Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Public Art

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.

A Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

By Jan S. Gephardt

I had so much fun at SoonerCon 30 – not the least of which came from the kaleidoscope of cosplay that I encountered everywhere. I had many lovely moments at this science fiction convention. But the cosplay was in a class of its own. The sheer, rich, visual diversity of these costumes provided a weekend of riches, just by themselves.

Even more than most of the other “cons” I attend (short for the admittedly-unwieldy term “science fiction convention”), SoonerCon is part literary con, part media/comics con, and part Anime con. It’s the latter two aspects that really focus on cosplay, or “costume play.”

Left-to-right, the passers-by included a woman in pink lace, a Goth lady, a pair of Jawas with glowing eyes, and a wizard in a cloak.
The people-watching at SoonerCon 30 was awesome! (all photos by author).

Costumes and Science Fiction: a Natural Match

The first science fiction cons (dating back to at least the 1930s) were literary cons, old-style fan-run conventions focused on written books, then later also the artwork that illustrated those books and the “fanzines” that connected often-isolated sf fans. Media conventions celebrate science fiction TV shows and movies, plus podcasts, music, and all manner of streaming media. Comics? Give you one guess. And then there’s the amazing and beautiful world of Anime, which originated in Japan, but quickly took the rest of the world by storm.

Every con has at least some costumed attendees, even if it doesn’t offer SoonerCon’s richly-varied kaleidoscope of cosplay. Costumes have been a beloved aspect of them since the dawn of sf cons. Compared to what walks in the door at the average science fiction convention today, those early costumes look amateurish, but they were pretty much always there. It’s like Halloween for kids of all ages, any time of the year. Indeed, many fans love Halloween more than any other holiday, including Christmas!

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.
The passing parade never stopped, and the kaleidoscope of cosplay seemed endless. (all photos by author).

Taking Their Costumes Seriously

By this point in their evolution, there are some amazingly skilled costumers in our midst. More than you might think make a part-time or full-time living, creating costumes of all varieties. Some costumers specialize in Anime, some in American comic and superhero characters. Some focus on creatures, in the form of everything from a small puppet to carry on one’s arm or wear, to full-body suits. Furry fandom is a whole other, amazing category of its own.

Some costumers specialize in Star Wars, Star Trek, and other media characters, and some focus on Steampunk or other niche categories (I’ve found more Steampunk at DemiCon than SoonerCon, however). Some costumers specialize so narrowly that they mainly make hats, masks, or high-quality corsets. The professionals have serious skills, but there also are gifted amateurs or semi-pros who can give them a run for their money!

Led by R2D2 and a gonk droid, a parade of Imperial officers and citizens of the Star Wars universe pass by Jan’s table.
The “Star Wars” was strong with these cosplayers. (photos by author).

Solid Support for SoonerCon’s Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

One enduring feature of SoonerCon has been the presence of Bernina of Oklahoma City. This year they were a Patron Sponsor of the convention. They had a big space in the Exhibitors Hall, where they showcased their machines, helped mend “wounded” costumes, and if you had a long enough string of badge ribbons, they’d even stitch them together for you. They helped offer a high-dollar sewing machine for the Masquerade Contest prize, and a simpler model for the Children’s Costume Contest.

It probably won’t surprise you that the ingenious costumers of science fiction fandom also have branched into other allied fields. You can’t create convincing aliens from any of the “Star” universes, for example, without skillful use of makeup and often-sophisticated prosthetics. And accessories (including weapons) makes up one of the most exuberant sub-categories at the con.

Sewing machines and science-fiction-themed quilts line the back wall of the Bernina Center in the SoonerCon Exhibition Hall.
The Bernina Center in the Exhibition Hall. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Accessories and Gizmos

There’s no match for a good blaster at your side (or other “ray gun,” complete with lights and sound effects). Unless maybe it’s your own light saber. Yes, we had light sabers for all ages at SoonerCon, too. A few weeks ago, you read about my friend Zac Zacarola, his dealers room table for Ziggy’s West, and his “Wall of Doom.” Weapons at conventions must be peace-bonded. But many fans cherish their swords, knives, battle-axes, throwing stars, Bat’leths, and other weapons. They often display them proudly in their homes.

Perhaps most astounding of all are the mechanized creations, be they animatronics or robots. One man at SoonerCon wore an astounding Iron Man suit with a faceplate that lifted up and a glowing “arc reactor” on the breastplate. There are R2D2 Builders Club members and chapters all over the world. We have one in Kansas City, and there’s another in Oklahoma City. Norman, where SoonerCon is held, is the third-largest city in Oklahoma, but it’s also in the Oklahoma City metro area. So of course, we had one at SoonerCon.

Left-to-Right, the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” in progress; Iron Man; R2D2 and a gonk droid.
The Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom went up Thursday night. The Iron Man suit had a glowing “arc reactor,” and a faceplate that went up and down. R2D2 and the gonk droid led the “Star Wars” parade. (See credits below).

Imagination and Playfulness are Key

Whatever they specialize in, the costumers who created the kaleidoscope of cosplay at SoonerCon have two things in common. They take crafting an eye-popping costume very seriously. And they don’t always take themselves seriously. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so good at playing. And one running theme throughout the convention was having fun. Among the Gaming Events, one could choose Muggle Quidditch, LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), and Nerf Wars, among other things. Style points for playing in a (durable) costume.

Folks in hall costumes often didn’t hesitate to deliver a speech in character, perform a skit, or just ad lib through their encounters. They staged impromptu parades. Throughout the convention center cosplayers banded together for group photos or posed for photographers who wanted to capture their individual costumes. With a kaleidoscope of cosplay all around them, it’s easy to see why everyone had their cameras out.

At left, Darth Vader stares up at the first floor balcony of the Embassy Suites and shakes his fist at Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shouts, “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!” in a meme published by the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. At right, Kenneth Moore Jr. turned his mobility device into a dragon!
A “showdown” in the Atrium of the hotel, and a real-life dragonrider (Kenneth Moore, Jr.) offer examples of the creative fun with costumes at SoonerCon. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Jan took most of the photos in this post, and made all of the montages. She’s also deeply grateful to Tyrell E. Gephardt and his Canon camera for others. Ty spent a lot of his weekend taking individual shots of cosplayers, as well as candid hallway shots and general convention pictures.

One of Ty’s photos, the pic of the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” going up, anchors one end of the post’s 5th image. Next (L-R) comes the photo of the Iron Man costume, by Brian Hook, courtesy of the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. Jan took the photo at far right (R2D2 & the gonk droid).

For the sixth and final image of this post, we owe massive thanks to the SoonerCon Cosplay Group. They published the “high ground” meme, by Warguts, Inc. They also provided a forum for Ariel Mayumi Wolf’s photo of Kenneth Moore, Jr., riding his “dragon.”

Many thanks to all!

This photo shows construction workers in hard hats using a crane to remove the John B. Castleman statue from traffic circle in the Cherokee Triangle, a Louisville KY neighborhood. Castleman fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, but changed his mind later and fought segregation in Louisville parks. The statue was to be moved to the cemetery where Castleman was buried.

Whose history?

By Jan S. Gephardt and G.S. Norwood

They say that the winners get to decide whose history—that is, whose version of history—becomes the “official history.” But when it comes to the so-called “Lost Cause,” that isn’t necessarily so.

This photo shows a display of both US flags and the Confederate battle flag, as well as books bearing depictions of images from the “Lost Cause” pseudo-history narrative.
Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Independent.

The pro-slavery South has got to be working some kind of North American record for being persistent sore losers. They’re certainly not the only ones to hold a long-term grudge in world history, but they’ve hung in there for more than 150 years.

Who was it again, that lost the Civil War? Yes, well, we all know denial isn’t only a river in Egypt.

History and the First Amendment

Jan has written a lot of blog posts this summer inspired by the First Amendment. Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests, these rights have been on her heart.

Especially so, because the clashes turned violent. Violations of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly and petition were thick on the ground this summer. We can’t afford not to pay attention.

This photo shows construction workers in hard hats using a crane to remove the John B. Castleman statue from traffic circle in the Cherokee Triangle, a Louisville KY neighborhood. Castleman fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, but changed his mind later and fought segregation in Louisville parks. The statue was to be moved to the cemetery where Castleman was buried.
Photo by Pat McDonough/Louisville Courier-Journal via CNN.

The renewed calls to take down Confederate monuments are a topic we haven’t tackled till now. For every call to remove them, others cry “you can’t erase history!” But when it comes to issues of erasure and representation, we’re not sure the sympathizers with the “Lost Cause” understand.

They don’t realize that ideologues such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy—who put up many of the monuments—were actually the ones who rewrote, and erased, important parts of our collective history.

The question of whose history we represent—and whose history we erase—is a modern-day minefield where the rules are changing almost as rapidly as the demographics of this country.

A case study in Parker County, TX

A recent episode illustrates some of the complexities of this problem. As she wrote to Jan recently, reports from Weatherford struck home for G., who lived in Parker County, Texas, from 1985 through 2010.

Whose history should be represented on the grounds of the Parker County Courthouse? This aerial photo shows a stunning view of the Courthouse’s distinctive architecture and dramatic setting in the middle of the Weatherford Texas Square.
Photo by Charles Davis Smith, FAIA, via Reddit Snapshots.

“Twenty-five years. I liked the people I met there. They were smart, kind, generous people. Quick to volunteer money and time to worthy causes, they still believed in community groups like the Lions Club and the Masonic Lodge.

“They served on boards, organized rodeos, trail rides, and scholarship funds. They gave high school kids their first jobs, and made sure seniors citizens had hot lunches, affordable housing, and a nice place to go to socialize every day. There were black and Hispanic officers on the local police force and the regional Department of Public Safety (highway patrol) roster. Everybody turned out for the annual Peach Festival.

“I won’t pretend there wasn’t racism. I am white, so I probably didn’t see as much of it as the black professionals I worked beside, but I’m sure it was there, simply because it’s everywhere—especially in states that once belonged to the Confederacy.

The monument on the Courthouse grounds

“A generic stone statue of a nameless Confederate soldier had been placed on the Parker County courthouse lawn by the United Daughters of the Confederacy sometime in the past. Not a work of fine art—just a statement about the county’s history. And apparently its present reality, too.

This photo shows the stone statue of a man in a Confederate uniform, standing and holding a rifle atop a base that reads, “In honor of the United Confederate Veterans of Parker County, 1861-1865.” The base was placed on the grounds of the Parker County Texas Courthouse by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1915, but the statue’s date and ownership are less clear.
Photo by Dreanna L. Belden/University of North Texas “Portal to Texas History.”

“I moved away from Parker County in July 2010. Almost exactly ten years later, on July 25, 2020, some local progressives decided to up their ongoing battle to remove the Confederate statue by leading a small protest march.

“Some sources say there were about 25 Black Lives Matter marchers making their way up South Main to the courthouse square in Weatherford that afternoon. Some estimates go as high as 50.

The counter-protest

All news sources agree that the crowd of counter-protestors who met them was nearly ten times bigger—anywhere from 250 to 500 people.

Counter-protesters came out in force to oppose a small group of demonstrators calling for the removal of the Confederate soldier statue on the grounds of the Courthouse in Parker County, Texas. One of their displays looked like a jail cell with effigies of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in “prisoner black and white stripes” inside. Signs on it read, “Jail Transport,” “History Matters,” “All lives matter,” “Trump has opened our eyes to fake news and lies,” and “Deep state demon rats.”
Photo by Walt Burns/Spectrum News.

“The counter-protesters came with Confederate Flags. They came with signs, denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement. And they came with guns. One guy even mounted a semi-automatic assault rifle in the back of his pickup truck, military style.

“There was a lot of yelling, some pushing and shoving, and three people were arrested. One of them turned out to be a white supremacist leader from Utah. Nobody was injured, but I was appalled.

I had loved Parker County. Loved Weatherford. Made it my home for many happy years. Never in all that time did I suspect that such ignorance and hatred lived just under the surface. I still don’t know how to process it.”

It’s a lot to process. But that question of “whose history?” certainly comes down to some very personal history. As it is many places, it’s deeply personal for many in Weatherford.

Whose history is important?

Some people, like Kim Milner, who grew up in Weatherford and started a petition to keep the statue, call themselves “Those who want to keep the monuments that reflect our history rather than tear them down.”

But “That Lost Cause propaganda,” as protester Courtney Craig called it in an interview last June with CBS 11’s Jason Allen, has drowned out all other historical perspectives for decades.

Doesn’t mean those perspectives went away, though—or aren’t real.

This photo shows a crowd of the original protest group, who want the statue removed. The crowd contains both White and Black people, many of whom are wearing masks. A protester at the front of the crowd holds a sign that reads, “If you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the Holocaust, or Civil Rights Movement, you’re doing it right now!”
Photo by Walt Burns/Spectrum News.

Tony Crawford, one of the organizers of the Parker County protesters, told Spectrum News, “My family was lynched on that square,” he said. “I’m going about this knowing full well that after that statue comes down, it may be too dangerous for me to ever step foot in Weatherford again.”

History’s context

Whose history do we value? Whose history do we preserve? Jan and G. believe that history’s lessons are the most rich and meaningful when we remember the voices, thoughts, and memories of all who had a stake in the events of the times.

That means not glorifying any single narrative over all the others. It also means placing things in context. And sometimes that means removing them from one place to another. Along with Courtney Craig, we believe that there may be places where Confederate monuments could be displayed. Confederate cemeteries, perhaps. Museums.

We do not, however, believe that monuments placed years after the end of the Civil War and intended as propagandistic declarations of domination by “Jim Crow” racists should remain on their pedestals overshadowing public spaces. Or stay in places where justice should be upheld.

IMAGE CREDITS:

All of our image sources come from great online articles and other sources that will reward you if you’re interested in learning more. Please dig deeper to your heart’s content. Many thanks to the Milwaukee Independent for the photo of “Lost Cause” books and memorabilia.

We also want to thank photographer Pat McDonough, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and CNN for the photo of John B. Castleman’s equestrian statue being removed from Louisville’s Cherokee Triangle. There’s a video of the removal in the Louisville C-J article, and an in-depth, illustrated list of other removals in the CNN article.

We’re grateful to Charlies Davis Smith, FAIA, via Reddit Snapshots, for the amazing drone shot of the Parker County Courthouse. And we’re also indebted to Dreanna L. Belden and University of North Texas “Portal to Texas History” for the photo of the Confederate monument at the center of the Weatherford controversy.

Double thanks to Walt Burns and Spectrum News for the two photos from the Weatherford protests, both the “Jail Transport” and “You’re doing it right now!” images. They really captured the range of ideas on the march that day.

And finally, we appreciate Mitch Landrieu’s words about the place of Confederate monuments in New Orleans today, made available via the beautifully-produced video from the Atlantic and YouTube.

Many thanks to all!

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