Mark Patterson, marine scientist, aquanaut, and inventor of underwater robots, walked into San Diego Comic-Con dressed as a giant coral polyp. He was decked out entirely in orange, with ten fake tentacles dangling from his neck. Green and purple splotches on his shirt front represented microplastics pollution, lodged in his polyp-gut.
This was 2015, and producers of the film Aquaman had invited the Northeastern University professor — who had lived in an underwater research station — to speak on a panel of real-life aquatic adventurers. “I said to my wife, ‘We can’t go to Comic-Con and not have a costume,’” Patterson recalls. So his graduate students made him the polyp suit. He brought along his wife, Susan, costumed as Amphitrite, the Greek goddess of the sea, in a dress made of sheer, flowing strips of blue. And he carried another prop: printed copies of a one-page fact sheet about the problem of microplastics pollution in sea water. He stuffed the flyers down his orange pants and passed them out on the convention floor to cosplaying comics fans — green-haired, black-goggled, purple-face-painted.
“It was the most exhausting six hours of my life,” Patterson says, “because I was constantly getting mobbed by people who were freaked out that they had somehow missed a character in the Universal or DC Comics pantheon of superheroes. So they come running up and go, ‘I don’t recognize you. Who are you? Are you some from-Japan thing that we don’t know about?’ I said, ‘No, I’m Polyp-Man, and I’d like to tell you about microplastics.’”
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