MILLION MAN March? That we can do, give or take a few hundred-thousand. Million Mom March? Likewise, we can host a head count that turns heads. As well-fitted to such functions as a diplomat’s bespoke suit, Washington does Politically Important Crowd Counts well, especially when, with company coming over in droves, we bring out our finest Mall.
But, trying to get just a coupla-thousand comics-lovers to flaunt their fictional-character costumes in the shadow of the Capitol Dome? I’m not confident that the true turnout will even make a ripple in a reflecting pool. The last cartoon-like character to make an international splash on the Mall was Forrest Gump, two decades ago, and even he had the special-effects benefit of Bob Zemeckis’s magical crowd-coverage CGI.
What I’m trying to say, with all the subtlety of Hulk, is: I’m not so sure that the nation’s capital can set a comics cosplay record tomorrow on the Mall, despite organizers’ best attempts. And my rationale involves only one reason:
I have my doubts that D.C. is yet that geeky.
At noon Friday, I hope to be proved wrong. In a city packed with Super PACs and politicians and just-plain powerful people, I would smile at seeing enough fans dressed as Superman and Two-Face and Power Girl.
The city prides itself on bursting with nerds and wonks of the political stripe. But does Washington still run second to, say, Baltimore in teeming with geeks?
At High Noon tomorrow, we shall find out.
The record cosplay attempt at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at Union Square is tied to Awesome Con DC, a three-day festival of comics and pop culture at the downtown Convention Center that kicks off Friday at 3 p.m. And you can bet the event will draw its own on-site cosplayers this weekend, between the gamers and the Kids’ Zone. But this record attempt three hours earlier — where America’s mall must draw a horde of Captain Americas — is another level entirely. I’ll let the official records people, the good folks at Guinness, explain:
“The official Guinness World Records title of the attempt is: Largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters,” Annie Nguyen tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. She will be the official Guinness World Records adjudicator on site to hand-count and confirm the number of qualified participants, who must be costumed as one of a few hundred Guinness-Approved Comics Characters.
So, just how many comics cosplayers does D.C. need?
“The current record data is as follows,” Nguyen tells us. “The largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters involved 1,530 participants and was achieved at the opening ceremony of the International Animation CCJOY LAND in Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province, China, on April , 2011.”
Washington, in other words, needs to out-geek a major Chinese theme park.
If only, in a nod to Iron Man, we could sell the stunt to politicos and peace-lovers and arms dealers as a Million War Machine March, or to all the area’s intelligence agents as a real-life Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. assemblage.
But having lived in such bastions of comics geekdom as San Diego and San Francisco, I’m not convinced D.C.’s geeks, by comparison, are ready for this fight.
One man whose nerd credentials I don’t question is Ben Penrod, an area native and Awesome Con co-founder whose brainchild this whole stunt is.
“It was my idea,” Penrod tells Comic Riffs, “and then my event coordinator, Debbie Lee, did all the hard work and contacted Guinness World Records and set it up. … I thought we could really get people involved. It’s a way to get our attendees engaged and to be part of something that will hopefully stand for years and years.”
Or at least until amusement park or comics convention dares to take on Washington.
Penrod grew up in Annapolis and now lives in Waldorf. He represents the rising wave of next-gen Washington-area comics geeks, with an origin story suited to his current role.
“I started collecting when I was 13,” says Penrod, who is now 31. “I guess I started selling on eBay when I was 16. I was always looking for some way to make money.”
“When I was 13 or 14, they were selling eight-packs of comic books at Giant Food for $10,” Penrod continues. “I saw that one of the books was X-Men #25, which was listed in Wizard Magazine for $13. I bought that for $10 and traded that one book for $13 in store credit at the comic shop.
“I’ve got a few of those cool success stories, and the rest of my comic-dealing stories involve scraping to break even! I’m definitely a better convention promoter than comic dealer.”
But it was those attempts to sell that led Penrod on the road to setting up the big convention tent.
“I began selling comic books full time in 2008, and I traveled all over the country exhibiting at different comic-cons,” Penrod tells ‘Riffs. “It baffled me that there wasn’t anything like that in D.C., so I knew it would be a great thing to have in the city.
“We kind of threw together the first Annapolis Comic-Con, in 2011 and I really enjoyed it, and it was successful, so I decided that I had to find a way to make a living running comic-cons,” he continues. “We kept growing bigger and testing out different things, and we had 2014 as the goal to produce a ‘full-size’ event. We did the test-run Awesome Con last year, it went great, and we’re back this year for the real deal.”
The real deal means a massive scaling-up over his 2013 Con. “It’s almost a completely different thing,” Penrod says. “We went from 18,000 square feet of exhibit space and three rooms in 2013, to 230,000 square feet of exhibit space and 12 rooms this year. We have to deal with 10 times as many flights and hotel reservations.”
Among the event’s dozens of screen and stage entertainment celebrities is Billie Piper (“Doctor Who”), who is making D.C. her first-ever pop convention appearance. The Con will also feature scores of comics creators — including George Perez, Steve Niles and Dan Parent — a hundred-plus exhibitors and at least a couple-hundred artists. (Disclosure: Comic Riffs will be appearing on panels Saturday and Sunday.)
And amid the many events will be a costume contest. But first, of course, comes what the Con hopes will be the world’s biggest costume contest.
“We’re hopeful that the attempt to break the world record will also highlight Washington D.C. as a new center of gravity for cosplay and science fiction against the majestic backdrop of the U.S. Capitol,” event partner Greg Viggiano tells us. He is executive director of the forthcoming Museum of Science Fiction, which he hopes will have a preview location in D.C. by next year.
“We’re excited about Awesome Con bringing new recognition here, and look forward to using comic-book literature to help inspire the scientists and artists of tomorrow,” Viggiano says.
He means the long view of the Big Tomorrow, naturally. But in the short view of the literal tomorrow, Awesome Con hopes to inspire as many of you as possible to don a costume from comic-book literature.
Not that D.C., of course, is yet that geeky.