Photo Credit: Spencer Jones
New York Comic Con 2021: Black Nerds Showed Up and Showed Out
New York Comic Con is the most popular event of its kind on the east coast, and when I say Black nerds showed up and showed out, that’s not an exaggeration.
The four-day convention turned The Javits Center into a playground for cosplayers, gamers, furries, and other nerd varieties. People traveled from the states and beyond, in spite of the extra hurdles put in place because of the pandemic. To my delight, there was more melanin on the show floor than I saw at my first New York Comic Con in 2015.
A common misconception is that Black people don’t care about niche interests like video games, anime, and comics, which simply isn’t true. Some of us do, which is how the term “Blerd” came to be. We’re fighting for more recognition in the nerd community, having to wrestle with some of the same microaggressions we experience outside of it.
Black cosplayers are expected to stick to Storm, Blade, and Black Panther, but if we dress up as anybody else, questions about authenticity arise. The fantastic Naiquan (@cosplaynay) caught shade for dressing as Trunks from Dragonball Z because of his skin color, as if the painstaking work he’d put into nailing the hair and outfit was irrelevant. Nor did it matter that he has made children, not to mention adults, smile with his many Spider-Man appearances. Such miserable energy is tiring, but still we persist.
New York Comic Con offered a platform for Blerds to share our joy, and even with masks covering most of our faces, it was clear who was who. We called out to each other like we were long time friends, snapped our fingers, and swapped social media handles. We threw ourselves headlong into the escapism, and there was nothing bizarre about it.
I’ve dressed like several fictional characters I admire, and this year I was Lady Dimitrescu, the tall, vampire-like woman whose meteoric rise to popularity was unprecedented in the Resident Evil franchise. My dress was customized down to the last detail, I wore a black, wide-brimmed hat, and my feet tolerated the heels until they didn’t. Yellow contacts rounded out the look, and my eye shadow and lipstick weren’t half bad for someone who didn’t wear makeup often. I jokingly called myself Ebony Dimitrescu; as far as I could tell, I was the only Black woman dressed like her at the convention, at least on Saturday.
To me, part of what makes cosplay effective is behaving like the character, so to that end, I twirled my long cigarette holder in the air and called my friend a “filthy man thing” as often as possible, which we thought was hilarious. There were two times I broke character: lip-syncing to a DMX song playing outside the venue, and twerking to “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon. Why? For the culture. And because that’s what I do.
I got stopped many times for pictures, but nothing matched the mutual enthusiasm exchanged between Blerds, which was more pure and uplifting than I can articulate.
Kendall (@realwomanofcosplay), did marvelous justice to Jessica Rabbit, and we gleefully remarked how beautiful it was to see melanin present. Two other women were dressed as Wonder Woman and Shego from Kim Possible, and there were Disney cosplayers portraying Cinderella, Jafar, and Jasmine. Blades were in the building, a few Black Panthers, and cute kids dressed as Marvel and DC heroes.
It wasn’t feasible to take photos with everybody, but no question about it, the cosplayers ate without leaving any crumbs.
Artists of color were out in full force as well, both on the main event floors and in Artist’s Alley, where creatives could showcase their work. I met Terry Huddleston (@terryhuddlestonart), who did striking digital portraits of recognizable characters. While all the prints were beautiful, I was drawn to his depictions of the principal figures in the Black Panther universe: T’Challa with his arms crossed in the Wakanda salute, Shuri, and Killmonger. Huddleston also did a beautiful portrait of Storm, who married T’Challa in the comics. There were nods to the DC universe, like the portrait of Wonder Woman with an afro. I knew I had to own one of those masterpieces, and decided on a large Black Panther print with metallic accents. It’ll make quite a statement in my art studio.
My advice to anybody who wants to cosplay for a convention, but has reservations because of their skin color or body type, is to live your best life. The naysayers will keep running their mouths, and there’s not much you can do to stop it. Find a character that moves you and tap into your creativity to embody them. You’ll find your corner of the community sooner than you think.