a host of celebrities were working their meet-and-greet events. I bypassed Dean Cain, Linda Hamilton, and Norman Reedus, but my blood ran cold when I saw that Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) was signing autographs.
I was again inundated with memories from my more innocent days. I remember being strangely intrigued by the Elvira television special that aired each Halloween. I didn’t realize why the townsfolk in the show thought she was so off-putting. She wasn’t mean at all. In fact, I found her particularly alluring, but I also sensed that there was something about the show that escaped me, a bigger theme behind a bunch of jokes I didn’t understand. Year by year, I enjoyed my annual Elvira fix more and more until I understood exactly why I found her so alluring. The line between innocence and adulthood had been crossed, and once crossed there was no going back. The final lesson I took away from the 2014 Comic Con was tied to that concept: Fantasy shouldn’t be something we outgrow.
As I finished up my time at Comic Con, I chatted up a few artists and introduced myself to a few new friends. I geeked out over the soon-to-be released Captain America movie and I drank Diet Coke out of a plastic skull with a guy in a Viking costume. All the while I marveled at how Comic Con provides us all with a sanctuary for our collective imagination as well as a forum for it to grow. As I walked out I felt strangely rejuvenated and in touch with my inner 9 year-old, even if I still don’t know what I’m going to wear to Comic Con 2015.