By Army Sgt. James Geelen
Hannah Barry, as Emily, a character in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, poses Sept. 23, 2017, at Baltimore Comic-Con at the Baltimore Convention Center with participants portraying characters from the “Ghostbusters” movie. Hannah is the niece of Stephanie Hatcher, who is among the instructors at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Md., with a love for
comic book conventions. (Courtesy photo by Stephanie Hatcher)
When Stephanie Hatcher was growing up, the majority of women characters in comic books were drawn unrealistically, she said. The characters were always drawn with big chests, big heads and little waists. There were not many characters that young girls could imitate.
“The female representation in comic books has grown in the 20 years that I’ve been reading comics,” said Hatcher, now an instructor at the Defense Information School here. “There used to be two good characters for girls, and now there are over 20. They were always wearing bikinis to go fight crime. I would be wearing yoga pants and trainers because it would be functional. Who’s going to fight crime in stilettos? Not me.”
A popular place for fans of comic books and pop culture to gather is at conventions such as the seventh annual Baltimore Comic-Con, which was held Sept. 28-30 at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Hatcher is among the DINFOS staff members whose love of comic book conventions helps them hold onto the innocence of their youth.
Pete Robertson, also an instructor, is another.
Robertson grew up as a fan of Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man, he said. He originally was skeptical of comic book conventions. He thought they were only for serious fans of superhero comics – until he went to one.
“I felt that I was peripheral to that kind of geekdom, but the first time I went, it was awesome,” he said. “I always describe it as a three-ringed circus of geekdom because the idea for me is there’s something there for everybody, no matter what you’re interested in.”
One of the reasons people attend conventions is to collect exclusive artwork that is sold by artists in attendance, Robertson said. He collects art by prominent local artists.
“I love seeing rising comic book artists or local artists,” he said. “I love getting that original take on movie posters or characters. I love getting that art because it’s unusual and interesting. You’re not going to find it at Target or Michael’s or even Hot Topic.”
Events offer access to merchandise, Robertson said. However, a person has to be careful about how much he buys.
“I have boxes and boxes and boxes of Star Wars toys, Legos and superhero statues,” he said. “I’m trying not to be a hoarder, but my wife and I are having trouble not crossing that line. The moment that you have more stuff in boxes than on display, then you’re a hoarder.”
Another attraction at these conventions is access to television and movie stars, Robertson said. He has met Peter Mayhew, who was Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” movies, and Hayley Atwell from the show “Agent Carter.”
People like comic-cons because they can dress up as their favorite characters, Hatcher said. Play-acting in costume, known as cosplay, is a big business and a way for people to bond with their children.
“I had this misconception that comic-cons were a bunch of nerdy, geeky dudes in black trench coats who would trade comic books and play Magic in a basement somewhere,” Hatcher said. “My friend told me I was crazy and that it was actually huge. He told me that it was much more than comic books.”
Hatcher has dressed her daughter up for conventions. She has also helped her niece Hannah and nephew Owen design costumes.
Hannah has become a fan of comic books, which have helped change Owen from a reluctant reader to a stronger one, Hatcher said.
“Last year, Hannah’s favorite author was at Baltimore Comic-Con,” Hatcher said. “I called her and asked if she wanted to go and dress up as her favorite character, Emily. They’re both redheads and 11 years old. It was perfect.”
Hatcher and Hannah went to JoAnn Fabric and picked out fabric with the pattern they needed. Hatcher helped her sew the costume.
Three days before the convention was scheduled to start, Owen decided to go, Hatcher said. Luckily he picked a character, Hilo, with an easy costume to prepare.
“We make our way around to where Hannah’s author has his booth,” Hatcher said. “As she’s walking up, he looks up from his desk and sees her. Without saying a word he gets up, walks out from behind his booth and hands me his phone.”
“Please take my picture with Emily,” he said.
The best part about doing cosplay at these conventions is that no one will criticize another person’s costume, Hatcher said. This is a real boost to the young people. The community is so welcoming, people don’t have to be ashamed of what they like.
“That’s what I love about a convention,” she said. “If you’re cosplaying and you make your costume out of cardboard, people will love it. If you’re cosplaying and you’re buying custom, molded armor, people will love you for it. You can let your freak flag fly.”