Rhode Island Comic Con

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2014 Rhode Island Comic Con
by Joseph Tavano

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The last time I attended a comic book convention was 1993. It was in the large conference room of a Marriott on the outskirts of town, and there were roughly 20 vendors from all over New England selling hard-to-find action figures, bootleg concert cassettes, VHS tapes of first generation Star Trek episodes, and long-boxes of comics as far as the eye could see. This monthly slice of heaven was free to all who could find it and pretty much the greatest thing my 13 year-old eyes ever gazed upon. My Dad would drive my friend and me to the “comic con” and set me loose among the stacks and tables to burn through the $20 I earned washing refrigerated trucks from his friend’s Italian sausage business.

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Times have changed. Rhode Island Comic Con 2014 was a much different experience.

In my opinion, the rise of what some call “geek” culture (or fandom, if you prefer) into the popular zeitgeist has been an unbelievably positive thing, if a little unexpected. Even a decade ago, cosplay was still emerging in the U.S. and comic books were perceived as a guilty pleasure. Nerd was a pejorative word in no uncertain terms. But things change, and people change, and even the organizers of this event could not predict the overwhelming demand for a big convention in the littlest state.

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On a cold, rainy, and otherwise miserable November day, conventions goers descended on the Rhode Island Convention Center by the tens of thousands, to the point where the Providence Fire Marshall had to restrict entry to the building for a time due to overcapacity. And, while this angered some, I had to pause for a moment and take in an overwhelmingly happy thought—geek culture is still growing exponentially, and soon it’s just going to be culture, full stop. No one could have predicted this in 1993. And yet there I stood as two teenagers walked by, hand-in-hand, dressed as Hawkeye and Black Widow, on a comic con date.

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It’s a great time to be a “geek,” or a “nerd,” or a “fan,” or however we’re classified. If you ask me, it’s just a great time to be a person that appreciates creative things.

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Amidst of a plethora of properties from the 1960s through today, there was a dizzying array of featured guests, wonderful costumes, and vendors offering a truly amazing array of products. Gimli, Kirk, and Hershel Greene were all under the same roof. You could find Silver Age comics with ease. And yes, Star Wars was strongly represented.

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From Hera Syndulla Lego figures to the amazing 501st New England Garrison booth, you couldn’t go far without seeing Star Wars. It felt like binding mortar that united the entire event. There were easily more featured guests related to Star Wars than any other property, including Peter Mayhew, Matthew Wood, Ray Park, Femi Taylor, Orli Shoshan, Michael Kingma, Brian Muir, Ralph Brown, John Coppenger, Gerald Home, Mark Dodson, Stephen Calcutt, Ryder Wyndham, and Kevin Liell. And while all were gracious and engaging to their fans, it were the fans themselves that transformed this event from men, women and children forming orderly queues into a colorful celebration. I’ve seen cosplayers around town (I live in Salem, Massachusetts–‘nuff said) and at PAX East, the gaming convention, but was not prepared for the amazing abundance of movie-accurate costuming.

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Mandolorians, Sith, and Jedi were around every corner. Young and old dressed for the occasion, from grandparents to toddlers. I even saw a young lady dressed as Garindan, perhaps my favorite obscure Star Wars character ever. But one fan stood above the rest for me—a young man I dubbed Young Lando. If I were to guess, YL was 12 or 13 tops and had the best ESB Lando Calrissian costume ever, replete with a brilliant blue cape and Billy Dee fake moustache. But, where he was a fan one minute, when the camera turned on him he had all the swagger and style of the Bespin Tibanna Gas Mine Administrator. I salute you, sir. I salute all of you.

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The days of comic cons in that tiny Marriott conference room are long gone, and while I remember them fondly, I say good riddance as well; what we have now is a sight to behold. If you’re reading this, and have never been to a convention before, take it from me: it’s something special that I’d recommend everyone attend at least once. There’s a great sense of wonder that grips you once you’re through the doors, because you never know who—or what—you may find around every corner. Yet, while you can always expect the unexpected, you can count on finding me at the Rhode Island Comic Con next year. That is, unless I’m costuming as Garindan.

-JT

Joseph Tavano was born just months before Luke found out who his father was, and has been fortunate to have had Star Wars in his life as long as he can remember. Growing up just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, he can remember substituting sticks for lightsabers and BMX bikes for speeders. He loved Droids and Ewoks, and in 1984, when he embarked up a lifelong interest in martial arts, it felt like Jedi training. During the dark times, books like The Essential Guide to Characters sustained him before Star Wars roared back into the limelight with Shadows of the Empire, the special edition re-releases, and the prequels, which he loves. Nowadays, he’s happy to share his love of Star Wars with his daughter; they watched every episode of The Clone Wars together. Though an accomplished drummer, he doesn’t crave adventure (as much) any more, and prefers his old haunts in Salem, Massachusetts, where he resides with his wife. He owns and operates RetroZap.com, a site for in-depth analysis of film, TV and other narrative art (mostly Star Wars), and is working on his first novel. Buy him a glass of Scotch and he’ll return it in kind.

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