The most ubiquitous objects at San Diego Comic-Con aren't iPhones or Storm Trooper helmets or even comic books -- they're the free Warner Brothers tote bags you get at registration. The bags are so huge that if you don't manage to locate a late-minute hotel room (and you won't), you could quickly turn the tote and a patch of grass into an acceptable sleeping situation.
The bags may appear convenient -- free bag! can hold lots of things you buy! -- but in practice are a burden. You can feel the aggregated annoyance borne from enormous bags slapping against 130,000 legs at once.
Leave it to a couple of creative Con-goers to find the best possible use for them: costumes.
Hanging out at the Warner Brothers party at Hard Rock Hotel's rooftop pool deck Friday night was Nicole Fullerton, who had sewn several bags into a dress, and several more into a variety of outfits for her colleagues (see photo above). Fullerton is a costume designer and the founder of Pendragon Costumes, which has a booth in the Comic-Con exhibition hall and specializes in Renaissance, steampunk and sci-fi-inspired clothing. Her tote bag dress featured a corset-style bodice, patterned after the leatherwork she does for her business. Her skirt alternated the bag's straps, featuring the words "Warner Brothers," with lace-like latticework crafted from the bag's black fabric.
Fullerton's tradition of making bags into costumes started about five years ago, when Warner Brothers came out with its first really huge bag, she recalled. A friend joked, offhandedly, "I could wear this."
"I found myself on the floor of my booth with a needle and thread," said Fullerton. "I made her a cocktail dress."
The second year she left the convention briefly and headed to Wal-Mart to buy a sewing machine, which she used to make multiple dresses. At some point Warner Brothers noticed, and they now send her bags in advance (though only the previous Saturday).
Fullerton is self-taught, and learned costuming just by jumping in. "Twenty-two years ago, someone said, 'Can you sew a leather bodice?'" she recalled. She didn't know she couldn't -- so she did it. "A lot of things I do, people look and say, 'You can't do that.'"
Fullerton was standing with a few other Pendragon colleagues, including Shawn Carnes, who gave her most of the credit. "I put the buttons on," he said.
At the other end of the party was Amanda Cockerham, who first attended Comic-Con the year Warner Brothers debuted the giant tote with a red and gold Smallville graphic. Like Fullerton, Cockerham was inspired by the bag's super-human size. After the first day of Comic-Con, she drove home to nearby Poway and sat down at her sewing machine, not sleeping until she had a singularly appropriate cocktail dress. Walking around the convention in her homemade comic-couture, she attracted the attention of Warner Brothers PR, who invited her to come to their party that night and model her fashion stylings.
At this year's Con, Cockerham first caught our eye at The Big Bang Theory panel in Hall H, where her dress was outstanding enough that, even when competing with Jim Parsons via satellite and the entire cast singing in a round, it came out ahead. The skirt was done in layers of fringe, but so carefully matched that the original Big Bang Theory image from the bag was preserved perfectly. To think that someone could design and sew a dress like this overnight was mind-boggling, though when we ran into her later at the Warner Brothers party we learned that she, like Fullerton, received the bags the previous Saturday. Still not an abundance of time for a recreational seamstress!
Cockerham's occupation as IT analyst makes her as more likely to be a character on The Big Bang Theory than swathed in its advert. How does a full-time techie "make it work" as a once-a-year designer-in-demand? Well, she takes the whole week off from her job.
This year, with the advance bag arrival and vacation time, Cockerham figured she'd make three dresses. But her fringe dress was just as ambitious as it looks, and she ended up needing the whole week just for the one. Of course, she did make time to stitch together a clutch that was pretty clutch.
It's no small task to design and execute a dress that you wear for only a few days, during which you refuse to sit down for fear of crushing your masterpiece. But the chance to be "Vanna White" at WB cast photo shoots, get VIP access to panels, and attend a party that makes you a one-degree link to Kevin Bacon (he was there to promote his new show The Following) has to make it all worthwhile.
Oh, and just in case that's not enough -- she doesn't have to walk around Comic-Con carrying a giant tote.