How Blerd Culture Is Growing In The Comic, Gaming And Cosplay Community
Representation in comics, games and cosplay is important.
This past Labor Day weekend, I attended my first Dragon Con convention. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, it’s five full days of cosplay, gaming, vendors, art and much, much more. Cosplaying is nothing new. It’s simply an opportunity for everyday folk to fully bask in nerdom and dress up as popular characters. The other Dragon Con activities are self-explanatory recreations that also make up nerd culture.
Being a Black nerd (Blerd) as a kid, meant I was into things like comics, manga and anime. Back then, liking those activities might make you the butt of jokes and sometimes even a victim of bullying. Now, nerd culture has made its way to the mainstream with popular artists like Megan Thee Stallion proudly showcasing her “nerdy” side. Though being a Blerd isn’t uncommon, finding a safe space to dress up and contribute to the overall nerd universe is.
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Dragon Con provided that unique haven with a diverse crowd. Imagine seeing everything from Black artists and comic book writers to Black video game characters and programmers. Labor day weekend was more than just a nerd link up, it was a spotlight on the importance of representation for young boys and girls that look like me.
If These Characters Aren’t Even Real, Why Does Their Color Matter?
Black and brown boys and girls deserve to have superheroes that resemble them. I believe it encourages self-love and positive esteem in Black kids at a young age. In return, they can establish healthier self-identities when they grow up. It seems as though Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Black Panther, would agree. He believes representation, in comics, shows children that they are a part of a hopeful narrative.
“When you can see somebody that is of color —Latino, Asian, African — when you can see that, it frees you from that boundary as well,” Boseman said in a statement to Insider.
Based on studies from The American Psychological Association, Boseman and I are right. When Black children have a positive view of their racial identity it increases their self-esteem, protecting them against various adversities. Black comic book creators, as well as their characters, are an inspiration to the younger generation.
Kids are reading about brilliant Black minds who are making a difference in their communities and standing up for what is right. Positive representation is meant to inspire the youth as well as help them realize their true power lies within themselves and their communities. It’s a much-needed change because — let’s be real — only recently have video games and comics displayed more diversity in their characters.
Besides, many Black folks love cosplaying and should be able to recreate Black characters. Even Tallahassee hero T-Pain, one of my favorite rap artists, stopped by the convention dressed as the latest Black character on Tekken 7, Leroy Smith.
I watched in awe as kids and even adults gathered around to see T-Pain’s dope representation of this mixed martial artist. It also could’ve been a combination of them being starstruck — who knows? The fact of the matter is, it’s impactful to see fictional Black characters come to life.
Black creatives and artists are stepping up and taking control of the narrative. For example, Women In Comics Collective founder, Regine L. Sawyer, created comics like The Ripper and Ice Witch, which places Black female characters in the spotlight. We are creating the characters and the plots that we want to see in comics and demanding more characters that look like us in the comic book realm. Now, Black gaming characters are portrayed in various skin tones along with an array of hairstyles and body types. A great example of this is in the video game Mortal Kombat, where black fighters Jax, Jacqui, Darrius, Cyrax and Kai dominate the playing field. While walking around the convention I was delighted to see some of these fighters reimagined by Black cosplayers.
The paparazzi getting shots of the #mkfam 😎📸#FatalityFriday— Joel Xero (@JoelXero) March 23, 2018
.#dragoncon #mk #mortalkombat #subzero #cosplay #cosplayer #dragoncon2017 #comiccon #mortalkombatcosplay #mk9 #mkx #noobsaibot #Raiden #Cyrax #jade #Ermac #kotalkhan pic.twitter.com/kc7cGO656a
As for the video game industry, Black programmers have been making a growing impact. Take Ramone Russell, a game designer at Sony Interactive Entertainment of America, for example. A well-known game he’s been a part of is MLB. Another heavy hitter in the gaming industry is a Black woman by the name of Laura Teclemarium. She is a software engineer and senior product manager for one of the major gaming publishers, EA. These creatives are doing their part in making the video game industry more inclusive.
Apart from cosplaying and gaming, Dragon Con had an area called Comic and Pop Artist Alley. Here, artists and comic book creators displayed their gifts to the masses. I was able to meet Mase Mason of Urban Shogun Comics, a very talented Black comic writer who loves what he does, for the second time.
Mason has been animating and writing comics that portray people of color for years. He writes for his family and Blerds nationwide. My favorite comic of Mason's is Sankofa Guard, an Afrofuturistic story that takes place in outer space with a dark-skinned, Black woman lead character. Black comic artists, like Mason, continue to gain more exposure through conventions such as Dragon Con, MomoCon, Blerdcon, and so on.
When people think of major comic brands they might imagine Marvel and DC. Some of those brands’ most popular comics depict Black characters; Green Lantern, Black Panther and Spawn, but they aren't the product of black writers. I imagine a nerdy future where Black children grow up seeing themselves on the pages of comics and go on to embark on a career in writing and animating.
Why Does Seeing More Black Representation In These Spaces Matter?
Because we matter! Dragon Con was not only a place where we could be seen, but a place where hundreds of Blerds and their children could be whoever their hearts desired.
My cousin and I dressed up as the iconic gaming duo Sonic and Tails. We snapped photos with countless cosplayers and jammed out at the Dragon Con night parties. My imagination ran wild at this convention seeing everything from beautifully handcrafted costumes, tables of diverse comics, unique cosplayers and gaming magic.
Diversity continues to grow in nerd culture and has proven to be lucrative. Black Panther alone was the highest-grossing solo superhero film, bringing in 1.3 billion dollars at the box office globally and 370 million during its opening weekend. There is a sense of community forming among Blerds who can relate to each other's interests. The only way to grow our community is through representation. I’m excited for next year's convention and hope to see many more Blerds showing up and showing out.