Celebrating Pop Culture in D.C. at Awesome Con 2022 (photos)

Awesome Con, the premier pop culture festival in Washington, D.C., returned to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center this past weekend, June 3-5. As an upstart version of San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the quirky festival began as a comics convention in 2013. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Awesome Con, though the 2022 show is only the 9th edition, as the 2020 event had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

When it was founded, Awesome Con started small, drawing just 7,000 and occupying an 18,000-square-foot corner salon in the convention center. By 2017, it grew to 70,000, having taken over the entire building — all 2.3 million square feet of it (though the post-Covid show’s attendance this year and last were understandably down from those peak levels.)

What began as an event with a primary focus on comic books and comic book culture has evolved to encompass a wide range of the pop culture landscape, including animation, video games, motion pictures, toys, pop art, manga and science. An expanded exhibit hall contained Artist Alley, Pride Alley, Author’s Lane, Makers Market, a Science Fair, and Awesome Con Jr., “for our littlest fans.” 

To many, the great appeal of attending a pop culture convention is the opportunity to express themselves in costume, especially on center stage during the Awesome Con Cosplay Contest on Saturday night where contestants were judged for “creativity, craftsmanship and charisma.” Cosplay, originally a Japanese word combining costume and play, is the activity of dressing up as characters from a comic book, anime, video game, or a fantasy-based movie or TV show. Costumes range from the simple to elaborate creations consuming many months of preparation in some cases. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture preferring to identify themselves to each other by their unique “cosplay name.”

A repeat attendee who goes under the tag “Kangelic Cosplay” competed as “Princess Leia Cyber Star Warrior” in a design that took her seven months to finish. “I’ve been doing cosplay for about seven years now. It’s a fun, creative way to express my artistic hobbies. There’s something really magical about dressing up as your favorite character,” she said.

“I like making stuff up and learning new skills,” said another cosplayer who identified herself as “Stitches and Sparkles” and was attired as “Cleric Aasimar,” a character from the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

Kangelic Cosplay as Princess Leia Cyber Star Warrior original design. Photo by Jeff Malet.

This year’s lineup of top-tier headliners included Anthony Daniels, the actor who portrayed and voiced the droid C-3PO in the film Star Wars and Melissa Joan Hart who played the lead roll in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. 

One of the distinguishing features of Awesome Cons is their collaboration with scientific institutions. As in past shows, the National Science Foundation and NASA set up informative tables in the show’s exhibit area staffed by scientists. Lauren Dabb is the Director of Marketing & Sales at LeftField Media, the show’s organizer. In D.C., commented Dabb, “there is a natural intersection of scientists and engineers and people in the tech industry and the crossover with their love for fandom and geek culture and, you know, pop culture. So science here is a really cool feature that makes [Awesome Con] unique compared to other regional ‘cons’.” 

“Family-friendly programing is our focus,” added Dabb. Awesome Con 2023 is scheduled for Father’s Day Weekend, June 16-18. “We are happy to welcome everybody back together to be celebrating the things we all love, all the fandoms, you know, Star Wars, Star Trek, everything that makes us who we are.”

Click on the photo icons below to view a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos from Awesome Con 2022 in Washington D.C.




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