My Day at Sydney Supanova 2015

It is a crisp Saturday morning in Wollongong when my alarm goes off. Lately I have gotten into the awful habit of ignoring my obnoxiously upbeat alarm tone. But this morning I must be up early. I have an hour to get up, shower, get changed, and take my medicine (read: drink a large mug of coffee) before my lift arrives. It is the weekend of Sydney Supanova 2015.

Supernova is an interesting place in a lot of ways. On the one hand it is a celebration of fandom and expressing your passion for various media cultures through cosplay and creation. On the other hand it is an event that exemplifies the way geek culture has been so effectively cultivated for mass consumerism.

At Supanova there are floods of people adorned with costumes that represent months of hard work, not to mention a sizable financial cost. Their labour of love that allows them to express a personal connection with a character and exchange this culture to some extent with a room full of others doing the same. It is a convention that marries this grassroots participatory culture with industry capitalism. All the while the original cultural product – the movie, the game, the anime – feels curiously absent. It is the extreme ends of a spectrum meeting without the middle. There’s so much constantly going on at Supanova, with the enjoyment leaning very heavily on the personal experiences you have there. So with that spirit I decided the only real way to write about the event would be to recall my own experiences for the day.

As we pull up to Sydney Showground in Olympic Park, we begin to see the Harley Quinn and Deadpool cosplays, which signal ‘you’re almost there.’ As we walked down the street we saw more and more strange and beautiful characters from a range of games, TV shows, movies, and anime series. A crowd had gathered where people were posing and meeting up with the rest of their costumed entourage. I saw a lady dressed as Bayonetta – the titular character from one of my all-time favourite games – and I thought to myself ‘today could be a pretty fun day’. Then I turned the corner and saw the long, winding line to get in.

As a person in the privileged position of holding a ‘media pass’ and bypassing the vast majority of the line, I feel like there’s only so much I can say about the queuing without sounding like an entitled cry-baby. But on behalf of the people who did have to queue, ‘what the Hellboy is up with those queues?’

When you finally are allowed into the venue, you are handed a copy of the thick, difficult to comprehend ‘event programme’ – which consists of about 2 pages of useful information hidden Where’s Wally style amongst a sea of advertisements and promotions.

Then you step through the main doors and see the expansive show floor sprawling out before you in every direction. A maze of anime stalls, merchandise booths, and meet and greet tables stood before me – littered with excited, scurrying nerds and their respective friends and families. I stood by the entrance for a while, drinking in the hive of pop-culture mash-ups for a moment while my brain catches up. Then once a few photos were snapped (always with the cosplayers full consent of course, be courteous guys) we turned to each other and asked the all-important question:

“So what do you guys want to do?”

What is there to do at Supanova? Well turns out the answer is a strange mix of ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’. A big part of the Supanova experience is the feeling of being cooped up in a shopping mall that is densely packed with shoppers who regularly hold-up the flow of traffic for photo opportunities. The strange thing is that unless you’re really keen on spending more money, this is kind of the most enjoyable thing going on at Supanova. You get to spot cute kids dressed as Squirtle from Pokemon excitedly getting their photo taken hugging the large Baymax patrolling the floor. You get to smile while the cast from Attack on Titan laugh with surprise as they mistake actual police officers for veteran cosplayers. You get to live Tweet your day out and rack up some ‘likes’ for that picture you snapped of the family all dressed as Adventure Time characters.

Other than that there’s heaps of merchandise to be bought. These range from the seemingly pointless ‘I-could-literally-buy-that-anywhere-anyday’ wares at the EB Games booth; to the more one-of-a-kind fan art and caricatures being sold by small business hopefuls. Of course I must also mention the celebrities and voice-talents who are themselves for sale – meeting their fans and signing their artefacts in exchange for one or two of the more highly valued banknotes in Australian currency. Quite frankly I suffer from the kind of social anxiety that means I’d be more likely to pay people I admire to stay the hell away from me, but if it puts smiles on people’s faces to be photographed with these celebrities then who am I to argue? Even if one of those stars was Adam Baldwin.

Speaking of Adam Baldwin, I attended two different Q and A Events whilst at Supanova – one was for him and the other was for the well renowned voice talents Billy West (Futurama, Ren & Stimpy) and John DiMaggio (Adventure Time, Futurama). Billy and John we went to because we figured they could be relied on to provide some fun; which they did. Adam Baldwin was something I got dragged along to by my friend in the hope that an awkward ‘Gamergate’ confrontation would occur; which it didn’t. Adam Baldwin did, after a question about playing Halo, admit that he’s really not much of a “gamer” despite lending his voice to a few game characters. Kind of makes you wonder why he expended so much energy weighing in on the supposed ‘ethical issues’ in video game journalism and directing online harassers towards people, but hey. Overall these panels were really just a way for audiences to ask asinine questions and watch the talented actors they were directed at shrug in helpless bewilderment.

The final event of the day was the Supanova Cosplay Competition. This was by far my highlight of the day, which is handy because by this stage I was starting to feel quite exhausted. There’s something very charming about the pageantry of the cosplay competition – the school drama style performances, the choreography, the jokes that stumble drunkenly across the divide between charming and cringeworthy. I loved every minute of it and it felt good to cheer all these brave, amateur performers on as they laid their passions bare before a room full of gawking strangers. The lady who cosplayed Bayonetta also made another appearance and, despite our separation at this point, my friend knew she should get a photo of her on stage because “Angus will yell at me if I don’t.” It’s nice to feel understood like that.

I suppose when you get right down to it, that’s the appeal of an event like Supanova. It’s your chance to embrace one of your passions, wearing it openly with pride in the hopes that you might see just one other person who is showing just as much love for this thing as you are, and suddenly experiencing a fleeting moment of kinship with a stranger that you wouldn’t have felt at any other time of the year – when we’ve got our Wonderflex armours and light-up fibreglass swords safely packed away.