Magical Discoveries at Comic-Con 2011
By Gina Silverstein, July 25, 2011
The 37th annual Comic-Con has just ended. Originally a gathering of comic book enthusiasts in the basement of a local hotel, this international event has grown to include games, television and film. More than 120,000 people jammed a quarter square mile in downtown San Diego from Thursday through Sunday in celebration of superhero and fantasy characters. Fans were drawn to retro panel discussions such as “Batman: 45th Anniversary of the Original Series,” while others attended industry forecast panels such as “The Visionaries: A Discussion with Jon Favreau and Guillermo del Toro on the Future of Pop Culture.” There were also plenty of entertainment industry heavy weights in town like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson promoting films and marketing content. Celebrities lending wattage to the occasion included Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Olivia Wilde, Kate Beckinsale, Harrison Ford, Hugh Jackman and Colin Farrell.
The Costume Designers Guild was also in full force adding its own expert point of view to the creative madness, including panel discussions on Costume Design and illustration for television and film, autograph sessions, CDG red ribbons for the best-costumed fans and an annual Masquerade trophy. Each year, members of the CDG volunteer committee work diligently for months planning and preparing for the convention, so that fans have the opportunity to learn more about Costume Design and Illustration.
On the red ribbon front, CDG volunteers, including CD Jacqueline Saint Anne, CD Bonnie Nipar, CD Jennifer Dios, ILL Phillip Boutte, Jr., ILL Alan Villanueva and ACD Carrie Grace—with a team of videographers and a photographer—roamed the halls looking for the best costume creators. While there were thousands of people cloaked in look-alike outfits of their favorite characters, the Guild honored only the costumes that had been constructed—not purchased or rented—which met the highest level of creativity and execution.
Some amateurs re-created the work of professional Costume Designers with remarkable authenticity. One such fan was Elizabeth DeBoer who had transformed herself into the fantastical Red Queen from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Bravely seated in a wheel chair, this talented grandmother stopped crowds with her beautifully constructed rendition of Colleen Atwood’s design. The two-piece outfit included a corset topped with a silk-ribboned blouse, and 40 or more embroidered and appliquéd gold hearts on a skirt that took 20 minutes each. With attention to the smallest detail, she had capped off the look with a replica crown. DeBoer was awarded CDG’s red and gold ribbon, which just happened to blend perfectly with the ensemble.
Also in the mix of costume creators were die-hard weekend hobbyists who spend years fabricating original designs at considerable expense using silicone molds and other professional materials. But the vast majority scrape their costumes together using found materials, like Alyssa Blackhurst, who crafted her warrior costume on a shoe-string budget in about four months using duck tape, styrofoam, cardboard, clay, screws, leather and plastic. Blackhurst says she does it for the art, adding, “I love meeting other people who are into Costume Design.” She was awarded a ribbon for her inventive creativity.
Another ribbon went to Brandon Messenger who works on the fringes of the entertainment industry but is not a professional Costume Designer. A jack of all trades, Messenger designed and constructed colorful punk rocker/circus clown-inspired costumes for himself and four friends, purchasing fabrics and trims, then sewing the looks on an old Singer, in addition to applying make-up and faux-tattoos. By day, Messenger is a sales manager at a sound engineering company in Orange County, California, but is considering making a career change into Costume Design, as he finds the creativity rewarding.
There are many aspiring Costume Illustrators and designers like Messenger who are unsure how to turn their dream into reality. They flocked to CDG’s panel discussions, sponsored by Western Costume Co., hoping to glean information on how to break in. One of them was Bethany Wolf. A month away from a technical design degree in theater, she wants to become a Costume Designer. Wolf attended the “Designing the Superhero Costume: Costume Designers, Illustrators and Builders” panel, then followed it with a trip to the autograph table to meet Costume Designer Christine Bieselin Clark, who had also started in theater. Clark spoke to her about the industry and what steps she could take as she moved forward in her career.
Despite limited seating for capacity crowds and last minute panelist shuffling when a few designers had to withdraw, the CDG volunteer committee managed to flawlessly execute two other panels, as well. During the “Costume Design and Illustration for Film” session, CD Joseph Porro’s candid comments and flamboyant delivery brought down the house with laughter. The panel, rounded out by CD Wendy Chuck, ILL Christian Cordella, ILL Constantine Sekeris, ILL Phillip Boutte, Jr. and ILL Brian Valenzuela, provided valuable insight on translating illustrations into designs. And at the “Designing for Television Production” panel, fans cheered CD Jim Lapidus, CD Shawna Trpcic and ACD JR Hawbaker, as they discussed their work on the small screen for “Dexter,” “Firefly” and “True Blood,” respectively.
About 45 CDG Costume Designers, Illustrators and Assistant Costume Designers who were in San Diego on Saturday evening, were invited to a cocktail party by CD and past CDG president Deborah Nadoolman Landis at the sky-high apartment of former newspaper magnate David Copley, who funds a Costume Design program Landis heads at UCLA. Enjoying a 360-degree view of San Diego, the group had a brief respite from the crushing crowds before heading off to the Masquerade.
Part tongue-in-cheek pageantry, spectacle and performance art, the Masquerade drew thousands of seated guests who shouted out “number 19 ha-ha-ha!… number 20 ha-ha-ha!” as each of the 31 pre-selected amateur entrants paraded across the stage in costumes they had created. Some strutted as if they were modeling on the catwalk, while others performed abbreviated skits, with wide variation in execution and creativity. CDG was behind one of the Masquerade awards, sponsored by International Silks and Woolens, and after careful deliberation, CD Jacqueline Saint Anne, ILL Alan Villanueva and ACD Carrie Grace presented this year’s trophy to “Saligia: The Court of Sin” worn, designed and made by Katrina Andrews, Dustin Javier, Marty Le Grow, Krys Lewis, Moira Malstrom, Carrie Martin, Jennifer Newman and David Patricola. CD Deborah Nadoolman Landis presented a separate David C. Copley Prize for the Most Innovative Costume to “Hyunkel the Knight”, worn, designed and made by Edgar Mayoral.
Despite merchandise clutter, massive crowds and head-spinning noise levels, Comic-Con gives CDG and fans a unique way to connect through a shared passion for costumes and creativity. Costume Illustrators Alan Villanueva, Phillip Boutte, Jr. and Brian Valenzuela were each discovered while showing their portfolios to CDG Costume Designers on Comic-Con panels a few years ago. Villanueva, who was in San Diego this year as a CDG volunteer, says it was well worth the long lines to network and meet the people who helped him start his career. And, on the other end of the spectrum, 30-year veteran Costume Designer Jim Lapidus asserts, “The fans are amazing, their enthusiasm, just meeting them…it’s really rewarding to talk to them and give back down here.”
Photos by Steven Silverstein.