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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.