On Thursday at 2:30PM, the Alternate and Historical Fiction Track opened their Dragon Con 2023 programming with Dragon Con History 102: Unofficial Organizations, a second-level, factual history panel. Streamed and archived on their YouTube Fan Track, the panel explored the unique contributions of just a few Dragon Con fan groups that have lasted long enough to become iconic staples year after year.
Moderator Laura Houser outlined the unofficial organizations as she discussed them with Mandy the Cosplay Medic and Joshua Thomas of the Loyal Order of the Ribbon. The familiar Cosplay Medic flags (one sporting the line “I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will mend you!”) were on the wall behind Mandy, and Joshua showed up to the panel adorned in a colorful cloak made entirely of ribbons collected over the years.
They were there to talk about two popular organizations that are an event within an event at Dragon Con, unofficial but recognized and welcomed to the festivities between host hotels. For some of us, it wouldn’t be Dragon Con if we didn’t spot a Cosplay Medic flag out among the crowd, and hundreds of people wear their allegiance to the Loyal Order of the Ribbon prominently on their badges. Both groups are entirely volunteer-coordinated, relying on the kindness of Dragon Con attendees to donate their own time and materials to the cause of promoting fun on a large scale.
The Cosplay Medics
The Cosplay Medics are just regular con attendees who showed up with an extra toolbelt, storage vests, and travel sewing kits of unusual size. Each medic equips different items to better help out a variety of costume repairs. Mandy said that the Cosplay Medics may have costume fixing materials such as thread, duct tape, and even hot glue guns.
A Cosplay Medic might carry other types of con-emergency items, such as batteries, makeup remover, feminine products, or even snacks and bandages. However, Mandy the Cosplay Cleric stressed that the “Cosplay Medics” are not real medics and cannot help with medical aid or transport. She said that these volunteers are also not “Cosplay Surgeons” and can’t fix the more complicated cosplay emergencies. They are there just to patch up the costumes enough to get cosplayers back to their hotel rooms without further costume incidents.
Once organized as a group of costumed cosplay-savers, the Cosplay Medics created a Facebook page and a Discord group for communication to better coordinate their volunteer time and to offer fix-it tips and advice all year. During Dragon Con, they have dispatchers in the Discord chat to help those con-goers in need connect with Atlanta-proof tape or an emergency safety pin.
If anyone is interested in joining the cause, Mandy said that the first step is to join the group’s Discord to check the Cosplay Medics pinned posts about how to build a costume repair kit of your own design. Once you’re there, swap costume repair tricks, schedule time on the convention floor, join the Cosplay Medics costumed photoshoots, or even participate in the group’s Ice Cream Social. (Yes, That ice cream.)
The Loyal Order of the Ribbon
With a Facebook group of over 5,000 members, Joshua Thomas said that the Loyal Order of the Ribbon is on the lookout for larger meeting areas to keep up with the group’s growth. He mentioned that a ribbon trading gathering once interrupted the art show for hours with a wall-to-wall crowd swapping little sticky flags for their con badges. Their meetups are now listed in the Dragon Con Events App and the Order has already outgrown the Hyatt hallways and lobby areas. The panelists noted that even the vendors’ hall has gotten in on the ribbon trading, with many vendors now adding ribbons to their booths or including them with sales.
The draw to ribbon trading is that they can be anything. They are always unique because they can be sayings or line drawn graphics or just a single word. The words or images may be related to Dragon Con, con-cults, fandom, real life, or even nothing at all. Laura illustrated with a collected ribbon that featured only the single letter ‘A’ on a small square. “It can be nonsense,” she said.
Every Dragon Con attendee can participate in ribbon trading, either by creating their own ribbons to give away or by simply striking up conversation with someone who has ribbons to share. Joshua said that this year the competitions to measure the longest “badge beard” (the con badge with the most ribbons attached), the largest ribbon cloak, and the most ribbons collected, will be held on Sunday afternoon.
The longer beards require fortification with something like duct tape or safety pins and can get somewhat heavy, according to the panel. Joshua suggested using binder clips or paper clips to roll the beards safely out of the way. Other ribbon collections may be sewn together as hats, dresses, or capes, like cosplay. In addition to printing their own ribbons, some Cosplay Medics will also be equipped with pretty tape to help collectors keep their ribbon-creations from falling apart.
To join in on the fun of creating your own ribbons to share, join the Facebook group for helpful tips, templates, and complete step-by-step guides on everything from ribbon design to the best companies to use. Joshua recommended that any ribbon makers get an early start on ordering as the turn-around time for a batch of ribbons can require from four to six weeks.
The panelists also mentioned that the Loyal Order is a community of very helpful, friendly people. Joshua said that if you see people at the con handing out ribbons, trading ribbons, or even collecting ribbons, it is okay to ask them about it, they’re probably part of the group. The ribbon trade has a lot of crossover with another Dragon Con unofficial organization: Swag & Seek. For Dragon Con Swag & Seek, participants bring small trinkets, from pins or stickers to 3D printed dragons and hand-made crafts. Some swag is hidden around the host hotels for people to find and some is traded, like the ribbons.
Continuing from the first course last year, Dragon Con History 101: An introduction to the Dragon Con Cults this panel took a slice-of-con-life and brought it into focus for the newbies and the pros alike. There’s no telling what Con secrets they will share next year.