By Connie Garcia
Geeks, otakus, card-game connoisseurs, video game nerds and costumed folk gathered for a full day of fun and play at Yuma County's Second Annual Blazing Desert Comic-Con held at the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center in San Luis, Ariz., on March 14.
The event included card games, costume contests, panels and door prizes. Even the hot unseasonably hot weather was no deterrent for super fans.
Nothing like it
Arizona Western College's Yuma Young Adults Club (YYAC) organized the event with help from the City of San Luis. A fan of all things geek, and sporting an R2D2 dress, club president and event co-coordinator Daniela Ayala helped organize the event.
"I go to the Phoenix Cons all the time," says Ayala, "but lots of local people can't go, so I suggested doing one for Yuma. I never expected it to grow so much in only the second year."
Ayala, who was also the M.C., announced scheduled events over the P.A. and hosted a variety of stage shows including the popular costume, or "cosplay," contest.
"It's a different atmosphere this year," says Ayala, "there are lots of out-of-towners this time."
Other event organizers and volunteers were busy running around, making sure this year's event ran smoothly.
"I really love anime, so as soon as I found out about the event I signed up immediately to volunteer," says AWC English major Maria Conde. "I think this is a great event for the people of Yuma because we never had anything like this before."
Others unfamiliar with geek culture helped out and organized in order to find out why people are so passionate about fictional characters such as comic book heroes.
"To be honest, I'm not really a fan of this sort of thing, but I like to keep an open mind," says George Urrea, the secretary of the Yuma Young Adults Club, "I've enjoyed seeing the costumes, and overall it's great to see all these kids and families having fun, so that's a success. Everyone has put a lot of effort into this."
Everyone a hero
The event featured different demonstrations, including a Star Wars discussion panel, a medieval Vikings' enactment, and a Korean Pop dance-off. Card game tournaments and Super Smash Brothers (a popular video game series) tournaments were also held throughout the day, but by far the most awaited event was the Cosplay contest.
The crowd gathered quickly as the stage lit up to showcase the cosplayers' talent. There were costumed folks from different genres of film, comics, manga and anime series. The contest was divided into two groups, adults and children, and judged by a panel of three costumed heroes.
The crowd cheered wildly for their favorite costumed hero and villain as Miss Ayala announced their names onstage, but in the end, the judges chose just one winner in each of three categories -- adults, kids and fan favorite.
Robin, Batman's trusted young ward, was the fan favorite winner, cosplayed by Midnight Morales (his areal name). A native of Goodyear, Ariz., Morales cosplays as a hobby and for a charity group called the Justice League of Arizona.
"I'm surprised. I didn't know this many people liked Robin, but fans' opinions count more, I think" says Morales. "It's definitely an ego boost. I'm trying so hard to contain it, but I know I truly can't."
Ayden Dilks, age 6, cosplayed the popular anime character Inuyasha. Dilks was the winner of the judges' choice in the children's category, and from the crowd's response, it was the obvious choice. Young Dilks showed charisma and transitioned into character onstage with ease.
"My grandma made my costume," Dilks laughed. "I'm excited because I won, but I knew I was going to win."
wowed the crowd as his Hawkman cosplay won the costume contest.
But the big winner of the evening was Hawkman, a character from the D.C. Universe. Joseph Mentor, a native of Glendale, Ariz., cosplays for the charity group Justice League of Arizona alongside Midnight Morales. The charity group visits children in hospitals once a week and participates in other charitable events throughout the year, including for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
"I wasn't expecting to win since I've only been cosplaying for two years," says Hawkman. "We came down to visit so we could promote smaller cons. One of my fellow Justice Leaguers made the costume, but I made the wings and the armor, and since I'm not wealthy, cosplaying for charity is my way to contribute to society."
Into the wee hours
There were many people wearing popular character costumes this time around, and zealous fans taking pictures everywhere. Lilli Brena, an accounting major, came as the universally recognized comic book heroine Wonder Woman.
"It took me five days to make this costume by looking at a how-to video on YouTube," says Brena. "I came to last year's con, but this year there are a lot more people, and it's better organized."
Regular non-costumed fans also had a lot to say about Yuma's only Comic-Con. Dominique Palumbo, an AWC graduate and regular con frequenter, offered both critique and praise for the "baby con."
"It's got real potential. Everyone's helpful and the vendors are nice," proclaims Palumbo. "It still needs some work -- perhaps a bigger venue, more scheduled events and maybe have it during a cooler month. I understand it's new, though, so you can't compare it to the big city cons."
The event went on long into the night, 10 hours total. But for the fans and the organizers, it was well worth the work.
"It's really growing," says Antonio Carillo, the YYAC's advisor. "Probably next year it will expand into the soccer field and beyond. The City of San Luis supports us immensely, and since it's right next to the border, it allows the Mexican community to walk over and participate, too. It really looks like it will continue to grow, especially since our response has been mostly positive."
Photos courtesy of Antonio Carrillo