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In the wake of Phoenix-Con…

A debate has arisen in the con-going community about what may happen in the future regarding comic conventions and public safety. While we have debated what should happen, there have been acts of terrorism in public places across the globe. The one notable event that hit close to home was at Phoenix Comic Con on Memorial Day weekend.

For those that missed it, io9 reported it as:

According to a report in the Phoenix New Times, 31-year-old Matthew Sterling told police he was targeting “bad police officers” because he was the real-life version of The Punisher, Marvel’s uncompromising vigilante. Sterling told police he was aware that real weapons were banned from the con, but said the rule didn’t apply to him because, as he previously claimed, he was the Punisher.

While thankfully no one was hurt (including Jason David Frank, who was his intended target), the con unfortunately had to change their policy that weekend by banning props from the show. While this about face may have disappointed some show goers, the question that has arisen from many is what may happen going forward as a result of this incident.

Let’s keep in mind that it was just a year ago that we had the Orlando Massacre and in light of it, a NYC con banned props from their show.

How Con Goers may have to Adjust
As someone who has attended cons over the years as both a cosplayer and just a regular attendee, I have seen annual crowds swell from shows where maybe a few hundred have attended to thousands. Anyone in the Washington, DC area can attest to the growth of Awesome Con in less than 10 years. Many can say the same about Baltimore Comic Con as well as a few others. The reasoning is simple. As the popularity of these shows have grown and come to the forefront of public consciousness, so has the idea that these shows are all-inclusive and not just meant for niche crowds. People come from far and wide with their children and loved ones to take part in these events, and if these show are going to succeed in light of what’s going on in today’s society, then many shows – along with the venues in which they are held – will have to rethink keeping their attendees safe.

20 mins from the entrance of NYCC

One of my biggest concerns as an attendee isn’t just with cosplayers. I will be brutally honest, I worry about the average attendee with oversized bags and backpacks, coupled with whomever is in charge of the show and how they set protocols with attendance. For instance, any of you who have ever been to New York Comic Con already know that if you get there at a certain time, you may be waiting in line for hours because they will do a thorough bag and prop check before you ever get near the front door of the Javits Center. We may complain and moan that it takes forever to get inside, but at least it’s done in a manner where any incidents will be minimal. On the flip side, I have been to shows where bag check has been minimal and done just as a courtesy to appease the building owners. I was surprised when I went to a show a few  years ago and someone was carrying a sharpened knife in their bag. Their claim was that they forgot that the knife was in the bag. Sadly they were banned from the venue the rest of the weekend. Part of the problem is that depending on the show, you have volunteers who have not been properly trained on how to properly do searches another is that sometimes cons are using per staffed security which also may be woefully under trained.  While one solution may be to hire proper law enforcement to hopefully ensure con going safety, we all know that the cost for that just may pass on to the attendees. The question is, how much more would attendees be willing to pay to be safe?

Nothing says ‘hurry up and wait’ quite like a line to get into a con!

One other issue to be concerned with, is the vendors that sell prop weapons on the convention floors.  Will these policy changes affect them from a money-making standpoint and if so, how?Admittedly, two props I needed were found at these very places, and I cannot express how convenient it was to: 1), Not have to pay for shipping, and 2) Be able to see the product and know on the spot that this was what I wanted. What would happen should policies ban vendors from the floor?  What will happen should policies ban these vendors from the floor? Specifically, how will convention staff ensure that those vendors who sell “real” weapons (meaning unsharpened metal swords) keep patrons from using those wares in the area? Will the policies being put into place help to ensure that vendors become more responsible with who they sell to? Because honestly, it’s tough to control someone’s actions once they’ve bought a broadsword and taken it outside.

Going forward, I am sure that many shows may be looking at implementing more stringent checks because of what happened in Phoenix. Sadly, however, it was almost certainly bound to happen. This may affect all of us with longer wait times to be admitted or, goodness forbid, if we are that impatient, paying extra to go through an express check in line. We have to start being more considerate to our fellow con-goers (although most won’t care) in that possibly we may have to reduce the amount of items taken with us to shows. Also, for those of us who hate waiting in long lines, depending on our schedules, we may want to consider actually getting to the show earlier so the wait won’t be as long. Or, maybe the time has come for some of us to stop going. If your biggest complaint is how long it takes to get inside, and you could care less about being safe, then going to cons is not for you anymore. Depending on how these types of incidents affect the logistics for a convention, many show owners will err in favor of public safety over someone who has a 5 foot prop that they are getting cast signed any day. Many of these venues will definitely do this if they have a celebrity guest in their midst. Personally, the last thing I want to worry about when going to a convention is that you will have someone who decides that today is the day he wants to blow up a show floor because he hates how a certain comic creator writes, thus all of us will be punished for it. This is the reality of the world that we live in, so if shows change policies on entry we have either go along with these changes or find other things to do.

The next few months will become very interesting as shows will consider policies which will be consequential to vendors and con-goers alike.

How Cosplayers may have to adjust
In light of the Phoenix incident, cosplayers are going to have even more scrutiny cast upon us as the props that are created accentuate many of our costumes. Many cosplayers go through a lot of painstaking work to try and be as accurate as they can to a lot of their characters, and in many cases this means having near accurate replica weapons. I have met a Thor with a hammer made from a metal block that weighed thirty pounds. I have seen Cloud Strife cosplayers with oversized swords that, while being made from plastic and foam, if wielded properly could hurt someone. Of course there are the countless Harley Quinns with hammers. The examples can go on. However, many of us may have to adjust the costumes we create because we may actually reach a point were some cons may have a zero tolerance for prop weapons. Of course, cosplayers will say how can you have a Deadpool without guns, Jedi Knights without lightsabers, and how ridiculous would it be if a Harry Potter cosplayers can’t have a wand? I hate to tell you this cosplayers, but it may be time to start considering that, should the day come, creating cosplays that we will be happy with that don’t require a prop that may not be allowed into a show might be the way to go.

There may come a day when we say “Remember when this was cool?”

Thankfully, over the past few years, my wife and I have created costumes which don’t require props, in preparation should the day ever come we go to shows that have zero tolerance. On occasion, it’s not even the show I am worried about; it’s also what may happen outside of a show. For obvious reasons, even though I would love to put my own spin on the Punisher, I know that I cannot for fear of what may happen OUTSIDE of a show should I be detained. There are a lot of cosplays that I would love to do, but because of the props they require, I have to consider how safe I am with said props once I leave a show. It is ironic however, that one of my most popular costumes has a gun prop.

Cosplaying without props is possible

When it’s all said and done, going to a con is about having fun but also how safe we should be in that type of environment. We should never go to a show with our families or friends and have to worry about someone messing it up for all of us by using real weapons to hurt people, but in light of what’s happened not just in Phoenix but worldwide, our safe spaces may become more restrictive to keep us even safer. I am even getting concerned about how places like Katsucon, San Diego Comic Con, and even Dragon*Con may augment their policies, as some of the venues that they utilize, are in hotel spaces where a weapons check may not occur for people to enter the premise.

The prop is about as iconic as the costume.

This is not a time for us to become afraid, but we must become more aware of our surroundings. This is perhaps a time for us to start adapting, as some changes may be immediate and some of these changes may affect our attendance. Undoubtedly, as comic and media conventions have grown, so has the number of attendees – and not everyone comes with the best of intentions. If these changes come about, we have to be prepared with how we want to deal with them, as all of us want to be able to come to them and return safely in the same manner as we left. Will we be okay with policy changes that will keep us safe? We have to answer that for ourselves.

About Harry C. (1113 Articles)
Founder of The Next Issue Podcast and Pop Culture Uncovered, Harry has been reading comics since he could reach a news stand. He is also a cosplayer with his current favorite role as being Bishop, of the X-men. He is a fan of Marvel, Image and DC and is really passionate about making sure that kids get the opportunity to read. This leads him to getting out to places with comics that others no longer need and putting them into the hands of kids who will treasure them. His favorite comic characters are Batman, Spider-man, and Tony Chiu.

5 Comments on In the wake of Phoenix-Con…

  1. Well, first off let’s just get it out there: Terrorists have won. Let’s face it, we clamp down more on every aspect of society because people are afraid. I understand the fear, and fear can be useful to keep you safe/alive. When we just accept giving up more and more for the sake of “safety” I’m just starting to question what the point is?

    As to adjusting like this, again I understand it and it is ultimately driven by said fear. I also think that if we need to start diluting things like this, it’s time for them to just end. No props, everyone only cosplay stuff that can be done with no props… That really eliminates a lot of costumes, for many I’m sure the only cosplays they want to even do. Then we get paranoid about not being able to I.D. everyone, so helmets are banned… And then masks and makeup/facial prosthetics. After all, we need to be able to see everyone in case something happens, we need to be able to see who did it clearly. So now we need to cosplay with no props, helmets, masks, or makeup. Of course, people can sneak things in cleverly, so we need to make sure that the costumes have no compartments, bandoleers, oversized parts that could contain something bad, etc. So you see the slippery slope we’ve just stepped onto?

    I am totally cool with stepped up security, thorough checks before entering, metal detectors/x-ray machines… Do whatever preventatives you can. But once we start down that slope, I don’t know if there is a point in trying to continue with the whole cosplay culture.

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    • Remember as I said in the post…it’s not even the cosplayers I am worried about. It is the regular attendees. The bag, backpacks, roller cases etc. I worry more about them bringing weapons in than I am cosplayers. That is why I spend the first part of the post addressing that itself. Cosplayers to a lesser degree know most of the rules about props and are less likely to want to do something that will bring harm. Its that random unassuming person we need to watch.

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  2. Completely fair point, you are right… The community (at least, the majority of it) behaves themselves and shows proper respect as not to jeopardize things. It’s those random nutballs that are potentially bad news… Problem is, I am concerned that some of those entities that make the sweeping decisions may not make a distinction between the “types” of attendees… It’s going to just be some crazed person at a con, and then the are going to target the most visible segment being the cosplayers.

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  3. In that case, restrict those random, unassuming people with their stuffed totebags and knapsacks instead of asking cosplayers to cut out huge chunks of our cosplay possibilities. I have a friend who seems to be incapable of leaving her house without a huge assortment of…stuff. (She’s not as bad as she used to be, but still..) I’ve seen her go to an event just a couple of hours long and a block from her house, toting at least two completely stuffed totebags. She had extra clothes, umbrella, all sorts of random crap for every conceivable “emergency” she could think of, including the off chance that she might get a little chilly. And it’s unassuming people who look like her who are more likely to try and smuggle something harmful in, in their own backpacks or tote bags. So before asking cosplayers to sacrifice their lightsabers and pokeballs, subject the backpacks and tote bags to proper scrutiny, they’re far more likely to be used to conceal a truly destructive cargo.

    As for the Cloud Strife cosplayer and his big foam sword, as long as he’s not behaving like an idiot, let him keep it. If he decides to act up and use it irresponsibly, boot him. Con rules can also cover responsible handling of props, similar to how AMC theaters decided to let attendees of Star Wars movies keep their lightsabers, but specified rules governing problematic behaviors. (No play fights or duels, and keep them turned off during the movie)

    I think I’m with Warren here, and I say that as somebody who has worked security for the past 13 years. No matter what you do, there’s no way to make an event with so many people 100% safe, no way to anticipate every situation. Look at the Chlorine gas incident at Midwest Fur Fest a few years ago- no amount of prop restrictions are going to stop someone from doing something like that, especially if the event is held at a hotel or other venue, where not everyone on the premises is there for the same thing. (Con venues hosting multiple events, or hotels where not every guest is also a con-goer). Ban prop weapons, ban all props, ban bags (part of costume or not), ban helmets, ban masks, ban makeup, where do we finally draw the line, how much should we be expected to meekly sacrifice in the name of safety?

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  4. I cannot recall Any incident of a Prop seriously hurting anyone at any Convention that I have been to, and I have been to a Massive Amount of them, so I do not feel that Props previously allowed in general are Dangerous.
    I feel that Security Checks upon entering the Venue are paramount.
    I feel that the Security Teams must be staffed by Properly Trained and Supervised personnel.
    They Must check Bags and Coats as well as any potentially dangerous Props.
    I feel that it is Very Important that the Security Team include some Veteran Propmakers as advisors, to instruct everyone on the Reality of props, their construction, and potential dangers.
    I feel that it is Very Important that the Security Team include some Veteran Military Ordinance and Weapons Experts, to instruct everyone to discern a Real Threat from a Toy, Play-Dough from Semtex.
    I feel that it is Very Important that the Security Team include local Law Enforcement, to be able to oversea the implementation of security checks and maintain order, plus to help to deal with any trouble that may arise.
    I feel that it is Very Important that the Venue keep all exits Secure, and Guarded, to inhibit anyone from attempting to bypass the Security Team.
    I feel that all of these things must be done to Harden the Event against attack, and to safeguard the Attendees who are there to enjoy the Event, Cosplay and all.
    I know that there is No Way to make any Event completely Safe.
    If someone is Determined to cause trouble, they will Find a way to do it.
    The only thing that Security Checks and Policies can do is to make it more Difficult for the Determined Badguys to do bad things.

    I feel that it is Very Important that Cosplayers understand these things, and do plan their cosplays and props accordingly.
    Super Realistic is Great, but better suited to private photoshoots, not Public Conventions.
    I feel that showing up with Pew~Pew toy guns is a far Wiser choice.

    I feel that Plastic, Wood, Foam (and such) Props and Toys are Not the problem, and trying to make them into Scapegoats may divert the Attention needed to deal with the Real threats.

    The way that I have seen it.

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