My Convention Life

This sermon, the first of a three-part series, was originally published on Facebook in August 2016.

My journey into cosplay began before I even knew the term “cosplay”. Along with my other hobbies at the time such as painting and building poker tables, it was an addition to my range of creative outlets. When I began I dove right in and tried some rather elaborate costumes (with varying degrees of success) and back then I only ever wore them to friend’s birthday parties.

My early costumes...
My early costumes…

But as we all know that soon changed.

I remember in 2009 being handed a crappy little flyer as I walked past a games store in Westfield one day. It was for a local event I hadn’t heard of before called AVCon (up to that point it had been a small event held at the University). Adelaide being the “small, sleepy, town” that it is, my curiosity was piqued especially at the line “we encourage our attendees to come in costume”. this was something I only ever heard about at overseas events.

I still have that crappy little flyer.

As I’ve described elsewhere, my late 20’s was the period where I began not only rediscovering my geeky interests but also publicly embrace them. And this event looked like the opportunity to do just that.

It was just over a month out from the convention and I thought to myself, “I need a new costume for this!”

I’m not hugely into anime but I do play video games so I wanted something appropriate for the weekend and I was flipping between two options: Master Chief from ‘Halo’ and Marcus Fenix from ‘Gears of War’. But because I spent two weeks researching and making my decision, I only had two weeks left so Fenix won out because it seemed like less work (marginally anyway).

So, trial-by-fire, my first con experience began with the cosplay crunch and somehow I was more or less able to pull it off (yeah I didn’t need sleep back then). Lots of pepakura, resin, vacuforming, hot glue, and my most expensive prop buy later, I had a badass-looking costume for my very first convention. It wasn’t perfect but I was bloody proud of the effort.

My mate Jamie tagged along to check things out with me and even back then, having a cosplay assistant was handy. And so began a tradition of getting suited up in the carpark.

And a tradition was born… yeah that can of ‘V’ was very important that weekend.

I barely made it out of the carpark elevator when I was almost bowled over by a whirlwind of pink and blue dread falls. She was excited to see me in this armour because she too was a Gears of War fan and was geeking out hard at the sight of me. Whatever nerves I had disappeared at that moment and I hadn’t even set foot in the con yet. It is to this day one of my favourite convention memories.

That “whirlwind” would later take up cosplaying herself and be known by many of you as Armored Soul Cosplay.

That year was the first time AVCon had moved to the Adelaide Convention Centre and while it wasn’t as packed out as it can be these days, it was still impressive to see so many fans in the one place for such an event. I met so many people that weekend (a few from the Australian Costumers’ Guild), made new friends, and had so many photos taken of me. It was just a wonderful time!

AVcon 2009 dressed as Marcus Fenix… and I kept my rather long facial hair

And of course it snowballed from there…

Mind you, I didn’t attend my next con until the following year. AVCon was the only game in town back then and I hadn’t quite thought about travelling interstate just yet.

I was much better prepared for my second AVCon (but of course I still cut it pretty finely). I decided way ahead of time to start work on Master Chief and wanted to enter him into the Cosplay Competition. I scored second place for “Best Male Cosplay” but more importantly I had so much fun wearing that armour and also seeing all the other cosplayers there too! I was also part of a Steampunk parade and a panel on basic costume creation for the Australian Costumers’ Guild.

AVCon 2010

Across the border
Later that year, I decided to bite the bullet and travel to Melbourne for my very first pop-culture convention, Armageddon Expo at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. It was made all the easier with a partner-in-crime at the time so it was not only an affordable jaunt but also just so much fun with a friend as well as a party of Adelaide folks too. Master Chief was still new then and a friend who was driving over volunteered to take my armour with him, which I really appreciated (it was not going to fit in any luggage on the plane).

There’s something about being away from home which enhances the experience greatly (I certainly drank more). But it was really fantastic to experience a genuine pop-culture convention (as AVCon was niche and limited to Anime and Video Games). There were international guests, cosplayers from a wider range of genres, a somewhat different atmosphere because of the type of crowd it attracted and of course I met even more people and made more friends and memories. It was amazing!

I had with me Master Chief (still back when he was made of fibreglass), Rorschach (Watchmen), and Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat).

Melbourne Armageddon Expo 2010 (that’s us pissing up at Crown Casino)

I even met voice actor John DiMaggio in the bar of the hotel all the guests were staying at (yes, I’d had a few).

John DiMaggio – the voice of Bender, Jake the Dog, Marcus Fenix, oh hell there’s just too many roles to name…

In our backyard…
Even before venturing to Melbourne, it was announced that Armageddon Expo would be heading to Adelaide in 2011. I was so excited for this because, apart from AVCon, we’d only really had tiny, specific, niche, some would call “boutique” events. Having ‘Geddon come to town was a huge deal and we did all we could to spread the word.

It was held during festival time or what we call “Mad March” because there’s so much going on here in the span of a couple of weeks (Fringe, Adelaide Festival, Clipsal 500, just to name a few things). For a first time event it did remarkably well with an estimated 12,000 feet through the door over the course of that weekend at the Showgrounds. The guest list was small but there were some great names on it (such as Lance Henriksen, John Rhys Davies, Karen Allen, and Renee O’Connor).

My ticket and guide from that weekend

The ACG had a booth to show off our wares and enlist new members. Being pop-culture there was a wider range of dealers setting up stalls too. A friend of mine debuted his latest creation, a life-size TARDIS, which was a big draw for the fans!

It did feel a touch quieter compared to Melbourne (where ‘Geddon had been established for some years already) but after all this was Adelaide and it did attract the fans as well as a variety of cosplayers. It was great to have an event like this in town, especially during festival time because it added to the colour and atmosphere even if it was a bit geeky.

Adelaide Armageddon 2011

There was some odd resistance to this new event though. Some fans loyal to AVCon complained that there wasn’t anything to do at ‘Geddon. The funny thing is many of these same people didn’t actually do much more at AVCon anyway. So it felt more like they resented the intrusion. Some of that resentment remains today in regards to other events.

It takes two
Stepping up on stage for the AVCon 2011 cosplay competition was a memorable one for me. It was the first time I organised a cosplay with someone, my best friend at the time. She and I worked on our Gears of War 3 armour for many months in the lead-up. It was even the first prop I built for someone else: the “retro” lancer rifle I made for her (the official replica had not been released yet). She bleached her hair and I shaved off my “Fu Manchu” which I had for 11 years.

And of course, forgoing sleep, we just made it to the ACC in time for the comp. We placed third for ‘Best Group Cosplay’ but more importantly it was an experience I shared with someone close to me, someone I considered family.

Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud from the then yet to be released ‘Gears of War 3’

Yeah, we got a little ol’ convoy…
We had a substantially larger group journey to Armageddon Expo in 2011 and this time we drove the 9-hours to Melbourne so we were able to take much more stuff (including 3 sets of armour and at least 5 other costumes just for her). Also I loved the reaction from Jennifer Reilly Cosplay when I surprised her with the Cork Gun to go with her new Harley Quinn costume. That convoy of Adelaide folk made the trip so enjoyable and it’s that sharing of the experience with like-minded friends that elevates adventures like this.

Melbourne Armageddon 2011

What’s in a name?
Comic-Con headed to Australia in 2012 and it launched right here in little ol’ Adelaide!

Or at least something calling itself “comic-con” came to town. In reality Oz Comic-Con, as is the case with many of these events, was started by someone who had worked for another pop-culture convention and decided to go out on their own. Holding the inaugural event in Adelaide was a massive deal.

Although it did ruffle a few feathers. ‘Geddon had claimed that a less than expected turnout as its reasons for not returning to Adelaide but others have revealed that it was because of OzCC claiming the prime date for Adelaide as the true motive. Either way we had a new pop-culture show show on our hands.

Lines were massive and an hour-long, unusual for Adelaide but mainly due to the name recognition. That first crowd of over 25,000 for the whole weekend definitely helped lift the atmosphere into something we hadn’t seen before. And it was amazing!

I went into 2012 in a very bad way (to put it simply I was betrayed by someone I cared for and bullied by a man-child who wanted to harm me). My focus was on my next project, an Iron Man suit, which I poured myself into, and as always I rushed it but wore it anyway. It felt fucking awesome! It didn’t matter how craptacular it was I felt so good walking around in this suit, piss-farting around with friends. It lifted me up and made me forget the evil of other people.

The inaugural Adelaide Oz Comic-Con 2012

I could easily go through and recount every single con I’ve attended since then and I’ve already prattled on quite a bit but I do want to touch on some of the greatest hits.

Hot Dog! We have a Weiner!
I was sleep-deprived thanks to Neko Nation the night before (and maybe a tad hungover) but after failing to get my original idea completed in time I asked to make a small change to my AVCon 2012 cosplay competition entry.
I went out on stage in Iron Man channelling my best Tony Stark. I remember making the audience laugh and I walked away with the first place trophy!

Three’s a crowd
Supanova arrived in Adelaide in November of 2012 as part of its expansion from the eastern states. And while it may have debuted lower than either ‘Geddon or OzCC it was still successful enough for them to return these last few years. It was a lot of fun and being the third major convention in Adelaide now it was another great opportunity to let our geek flags fly.

Lest ye be judged
I had the honour of being asked to help judge the cosplay contest at AVCon 2013. That opportunity lead me to meet the absolutely wonderful and lovely Jessica Nigri, who was that year’s guest. She was such a goofball, which made it all the more enjoyable to meet her (and she wore my Halo helmet).

But these things come in threes and to cap things off I was able to watch my friend, Tiggas Creative Chaos, step up on stage and showcase her hard work and ingenuity in the form of an armoured Samus Aran (Varia suit from Metroid). I had at least 5 people contact me on how to start such a project but she was the only one that followed through and I knew that would lead to success. I simply gave a tiny bit of guidance, the effort and ingenuity was all her.

She wore my Halo helmet… *squee*

Well, that’s just Prime!
After many failures over the course of 18 months I finally got my Optimus Prime cosplay to a wearable state for Supanova in 2013. I didn’t last very long but it was enough to get people’s attention and it felt absolutely glorious! I even had the voice of one of the various versions of Optimus (Garry Chalk) rush over to snap a few photos!

Optimus Prime at Adelaide Supanova 2013

Slumming it
On the Saturday of Oz Comic-Con 2014 I brought Optimus out for a brief lap (I lasted an hour and only made it the length of the atrium, some 100 metres, because people kept stopping me for photos). On the Sunday, though, I did something I never thought I’d do: I went in casuals!

Well, sort of. I simply wore my Dave Lister (Red Dwarf) gear and it just looked like casual clothes. It was a chance for me to take as many photos as I could.

Adelaide Oz Comic-Con 2014
Meeting Royalty
At AVCon 2015 I got to meet the fantastic Yaya Han and judge alongside her in the cosplay competition! Just watching her do her thing during pre-judging was amazing. She made sure to attend to every single cosplayer despite how short our time was and looked over and paid special attention to everything they were describing and their work. It was awe-inspiring!

It was a wonderful honour to be judging the contest alongside these wonderful cosplayers, Yaya Han, Superorbital Cosplay, and Eve Beauregard.

Pre-judging was a whirlwind but Yaya Han got us through it!

Be our guest!
Another costume I was struggling with because of the steep learning curve, short attention span, and just general exhaustion was my Ninja Turtle. After another slow year and a half I snapped and just needed to get him to a wearable state. And that’s what happened. Similar to my Iron Man and Optimus he was incomplete and late to the ball but boy was it a fun hour at Oz Comic-Con 2016!

But it’s not always about me (it usually is but occasionally it isn’t). Seeing my lovely friend JusZ Cosplay invited to be OzCC‘s local cosplay guest was just wonderful. She not only had her own table and participated in a variety of panels she was also host of the Saturday Cosplay Active contest. If anyone in our local community was to receive such an honour it was always going to be her!

Adelaide Oz Comic-Con 2016

I think I might leave it there, I did get a little carried away. If you made it this far then congratulations. You have a longer attention span than I do.

But consider this: I barely touched on half of the conventions I’ve attended, at least 20 of them over the last eight years (there are two small and terrible events we don’t count). Also I’m not even focussing on other costumed events like Free Comic Book Day, Costumers’ Ball, picnics, parades, store promotions, etc.

I think what I’ve been trying to get at is that I’ve been to a lot of these events, seen so much, met so many people, made so many friends. These events have become signposts in my calendar year. The experiences I have at such gatherings have affected and shaped my life and who I am just like high school or university shaped a lot of people (including myself) and especially the people who walk in and out of my life. I am grateful to the few who have decided to stay a while.

After a while, you not only see how things can and can’t work but you also acquaint yourself with those running around behind the scenes so you get a better perspective of it all. And those people like to talk and complain and brag. It’s valuable insight if you listen closely enough.

I could have listed every single convention or other costumed events here. Gone through all the good, the bad, the highlights, anecdote after anecdote but my point is that I remember them all. I remember what I was feeling at certain moments, I recall the people and costumes, the big things, the dull and quiet moments.

And a big reason I do recall these things are because of the photos I take as well as those I have access to. Photos are important to me because they capture moments and preserve our history.

I even have a box of bits and pieces from conventions where I can reference and look back on.

Tickets, lanyards, guides, I keep them in this memory box of sorts

These pop-culture events and conventions are important to have because they offer a place for those of us with formerly non-mainstream interests to gather and meet like-minded folks. Aussies are just as geeky as our brethren overseas and Adelaide most of all was starved of these events once upon a time. It’s good to support these events and the positive choices they make, especially the locally-run AVCon.

This was a tough write-up, which is why it took so long. I became very emotional while going through eight years worth of photos to help illustrate what I was talking about. Almost got teary at some parts. I doubt any of that emotion will be present in most of my words but it’s there somewhere.

Sometimes I’ve wondered just how long I can continue? Will I get too old for this? Will I simply lose interest? Or something much worse?

I’ve witnessed the disasters, the dramas, the fragmented groups. I’ve experienced the lowest of lows, I’ve had my life threatened, and I’ve lost people I cared about.

But I am still here.

And as long as I am enjoying it all I will continue to be here.

Here endeth the sermon.

This is part one of a three-part series of my nostalgic trip down memory lane.


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