Comic cons might have fairly recently entered mainstream culture, but their legacy is much older than the average attendee. The first official comic book convention was held in 1964 in New York City. Sad Diego’s Comic-Con: International, one of the biggest events in the circuit, has been running since 1970. In that time, conventions have changed a lot. They’ve become huge businesses that attract big crowds and enable the celebration of a wide scope of popular culture.
If comic cons of old were about comic books, today’s cons are about the phenomenon of fandom. The attendance numbers only go to show how popular being a proud fan is today. Not to mention that it’s becoming more lucrative for the fans themselves, who’ve found a way to get a piece of that pie.
Léa Martinez is a content creator and live streamer whose success in creating and monetizing her often fandom-based content makes her a professional in her field. The fact that she’s found a way to make a living doing something she’s passionate about isn’t in any way reductive of her feelings towards her object of passion.
Léa still loves the very idea of fandoms. She remembers how it all started for her, too. “It was Disney World that did it for me,” she recalls. “In Animal Kingdom, the Avatar-inspired area, Pandora — it’s a life-changing experience. It was so good and realistic that I cried.”
Other rides, like the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot, have only added to the experience and allure of fandoms. The Rise of Resistance is another she liked, especially since Star Wars is her favorite fandom, and this ride is as immersive an experience as rides can be.
Still, the roots of Léa’s love for fandoms probably go even deeper. As a girl named Léa who was also fond of Star Wars movies, she often got called Princess Leia (they’re pronounced the same) growing up. Fandoms helped her bond with her siblings, too.
“I have an older sister and an older brother. Our age differences are four and five years, so it was really hard for me to connect with them when I was younger,” Léa recalls. “I had to get into their interest, and they were very much into Pokémon and Super Mario and Marvel and Star Wars. I kind of got my taste of fandom love from my siblings, and it helped me connect with them and relate to them.”
Fandoms helped her launch her content creation career too. Léa’s first serious foray into content creation was the popular lightsaber transition videos. After her first viral video had 40 million views, she started making more lightsaber transitions.
“The Star Wars community is huge, and I didn’t know that I could reach out to it with such a niche platform,” she says. “So it was really exciting to find my community and find my place with them. And then after doing a few lightsaber videos, they suggested I should try cosplaying a Star Wars character, so I did. It wasn’t Princess Leia, it was Rey, and that was my gateway cosplay into the community.”
Thanks to her career as a content creator, she’s had numerous opportunities to exercise her fandoms in ways most people don’t get a chance. Creating content and cosplaying is one thing but going to real events where she got to meet the people who’ve made her favorite characters come to life is something completely different. It also gave her a unique perspective on fame, too.
“I’ve done a few red-carpet events where I’ve gotten to meet actors like Chris Hemsworth, and it’s funny how they’re just people you don’t have to adore, “she says. “They are kind people who are passionate about this work and put on a character for you. But at the end of the day, they still have feelings, they still have goals, they have a family.”
Even though her platform isn’t nearly as large as those of actresses and actors who play her favorite characters, Léa Martinez has felt the downside of having some sort of limelight on her. As a young woman creating content on the internet, she often saw she was sexualized, and she experienced the harassment and stereotyping that is all too often dismissed as something that just goes with the job.
Dedicated to using her platform for good, Léa has pushed back by nurturing a supportive community on Twitch. She also created a space of her streams where sharing everything from fandom-related stuff to mental health struggles won’t get people targeted. “I’m very, very keen on having a welcoming safe space for people so my Twitch is very strict,” she says. “This is my creative outlet where I can go on and make a difference and reach a wider community and do what I love.”
Written in partnership with Luke Lintz