At the risk of exposing my inner nerd to the world, I am writing this blog post because when I went to Comic Con last Saturday I learned some things that I found to be very inspiring. Some days I can’t bear to read or watch the news, because it’s so full of devastation, fear and general negativity. This morning I woke up to the news that last night Britain experienced its’ second terrorist attack in two weeks. The world is a scary place – now more than ever in my lifetime. When a friend asked if Isaac and I would be up for going to Comic Con, we leaped at the chance to escape reality for a day, and to have some fun with fellow nerds. Comic Con is a multi-genre entertainment and comic convention, held over three days in London (as well as many other locations around the world). As a Star Trek super-fan and general sci-fi buff, I was ridiculously excited to go to Comic Con. The three-day pop culture fest might seem silly to some people, but in a world like ours, I think it’s lovely that there’s a place we can go to have fun, celebrate what we love with people who also love it, and to just be ourselves. Needless to say we had a great time, and I wanted to stray slightly from my usual historical biographies and investigations to write about what made me smile on Saturday.
- The British are an admirable, brave sort of people
On 22nd May, 4 days before Comic Con, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena, following a music concert. This was the second worst terrorist attack in recent British history, with 22 people (including children) killed and more than sixty people injured. It’s a terrible thing to wake up to. Though I was nowhere near Manchester, I’m sure most of my fellow Brits understand and agree when I say that it illicited an array of emotions in me. I felt angry, sad, afraid and sick as I scrolled through the news reports. I traveled to London 48 hours after the attack, and I was more afraid than I have ever been making this familiar, routine journey. On Wednesday (the day I was in London) our prime minister raised the UK threat level to critical, and major museums and galleries in the capital closed for the day. With such a dark, terrible cloud over the country, I half thought that Comic Con might be cancelled. Though I was glad it wasn’t, I was, as I said, not feeling great about going for security reasons. When my friends and I arrived, we were glad to see armed officers and dogs watching out for everyone. I thought that perhaps there might be lower attendance than usual, because people might be scared to go after the week’s terrible events. That’s why I was so proud to hear that on the contrary, there were a record-breaking number of people at the London convention. I have been inspired by the way my country has pulled together and carried on. Though we are angry and sad, we have stood up to evil and fear, going about our lives. Everywhere I’ve been since the attack I have seen messages of love, hope and unity. Comic Con was no exception. I was proud to stand with my 132,999 fellow nerds at the weekend, and I’m proud of my brave little country. Though we might have been nervous, we were not defeated (in true super-hero style) – all 133,000 of us.
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Manchester bombing, and to those of the London attack last night. We are praying for Britain and her admirable, brave people.
2. Comic Con is actually empowering young people
When I went to school, people got bullied if they didn’t ‘fit in’. I’m betting that that hasn’t changed. We live in an age of body-shaming, photo editing and ridiculous ideas of normality and perfection regarding our images and who we are as people. It’s an obsession. One of the things I loved about Comic Con was the feeling of acceptance. It’s a place where anyone can belong. Where else can you go dressed as your heroes or favourite characters and be cheered for it instead of beaten up?! I went as Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, and Isaac went as Capt. Picard. I’m not going to lie, it was kind of great to be nodded at by our fellow Trekkies, be greeted with Vulcan salutes and be referred to as Captain and Lieutenant all day. It’s also lovely how people ask if they can take photos of each other – very affirming and satisfying for those who have literally spent months working on their costumes (for the record I spent about two minutes on mine – Amazon purchase). Some of the attendees are so clever and imaginative, and it’s great to see that kind of artistic ability and creativity on display.
I was pleased when a few days after the event I was scrolling through the BBC news, and in the top ten news articles for the day I saw a piece by Helen Bushby, the BBC’s entertainment and arts reporter, about Comic Con. It celebrated the way in which Comic Con empowers young women especially (google the article – it’s called ‘Meet the women and girls who rocked Comic Con). Bushby interviewed several young women and girls for the article, and they all cited Comic Con as a place where anyone can feel accepted. Girls and young women are especially affected by the body-image issues society is so worried about, and rather than the usual negativity and shaming I usually see in my news feed, it was great to read about how they could feel empowered, inspired and confident. On the whole there is a wonderful atmosphere at this convention – it’s generally non-judgmental, and you can be who you want to for the day. The feeling of community that comes from that is fun.
(My husband and I in our Star Trek get-up)
3. Our heroes are important
There are many wonderful characters in comics and films. My entire career stems from the inspiration I have drawn from one (Agent Peggy Carter – see my first article). It’s easy to dismiss them as fictional, but I think that it’s very important for people to draw inspiration from wherever they can. One of my greatest inspirations in life is a lady called Nichelle Nichols. She plays Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: the Original Series. This aired in the 1960s. If you know anything about the 1960s in America, you’ll see why she inspires me. This was a tempestuous decade. It saw the Civil Rights Movement, where Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers campaigned for equal rights for African Americans. It witnessed the Women’s Movement, where women began to want and chase more than the domesticity they had long been confined to. Some of the most dangerous instances of the Cold War took place (the Cuban Missile Crisis etc.) alongside all of this. In terms of history and popular culture, Star Trek has always fascinated me. At a time when women were fighting for equality, including in the workplace, as were African Americans, you see a black woman on television as a high ranking officer on the bridge of a star ship. Both on and off screen, Nichelle Nichols is an incredible source of inspiration. In both realms she was a pioneer. One of the first African American female characters on U.S. television who was not portrayed as a slave or servant, Nichols’ role on Star Trek was groundbreaking. When she considered leaving it to return to her singing career, none other than Martin Luther King Jr. asked her to stay on the series. Rightfully, he pointed out that she was truly going where no black woman had gone before, and in the process was inspiring other black women (and men) to pursue equal rights. Nichols was also involved in a NASA recruitment project, and was responsible in part for the recruitment of the first female and African American astronauts in the U.S. Again, there’s so much I can say – and I will, because she’s awesome enough to warrant her own blog post. I was truly honoured to meet her at Comic Con – I still can’t quite believe that I did!
4. There’s a little bit of awesome in all of us – we should spend more time looking for it in those around us
Comic Con involves a lot of standing in queues (as the only Brit in my party of nerds, I defended the use of the word ‘queue’ whilst my American pals argued the use of the word ‘line’ whilst standing in one). One of the nicest parts of the day was getting to talk to people whilst waiting for whatever awesomeness was at the end of the queue/line. We got to meet people from literally all over the world. Japanese students, German tourists, fellow Americans… you name it and we probably met them. At something like Comic Con you can start talking to someone and before you know it you are laughing and joking around together, helping to decipher complicated maps and schedules. Conversations are so easy to start – more often than not they are costume related. As soon as I got out of the car we got talking to people (we couldn’t find the main entrance to the building and a crowd of lost looking fellow nerds asked if I could beam everyone there…). If you are queuing to meet a star for an autograph or a photo, you find those who are especially like you. When I was waiting to meet Nichelle Nichols, I was suddenly among my people. The Trekkies. I was in my element. Sharing Star Trek knowledge, discussing how nervous we were to meet our heroes, comparing costumes – it was as if we all knew each other already. It’s so easy to see the bad in people – the things that annoy us or that we would change if we could. Comic Con was a lesson in books having misleading covers – it reminded me that people are special, and if we’ll only try to see them that way there’s a good chance we might find treasures.
5. I am surrounded by wonderful people
My husband does not share my extreme love of Star Trek. He bought me Comic Con tickets as a graduation gift. The gift extended to him wearing Captain Picard’s outfit and escorting me to the convention, and tirelessly holding my bag whilst I queued to meet my hero, and to look at nerd paraphernalia. He is unquestionably wonderful, and I realised not for the first time how blessed I am to have him. He never dismisses or demeans my interests – on the contrary, he takes an interest and makes an effort.
That Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far. This, along with the combined body heat of 133,000 people meant that wearing costumes took real sacrifice and effort. I have to commend Morgan, my Kentuckian friend, who donned her Gandalf outfit with real commitment. For hours she wore her grey robes, full beard and wig, despite the heat. Though this required frequent trips to the ladies room to carry out beard re-adjustments, she struggled on with the determination of the grey wizard himself.
Also to be commended is Ashleigh, whose idea the whole shenanigan was in the first place. I may not have known her long but she has encouraged me to embrace my inner nerd, and that it’s OK to squeal like a guinea-pig when you get in line to meet a Star Trek character. She made a fine Princess Leia, and is evidence of the aforementioned skill and artistic flare in costume-making.
It was a great day. The four of us laughed, ate soggy sandwiches on the floor whilst thousands of people tried not to step on us, met some stars, saw some outrageous costumes (one figured an actual exposed bottom… not sure who they were supposed to be…) and some brilliant ones, tried not to fall asleep in the car on the way home and had a generally marvelous time.
The world is a dark and scary place. It is also full of wonderful people, and if we focus on friendship, imagination, creativity and fun, we can enjoy the things we love in peace, and not be defeated.
Live long, and prosper.