Comicpalooza 2016 Day 2: Of Guns and Quidditch

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Apologies in advance. This is going to be the Empire Strikes Back of my coverage trilogy.

In the wake of the Orlando shooting, everyone is kind of raw on the subject of guns. Some fear that mass killers wait around every corner of every possible location, while others are more concerned that the government forces are out to confiscate their weaponry. I had a few of the latter ilk angrily repost the announcement that Comicpalooza had made shortly before the start of the convention that it would not be allowing guns on site, even CHL.

Now, while this may feel political and timely, I confirmed with convention head John Simons via text after the announcement that the con had always been strict with guns. To quote Simons, “We began planning to minimize the risk on an incident of ultra-violence back in 2012.” It should be noted that you can bring weapons such as swords with sharp edges, but they must be able to be securely tied into their scabbards. Anything that cannot be safely “peace-tied” isn’t allowed.

It gave me a lot of mixed emotions to see the sign about guns as I walked into the con this year in particular. It’s weird, isn’t it? So much of geek culture follows the same toxic male power fantasies that embody the minds of mass shooters. Yet rather than catering to that and welcoming folks who would want to complement their Borderlands costume with real heat, Comicpalooza just stands there and reminds people this is no place for such things. I find it somewhat telling that a quick search through Google turned up only one shooting incident at a major geek event, an outdoor zombie festival in Fort Myers, Florida, that couldn’t have really set up the weapons check Comicpalooza does.

On to lighter fare. My family and I first headed to the children’s area once again, hoping to appease and wear down our six-year-old with some more rounds of retro video gaming and maybe a run through some of the LEGO play setups that had finally gotten under way. The larger Saturday crowds kept her from the endless slaughter of pixelated birds she’d become addicted to after being introduced to Duck Hunt, so we wandered into the sports track.

And that’s when her head exploded. Metaphorically.

I’d covered the silly awesomeness of real-life Quidditch from Harry Potter the very first year I attended Comicpalooza as a journalist. At that time, it seemed like the goal was more for it to serve as a host for the various college teams that had sprung up on Texas campuses (Texas Tech trounced in every match I saw that year, if you want to know). This year, with the convention being held in mid-June instead of over the Memorial Day Weekend as usual, most of the college kids are scattered for the summer. Picking up the threads is Houston’s community Quidditch team, the Cosmos.

The group, which meets in Hermann Park every Sunday afternoon weather permitting, is mostly made up of former college players still in love with the game. Cameron Alexander and Jessica Li of the team said that the recent series of rainstorms had kept them out of practice, so the convention was a welcome indoor treat.

What they had on board was Kidditch, introductory games for little children. We’d stumbled along in time for a match, and my daughter, who is so obsessed with Harry Potter she often tells people he’s secretly her brother, couldn’t wait to get on a broom.

If you’re scratching your head on how real-life Quidditch is played, it’s pretty simple and no sillier than the Steeplechase we’ll see in the summer Olympics. You have to hold a stick representing a broom between your legs and score goals through three hoops. Chasers score, and a Keeper is the goalie. Meanwhile, Beaters try to send Chasers back to their side of the field with dodgeballs. Finally, a person represents the Golden Snitch, and a Seeker from each time tries to grab a ball in a sock tucked in his waist to end the game. So it’s basically a combination of basketball, dodgeball and tag that sounds goofy and is ridiculously fun to watch and play.

Considering that the teams were made up of kids whose parents bring them to the giant crossover event that is a comic convention these days, it’s fun to watch how their inner fandoms manifest. The team opposing my daughter called themselves Darth Tigers. Her team, containing her in her Rose Tyler costume and another kid dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, settled on the Potter Lords.

Having put my daughter through a community soccer league, I really wish that there were a similar organization for Quidditch. Begrudging participation in a local activity disappears the second a kid can pretend he or she is riding a broom at a magic school. The players ranged from first graders to middle schoolers, and everyone played like he or she had never known any greater joy. It was really something special.

While the kids prepared for their second match, I left to get some popcorn. Walking along by myself, I am often amazed at the strange conversations that you tend to hear (well, overhear) only at cons. One man in a Star Trek uniform earnestly proselytized to his friends that marijuana had never killed anyone. Another man in passing was complaining to his friend dressed as a Final Fantasy X character that the people from NASA attending the con were “dicks.” One Disney princess yelled at another, “Your MOM is a Skywalker!” It’s a weird place, though never boring.

After Quidditch, we ended up in artist alley. This time I was on the hunt for new books to read, and re-made the acquaintance of author Eva Pohler. When I interviewed her last year for my Comicpalooza coverage, she was still pushing her young-adult series about a teenage girl getting involved with the Greek gods. I tend to prefer my Greek mythology a bit more God-of-War-y than teen romance, but Pohler and I did bond over wanting to see more folklorically accurate versions of Hades than you usually see in media. I suggested she check out the Lindsay Ellis video on the subject (and you should too!).

Pohler had a new series that I did buy and have already been enjoying very much. The Purgatorium Series involves a young, suicidal girl who is shipped off to an island medical facility for unethical medical treatments. Being married to a survivor of an abusive youth internment camp, the premise struck home pretty hard, and so far it’s a gripping and unsettling tale.

Leaving off the convention itself, this year I discovered one of the best secret weapons for those who would like to get their drink on in the convention hotels without breaking the bank. Located just a 13-minute walk away from the George R. Brown is an excellent little hole-in-the-wall booze boutique called Posh Liquor. If you’re used to Spec’s or even your average mini-mall liquor store, it’s a little disappointing. For instance, I couldn’t find grenadine for vodka cherry sours.

That said, I was able to pick up enough vodka and mixers for a night of gentle cocktails for just $13. Conventions and hotels often get you to the point where you pay $3 for a soda and forget that doing that is insane. I actually asked the clerk if she was serious when she told me the total. I also found out Posh offers delivery in the area, essentially getting room service for discount.

After a day of herding kids, thinking about guns and reading a scary novel, I definitely needed that drink. So convention-goers? When 2017 rolls around, put Posh Liquor on your phone.  

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