Prom. One of the best and worst four letter words in the English language, depending on who you ask. For some it’s a special and magical night but my memories tend to leave me with mixed feelings, honestly. As I repeated my senior year of high school, I got to attend two of these strange social rituals. The first produced a dress, flowers, and a date I was not exactly thrilled about with an after party that involved a basement in North Philly and a lot of underage inappropriateness. The second time around was full of more inappropriateness (LOL) but with a much more desirable date, outfit, and flowers. Prom #1 was draped in luxury and a pretty grand affair thanks to our class sponsor’s commitment to keeping things upscale and classy. What the second prom lacked in finery, it made up for with the addition of odd newfound traditions like showing up late, leaving early, skipping the fancy sit down dinner and opting for a Diner later on. This seems to have become quite the custom nowadays despite paying anywhere from $75 to $200 for tickets, but neither delivered the kind of experience Hollywood led me to believe I would have. Damn you Tinsel Town and your unrealistic expectations!
Fast forward 20 years later and I found myself filled with childlike excitement as I prepared to go to this year’s J1 Con Cosplay Prom. So many great words in one sentence, but let’s break a few of them down for you. Let’s start with J1 Con. J1 Con is the brainchild of local gaming geek Jason Richardson. What started as monthly gaming and anime events quickly turned into a full on Convention now known as Philly’s Premiere Anime Con. About 3 years ago, under his production company J1 Studios, Richardson created The Cosplay Prom, an event that has seen growth every year and also acts as a fundraiser to help put on the annual J1 Con, now in its 6th year. Cosplay Prom. I know I’m a fangirl, so I’m a bit biased, but don’t those words create a dynamic duo that just roll of your tongue like a 12 sided die?
As expected, there was a wide array of characters that descended upon the Old Pine Community Center at 4th and Lombard just off the main South Street strip. From obscure anime characters to horror icons, every fandom was represented this night especially cosplayers of color! If you’ve ever been to a comic or horror convention, then you know how much geek culture can be dominated by the white male demographic. If the Cosplay Prom was any indication of what the convention is like, I’m definitely ready to partake in a more diverse geek community! As a big girl who cosplays, I know all about the judgement that comes along with not matching your character exactly. J1 Cosplay Prom created an environment where every spin and take on any character was welcomed and celebrated and more importantly, cosplayers of all shapes, sizes and color were too. You really start to understand how things dominated by a specific race and gender can be polarizing when you show up to an event where you are the minority and you’re welcomed with open arms. I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but I really found it beautiful to be surrounded by so many people of color gathered together in a space where they were free to be their amazingly geeky selves.
Not only was this a positive and welcoming space for cosplayers, it was classic, cheesy, old school prom! Held in a gym, with a punch bowl, streamers, a DJ, a snack table only a teenager could love, and even a photo booth provided by photographer Eric Stewart (aka Shinob-e). The only thing missing were the bleachers full of the usual freaks and geeks who would be hiding on the sidelines. That’s because those freaks and geeks are actually the cool kids so they did what all the cool kids do in the obligatory teen movie school dance scene, they PARTIED! This night was about letting your freak flag fly and being around others doing the same. An all ages event, there were families, teens, adults, singles, couples, and even a live acoustic set courtesy of a local singer songwriter, Rachael Rota. Of course, no prom would be complete without a royal court. Taking home fabulous prize packs that included passes to this year’s J1 Con was an unlikely duo. Straight from Camp Crystal Lake, the most unlikeliest of Prom Kings, Jason Voorhees aka Mike McManis. The Queen to this weird and wonderful court was none other than Temari from Naruto aka one of the cutest cosplayers I’ve ever met, Gamzee Makara. Both cosplayers completed their ensembles with impressive weaponry, Jason wielding his favorite blood soaked machete and Temari with her iconic, giant, iron fan!
Constantly on the hunt for fun new geek events, J1 Con and it’s prom have definitely landed on my radar and will surely become a staple for me in the future. Not only was it a great place to connect with other geeks in the city, it also provided a fun opportunity to put a new spin on some of your favorite characters. I rocked it in a dapper style Batgirl outfit complete with a comic book flower corsage and a Dark Knight date! But this night was not just about being a caped crusader, an alcoholic scientist, or a butt loving burger flipper. It was a night about community, for the nerds of this city to get dressed up and get down, and what is more magical and special than that?