Amber Seagrave loves to tackle new skills for creating costumes when she isn’t cutting hair for her Fredericksburg clients.
She spent eight months off and on learning how to code and solder just so she could create a Particle Cannon to go with the Zarya outfit she wore to the Fredericksburg Comic and Toy Show on Saturday. Zarya, a character in the Overwatch video game series, uses the massive weapon to unleash a short-range beam of destructive energy; Seagrave used a micro controller so her version would emit a harmless beam of light.
Her creativity, along with her pixie-cut pink wig and body armor fashioned out of foam floor tiles, catapulted her into first place in the cosplay costume division for adults at the event. She won a crisp $100 bill and a medal.
“It definitely makes me feel that my skills are being validated,” said Seagrave, who’d eventually like to make costumers for movies, television or theater.
The 30-year-old was one of nearly 1,400 adults and children who turned out for daylong show, which was held at the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center for the first time. It gave people who love superheroes—and an occasional supervillain—the chance to buy comic books, game cards and other related paraphernalia; and have their photos taken with their favorite characters and celebrity vehicles.
Like her, there were a number who came in costume or wore T-shirts bearing the name of their favorite superhero from comic books, video games, movies and anime. Nine-year-old Zachary Fowlkes, for instance, dressed up as Emerald to win the children’s division in the cosplay contest.
“Everybody loves superheroes. Everybody loves comics. Everybody loves Marvel movies. I think it’s a very, very broad appeal,” said Mike Federali, president of Incredible Conventions.
He took over the Fredericksburg Comic and Toy Show from Sam Ellis, who started the show three years ago as Fredericksburg Comic Con, or FredCon for short, at Spotsylvania Towne Centre.
“There was one year in between when it was just impossible to make it happen, but we’re really happy that the expo center worked with us to make it be our new home,” Federali said.
Comic book conventions date back to the 1960s, and gave comic book fans a chance to meet creators, experts and each other. Federali said that he can remember when he was growing up that fans would be lucky to find a small event at a mall. Today comic cons, as they’re often called, are held in big venues around the world and feature a wide variety of pop culture related to comics, including film, television and animation as well as gaming and collectibles.
“This show right here is a tiny, tiny fraction of what [Dragon Con] at Atlanta is,” said Federali, who organizes a number of comic cons in Virginia and several other states. “It’s nice to bring this to town. If all goes well, we’ll add a couple elements next year.”
Saturday’s event drew 114 exhibitors, who were selling everything from Pokémon cards and vintage comic books to small Pop! Games vinyl figures and full-scale replicas of the proton packs worn by the original “Ghostbusters” cast. Spider-Man was there posing for pictures with people, and there were several celebrity vehicles such as Pikaz, one of 10 Nintendo-owned Pokémon promotional cars.
Jonathan and Jenna Stillman of Orange, who own Super Heroes Armory, were doing a brisk business selling replica weaponry, including knives and swords from Marvel superhero movies and the gaming world, along with steampunk masks and other items. He’s a government contractor who works at Quantico, and selling their wares at shows from West Virginia to Raleigh, N.C., a couple of times a month allow her to home school their children.
“It started with mostly superheroes and then Marvel took off and now with the gaming world being so huge it has really taken over,” Jenna said.
Their bestsellers are metal and foam swords like the one Zelda wields in “The Legend of Zelda” video games, said her husband. Some comic con organizers, she added, no longer allow metal weapons to be sold at their events.
Another couple, Harry and Marlane Hopkins of Fredericksburg, started collecting comic books when they were growing up, and have been buying, selling and trading them as a side business since 1978.
“Comic books put our two daughters through college,” said Harry Hopkins as he straightened the display at their Fandata booth. “One went to Virginia Tech and the other went to the University of Mary Washington.”
The Hopkins do 15 to 20 shows a year on the East Coast now that he’s retired from his job with Homeland Security. Customers typically look for issues when their favorite characters made their first appearance or the last issue in a series. Then, when a popular movie such as “Wonder Woman” comes out, interest in comics with the lead character will spike, he said.
Fredericksburg natives Graham and LaToya Gronhoff are Marvel fans and brought their two children, Connor, 8, and Zoey, 2, to the show because Connor had never gotten to do anything like that. He found a Funko Ballora vinyl figure from Pop! Games’ “Five Nights at Freddy’s” video game that he wanted, and Zoey got to sit on a plush triceratops as the siblings posed next to the replica “Jurassic Park” jeep so their dad could take their picture.
Spotsylvania County residents Cimarron Miller, her fiancé Brad Hederer and their friend Michael Whitlock decided to attend the show dressed as their favorites.
“I’m a huge nerd and he’s my fiancé, so that’s why he’s here,” joked Miller, who was wearing a blonde wig, white face paint and harlequin-type attire.
She was dressed as Harley Quinn, the psychiatrist who fell in love with The Joker in “Batman” and became his sidekick. Miller said that she’s one of her favorite characters because she always has a smile on her face and tries to lift people’s spirits, even when she’s being “tough as nails.”
“I just love everything she embodies,” she said. “For the day, I get to be that.”