"...He sent me swords. I sent him armor. He suggested we start an organization, and that acceptance from ECBACC gave me the courage to say, 'Yeah let's go ahead and start that.' "
Damon Osa Cunningham
Armor Maker & Historical Reenactor
How many ECBACCs: 5
Favorite Indie: Milton Davis
Favorite Mainstream: Conan
Favorite Character: Conan
But wait, there's more: Hidden River Armoury
You have a unique skill set that seems to lend itself to an environment like ECBACC. How did you hear about it and get involved?
I would say in 2013 or 14. I happened to see a Facebook ad and I thought it looked cool. I was working out in West Philly, and this was when it was at The Enterprise Center, so it was pretty close. I had just made a set of armor for someone. I was going to send it to him, so I figured I'd just put the armor on. I didn't compete in the cosplay contest because I was too late for that. I just walked around. As a member of the SCA (Society For Creative Anachronism) for 15 years, I had worn my armor around mostly white people, so it was new to be among Black people. It was a surreal experience for me.
What's a cherished memory from ECBACC?
The feeling of acceptance and comfort. Like I said, being the only Black person in many situations like that is okay, but there's always an acknowledgment that I am different and I do stand out. I'm that drop of ink in the milk. But when you're a drop of ink in a big bottle of ink, there's a warmth. Normally, as a comic book enthusiast, I'm on the fringe of society, Black or white. "That's that nerd s---! What you doing, homie?" There was none of that, just the welcomeness. I had to learn to accept it.
Has your participation in ECBACC affected your work and if so how?
The next year, I wore my armor, and I was asked to do a quick presentation on the historical side of what I do. That coincided with the creation of my Historical Martial Arts Association. The guy I made that first armor set for is from Texas, and he and I had just met online. He sent me swords. I sent him armor. He suggested we start an organization, and that acceptance from ECBACC gave me the courage to say, "Yeah let's go ahead and start that." Brother Yumy said that's exactly what they did. They decided what they wanted to do and just did it! I thought that if they can produce a professional quality entertainment event I can too! Right now on Facebook, we have over 5,000 members.
Since you have such a unique product, can you talk a bit about the vending component of ECBACC?
The year they switched to Broad Street was the year I vended. The only con I had been to was ECBACC. I had never been to any of the mainstream cons. As an artist, the only thing that's hard for me is selling my stuff. I wind up giving away 75% of the things I make. It feels good because I want to create. I was nervous coming in. I don't like crowds, so I knew it was going to be a test for me. Will people be interested in what I make? Will I be ok at selling my stuff? I learned a lot during the process. I met 6 or 7 people I still communicate with to this day. I was able to establish relationships from that vending experience. This woman came over and asked,
"Can I give you a tip?"
I was like, "Yes!"
She said, "Stand up, boy! You don't look engaging. Stand up and grab these people, man! You got good stuff!"
She made me get out of my guarded, uncomfortable zone. She and her husband did cons all the time. I stood the rest of the day. I sold a few more things afterward. That day I didn't sell a lot but I broke even. It was a success for me because I didn't lose any money. Normally when I make stuff, I lose money from giving it away. I saw people enjoying my products. From that, I had three commissions. Making custom pieces for people is what I like to do. If I did it again I'd have more things. I only had six products that I offered.
What would you love to see for the future of ECBACC?
To be honest, I'd just like to see more of the same. It's a quality product. If it aint' broke don't fix it. I saw white and Spanish people in there enjoying themselves, comfortable. It was Pro-Black but welcoming to others as well. I sold a sword to a little white boy, and I saw the comfort level on his face. Who knows where that will take him in his life? That experience may change him. In the future, I want more of that. I want the beauty and the warmth that I felt to be available for everybody, especially Black people but anybody and everybody. We can't fight this fight by ourselves. We do need allies in this fight for equality and justice. I would love to see it in a bigger venue. I just want to see it blossom.