Adding to the usual parade of Brooks Brothers-clad people walking the streets of Washington last weekend were thousands of superheroes, supervillains and Star Trek officers celebrating all things awesome.
The annual Awesome Con paid homage to the many superhero and science fiction characters embraced by self-described “nerd culture.” Since its inception in 2013, the convention has grown each year to become one of the biggest fan conventions on the East Coast. This year’s Awesome Con, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, featured about 122 celebrity guests, including William Shatner, captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise on Star Trek, Ralph Macchio from The Karate Kid and Alex Kingston from Doctor Who.
One of the highlights of these conventions is the opportunity for cosplay— where participants dress in costumes and role-play as a science fiction, anime and comic book characters.
Donning a black leotard, cape and purple wig, Hannah Carrithers, 18, spent the convention’s opening day in character as Raven, a superhero known for her role in the Teen Titans television show, which ended in 2006.
“She’s interesting as a character because she’s not exactly a bright and bubbly character, but little kids seems to really like her anyways,” she said— her purple tinted lips moving quickly with excitement. “She’s the cool kid on the team.”
Though Carrithers said she spent only a week putting her Raven costume together, she once spent about six months creating an elaborately hand sewn Harley Quinn ball gown costume for one of the eleven conventions she has previously attended.
“I don’t think I’d consider going to a con without cosplaying,” Carrithers said. “It adds to the experience so much.”
Awesome Con attendees crossed generational boundaries, with little boys and girls running after older visitors in well-designed Spider-Man and Star Wars’ Stormtrooper costumes for pictures. Attendees also included veteran convention-goers, who began attending sci-fi conventions when the Star Trek: The Original Series was on the air in the late 1960s.
“I feel like it’s more fun to interact with people [when you’re cosplaying] because it’s easier almost,” Carrithers said. “They’re interacting with you on a level. When you go out in day-to-day life someone might say, ‘Nice dress,’ but no one is going, ‘That’s my favorite childhood character too’.”
Throughout the convention, attendees could attend panels discussing television shows and aspects of the comic world, as well as shop among rows of vendors selling everything from comic books and movie posters to large canvas paintings inspired by fictional characters ands stories, costume props and decorated skulls.
Sitting in one of many long rows of vendors, writer and crafter Holli Mintzer sold postcards, paper doll books, original comics and cloth dolls and birds dressed as superheroes.
“The people that I tend to connect with are passionate about the things they love,” said Mintzer, who has never missed an Awesome Con. “This is a giant convention center full of people who are passionate about things they love. It’s nice to be here and know that anyone you meet has something they really are excited about and want to talk about.”
Jewish artists have been actively involved in superhero fiction since its inception in the 1930s. Jewish comic book writers and artists created many iconic superheroes, especially those created during what’s known as the Golden Age of Comic Books, considered the period between the late 1930s through the early 1950s.
Prominent Jewish comic strip writers and artists include Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. In various collaborations, these men are credited with the creation of Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor and X-Men, among many others. Stan Lee was also one of the founders of what became Marvel Comics.
There have also been a number of superhero characters created with Jewish heritage. Among the most popular characters are Quicksilver, The Thing, Kitty Pryde and Magneto, an antihero and Holocaust survivor created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963.
“It’s nice to be able to look at the stories you love and see someone like you,” Mintzer said, referencing a picture of Willow Rosenberg, a character from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show.
Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, said he has encountered many Jewish comic book fans at similar conventions. The institute brings together professional comic book artists and writers to create educational materials about the Holocaust and human rights. Medoff said he attends fan conventions like Awesome Con to provide the institute’s literature and talk to people about its work.
“I’m always approached by a large number of Jewish comic book fans,” Medoff said. “Sometimes they are themselves teachers, occasionally rabbis, and they are fascinated that there can be an intersection between the Jewish world and the comics world, but there can be.”