The idea of a comic convention elicits a wide range of reactions, from the utter enthusiasm of its fans and attendees to the boredom and dismissal of the uninterested. Enthusiasts boast the opportunities a convention affords for coming together as a community, as well as for meeting celebrities, purchasing collectibles, and dressing up as their favorite characters.
At the Dallas ComicCon: Fan Days, held annually since 1994, a current of excitement filled the air in the Irving Convention Center from Oct. 4-6. On the first floor in an open chamber, a sea of fans interacted with famous artists, traveling novelists, and no shortage of vendors. These conventions have become somewhat famous for “cosplaying”, where fans show up dressed as characters from their favorite comics, books, movies, and TV shows.
Many serious cosplayers build their costumes with painstaking detail and have partnered with other fans to form costuming groups. Several of these groups were on display at the convention center this weekend with a motive you might not have expected: charity.
David Petty is a member of the 501st Legion, a global Star Wars-themed costume group with over 6,500 members. They work through comic conventions and other fan-driven events in order to benefit such causes as the Make a Wish Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Toys for Tots. This weekend they put on an event called Blast-a-Trooper, in which fans, for a small charitable contribution, can fire Nerf guns at Stormtroopers. Anthony Daniels (the actor who played C3PO in Star Wars) made an appearance and gleefully fired darts at the volunteers, while a group of costumed children stared, giggling and waiting for their turns.
This weekend the 501st turned their focus inward, using their donations to raise money for a member’s mother, who is currently battling breast cancer.
In addition to the convention, several members were involved this weekend with Star Wars Reads. A community event, sponsored by Lucasfilm Ltd. in partnership with several major national book chains and local libraries, it teaches both reading and the love of reading using the novels set in the Star Wars universe.
“I won’t say it was a nightmare, but it hasn’t been easy,” said Petty, laughing. “Yesterday I had to do an elementary school.”
The 501st was joined in this project by two other Star Wars-themed “charitable costuming” organizations, the Mandalorian Mercs and the Rebel Legion.
“I got into charitable costuming because I was involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism for ten years prior to this”, said Ashley Clayton of the Mandalorian Mercs, a similarly-themed organization, “and I decided I wanted to do something good with my geekiness.”
In addition to Star Wars Reads, the Mercs were recently involved in fundraising for the victims of the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla. in May.
The groups showed off an impressive display of originally-built equipment from their different fandoms designed, like the costumes, to seem as close as possible to the real thing. Many of those items would be raffled off by the end of the weekend, the proceeds donated to any number of charitable causes.
“It’s an amazing thing,” a bystander reported. “You get to come and enjoy the culture with people like you, and then you don’t just enjoy it for yourself. You get to use what you love in order to help people in need.”