“Causeplay” Brings joy of Comic Con back to San Diego

| August 12, 2021 | 0 Comments
Cosplayer Dana Saabe as Eowyn from “Lord of the Rings” kneels in front of the 2021 San Diego Comic Con Shrine.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced the San Diego Comic Con to pivot to an all-online format. Gone were the lines, the crowds, the panels, and the cosplayers. One of the responses to that by fans of the convention was the creation of the San Diego Comic Con Shrine next to the Tin Fish Restaurant across from the San Diego Convention Center. With the 2021 Comic Con also going online, the shrine was recreated, but with an addition. This year the Science Fiction Coalition, a local cosplay organization, teamed with the San Diego Blood Bank to create a three-day joint blood drive and celebration of pop culture during what would have been Comic Con Weekend, July 23-25.

The idea for the Comic Con Shrine came from Chris Morrow, who organized the first shrine when the 2020 convention was cancelled, as a way for those who loved and missed Comic Con to celebrate. The shrine is a tribute to the love of all things Comic Con felt by the community that normally gathers around the convention. Photos of past events decorated a cardboard backdrop that surrounded a large planter in front of the Tin Fish Restaurant. Other decorations included buttons, past news articles, flowers, and other memorabilia. A stuffed doll of cartoonist Stan Lee sat on the top of the planter, next to a stuffed version of the character Grogu (better known as “Baby Yoda”) from “The Mandalorian.”

The Science Fiction Coalition, who organized the weekend event, is a collection of science fiction, fantasy and superhero enthusiasts who are committed to supporting charity events around Southern California. Members freely share their love for pop culture and cosplay with children of all ages at blood drives, charity walks and runs, hospitals and anywhere else they are asked. Two intertwined themes of those participating in the group are giving back to the community and the joy they get from making others happy. 

The blood drive is an element of what has become known as “causeplay” – the use of cosplay for a social or community cause. It gives those who enjoy elements of pop culture the opportunity to give back to the communities they live in. “That’s a play on cosplay, like you’re in costume, and cause, like it’s for a good cause,” explained Trevor Newton, who cosplays as Marvel’s Hawkeye. “It’s just a nice morph of the two words because that’s what we really enjoy about it. The fact that we can actually do something for a cause is huge.”

“We love to give back to the kids,” said teacher Lisa Lower, who was cosplaying as Black Widow. “There’s nothing better than seeing their eyes light up and being so excited to meet their character. That just really fills your bucket and makes you happy.”

Many of the individuals on hand for the weekend have years of experience cosplaying. Shawn Richter, vice president of the Science Fiction Coalition who was cosplaying Captain America from “Avengers: Endgame” on Saturday, first got into cosplay eight years ago. Since then he has appeared at dozens of events with his son, Gavin, and his fiance Lisa Lower. Among his other costumes are multiple versions of Batman and the character Din Djarin from “The Mandalorian.”

Shane Holly, who is both the President of the Science Fiction Coalition and the Commander of the 501st Legion, a “Star Wars” cosplay organization, began cosplaying ten years ago after his daughter wanted to dress up as Batgirl. He put together a Darth Vader costume, and his participation took off from there. “I’m a San Diego boy, born and raised, so whatever I can do to give back to show my appreciation for what the community has done for me growing up, I want to do that,” said Holly, who was dressed as “Star Wars” character Kylo Ren.

Overall, the biggest winner of the weekend was the San Diego Blood Bank, which had a steady stream of people rolling up their sleeves to donate. While a normal mobile drive bus will collect about 20 pints of blood on a normal day, the three buses at the SDCC Shrine event averaged 25 each on Friday, a workday. Even more were expected for Saturday and Sunday when more people would have time off.

While the traditional summer edition of the San Diego Comic Con was again moved online, there is a smaller in-person event planned for Thanksgiving weekend. For fans of pop culture who might want their fix sooner, the Science Fiction Coalition will hold its own Fandom Invasion at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido on Saturday, October 30. While neither event will match the sheer size of the traditional Comic Con, both will give enthusiasts a chance to reconnect with each other and with some of the individuals that help create the magic that is pop culture. And, of course, there will be cosplayers.

One cosplayer who is sure to be there is Christopher Canole, who appears as the spin-off character “Dude Vader.” A motion picture set photographer for years, Cannoli was cajoled into moving to the other side of the camera by friends in 2015. He took a child’s Darth Vader helmet, painted it gold, and paired it with a Hawai’ian shirt. About three months after he started, he received a letter from Lucas Films legal services. Rather than the cease-and-desist letter he expected, it was actually an endorsement of his less-intimidating version of the “Star Wars” villain. 

Canole has since gone on to participate in more than 500 charity events over the past six years. His advice to anyone interested in getting involved is, “Instead of playing a hero, you can be a hero. So get a cosplay outfit and go volunteer. We need volunteers at hospitals and charity events everywhere. It really lights up the kids to see their favorite, most famous superhero – or villain – in a costume at a charity event. It really lifts their spirits.”

For more information about donating blood, visit the San Diego Blood Bank website at SanDiegoBloodBank.org. You can find the Science Fiction Coalition on Facebook at Facebook.com/scificoalition or Fandom Invasion at FandomInvasion.com. 

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About the Author ()

I am a long-time educator, writer and editor. I have taught English from middle school through community and technical college at public, private and charter institutions. Over the years I have also been a writer for sports and news organizations as well as a photojournalist. Currently I am the English Department Chair at a charter middle school and the writer/editor for a local media company.