Lessons Learned From SciFi and Comic Book Conventions

Let’s cosplay! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

I’ve been attending conventions in costume for five years now. I’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve also learned quite a few lessons.

Don’t wait till the night before to plan your costumes.
Some costumes take from a few months to a year to complete. Start planning your costumes way in advance so you have it all done in time with no stress the night before.

Focus on one build at a time. 
Focus on completing one costume before starting on another. If you start looking for next year’s ideas now, you won’t get this year’s build done. Give yourself time after the convention to think about what you want to do next year, and then do it.

Put your entire costume on at least a week before the convention.
Don’t try out a new costume at a convention without wearing it for a few hours first. This allows you to work out any kinks and make any adjustments.

Call your local comic book store and see if they will let you make an appearance in costume for a few hours to get a feel for everything. This will also help you get used to people looking at you and asking for pictures.

Practice makes for perfect pictures.
Every costume has its limits when it comes to mobility and posing. Try your poses out in front of a mirror or with someone taking your picture. This will allow you to become comfortable in the poses and be quick to strike one when a photographer asks for a photo.

Set a budget and bring cash.
Not all the vendors take credit cards because most conventions make them pay to use the internet in the vendor room. Take enough cash to cover what you must have and then use credit for the little things.

Be aware of your surroundings and who is pointing a camera at you.
While cosplaying as Aayla Secura at MegaCon in 2013, a fellow 501st Legion member was helping me to adjust the top half of my costume. In her words, “It looked like I had been punched in the chest.” Where she had her hand would have looked strange if you didn’t know I had a shirt on under where her hand was. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash go off and a photographer with his camera pointed in my direction. I’m not sure if I was the intended subject or not, but either way, I just allowed myself to be photographed in a compromising way. If you need to make costume adjustments, the best place to go is in the bathroom or behind a curtain of a booth. If neither of those are easily accessible, get a group of friends to surround you while you make the adjustment.

Don’t just hang out in the vendor room or at the panels.
Past years I’ve noticed that I don’t have as many pictures of my cosplay circling the internet as I had hoped. This was because I spent 99% of my time in the vendor room and not in the hallways where all the photographers hung out.

At all the conventions I’ve been to, you don’t have to pay to enter the convention center itself. You only need to pay if you’re going to a panel or into the vendor room. A lot of photographers would rather just spend their time walking the halls for cosplayers rather than in a crowded vendor room with limited lighting and space. After a photographer takes your picture, make sure to ask for a business card to find them later.

Do not be afraid to defend yourself or say no!
This is a big one. Last year, I was in my Robyn Hood (Zenescope) cosplay and a guy walked up and not only looked down my shirt the entire time he was talking to me, but also decided it was appropriate to play with my belly button ring, while asking if it was real. You’d think I’d have slapped the stupid look on his face, but instead I was too stunned to do anything. I looked at him as a “special kind of stupid” and moved on, while wondering how I should have handled that situation without overreacting.

If you are not sure you have the voice to tell someone to stop something, have friends that are not afraid to speak up and tell people to back off.

Go with a friend.
Having a friend nearby not only makes the convention that much more fun, but keeps you that much safer if something happens.

True story – I made the mistake of wandering a convention by myself in Aayla Secura and after four hours, my head was hurting so bad, it felt like Iron Man and the Hulk were going at it in my skull. It took me over 45-minutes to walk a 20-minute span of space to my hotel room because I was stopped so many times trying to escape. If I had listened to my friends at the 501st Legion booth and just stayed by them, I would have gotten out of pain much quicker and with less attention.

Have a “non-costumed” day
I love wearing my costumes, but they can get tiring while trying to enjoy the vendors room and going through the massive amount of comics on sale. I give myself one day of the convention to relax in regular clothes and scope out the sales and take pictures of other cosplayers. I usually make this the last day of the convention since most people wear their hardcore costumes on Saturday. I also have an “easy day” costume for Friday’s when I’m getting the layout of the land.

Hydrate the night before and the day of (and I don’t mean with alcohol or sugary drinks).  
Don’t think that just because you’re indoors that you don’t need to hydrate as often. Drink only water the day before you get dressed up and drink only water or the occasional sports drink the day of. This will keep you feeling great while looking awesome in your build.

Have fun and be safe!
Regardless if you bought your costume, are going in casuals, or worked for months to get that perfect look, have fun with it! Take pictures, talk to other convention-goers, and let your geek flag fly.

Remember! It doesn’t matter why you are at the convention or how you got there. The most important part is to have fun and be safe while doing it. Use your common sense when walking to and from your car or hotel and have a meet-up spot in case you get separated from your group. If you have kids with you, write your contact information on their wrist so they can show security if you get lost from them.

Do you have any advice for convention attendees? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Star Wars Pet Costuming for the Win — Gamorrean Pug Guard

Gamorrean Pug Guard \ Image: Art Andrews
Gamorrean Pug Guard \ Image: Art Andrews

Every Halloween the internet explodes with pictures of everyone and everything in costume, but no one gets more hype than Chubbs the Wampug. Known to her fans as the Wampug, Chubbs is a pug with an amazing sense of style when it comes to costuming. Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chubbs to get her take on the glitz and glamour of being an internet sensation. This year, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to talk with her handler, head costumer, veterinarian, and mom, Kristen, about all the wonderful fashion Chubbs enjoys, as well as her most awesome costume yet…

The Gamorrean Pug Guard!

The Gamorrean Pug Guard is Chubbs’ own rendition of the Gamorrean Guard–the pig guards that protect the outside of Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. It was great talking with Kristen as she explained all that goes into costuming a pug, including the the important safety precautions that go into making each project.

GeekMom (Dakster): What inspired the “Gamorrean Pug Guard” costume?
Kristen Andrews DVM (aka Star Wars Chick): Well, having done the Wampug and then Banthapug, we wanted to stay in the Star Wars Universe for this year as well. The Gamorrean Guards are sometimes referred to as Gamorrean Pig Guards- and, well, pugs kinda do resemble pigs, so it seemed a logical choice!

GM: How long from conception to finished costume did it take?
KA: We pretty much knew at Halloween last year that we wanted to do this costume for this year, so I contacted a good friend of mine to do a concept drawing in December. We received the sketch on Jan 4th, 2013, and worked on the costume through mid-October, when I finished.

GM: Did anyone else help out with this costume?
KA: Yes, this year was definitely a collaborative effort! My good friend Jonathan Wollack did the concept drawing for us. My good friend and Gamorrean Guard costumer Craig McKeeman provided me with reference photos, as well as the axe and some of my material (which he used for his own personal costume). I did all the construction but my husband assisted me.

GM: How many costumes have you created for Chubbs over the years and which is your favorite?
KA: This will be our seventh one so far. It’s hard to choose one. I love her Freddy Pueger cause she just so nailed the look in the photo we took of her. The Wampug is probably the cutest one we did and it is what really got her so much attention. But I have to say, this year’s costume, the Gamorrean Pug Guard is definitely the best in that it has the most detail, the most work, and I
think it is amazingly screen-accurate! I love it!

GM: What’s it like fitting a pug for a costume? Does she cooperate or is she kind of stubborn?
KM: It is definitely a challenge as pugs are not shaped like most dogs, so it’s a lot of trying on, pinning, adjusting, resewing, trying it on, re-pinning, resewing, etc LOL! And a lot of snackies! She is incredibly good and patient, but she has learned that every time she puts any piece on, she must be paid promptly with snackies, and is sure to let us know if we aren’t fast enough with them LOL.

GM: How much time does working on Chubbs costumes leave you to work on your own? Is there anything you are working on for yourself or your husband that you’re proud of at the moment?
KA: LOL, it didn’t leave me a lot this year! I really didn’t realize how much work this year’s costume would be! Honestly, I have to say it was one of the hardest costumes I’ve made and I’ve personally made a head-to-toe Slave Leia and most of the parts and pieces for Jango Fett. So that is definitely saying something! Fortunately for me, this year, my costumes for San Diego Comic Con weren’t too labor-intensive, and we didn’t have a Star Wars Celebration either, so that was a huge relief! But now that this is done, I am hoping to start work on a Mass Effect Fem Shepard suit for next year!

GM: I love the videos you make every year to go with the costumes. What kind of planning, snackies, and post production goes into creating them?
KA: Oh thank you! The Wampug video was such a fluke that it went so viral. We had just finished her costume and we were cracking up at how cute she looked running around the house in it, and the way the horns moved from side to side…

He had just brought Chubbs into our photography room to take photos and I was outside waiting. I saw the video camera and thought I would just shoot video as she came running down the hallway after her photo shoot cause she was so stinking cute! I guess everyone agreed with me on that. On the other hand, The Wampug Strikes Back video was obviously much more thought out.

My husband story-boarded what we wanted to do and then we went up to Mt. Charleston in Las Vegas to shoot all the scenes. Chubbs did amazing and it really was her first time being in the snow and she really seemed to enjoy it! She did get quite a few snackies for that shoot! Then I did all the editing on the video. So it was much more labor intensive.

For the Banthapug video, we scouted locations and found a perfect one about 30-minutes outside of town at a dried-up lake bed. We had some ideas of what to do and knew we wanted only about a 30-second video, so we just went out and shot as much video of her running around as we could. The editing was definitely a lot quicker and easier than The Wampug Strikes Back, but obviously, also a lot more work than the Wampug. I’m not sure what to do for this year’s video but I’m sure I’ll come up with something at the last minute.

GM: Any thoughts on a family Halloween costume for yourself, your husband and Chubbs? I think that would make an awesome family portrait!
KA: As a matter of fact, my husband finally made one of his dream costumes come true, Frank the rabbit from Donnie Darko. He went as Frank while I went as Donnie at San Diego Comic Con this year. We even took some photos of Art in the Frank suit holding Chubbs. Well, this inspired the idea of making her into Puggie Darko. So I bought a skeleton costume and a hoodie for her and am currently working on trying to finish that for Halloween this year!

GM: This year’s costume is going to be tough to beat. Any thoughts on what you’re going to do next year?
KA: I actually do and we have already done some things to help plan for it. Fortunately, I have a friend who is wanting to do most of the work on this one. I can’t tell you what it is yet but I promise, if we can pull it off, it will be pretty epic!

GM: What would you like to say to the people out there who are unsure about the safety of the costumes Chubbs wears?
KM: For those who think I am torturing my dog, or that she is overheating, or dressing her in costumes is cruel, not only am I Chubbs’ mommy, I am also her veterinarian.

Her health and safety are my utmost concern and I would never do anything to endanger her for the sake of a costume. Chubbs has been dressing up in costumes since she was a youngster so she is quite used to it and to taking photos!

She actually gets very excited before we even get anything on her, as she knows she always gets rewarded with treats. As a pug, she always pants when she is excited, whether it be to go for a car ride, a walk, when people come over, doing a photo shoot, or dressing up.

Whenever she is in one of her costumes, she literally is in it long enough for us to take pictures and then she gets super excited as she knows her “payment” is due- hence the panting she does in her Wampug video which was shot immediately after we took her pictures. Trust me, if she hated it or if it put her in any danger, I wouldn’t do it. I love her dearly and she is like a daughter to me. I always have her best interests in mind.

Make sure you check out Chubbs the Wampug on Facebook for all things Chubbs!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Daughter the Mermaid

Photo illustration by Marziah Karch
Photo illustration by Marziah Karch

As my kids get older, they just tend to get more interesting. And every once in a while, they prove that they’re total geniuses. The trick is to catch them being good and encourage them to be even better.

Last summer, my then ten-year-old daughter made a mermaid tail. She’s got a bit of an obsession with mermaids. She loved the series H2O Just Add Water (which is surprisingly good for a fantasy kids’ show) and she’d been doing a lot of research on mermaid tails.

She discovered that there’s such a thing as a swimmable mermaid tail, and she really wanted to make one. She not only presented me with instructions, but she’d also researched prices. That’s some serious project initiative for an almost 5th grader. I did set one limitation. She could not make a swimmable mermaid tail. She could only make a costume. I don’t think one-piece swimmable tails are safe for young swimmers (or necessarily that safe for experienced swimmers, for that matter).

Was it the easiest thing to sew? No. I think we all learned to hate Lycra swim fabric a little with this project, but the results were nice. It was a super fun summer project.

If you want to try this yourself, we had her make her pattern on poster board by tracing an outline of the outside of her legs. It’s okay to round down on the measurements instead of up if you’re using Lycra. It stretches. We then had make a pattern for the fin shape. She sewed the fin separately from the body of the tail and attached them afterward.  The fin is stiffened with feather boning and heavyweight sew-in stabilizer, since we were mean parents and wouldn’t let her use a monofin. The stabilizer was inserted after the fin was turned, as was the feather boning, and then the fin was top-stitched to hold it together and emphasize the fin shape.

mermadbaribeThe great thing about projects like this? Not only did she learn sewing skills, she has a launching point for more creative learning. Once she’d made the big tail with parental help, she made her Barbie a tail with no help at all. In fact, she showed us the final product after it was done. (We had a talk about cutting fabric out of the edge of the yardage and not the middle next time.)

She’s also decided that she’s going to make a series of videos about her adventures as a mermaid. I’m skeptical that she’ll get this done, but bring it on. I figure this is her chance to learn about storyboarding, editing, and creative writing. Perhaps even spelling. (She started with “Epsod 1” until I had her sound out the word.)

I loved 5th grade. Time to see what 6th will bring for her. It may involve Minecraft videos. I hope it still involves costumes.

A version of this article originally appeared on GeekMom in the summer of 2012. 

How Shoes of Prey Lets You Design the Shoe of Your Dreams

Shoes of Prey online designer
Shoes of Prey online designer

Jodie Fox had a problem. “I’m Sicilian and spent a lot of time with gorgeous Italian women looking at beautiful leather shoes,” she says. “But I couldn’t find quite the right heel or the right bow, so my love was limited in many ways.”

Then while travelling overseas, the same way you can find a tailor, she found someone who could tailor shoes. She asked to commission some shoes she had designed. Friends started to notice, then they wanted their own custom shoes as well. And thus the seed was planted for Shoes of Prey, Fox’s Sydney-based bespoke shoe company.

Her soon-to-be co-founders, Michael Fox and Michael Knapp, were working at Google after having met in law school. One is a software engineer and the other in ad sales, and together they were looking for a good idea. “I hadn’t thought about turning this into a business,” Fox said, “but with the combination of all that, Shoes of Prey was born.”

The site launched in Oct 2009, and since then, people have spent more than 50 million minutes designing millions of pairs of shoes from 196 trillion options. Continue reading How Shoes of Prey Lets You Design the Shoe of Your Dreams

Clone, Bounty Hunter, and Jedi–The Many Faces of Dakster

Dakster Sullivan's costumes
Dakster’s Trio \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

For the past three years I’ve been an avid Star Wars cosplayer. I’m a Clone of the Republic, a Jedi Knight, and I recently became a Bounty Hunter (who hunts clones…go figure right?). Each of these costumes has their own story and uniqueness about them that I love.

I was first introduced to the idea of Star Wars cosplay 10 years ago when I saw the 501st Legion suiting up outside of my Disney work location. Back then, I just thought they were cool and went about my life. After I was married, my husband and I both joked on and off about joining the ranks of the 501st Legion. We did some research and every time we saw what was involved, we ran the other direction.

Several years later, we attended Star Wars Celebration V. I was in awe over the 501st Legion room and the array of clone trooper helmets on display. It was then that I decided come heck or high water, I was going to join up.

Continue reading Clone, Bounty Hunter, and Jedi–The Many Faces of Dakster

How to Make Your Own Steampunk Goggles

Photo by Marziah Karch

Goggles are the must-have accessory for steampunk cosplay. Like a little black dress, only awesomer. Here’s how you can make your own from a pair of cheap welding goggles.

The first step is to make that plastic look like metal. This step takes about two hours, including drying time.


Things pictured that you’ll need after everything dries:

Step 2 – Disassemble the pieces –>

April Block of the Month: Airship

April block of the month!

It’s time for April’s block of the month in our steampunk quilt. This month we’re sailing on an airship. No worries about physics or how much weight must be at the bottom of that massive thing. I’m sure there’s a gear-driven anti-grav device powering the ship behind the scenes. And flapping those wing-fins for no apparent reason.

The finished block will be 12×12 inches. That means it will actually measure 12.5 x 12.5, and I’d recommend starting with a block of at least 14×14 and cutting it down.

The template this month does not include seam allowance. I’ve included both forward and reversed versions of the pattern. One  version is just the pieces and is designed to overlap and layer.
I’d recommend some embroidery or couching  to enhance the fins, which is why I’ve shown it that way in the preview.  Here’s our quilt so far:



Download the PDF for April’s block.

Didn’t get started? Miss a month? Not to worry. The year isn’t over, is it? There’s plenty of time to catch up! Here’s what you missed:

Here is the March block of the month.

Here is the February block.

Here is the January block.

As always, I’d love to see a picture if you’ve made any of the previous blocks.

February Block of the Month Quilt: Steampunk Goggles

February Block of the Month by Marziah Karch

It’s time for February’s block of the month in our GeekMom steampunk-themed quilt. Last month’s pattern is available here. It’s never too late to get started, and it’s never too late to get caught up.

This month, the pattern is a steampunk staple – the hat with goggles. Whether you’re using them to go racing in experimental vehicles or weld together mad science inventions, you really can never have enough goggles. Incidentally, if you want to make a pair of costume goggles to go along with your quilt goggles, I’ve got a tutorial for that.

I’ve suggested a purple or indigo as the contrasting fabric for the side band, but greens or reds would also be lovely. Prints with metallic elements would be great in the metal part of the goggles, too.

Here’s the link to download this month’s PDF pattern. There are a few other quirks this month I should warn you about. Because this pattern is nothing but large, overlapping pieces, there’s no avoiding tape. Print out the pattern and then tape it together before tracing. You can either trace individual pieces, designed to overlap, or you can trace from the hat fully assembled. I’ve mirrored the image for the fully assembled template, since that’s how most appliqué methods would have you trace it, anyway.

I realize that I still owe you a tutorial on appliqué. I’m still working on it, and I will get that done for you soon.

501st Legion 101

So, you want to join the 501st Legion? Well here is the ultimate step-by-step guide to how you too can become one of the members of the fighting 501st. The path of the Empire is a challenging one; it takes time and commitment to completion of a canon costume. You will have moments where you will ask yourself, “What the heck was I thinking?” But in the end, you will feel the pride that comes with completion of an approved build!

1. Decide to join.

2. Go to the 501st website and find your local 501st unit.

3. Look up and attend a 501stevent in your area. Get to know the members and let them get to know you.

Before I started trooping in costume, I attended several events as a non-costumed handler, which involved me helping members get on their costumes, keeping them hydrated, helping with crowd control, etc. This allowed me to gain rapport with my Garrison mates and grow even more appreciated for what they did.

4. Look over the Costume Reference Library for approved costumes. Remember, the 501st legion is only the bad guys! You won’t find Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia as one of your options.

If the Costume Reference Library feels a little overwhelming, don’t feel bad. It’s a lot of anyone to go through. When I first decided to join up, I knew that I wanted to do a character out of Clone Wars the Animated Series. The first thing I did was visit a bookstore and I bought the Star Wars Clone Wars Character Encyclopedia. I found my character on page 53 and I used that as my main reference point for my entire build.

5. Pick a costume to build.

Here are some things to think about when choosing a costume:

  1. How much money are you okay with spending? (Building an approved costume can range from $180 to $3,000 depending on who and what type of materials are used.)
  2. Are you okay with having “impaired” vision / line of sight?
  3. Do you care if you can sit down?

There are several things like impaired vision, movement, and comfort that thousands of members are willing to give up in order to wear their costumes. Personally, my Clone Trooper Denal is restricting in my movements (don’t ask me to run, that’s for sure), but I’ve learned my limits and I don’t even notice it anymore.

6. Visit your local Garrison’s website and sign up for the forum.

7. Visit the detachment that is affiliated with your costume and sign up for the forum (you can locate this by looking at the Costume Reference Library of your chosen costume).

8. Introduce yourself to your future legion brothers and sisters. Let them know what costume you are interested in and what you are looking forward to.

In my original intro, I told everyone I wanted to build an Animated Captain Rex and participate in Star Wars Weekends. My future squad mates told me that was impossible and if that was why I was building a Rex, I needed to switch gears (Disney supplies their own Rex for that event and I would not have been allowed to march). Thanks to their advice, I changed my build to an Animated Clone Trooper Denal and I participated in every Star Wars weekend in 2011.

It’s also a good idea at this point to find out who your Garrison Membership Liaison (GML) is. Talk to them throughout your build and get their insight to make sure you are on the right track for approval.

9. Ask questions and listen to the advice of the Garrison members. They were once in your shoes and will help you out!

10. Research your costume and the cost involved. Before you buy anything, make sure you consult your local Garrison mates. They know who and what to avoid in certain costume builds.

11. Start getting to work on your build. Attend armor parties in your area and get it done! Be patient though. Some builds can take as little as a few days (Tusken and Jawa) or as many as a couple of years (Bounty Hunter). It’s a good idea to post up pictures on the forums and show off your progress.

The thing to remember is to not stray from official references. Looking at other costumes is fine, but put your main focus on official references. Over the years, certain costumes have had their CRL changed so what one person was approved under might not be approvable anymore. A good example of this is Jango Fett. At one point, you could be approved in Jango Fett with a black or grey vest and now to get approved it has to be grey.

If you have an idea that you think could improve the functionality of your build, don’t be afraid to try it. Just because you haven’t seen a member do it yet, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A good example is when I was working on my clone trooper. I was extremely dissatisfied with the shoes. I was given instructions to purchase brown loafers and spray paint them white. Naturally, the paint would crack off and it was a constant process to keep them looking good. I set out to find a pair of white leather shoes that had the same shape as my character. I found some on the internet and gave them a shot. In the end, they not only passed but now other people are following my example and getting the same shoes for their builds.

13. After you have your costume ready, go to the main 501st website to apply for membership. Your GML will contact you for photos of your build after they receive your application.

14. Sit and wait for your approval.

If you don’t get in on the first try, don’t get discouraged! Make the changes they request and resubmit. Some costumes are known for being more difficult to get through approval. My husband had to submit his Jango Fett three times before it was approved.

I look back at my first build and I realize just how much I learned from the experience. My 6-year old son has started to build costumes of his own by watching mommy and daddy and taking notes on how to do it himself. My husband and I both have learned important lessons from our builds, including how to have more patience and ask ourselves “What would MacGyver do?”


How to Make Steampunk Goggles (Part 2)

Ready to finish your steampunk goggles? Let’s go!

In part one of the steampunk goggles tutorial, we started with a pair of cheap welding goggles and applied Rub ‘n Buff to make the plastic look like aged metal. The plastic parts were then buffed and allowed to cure for about a week.

The end result looked like this:

I went ahead and added a few more layers of metallic colors for some more texture. I also took some gears from the Bag of Gears and glued them onto the knobs on the side. What’s more steampunk than a gear that serves no apparent purpose?

Now it’s time to tackle the straps and bridge. The goggles came with an elastic strap and plastic covered metal chain bridge. That’s not terribly Victorian. I’ve got a bag of scrap leather, though you could use faux leather, canvas, or other fabric for this. I started by cutting a thick rectangle slightly larger than the existing bridge piece and notching it on either side.

Next, I flipped the leather over, rough side up, and tacked the center down using Fabri-Tac. The end result should look something like a sideways letter I.

You’re going to take the finished strap and feed it through the notches on the sides with the glued portion pointed toward the inside. That’s going to make your bridge, and the thicker portions of the “I” shape will hold the bridge in place. Don’t worry if it looks ugly on the inside, nobody is going to see it once you screw the dark lenses back on. If it really bothers you, you can glue it down on the inside, but this isn’t structurally necessary.

Next, it’s time for the straps. When you disassembled the goggles, you should have saved and Rub ‘n Buffed the existing plastic buckles. You can use the old elastic strap as a template for the length and width of your leather (or canvas or faux leather, depending on what you decide to use). If you use scrap leather, you’ll want to thread your leather through so that the buckles actually adjust on the inside of the goggles. That way you can hide the rough side of the leather.

Don’t forget to put the side buttons and gears back on. You should also double check that your Rub ‘n Buff has completely cured and that you’ve rubbed off any excess (otherwise they’ll double as practical joke goggles when you try wearing them and end up covered in silver paint.)  Once you’ve done that, your goggles are suitable for wearing or mounting to your favorite Victorian-style hat.

Happy  costuming!


Take Back Halloween: Your Costume Name Doesn’t Have To Feature The Word “Sexy”

Last week I was browsing one of those pop-up Halloween stores in what was probably an abandoned Borders with a friend who apparently hasn’t tried to purchase a Halloween costume in some time. Our conversation mirrored the scene in a Duane Reade in the Sex and the City movie:

Miranda: The only two choices for women: witch and sexy kitten.
Carrie : You just said a mouthful there, sister.

It gets worse every year, and the sizes of the Sexy Fill-In-The-Blank costumes are drifting down into the sizes for girls of an age that should never be described as sexy. Although I always make my kids’ costumes, we do like to wander the Halloween stores for inspiration. My son was faced with massive walls of choices: gobs of superhoes, movie heroes and villains, cartoon characters, and more. All my daughter wanted was to see what they offered in Star Wars costumes for girls. The answer? Not one. And not due to lack of selection. Here’s a portion of the wall of Star Wars costumes:

Wall of Star Wars costumes. Not one girl. Photo credit: Ruth Suehle

If you’re an adult woman, it’s worse. In the aforementioned trip with a friend to a different Halloween store, I had a hard time finding any costume for a woman that wasn’t a sexed-up version of the character. If you actually want to look like a character, you can forget it.

But there are two solutions. One, if sexy kitten/policewoman/fairy is your thing, then go right ahead. I decided to be She-Ra this year for our 80s-themed party. She-Ra happens to wear a strapless white dress and knee-high gold boots. Of course, it turns out that even She-Ra can be sexed up–when searching for images to base my pattern on, I kept coming across one that mainly consisted of fishnets, a garter belt, and a bustier.

Plan B: Take Back Halloween. The site’s mission:

We love Halloween. We really love Halloween. We think it’s cool that there’s one day a year when people can dress up as anything they want. What we don’t think is cool is that increasingly women are only supposed to dress up as one thing: “Sexy _____” (fill in the blank).

And their advice:

  • Celebrate your heritage. North America is full of people from every single part of the world. But no matter where we’re from, we all have amazing queens, heroines, and goddesses in our cultural backgrounds.
  • Channel the goddess. It’s a great way to explore the female divine—or just wear an awesome costume. (Use care if you’re stepping outside your own heritage.)
  • Be Queen for a Day. To heck with princesses. Be a queen.
  • Honor your personal heroine. Who inspires you? Who fascinates you?
  • Try on some red carpet glamour. Dressing to the nines is fun. When else do you get to wear elbow length gloves and feather boas? Unless you’re a movie star in real life, Halloween is your chance.

My plan for She-Ra was to have a Dragon*Con costume already ready next year that didn’t involve underwear from another century and ten layers of fabric in the Atlanta heat. But I love the idea of choosing historic figures–particularly a gigantic queen gown. And who doesn’t love a good feather boa?

My kids, for what it’s worth, teamed up and chose Mario and Princess Peach. Regular Princess Peach, in a gown so puffy, it took five yards of fabric to make in the four-year-old size.

The Zombie Family Lives

Crowd in front of the Lawrence Zombie Walk
Lawrence Zombie Walk 2011

Want to know what a crowd of almost 900 people dressed as zombies looks like? It looks something like this.

Yes, I do think a zombie march is a fun family activity. There’s makeup and costumes. There’s marching. There’s acting. There’s making crowds of people laugh at the absurdity of it all. I’ll clarify that my kids have never actually seen a true zombie movie, nor are they likely to see one anytime soon. That’s really not what this is about. It’s pure camp and pure fun.  This year, my husband organized the Lawrence, Kansas event and transformed it from a flash mob into a charity fundraiser.

There are all sorts of zombie walks across the country. Some are charity fundraisers, like the fantastic Iowa City event, and some are just loosely organized gatherings for the fun of it. If you don’t have an event near you, you can always start one up.

My Daughter the Zombie
My daughter the zombie

Our 2011 zombie attire tended to be on the practical side. My daughter wore a ghostly pirate T-shirt clearly derived from a certain Caribbean themed movie series. My son and I wore an official event T-shirt. Last year we had a zombie princess and a skeleton boy, but this year we just didn’t have the time to make more costumes. Casual dress codes don’t mean you can’t be creepy.

My son being a zombie
Mmm, doll flesh!

There were plenty of elaborate costumes. Some kids went all out with fake blood and even foam organs dangling from their mouths. There was a zombie Santa offering to let zombie children pose with him (my kids declined.) A piece of advice for would-be-zombies: Go for exaggerated makeup, because the bulk of the march takes place at night, and subtle just won’t show up.

I took an early day from work to help get everyone ready. How often does your husband ask you to come home from work early to help him with his hair? He had the most elaborate costume of the bunch of us and  went with a classic not-quite-zombie you might recognize.

My husband the zombie
Don’t say his name!


The sheet in his hand is full of stickers. He managed a “body count” for the walk by handing everyone a sticker and then counting how many he’d distributed. He  also organized event insurance, found sponsors, printed T-shirts, and walked around with paper towels and cleaning solution to wipe fake blood off of any store windows. Phew!  He managed to double last year’s attendance and raise $1000 in cash and wish-list items for the Lawrence Humane Society. He’s already in talks with the city library to coordinate their reading list for next year. How fun is that?

How does it work? Each zombie march is going to have their own rules, so check to see what’s available locally.  Our walk in Lawrence starts gathering in the evening around 6:30, so it’s still light outside, and everyone can admire the costumes during the daylight. In spite of the gore, ours is a very family friendly event and has lots of children.

This year we had a PA system and an MC. He warmed up the crowd with fake eyeballs and let them know the rules. Oh yes, there are rules. Zombies obey traffic signals, because we don’t like to see anyone become zombies for real. Zombies refrain from banging on glass, because it’s scary for real when the glass breaks, and then the store owner makes you pay for it.

The march started at 7:00 pm when it’s dark. Everyone walks up one side of downtown and then down the other. That’s it.  You might think that’s very dull, but you should see the crowd of spectators laughing and enjoying the whole thing. There’s also the camaraderie you experience with your fellow zombies as you shuffle up and down the street moaning about brains, and the high-fives for particularly gory or funny outfits. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be.

Once we’d shuffled and moaned our way around town, we settled in for some “brain food” at a local downtown restaurant. We weren’t the only zombies craving pizza that night. After that it was bath time, and I tucked my tuckered little zombies into bed.

Not brains!

Should You Bring A Kid To Dragon*Con?

Dragon*Con starts in just nine short days. I recommend going to just about every geek I meet, especially at this time of year when my life is consumed by furious last-minute costuming. Since the people I interact with these days are often also parents, the followup question is usually, “Should I bring my kids?”

It’s a tough question, and one you have to answer for yourself. It helps a lot to have been and to know whether you’d enjoy yourself and be comfortable with your kids there. It also depends on their ages. My personal rule was to bring them when they were less than a year old (which also meant they were still nursing, and thus much easier to have near me), but after that, we’ve left them with grandparents.

The practical matter: Cost

Kids six and under get in free. If you have a kid that age who is potty trained, you can bring them to Dragon*Con child care for the price of an adult ticket. If you use the full 30 hours available, that’s an unbeatable rate of $4/hour! But child care closes at 7 p.m., and there is a lot to do at Dragon*Con after 7 p.m. You, however, will have an early bedtime. Some parents work this out by taking turns–Mom gets to go have evening fun on Friday night, and Dad gets to go out Saturday night, for example. Of course, then you’re not having that fun together, but at least you’re having it.

Stuff for kids to do

The biggest excitement for kids is seeing their favorite characters come to life. You can’t walk across a hotel lobby without tripping over twenty Stormtroopers, eight superheroes, and That Guy From That Movie I Saw, What Is His Name? (That last one is a popular costume.) After about 8 or 9 p.m., the costumes start getting a lot more risqué. Suddenly at sundown, a foot of electrical tape cut and placed strategically counts as a costume. There’s also a risk of seeing a few of these during the day, so if you really want to shield Little Johnny’s eyes, this might not be the best place for him.

What else can kids do?

  • They’ll love the Masquerade and the parade for the same reasons as above. They may also enjoy the Friday night costume contest, but it’s about workmanship, whereas Masquerade is more of a short skit performance show, so the Friday night contest may seem slow to the little ones. There are also track-specific costume contests, such as the Star Wars contest.
  • This year the Costuming track has a session for children ages 9 and up. There are track-specific costume-building sessions as well. For example, the Young Adult Literature track has one for Harry Potter costuming.
  • Gaming of all kinds. Find a Looney Labs Lab Rabbit (who may or may not look like a lab rabbit) and teach your kid to play Fluxx. It’s a great game for any kid old enough to read the cards and entertaining (and occasionally challenging) for adults, too.
  • For those old enough, there is the aforementioned Young Adult Literature track. Remember that spoilers are likely to be discussed. A few of these sessions lean towards being discussions for adults about kids, such as what literature is appropriate for what age and whether you restrict your children’s reading.
  • The Science track and Space track–Dragon*Con is educational! The Space track even brings out their telescopes for your young Einsteins to get a better look at the wonders above.
  • Most of the regular daytime sessions that interest them will be fine. If they’re young and/or impatient, sit near a door in case you have to make a quick exit. An hour is a long time to listen to even your favorite actor wax philosophical about why he became a thespian. Read the pocket program together to find things that interest you both. The Star Wars track seems to be popular with kids, thanks to sessions like “Building the Universe With Legos” and “Saber School,” a session meant just for kids to play with foam sabers.
  • This year there is a new track for kids ages 9-13, the Kaleidoscope track. This track features Dragon*Con-style programming for the preteen set based on live-action TV Shows from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel. Parents must accompany any kids under 18.

Decision time

As you can see, there’s plenty to interest your little geeklings as long as you’re prepared to keep being Mom all weekend. For me, Dragon*Con is a great weekend away, where I get to just be me and not worry about who’s not eating his dinner or who needs to go potty. I just ask that you don’t try to be both. I’ve been going to Dragon*Con for nearly a decade, and every year I see parents dragging children into clearly adult sessions. It’s uncomfortable for everyone involved and rude to panelists who may feel obligated to censor themselves. Or they may not, which will make your evening more interesting when your geekling starts asking questions. Just don’t do it.

Finally, if you’re still not sure, I’ve made this handy flowchart to help you make the choice.

Gearing Up for San Diego Comic-Con

I read something scary on Twitter the other day: words so alarming they actually made me gasp.

Only six weeks until SDCC!

Six weeks until San Diego Comic-Con?! It hardly seems possible! And yet it’s true. Actually, since that tweet was several days ago, there are less than six weeks until the biggest event of my family’s summer: Comic-Con begins on Thursday, July 21.

Time for this con-crazy mother to get her ducks in a row. This will be my fourth time attending SDCC, which is the biggest and most crowded comics convention in the United States. Every year, I’ve shared photos, stories, and panel recaps at my blog. This year, to pile extra fun on top of the Mountain of Fun that is SDCC, I’ll be writing about my con experiences here at GeekMom. I’m super-excited to be here!

As the con countdown commences, I’m keeping a sharp eye on the Comic-Con website for panel and event announcements. This year my husband (a comic book writer and editor) and I are bringing our three oldest kids, so we have a lot of planning to do. Some of my favorite things about comics conventions are the writer and artist discussion panels—I love to hear other creative folks talk about their work. Last year’s panels were amazing, especially the kids’ graphic novels discussion, the epic fantasy panel, and Michael Scott’s interview with Rick Riordan.

It was also pretty exciting when the actor who played Young Benjamin Linus popped up in the audience at the LOST Encyclopedia panel.

Of course the very best part of any comics convention is gawking at the fabulous costumes.

I hear a couple of other GeekMoms will be in attendance, so we’ll have to have a geek meet for sure. If you’re going too, leave a comment and let us know!