New York Comic ConA tourist among tourists Luigi Leonardo November 5, 2018 IMO Days before the New York Comic Con, my colleague and I talked about the Con’s exorbitant price of entry. The cheapest tickets sat at 50 dollars apiece. Though less than Rihanna concert tickets, 50 dollars is still quite a sum in today’s money-strapped climate. “It’s like you’re spending money to spend more money,” my colleague said. He was more rational than I was. Despite my student’s budget, I succumbed to the overwhelming hype, buying single-day tickets to the four-day event. To an everyday geek, the New York Comic Con is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration of geek culture. To a more critical person, the event creates a massive sinkhole for savings, a feeding ground for corporate greed. One quick peek at the Comic Con’s roaring agora shows this tantalizing dichotomy. Mixed in among sweaty cosplayers, exhausted travelers, and wide-eyed children, big-name brands and mom-and-pop retailers are peddling the same “exclusive” Funko Pop! Figures. Creators and celebrities alike ask for an arm and a leg in exchange for treasurable (or marketable) moments. Undoubtedly, the Comic Con’s air is charged with electrifying excitement. Like everyone else, I was in a state of euphoria. However, a shivering fear constantly encroached on my excitement whenever I pulled out my wallet. Was my euphoric enjoyment just a commodity? Embed from Getty Images Between the ages of 22 and 24, my personal interests started changing. My library traded in graphic novels for non-fiction. My wardrobe exchanged Iron Man t-shirts for crisper polos. It was time to grow up. As every young adult has felt at one point in their life, the need to stash away teenage joys is accompanied by a mild pain. The fruits of youth have started to wither. Maturity, as what society tells us, necessitates a thorough mental reorganization. Still, that old shoebox filled with the toys of childhood usually never makes it to the back of our closets. Often, they linger just within reach, waiting for another chance to go out and play. And when they do come out again, it’s always with sweet, nostalgic excitement. Filled with 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and 40-somethings, the New York Comic Con exists because of this same nostalgia. Geek culture finds another home, another chance to play. But that’s what the Comic Con does. It gives everyone a license to be “weird.” Weird is our lives. Weird is geeky. Weird is us. Without judgment, anyone can wear Super Mario t-shirts, buy Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, collect dozens of Funko! Pops, and run around as Black Panther. For once, maturity and normalcy can take a step back to childishness and weirdness. In one hall, a pair of sisters dress up as Cersei and Daenerys from Game of Thrones. In the next, a Rorschach cosplayer (from Watchmen) shows off his thermochromic inkblot mask to aspiring craftsmen. Beside him, Mythbusters’ Adam Savage hides behind a Martian astronaut’s helmet, unaware that a throng of fans already recognize his handiwork. Just across, a conga line of Spider-Men. To most observers, this oddball bunch is a surreal scene straight out of a comic book. Who can blame them? By “normal” standards, the Comic Con’s participants are “weird.” Dressing up? Collecting action figures? Talking about comic books? We really were weird. Embed from Getty Images But that’s what the Comic Con does. It gives everyone a license to be “weird.” Weird is our lives. Weird is geeky. Weird is us. Without judgment, anyone can wear Super Mario t-shirts, buy Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, collect dozens of Funko! Pops, and run around as Black Panther. For once, maturity and normalcy can take a step back to childishness and weirdness. Before the Con, I had to line up at the box office to grab my ticket. While in the long line, a native New Yorker and I passed the time by chatting about our expectations. I told him that it was my first time attending. Perhaps taking pity on me, he shared a few tips for survival: pack lunch, wear comfortable clothing, and, most importantly, set a clear budget. “Line Con, that’s what it should be called,” he says, complaining about the long lines everywhere at the Con. Despite my uncontainable joy, New York Comic Con was tiring for both my legs and my paltry wallet. At the end of my day, I walked for almost 12 hours and 15 kilometers. Not surprisingly, my feet ached to the bone. Going home, I trudged through the streets of New York with a gigantic bag of bought merchandise. I looked like an emo Santa Claus. Inside my bag, I stuffed in an NYCC-exclusive Funko Dorbz figure of Ironheart, a pre-release DC Primal Age figure of Mister Freeze, a Funko Pop! figure of Carnage, a Hellboy omnibus, and four new t-shirts. However, amidst all these delectable goodies, a strange unopened box took up most of the bag’s space. By itself, the New York Comic Con is a happy place. Sadly, big businesses fester with smiles. Faced with horrid mystery boxes and other bogus merchandise, my one-time friend’s words ring true: know what you buy. Besides the ever-ubiquitous Funko! Pops, another constantly sold item at the con is a themed mystery box—a package filled with random goodies assembled based on a central theme. For example, a Fullmetal Alchemist-themed box is filled with loot from the series. An ʼ80s-themed box is filled with nostalgic merchandise from the decade. Mystery boxes sell an intangible and unattainable promise: buy our box to get your geeky fix. As I painfully discovered for myself, the actual contents didn’t matter as much as the mystery. Was I going to get a premium figurine? Does my box include a rare comic book? Is it a t-shirt that I can’t get anywhere else? When I got home, I hurriedly took apart my box, anxious to know what I got. Inside the box, I got… duds. Coloring books, tiny keychains, and stickers. These boxes promised over a hundred dollars’ worth of goods. Conveniently, the underlying fine print didn’t disclose the quality of these goods. Essentially, they were all unsold garbage repackaged with a bogus promise. I felt scammed, conned, betrayed. Sadly, a lot of people bought into these bogus boxes. At the Con, people were lugging boxes of varying themes and fandoms. Highlighted by all their colorful designs, mystery boxes sold another tempting proposition: buy one because everyone else has one. Everyone was scammed. Embed from Getty Images These mystery boxes quickly became the poison that tainted our well; the corporate greed that feasted on our euphoria. The treacherous dichotomy of capitalism and belongingness oozed and bled from these boxes, the icons of business. Packaged on the outside with enticing colors, they hid evil underneath. Their two-fold promise—a quick fix and a sense of belonging—attached a price tag to what was already free. We don’t need sleazy salesmen to tell us how we can be happy. Happiness was readily available in the poses of cosplayers, in the laughs of panelists, and the smiles of wide-eyed tourists. Yet, there we were: eager consumers falling for the trap of consumerism. By itself, the New York Comic Con is a happy place. Sadly, big businesses fester with smiles. Faced with horrid mystery boxes and other bogus merchandise, my one-time friend’s words ring true: know what you buy. After the Con, I had an extra ticket for Sunday. Since it was allotted for families (and because I was already broke), I decided to sell it through Reddit. Jenny Francis, a medical professor who loved the Doctor Who series, bought my ticket. From Massachusetts, she high-tailed it to New York just to see her favorite Doctor, David Tennant. Seeing a celebrity at the Con isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. Much like the treacherous mystery boxes, getting a professionally-shot photo with a big-name celebrity costs a lot of money. Mark Ruffalo, the event’s biggest celebrity, sold photo ops for a stunning 190 dollars. David Tennant, a big celebrity in his own right, took a hundred dollars per photo. Celebrity meetings are easily the most expensive items for sale in the entire Con. Embed from Getty Images Soon after the Con ended, we talked about her meeting with her hero. “Well, I wouldn’t say photo ops count as ‘meeting’ him, but I did look right into his eyes and said ‘thank you’ from the bottom of my heart. So, that made it worth it,” she said. Still, buying the photo op severely limited her budget. She jokingly added that she has “been surviving on caramel M&Ms and peanut butter crackers” ever since. Personally, I wouldn’t have spent the same amount of money for a two-minute meeting with a favored actor. Yet, judging Jenny for making that choice would be hypocritical of me. I lived for that same culture. While a part of me regretted my exorbitant purchases on that day, a greater part of me will cherish those memories forever. Even if it cost me more than a hundred dollars, I felt one with a crowd. I felt at peace with my identity as the comic book geek, as the video gamer, as the same eccentric fool we all were before. We are all Jenny. We are all those tears of joy shed at the sight of a childhood hero. We are the Supermen, the Spider-Men, and the Black Widows. We are all those exhausted tourists, hungry for the chance to play young again. And when Comic Con season comes again, it won’t be with disdain but with childish, giggly, and giddy glee.