Security at Comic Con

“You hold the chicken and I’ll take the gun.”


In a small corner of the convention center here, elves, storm troopers and superheroes lined up while wielding their laser guns, crossbows and tridents. The fans, in full regalia, had arrived for Comic-Con International, the annual showcase for comic books, movies, TV shows and more. They were gunning for some pop-culture overstimulation. But not so fast.

One by one, they first had to step up to a booth manned by private security guards dressed in white polos and black pants. The gate keepers’ job: to make sure that the throngs of gentle geeks who toted faux weapons like giant, hollow cardboard scepters posed no actual threat.

The weapons-check station at Comic-Con is an odd intersection of fantasy and reality, where fanboys and fangirls, many dressed in elaborate costumes, must submit to the real-world security needs of a gathering that draws 130,000 people in 500,000 square feet of convention-floor space. Security personnel must affix an orange tag on each weapon to confirm that it is indeed harmless.

“Cosplay,” the practice of dressing up as one’s favorite fantastical character, is almost as common here as T-shirts and shorts. But many of those costumes involve carefully crafted simulations of deadly weapons like crossbows.

You can’t bring that in here

cosplay-costumeBut not everyone received an orange tag after such a quick inspection. Patrick Healy had to take the string off the bow he was carrying to complete his cosplay as Hawkeye, the ace archer from Marvel’s “Avengers” series.

“Yesterday I saw someone with a string so I thought it’d be OK,” the San Diego restaurant manager lamented. But as one guard said, “You could use that to project anything.” Still, after a run-in with security last year, Mr. Healy saved himself a headache by leaving the tips for his plastic arrows at home this time.

At Comic-Con, which ran Thursday through Sunday, attendees are generally known for their extraordinary friendliness and politeness. This, despite crowds that can feel like being caught in a tidal wave and lines for Hollywood studio presentations that last more than a day.

One of the most violent incidents came in 2010 when a man was stabbed in his eye with a pen during a scuffle over a seat at a panel.

Guards at the weapons check with shirts that read “Around The Clock Protection Services” said they were forbidden from speaking about their policies and experience. “We don’t comment on security,” said a Comic-Con spokesman.

But as they inspected everything from a skull-laden wheel inspired by “Mad Max: Fury Road,” to outsize cardboard bazookas, the guards appeared to be having a great time.

Plenty of unscripted humor happens at the checkpoint. Giving one cosplayer the once over, a guard said, “You hold the chicken and I’ll take the gun.”