If you have never been to Comic-con then go. Find one and go. It is certainly more than I thought and is certainly more than just comic books. There was such a wonderful array of different people, all of them so child like excited to be there, wonder gushing from their eyes, and everyone in a great mood with smiles adorned like badges of geek-dom. Their pride, sense of belonging, and dignity shining bright. These are the same people who are a safe bet to get shredded in pop culture for being strange, nerdy, or too different. But here, it’s family. I couldn’t have felt more comfortable.
I’m used to festivals, but music festivals. There it’s more of a fight, a push, a drug induced euphoria that is supposed to mean utopia but usually brings about chaos when the hard rock headliner hits the stage. I was at Woodstock ’99. I saw the audiences reaction to Rage Against the Machine. It was a scary one. But that fake utopia at a music fest (3 days of love, peace, and happiness my ass!) actually exists at Comic-Con. No fights or scraps or yelling. It’s all in good fun and people are more than willing to let you walk first. This was true of almost everyone, save the folks who cut me in line waiting to meet the great Carrol Spinney. I then realized they were crying and thought it was best they cut me instead of cutting me. But it’s all good and I immediately forgave and forgot. They were truly excited to meet Big Bird and who am i to discredit that.
Comic-Con is all things fantastic. It’s comic books and video games and collectibles and Halloween all rolled into one. There are people dressed up, masks for sale, treats around every corner, and a general feel of make believe. I was shocked at how well this festival brought out the kid in me. I felt twelve all over again, my fascination with the grotesque and gruesome just as vivid as it ever was, my eyes straining to see everything at once, to be everywhere at once, and petrified to miss out on anything. I was, it seems, really happy, but on a really base level that adults don’t get to visit as often. We as adults tend to feel this euphoria when your quarterly bonus finally comes in or when you realize you’re getting a little more back on your taxes. This happy is true and when it is not related to money or other adult like trivial things, it’s extremely exhilarating.
I met as many people in costume as possible. There was a Cos Play contest later in the day and I was hoping that I could meet the winner. Turns out I did on my way in to the convention. I commented on her ingenious idea of taking a portable fan with her to cool herself off as it was near eighty degrees that day. The costumes were elaborate, or sometimes not elaborate, as I met wolverine dressed in jeans and a tank top. Everyone taking part in Cos Play was more than happy to take a selfie with me, no frills or talking, just got into character as I approached with my cell phone in hand. I’m admittedly a little out of touch so some of the costumes were beyond me, beyond what I recognized, but I couldn’t help be impressed with the detail, the effectiveness, and the way each person could get into character for photograph or otherwise. There is a general camaraderie that exists within the walls of Comic Con that I have not experienced in many other places. I can see why that world is so addicting and why the people who are in it feel compelled to come back. I know I do.
We left Comic-Con and went into the world of Niagara Falls, Ontario. I’m not sure if it was the juxtaposition of leaving a fairy tale and then walking into real life or the jarring reality that after something fun there is a usually a let down, but either way we left the doors of The Con and walked into the bright sunshine and humidity of a strange town that should be the setting of bad Stephen King novel. We left to find an array of confused Canadians, overpriced tacos, and of course Legos on cardboard in the middle of the largest putt putt golf course in the world.
As my travel partner on this excursion and friend Chris Guy illuminated, “It’s like a life sized putt putt golf course.” He was talking about the main drag in Niagara Falls, just up from the Left Handed Hard Rock Cafe and some dumpy casino. There was a large sign that read “The Canadian Midway”. But it should have just read “Hell”. I watched Chris as he stood reeling in amazement at neon lights, giant Frankenstein heads selling corn dogs, and mobs of people spilling money into arcades games, his head fuzzy from overpriced drafts and surprisingly smooth Canadian whiskey. “This place is truly awful,” he said. We decided to take a page from the Comic-Con play book and buy in. Everyone is accepted we thought, and so we poured more drafts down our necks and dumped money into arcade games.
But fit in we could not. We tried to hang with some locals and ask where people go that aren’t tourists. They didn’t have a real answer but only vague references to bars and restaurants where some people might hang out. We were directed to the Midway to check out “what the hockey haired douche bags are up to”. We ended up at Boston Pizza guzzling more overpriced drafts and playing video games for tickets refundable for shitty prizes at the door. It was here that I ended up sitting in the rain with a “doctor” from Saudi Arabia, here on vacation with his family to see one of the seven wonders of the world. He told me he went to college in America and loved it dearly. He continued on to say if he currently lived here he would vote for Trump, even though he was Muslim. I had stumbled into a vortex, a black hole, a nightmare and one in which I could not dig myself out of. Chris suggested more whiskey to which I agreed. I stopped to buy a cheap cigar to smoke should the mood strike. The same cigars that come in two packs in your average American bodega for a dollar. The total was nine Canadian dollars. I bought it anyways, using it as fiery ammo to why I hated the real world.
We finally decided that this world of tourism was not for us. That if we couldn’t have the safety of Comic-Con then we would elect the safety of our hotel room. We stumbled into a pizza place, ordered, and waited. We thought that at the very least, we could gorge ourselves on bad food, finish the overpriced Canadian Lagers in the room, and go to sleep happy, fat, and drunk. Neither of us ended up paying for this pizza, so we’re not entirely sure how we got it, and I can’t remember the place, but I could find it if you put us back in Niagara Falls, but it was hands down the worst pizza I have ever had. Best described as melted Legos on cardboard with a sauce like material creating zing, we ate it anyway. We went to a land of make believe and had make believe pizza for dinner.
All in all the tourist trap that is Niagara Falls, Ontario was not enough to spoil what we had experienced earlier in the day. It really just made me realize that I am still a kid inside and probably always will be. That was not the last Comic-Con I’ll see. That’s a safe bet.
Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.
He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband