IN PICTURES: Long Beach Comic Expo Community Tackles Universal Issues

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Photos by Ariana Gastelum. 

It’s not everyday you get to see Darth Vader fight Leo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in an epic lightsaber duel. However, it came as no surprise at the Long Beach Comic Expo (LBCE), which took place last weekend at the Convention Center.

It also became apparent that creative professionals of the industry are fighting even greater battles regarding issues related to mental health, sexuality and diversity.

Calvin Nye, founder of CN Comics, presented Joe Hero, a superhero with Autism.

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“I am diagnosed with Autism, myself,” Nye told the Post. “I always wanted a superhero to look up to, and there hasn’t been one in a while.”

In the story, the main character Kevin Carter must prove to the Guild of Justice that he is worthy of his superpowers despite his diagnosis.

Acacia Torres from Injureddreams featured intimate relationships between characters such as Ladybug and Cat Noir as well as Tulio and Miguel from The Road to El Dorado.

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Panels throughout the weekend event discussed topics such as “Gender Bending in Cosplay,” “Diversity in Comics,” “Being a Plus-Size Cosplayer” and “Dealing With Mental Health in Cosplay.”

Nicholas Bouzikian, Cilla Salce, Ivotres Littles, Katt McLaren and John Hale touched base on a combination of these issues during the panel, “How to Overcome Bullying in the Cosplay Community.” However, from the audience’s perspective, it appeared as if Ralph from Wreck-It Ralph, Joker Batgirl, a ghostbuster, Sailor Jupiter and Superman were conversing amongst each other.

The participants talked about being bullied in public, online and within the cosplay community. They referred to cosplayer bullies as “privileged,” “elitist” and “plastic” because their comments often criticize a person’s physical features or costume for not looking exactly like the character’s.

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Bouzikian, president of Nerd Mafia Group, was the mediator of the discussion. He also discussed his personal experience with negative online feedback directed towards his weight. He said his strategy for coping with such comments is to laugh them off and block the users.

“I actually went to my blocked list the other day, and it’s so huge,” he said during the panel. “I had people from out of state hitting me up because they see my pictures. My profile is open to the public. And they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never seen a Hobgoblin that huge before. You look like a giant pumpkin.’”

Each participant had encountered a different issue in their cosplay careers. McLaren, who enjoys dressing up as male and female characters, recalled getting hate for looking too manly.

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“It’s really sad when people just can’t get over the fact that you’re staying true to the character no matter which direction you go,” she said during the panel.

Littles, also known as Ivy Nerdtastic Girl, explained her negative encounters as a black female ghostbuster. Even though the 2016 remake of the film has a black female ghostbuster, she still receives criticism.

Comics have been criticized for not having enough black representation, and it’s slowly starting to change. More than 7,000 people attended the Fifth Annual Black Comic Book Festival held in January in Harlem, NY, approximately 1,300 more than the year before.

In addition, black cosplayers show off their outfits every year during the month of February for Black History Month, using the hashtag, #28DaysofBlackCosplay.

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The panel agreed that bullies often attack other people because they’ve been bullied themselves, and the best way to overcome these events is to act like it doesn’t bother you and walk away.

“We’ve all been belittled and talked down to,” McLaren said. “Just detach yourself from the situation and just go to your group of friends[…]. Just let them know, ‘I’m happy with what I did. I’m happy with my costume. I love the character. I don’t care if it’s good enough for you because it’s good enough for me.’ As long as you’re confident in yourself, don’t let them take that away from you.”

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.