Touted as "America's largest comic book and pop culture convention," the 35th annual San Diego Comic-Con International hit town during summer's fever pitch, with 87,000 attendees coursing through the glassy-sleek maze of downtown's convention center.
For several thousand people, a highlight of the four-day event came on July 24-the Saturday night when a small legion of devoted fans, inspired by images from comics, science-fiction movies, collectible figures, fantasy art and games, took the stage of the facility's massive ballroom for Comic-Con's 30th Masquerade costume competition.
At 8:30 p.m., tux-clad master of ceremonies Phil Foglio-a writer, artist and "convention personality" who has emceed the masquerade more than anyone else in the con's history-faced about 4,300 riotously cheering men, women and children. In a stentorian voice, he noted the 52 acts scheduled to perform over the following couple of hours and told the audience, "This is a long show. You can make it longer!"
However, Foglio's appeal for "an appreciative silence" for performers "who have worked very hard-some of them, like, two days after the last convention ended" to create the evening's costumes and skits fell on ears already deafened by frenzied screams and shouts. (One judge called the crowd "one of the biggest and most arduous audiences to go up against" for such competitions.)
The first contestants to appear were several children, or "Young Fans." Harp music and pink stage light heralded the entrance of a tiara-crowned little girl, who minced across the stage in green satin. A youth dressed as Harry Potter steadfastly balanced what looked like a stuffed owl on one extended arm. The audience gave encouraging applause-before being stunned by the sight of a young female performing an incongruous and unanimated Shirley Temple impression.
But with the fourth contestant, a clear crowd-pleaser emerged when a tow-headed lad named Ian McBride exploded onstage outfitted as a comic book character called "Beast Boy."
For several minutes, the pixie-like, green-tinted McBride elicited increasingly wild response as he enthusiastically took over the stage like a foot-stomping whirligig, his vaguely surf guitar-ish "Team Titan" musical accompaniment barely audible over the house's raucous appreciation. His dance was followed by a full minute of applause, cheers, hysterical laughter and whistling that dissolved into a prolonged, fist-pumping chant of "Beast Boy! Beast Boy!"
It was a moment viewers couldn't abandon through the remaining long countdown of acts, the skill level of which ranged from amateur to professional. Most performances-which featured all manner of demon slayers, bots, superheroes, mythical beasts, Imperial guards, gods and vampires, as well as much shooting and saber rattling-used tape-recordings of pompous narratives or soaring musical scores.
Competitors vied for numerous convention and vendor awards, including "Most Inspired by War or Dark Genres," "Best Anime Artist" and "Best First-time Solo Contestant," by evoking such diverse media influences as The Justice League of America, The Matrix, the Legend of Zelda, Futurama and the omnipresent Star Wars. In a particularly strange clash of pop-culture iconography, contestants dressed like Lord of the Rings characters sang a specially rewritten rendition of television's Friends anthem.
Poorly concealed laughter greeted a spindly thin Spider-Man impersonator, whose spandex costume left little to the imagination, and a "Sexy Robot" that bumped into a wall while trying to leave the stage. When a seemingly adolescent girl, tarted-up in a red Moulin Rouge dress, lifted her hem to reveal a gartered thigh, cries of "jail bait!" echoed through the room.
Female pulchritude held its own with the likes of performances like "Queen Amidala's Handmaidens" and the silvery "Electric Venus," a leggy, provocatively costumed young woman with long dark hair and Betty Page bangs who flexibly performed a bump-and-grind jazz number.
Before the show had hit the halfway mark, Foglio, brown bangs stuck to his forehead with perspiration, was rolling his eyes in feigned derision as he pulled out a stop watch to time the ceaseless chanting for "Beast Boy."
"You're making this longer," he good-naturedly warned the chanters.
Everyone got a second wind late in the program with the introduction of "The Fairy Court" enacted by "Real Fairies." To the strains of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," gorgeous young specimens of winged and wispily clad male and female anatomy-navel rings flashing-mesmerized spectators with a series of pastel tableaux. During a crescendo of wolf whistles, one feverish young man screamed out, "I love fairies! One more time!"
When the judges' final decisions came down, Fairy Court won the coveted "Best in Show" prize, but the night's big winner was none other than the evening's favorite, Beast Boy, who racked up a total of four awards, including Comic-Con's "Best Young Fan" statuette.Close to midnight, a volunteer staff member, on hand to control the weary throng exiting the ballroom, mused on McBride's victory, commenting, "Yeah, "Beast Boy' was good. The kid won close to a grand-don't think he realized it."