On the 5th and 6th of August, EPIC opened its doors to nerds of Canberra and beyond in the form of Oz Comic-Con.
Oz Comic-Con describes itself as “…a series of annual events across the east coast of Australia, showcasing the best of entertainment and pop culture; including exhibitors, studio activations, celebrity guests, comics district, anime screenings, guest and community panels, and gaming.”
Fellow geeks and nerds may, however, simply call it “home”.
As a nerd myself, I personally find these events comforting and I know I am not the only one. We can’t always talk about our interests with the people around us, whether it’s for fear of judgement, or they just simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. Events like Oz Comic-Con bring so many people together who enjoy the same things – it’s almost impossible not to make new friends.
This was the first year that Canberra hosted a ‘full’ Oz Comic-Con as opposed to its smaller ‘homegrown’ counterpart. While last year was nothing to sneeze at, I did feel like this year was more organised and had a nicer air about it. Maybe it’s the ADHD or maybe it’s just because it’s fresher in my mind, but this year was definitely a complete success for Oz Comic-Con and Canberra!
Let me introduce you to how the ‘con is set up. For EPIC, we had two main halls: The Coorong building and the Budawang building. The Coorong building included Artist Alley, comic artists/writers, writers in general, fan clubs, AEL Gaming and a chill out/community space. The Budawang building included booths from larger businesses, Cosplay Central, a Just Dance arena, VR Playground, Oz Comic-Con official store, photography areas, celebrity guests, the main stage, as well as a booth from your favourite university – UC! In between the two areas were also a tabletop gaming room and the community stage. In other words, a lot to do and see!
Resisting the urge to go in search of anime merchandise, I made it my mission to talk to some of the guests and vendors of Oz Comic-Con Canberra and learn more about them and what brought them here.
Ross Manuel – STARFLEET International, USS Animus
I have the pleasure of knowing Ross already from work, so he was kind enough to give me an interview about STARFLEET International and, more locally, the USS Animus chapter.
STARFLEET International is, as the name suggests, an international fan club made of over 200 different chapters, dedicated to the Star Trek universe. STARFLEET International has now been going for over forty years, having been originally founded in the 70’s. You can join your closest chapter, become a member of their ship and find your own place in the crew roster, with plenty of activities and conversations to be had around like-minded Trekkies! Chapters have been known to fundraise, roleplay both online and in person, and do onshore teambuilding through trivia, escape rooms and more.
Ross is the Captain of the USS Animus, our local chapter that covers the ACT and the NSW Southern Tablelands. He has been involved with the Star Trek community for twenty years, 6 of which he has currently spent with the Animus. Canberra Trekkies generally joined the roster of the USS Tydirium of Sydney but the creation of the Animus helped them stay a little bit closer to home. The founding members of the USS Animus were actually quite involved in the Assassin’s Creed franchise and have drawn influence from the games to bring the Animus to life. The name, as well as their logo harkens back to Assassin’s Creed, and though Star Trek is very much the name of the game, the Animus’ beginnings have not been forgotten.
The USS Animus follows a literary narrative, but a crew member can simply dip their toes into the water or jump straight in. Captain Manuel mentioned that some members choose to stick to formalities and address each other by rank, others simply use names. Nobody is forced to act one way or another and the Animus is welcome to all who wish to board her or simply visit. Crew members participate in activities such as cosplay, RPG/TTRPG (role-playing games/tabletop role-playing games), creative writing, prop building, video games/MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing game) and social gatherings. They also turn up at events like Oz Comic-Con to recruit new members and meet fellow Trekkies.
I learnt a lot of interesting Star Trek facts from Ross, including a particularly fascinating one about colour blocking uniforms and TV filters, and had the lucky opportunity to have a cuddle with a thankfully docile tribble.
Captain Manuel’s favourite shows with the Star Trek universe are The Next Generation and Strange New Worlds, and his favourite Captain is Picard (as it should be).
If you’d like to boldly go where no man has gone before:
Live long and prosper!
Andrew Price – 501st Legion, Southern Cross Garrison
Across from the USS Animus, is a galaxy far, far away. Apparently Star Trek and Star Wars can get along, as Ross introduced me to Andrew Price of the 501st Legion, Southern Cross Garrison.
The 501st Legion was founded in 1997 by Albin Johnson to represent the fictional unit of Stormtroopers. That’s right, the 501st are the bad guys! If you are more of a goody-goody, they do have a sister alliance called the Rebel Legion, which is also a worldwide costuming and fan organisation. But back to the 501st –
“Since 1997, the costuming organization known as the 501st Legion has spread the magic of the Star Wars genre worldwide through its authentic-looking costumes, and has become the leading force in fan-based charity events. The 501st, also known as ‘Vader’s Fist’, is truly dedicated to brightening the lives of those less-fortunate.”
The Southern Cross Garrison, founded in 2009, is the NSW/ACT chapter of the 501st Legion. The Legion itself is an all-volunteer organisation who not only promote interest in Star Wars and have fun with the community, but also do as much charity work as they can and assist in official Star Wars events.
Andrew Price, also known as Andylah or ST-42542, has been a member of the Southern Cross Garrison for 10 years. He met the Garrison at a movie marathon and later joined them at a convention, just like Oz Comic-Con! He has found the Garrison incredibly rewarding and fun, speaking with particular fondness of an occasion in Sydney. The Garrison often attend Dreamnight at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, which is an event for special needs children or children with serious health issues. Andrew spoke of being in his stormtrooper costume and having a child come barrelling down a hill towards him. Bracing himself for the impact, Andrew received one of the biggest hugs of his life. The child excitedly said something about loving stormtroopers when his mother caught up to him. Andrew then learned that the child was autistic and nonverbal. In situations where he has helped a child feel safe enough to open up, or where he has prompted a child’s first words, Andrew described times of being in tears behind his helmet.
Charity work makes up a lot of the 501st‘s activities. They can be booked for appearances, but they don’t ask for payment. Instead, they ask for a charitable donation to be made in their name, or should the event itself be for a charity, they will attend completely free of charge. They do also attend conventions such as Oz Comic-Con to recruit members and fundraise. At Sydney Supernova last year, they raised $10,000 for Lifeline. When asked about the rise of card payments over cash, Andrew admitted donations have significantly suffered. They hope to raise more money at events and I highly recommend donating to the wonderful causes they support.
The organisation has strict costume guidelines, with everything expected to be perfect and screen accurate. There is an inspection process when a costume is finished by a member before that costume is approved, and there’s certainly no guarantee it will be. Andrew showed me his hat and explained it had looked too big before, so he’d had to alter the hat before putting it forward again for approval. He also emphasised that anybody is welcome in the Legion. Body type, gender, disability – none of it mattered if the costume was accurate. Andrew spoke about a Legion member who uses a wheelchair. He had no use for a back piece of a stormtrooper costume and didn’t have to wear it, but was still required to submit the piece in question for the committee to approve the alteration. The 501st Legion follow strict protocol to ensure fairness and complete costuming. There are also, apparently, additions that can be made to mobility devices such as wheelchairs to make them stormtrooper appropriate without damage or hindering the device’s ability.
This strictness comes in handy when it comes to being invited to Star Wars official events. Members of the 501st have attended premieres and promotional events, and have even been extras in the likes of The Mandalorian. Andrew himself was a part of the Rogue One movie premiere in Sydney. After hearing about the group’s impressive activities, I did have to ask about Disney buying Star Wars and how that affected the 501st Legion. It was then Andrew told me George Lucas himself made a specific effort to warn Disney against disrupting the 501st, with concerns Disney might try to enforce copyright against them. Disney have kept that promise and the 501st Legion continues to operate outside of the major corporation, with occasional shared missions.
I was also pleased to find out that the 501st are canonically in the Star Wars universe now! With 500 Legions within the universe, it made sense for the organisation to be named as the 501st. Since then, especially as knowledge spread and writers and creators within Star Wars found out about the Legion, the 501st has been memorialised in the canon, featuring in the official Star Wars database.
If you’d like to visit a galaxy far, far away:
Long live the Empire!
David Hazan – Comic Writer
On my stroll through Artist Alley, I happened upon David Hazan, who was kind enough to talk to me for a little while.
David is a comic writer based in Melbourne who won Made Cave Studio’s 2019 Talent Search and has been writing comics professionally for four years. A lawyer by day and writer by night, David is the writer and co-creator of hit series Nottingham as well as Death Drop Drag Assassin and Monomyth.
It should be noted that I was cosplaying as Remus Lupin from Harry Potter when David described Monomyth as “What if Hogwarts was trying to kill you”, in which I thought the correct response was “Isn’t it already?” Thankfully we agreed on that, as well as about a certain She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
We spoke about writing comics in general, which is something I had no idea about before. There are generally two ways to write a comic, apparently. The colloquially named Marvel Method and Full Script. Marvel had their artists draw the pages after giving them a somewhat vague plot, and then writers would go in and write the actual story and dialogue around it. Alternatively, Full Script is exactly what it sounds like. Writers wrote a proper script with rigid lines and house rules, and the artists would create from that. This is how DC tended to run. Full Script is the more popular method used and I can’t help but agree with the majority.
David spoke about how comic writing can be an island at times, as often everyone involved may be in completely different countries. He said the international separation can be isolating for those involved. The internet helps hugely with this, of course, by connecting people from around the world, but it doesn’t always feel the same as sitting around the same table. This was one of the reasons David enjoys attending Oz Comic-Con and similar events – he can network as well as talk to his peers and be part of a larger community.
If you need something new to read, check out David’s work!
Andrew Constant – Comic Writer
Sitting next to David Hazan and quick to tell me to pull up a chair, was Andrew Constant. Recognising some titles on the table in front of him, I admit to being a little nervous about my granted interview. Thankfully, I had no reason to be.
Andrew has been writing comics for 10 years and been doing so professionally for six. He has worked for big names like DC, specifically with Nightwing, Titans, Wonder Woman, Metal Men, Swamp Thing and Etrigan, as well as currently working on playing with Beast Boy. He has also written for Frew Publications for Phantom and Kid Phantom. His work with Gestalt Comics has included original works Torn, Broken Line and (award winning!) Fly.
I asked what got him interested in comics and was surprised with what I learnt. Andrew’s interest in comics started with a suggestion given to his mother by a speech therapist. Andrew had quite a severe speech impediment when he was young, and his speech therapist gave the advice to read as much as he could. His mother proceeded to get him a multitude of comics and the rest, as they say, is history. Andrew said his favourite was undoubtably Batman, leading to our discussion on the newest movie starring Robert Pattinson. Thankfully, Andrew agreed that Pattinson brought the kind of broody angst for which Batman tends to be known, or we may have had to have words.
When asked what his favourite has been to write, Andrew confessed that he probably enjoyed his Etrigan miniseries the most. For those as unaware as myself, Etrigan is an antihero in the DC universe. The titular character is a demon from hell who ends up bound to a human named Jason Blood with a backstory involving the wizard Merlin and the court of Camelot, but you’ll have to read it yourselves to find out more! Andrew said that writing the monstrous can be fun, with his time with this character enjoyed greatly.
Echoing David Hazan, Andrew said that he likes conventions for the energy and connections that can be made. In his words, “We write in a vacuum”. Conventions let us break out of that vacuum and find friends and peers.
For my fellow writers, Andrew had the following advice to share:
- Don’t worry about others’ opinions, especially at university. Teachers are there to shape technique, they don’t have to like or agree with what you choose to write about.
- Practice regularly, evolve, and self-critique.
- Don’t fear rejection. Write and submit, write and submit, write and submit. Lose your fear of submitting your writing. The worst you’ll get is a no.
- Don’t worry about not being good enough. Keep going and keep learning and evolving.
Ryan Keats – ADHDinos
As a fellow ADHD-haver, Ryan was great to talk to. I squeezed into his booth with him and his partner and if anyone knows anything about ADHD, you can imagine how quick the conversation turned to rambling and I may or may not have written down as much as I potentially should have. It was absolutely fantastic to meet him and I highly recommend checking his work out!
Ryan was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult when certain things became harder to manage. Upon getting diagnosed, he found resources online and started his webcomic ADHDinos soon after. Ryan said the series didn’t quite take off until around his 12th comic, which focuses around the “waiting time” phenomenon that some people with ADHD experience. Long story short, you have an appointment or engagement planned and spend the whole day waiting for that appointment to be absolutely sure that you’ll be ready in time, get there in time, and won’t get distracted with anything else.
Going viral and now being able to make ADHDinos his full-time job, Ryan said he was privileged to have the opportunity. He said it all still seems crazy to him at times. He no longer has set hours and can forget what day it is simply because it isn’t always necessary information (and really, don’t we all?). He’s also able to do things at his own pace and take breaks as necessary. He does try to stick to a posting schedule though and we did spend a while talking about time differences and how it can affect demographics and audiences online. Ryan, for example, tends to post according to USA/Canada engagement and times. Partially because, as a Canadian, that was his original schedule, but he also finds that’s where he gets the most engagement. He also finds it interesting how far his comics can reach. He didn’t expect many Australians to know him and yet his work has been recognised at all the conventions he’s gone to. Ryan really enjoys the community that ADHDinos has created and confessed that he can get 20-40 messages a day with people asking him questions. Alternatively, on sites like Reddit, someone may ask a question on a thread and the community will generally give sweet and informative answers. Being viral does breed negativity as well, but the good far outweighs the bad and Ryan has learnt not to take anything personally. He made it abundantly clear he is not a doctor and does not give medical advice to anyone, only passing on reputable resources for anyone who asks while sharing his own experience with ADHD.
When asked about conventions, Ryan said it was a bit weird, although interesting to see people react to his comics in person. He finds some of his comics do better in person than online and vice versa. While he communicates with plenty of people online, Ryan did say he found conversations much more intimate in person and that he enjoys the experience of meeting his community in the real world.
Ryan uses ADHDinos to share his own experience with ADHD in the hopes of bringing awareness and showing others they are not alone. Not all his comics will resonate with everyone with ADHD, and there are aspects of the experience that can be felt by anyone, not just those with ADHD.
Check Ryan out at it:
Overall, Oz Comic-Con is a place of connection and community. We can all like different things, but we’ll almost definitely find someone else with the same interests under the same roof during this crazy, fun weekend! I loved my time at Oz Comic-Con and I personally cannot thank those willing to put up with a newbie reporter enough, as well as everyone who exhibits and organises the event itself.
Until next year!!