Sunday, November 2, 2014

Being a Stormtrooper is ACE

Asheville Comic Expo (ACE) was a one-day con held on September 20, 2014, at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. In its third year, ACE was founded and organized by local comic shop Comic Envy. The show didn't have a heavy emphasis on costuming (other than attendees and a few groups like the 501st Carolina Garrison and Carolina Ghostbusters), but featured a number of artists and vendors. Once again, my daughter (who was dressed as Deidara from Naruto) gave me motivation to get out and troop some more, plus I got to see a few local 501st members who I hadn't met previously. 

We had plenty of table space due to a few no-show exhibitors and a very convenient curtained storage/changing area right behind our table. I wish every show had something like this! Most of the items on display belong to Anthony Conte, a local trooper who is always very involved with organizing events in the Western NC area (and a great all-around guy!). My "Imperial Barricade Tape" also added to the ambience.

As per tradition, we took our group photo with buckets on and buckets off. One very interesting thing that I noticed while talking to fans and taking photos was that a surprising number of people weren't sure of our gender underneath the costumes---that is to say, they didn't assume that we were all male costumers. This is a distinct shift from past events where the 501st was considered a male-dominated organization and people were surprised to find female members in our ranks.

And, as per tradition, I got to see my friend Cheralyn once again---though she really needs to represent the 501st once in a while with some of her awesome Star Wars costumes!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


You could lose an eye if you're not careful!
Billing itself as "the largest 3-day multi-fandom & pop culture convention in the upstate of South Carolina," MonsterCon was a 3-day July event in Greenville, SC, at the Furman University campus. Only in its second year, the offerings have expanded far beyond the horror genre despite the name. Thanks to the 501st Carolina Garrison, Talon Clan of the Mandalorian Mercs and Blue Ridge Base of the Rebel Legion, Star Wars had a respectable presence including a Mercs "jail & bail" detention cell, large display of helmets and props, and a Death Star trash compactor set by the industrious TK-5940.

Tragedy brings people together.

Catching up with friends is a big part of attending conventions, and it was a great surprise to see my Georgia Garrison buddy Michael Koske who now makes the rounds as a popular recurring zombie from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Don't worry, his bark is worse than his bite.

I just realized that I've already trooped more this year than the past two years combined. For a long time, my participation as a member of the 501st Legion had become relegated to "desk work." While I put in a ridiculous daily amount of Legion volunteer hours fielding inquiries, aggregating and posting social media content and working with the Public Relations team, the Legion's success as one of the world's most-recognized costuming communities is the result of one thing: the sheer number of physical appearances at charity events, Star Wars licensee promotions, and, of course, conventions. Getting back out to events in costume has really helped me reconnect with fans and fellow members---and it feels good to troop!

It's not the size of the gun...well, maybe it is.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to Geek Out in Asheville!

Credit: Unconventional by Brent Brown
GeekOut 2014, now in its third year, was held at the Sherrill Center on the UNC Asheville campus as a 3-day event featuring both tabletop and video gaming, live fighting demos, artists, celebrities, photographers, vendors and more. The Carolina Garrison made sure that the 501st Legion was well-represented with a prime table location right at the entrance near fellow costuming groups like the Carolina Ghostbusters and Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club. Although it was my first time attending this particular con, I was told that it was organized much better this year and had expanded from one to three days of programming to satiate every niche of fandom in the Asheville area which is a well-known hub of culture and arts.

Upon arrival, as is 501st tradition, we exchanged trading cards and greetings with fellow members (Anthony TI-28803, Sean TI-9014, Jordan TI-24138 & son, Lorne BH-4413) and took a quick tour of the grounds. It makes a huge difference to have access to free parking, free admission (for Legionnaires) and a private room for changing into costume and storing gear—this con offered all of the above! My 11-year-old and I suited up (myself as a Stormtrooper and my son as the Power Droid) and hit the con floor right away to welcome attendees.

Photo: AshevilleBlog

This officer called me over and I thought he was going to inspect my blaster because it looked too much like a real weapon. Instead, he wanted to stage this picture. Photo: Alt Media Pros
Also ran into longtime friend and 501st member Cher TK-976 (disguised as a Ghostbuster)!

All set for "Bring Your Blaster to School Day." Photo: Alt Media Pros

This was my son's second trooping event and he did a great job of putting up with the heat and discomfort that comes with being a giant walking battery. At previous events, we played an audio loop of ambient robotic sound effects, but this time the boy wanted to loop John Williams' classic Cantina Band theme and it worked out great—some people were even inclined to dance as we passed. One of the great things about Star Wars costuming is that it's ingrained in our culture and, with the prospect of all-new films starting next year, we really felt the love with non-stop comments, fist-bumps and photo requests.
Everyone loves Gonk Droids! Photo: Alt Media Pros

Photo: Lorne BH-4413

I also finally got to meet Mando Mercs Founder Tom Hutchens in person after 8 months of working with his team to optimize the Mercs Facebook presence (go give them a like!). Like 501st Founder Albin Johnson, Tom has a good sense of direction for the club and he's just a pleasant guy to be around.

Waiting impatiently for a live-action Boba Fett stand-alone movie. 

It was a great overall event and offered so much that I didn't touch upon in this post: robotics, movie vehicle replicas like the Ecto-1, Doc Brown's DeLorean and the Mystery Machine, charity raffles, Daleks, make-up panels and more. On a side note, while attempts to get my daughter indoctrinated into all things Star Wars has failed, she has taken an interest in Naruto and made her Deidara cosplay debut at GeekOut to the delight of other anime fans. Despite different genres, now we can look forward to spending more time together in costume!

Thanks to everyone involved with making this event happen. Might just have to come back next year!

TI-9014,  TI-28803, TI-24138 and TK-899 representing the Carolina Garrison.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Literally the day before the event, my daughter (an anime fan) asked if we could attend SpartanCon at the Spartanburg County Public Library in Spartanburg, SC. A quick check revealed that the 501st Carolina Garrison was planning to make an appearance at the May 10th event, so I decided to make a family trip out of it to catch up with my fellow troopers and give my son another chance to wear his Power Droid costume we built for last Halloween. (Click here for the RPF build thread for the Gonk droid costume.) My daughter, in the meantime, was anxious to distance herself from the geeky guys in her family.

We found the 3-story venue fairly well-attended for an event at a local library. SpartanCon's inaugural show was free and included an "Artist's Alley," several authors tables, hands-on writing/comic/make-up clinics, and even a cosplay competition hosted by Amberle Linnea. It was good to see some old friends and make a few new ones, and the library staff and volunteers were ecstatic to have us there. It's a great feeling when your reputation as part of the 501st Legion precedes you. They provided a spacious green room and we didn't even have to go through weapons check!

We suited up in our lower-level conference room and my son took pride in the process of becoming the character while my daughter spontaneously disappeared to find her friends. There's something intangibly magical about this sort bonding whether it's between friends or family, and I reinforced the notion that if a costume is easy, it's generally not worth doing!

With me in my TK and my son in his GNK, we flipped on our battery-operated fans, LEDs and sound systems and stepped out into the library atrium to the delight of fans of all ages. Then it was about 2 hours of photo ops as a Stormtrooper, Sandtrooper, TIE Pilot, Power Droid, Jawa and Mandalorian patrolled the con floor with a few handlers.

At the end of the troop, I realized that my aging Stormtrooper armor really needs some help. Not only are current suits more accurate, but failing glue and velcro have started to cause functionality issues. My Hyperfirm E-11 blaster also received some damage, but that was easily repaired with some sanding and CA glue. I see new armor of some sort in my future.

With more notice (or perhaps for next year), a 501st table would have been good to educate, inform and recruit, but we made an impact as noted by the seemingly non-stop requests for photos with giddy fans. We were also featured in the local paper. Star Wars is forever, baby!