One family reaches for the stars
Story by Aitana Yvette Mallari
Photos by Aitana Yvette Mallari
A cyborg angel and a Victorian-era pirate washed their hands next to each other in a Phoenix Convention Center restroom. Each woman stole a glance when she thought the other wasn’t looking. The cyborg angel cleared her throat:
“I love your cane,” she said, the roar of the hand dryer overpowering the end of her sentence. She waited for it to settle before speaking again. “Is it real?”
The pirate chuckled. “Yeah it’s mine.” She rolled the wooden cane topped with gold and black velvet between her palms. “I have trouble walking so it helps.”
Cyborg angel held the door open as pirate passed through. “Well it’s really cool,” she said, and they both were swallowed by the crowds of Phoenix Comic Fest.
Phoenix Comic Fest–formerly known as Phoenix Comic Con–is a four-day celebration of everything pop culture. Although “comic” is in the name, fans of TV shows, movies and videogames are welcome. Many patrons also dress up as their favorite characters, known as cosplay, like cyborg angel and Victorian-era pirate (not their actual character names, but only so much information can be gleaned by eavesdropping near the sink).
In comic books alone, it’s not uncommon to find superheroes with disabilities. Use a wheelchair? So does Professor X. Lost an arm? That’s just like Bucky Barnes! Blind? So was Daredevil.
A Reality Check with Morgan Parker
On any other day, visible markers of disability—a wheelchair, walker or cane—made you the odd one out in a crowd. At Comic Fest, they’re just another prop used to cosplay a character.
This can lead to confusion as to whether someone is actually disabled.
Morgan Parker, who has attended conventions since 2005 and describes cosplay as not a low-key addiction but a “lot-key” addiction, remembers cosplaying as Oracle aka Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl. Barbara Gordon is a wheelchair user in the comics. Parker is a wheelchair user in real life.
“I was in the chair and someone asked me if it was legitimate or not and either way he thought it was cool,” Parker said. “So, things like that, I feel like it’s good representation either way. I feel like if you appreciate seeing representation in media, then why not cosplayers as well?”
Although she didn’t use a wheelchair in her early cosplaying days, Parker’s knees worsened, and she worried about using a wheelchair in crowds that were already difficult to walk through,
But with the right support, those worries subsided.
“It’s great,” Parker said. “I got my handler, both for my chair and my personality.”
She turned to her friend, a fellow cosplayer. “It’s not too hard, right? I’m pretty easy to handle?”
They broke out in laughter.
Duo: A Star Wars Story
On another floor of the convention center, 11-year-old twins were piloting ships from a galaxy far, far away.
Not only were they dressed up—their chairs were also incorporated into their Star Wars cosplays.
“I’m Rey, from Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” said Lauren, manning a cool-grey Millennium Falcon. “It’s hard to explain. Almost everything about her is awesome.”
Her brother, Kyle, was in the cockpit of a sleek, midnight-colored TIE Silencer as Kylo Ren.
“I like being evil for fun because it’s fun,” he said. Although in reality, he’d rather be nice he admitted.
Between them was their dad and ship designer, Chris Byrd.
“You kind of get the motivation of these two and make it happen,” Byrd said. “It’s a bit of a teaching moment as well. I’ll say ‘Guess what I used a lot of? Math!'”
He stresses that he doesn’t come from any artistic background whatsoever and that it’s the vehicles’ linear design that makes them easy to create. Half the thought process goes into creating the ships from material that’s durable but doesn’t impede his children’s chairs in any way.
“Next year and a half, who knows what they’ll be,” he said.
Byrd looked at his craftsmanship. So did other Star Wars fans who stopped by and asked to take photos of the twins.
“The only problem that we have now is, that I gotta make sure their vehicles fit through the doors.”
Outside, away from the bustle of food trucks, a girl using a wheelchair petted a fluffy unicorn on her lap.
She has attended conventions for four years, usually cosplaying as characters from videogames and anime.
Yesterday, she was Chloe Price, a back-talking rebel teen with wild-blue hair from the videogame Life is Strange.
Now, she was just Victoria, with a voice as sweet and mild as vanilla ice cream. At first glance, her grey t-shirt and pastel unicorn painted her as precious, almost cherubic, but her black wire choker and bold-winged eyeliner hinted at a hidden moxie. It took a moment to notice that she had long black boots and teal leggings printed with dragon or mermaid scales.
Her future cosplays involve princesses like Snow White and Vanellope, a racer, from Wreck It Ralph. For the latter, she plans to deck out her wheelchair out as Vanellope’s car. According to Victoria, there’s no wrong way to cosplay in this community.
“It doesn’t really matter about who you dress up as, “Victoria said. “It just matters that you’re having fun.”
And for anyone who may be discouraged from cosplaying due to disability, Victoria says: “Don’t care what other people say if it’s rude and stuff because you can do whatever you want to if you really try.”
Aitana Yvette Mallari
Aitana Yvette Mallari is an online media journalist who runs on caffeine and WiFi. She’s lived in the Middle East, Asia, and both coasts of the US and writes about health, tech, and amazing people doing amazing things. She is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and probably has a deadline to get to.