At Wizard World Comic Con this weekend at the Convention Center, master bladesmith Rob Echat began his presentation by sliding his sword along the fine end of a business card and slicing it into two wafer-thin sheets. Downstairs, thousands of fans, dressed as Yoda from Star Wars or Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy, had filed through metal detectors and weapons checkpoints to get in. But Echat got to skip the security check. His business, Dragonsong Forge, is one of three Wizard World vendors specializing in katana –– the long, single edged-swords used by samurai.
"There are 30,000 bladesmiths in this country, and less than five of them are quality," Echat said, gesturing to a hand-drawn diagram of the six major sword styles. "Most of them will take a piece of sheet steel, shape it, put an edge on it, and call it a real sword. That's not a real sword. … You have to be an apprentice for 20 years before you're considered a master bladesmith for Japanese-style blades."
The Dragonsong Forge booth sat among Wizard World's maze of stands and stages. Just east of Echat was Artist Alley, where illustrators of comics, graphic novels, and anime sold prints of their work. To the west, at the concrete convention floor's center, sat the celebrity area, a roped-off circle of booths where the famous and semi-famous – Chuck Norris, the cast of Riverdale, original Hulk Lou Ferrigno – charged top dollar for autographs and selfies.
Echat's sales pitch was long, detailed, and peppered with recommendations for further reading on katana. He gave the full spiel to every interested passerby.
"I don't want someone to buy a sword without knowing what they're getting," he said. "Each of these swords takes between 13 and 300 hours, depending. There's a piece of my soul in them."
Despite the number of people who turned away, Echat said he usually sells around 60 swords over a convention weekend –– each running between $200 and a few thousand dollars.
Background knowledge might be necessary to fully understand Echat's craft. His sales pitch is loaded with language specific to the sword world. Even his attempts to clarify seem to require insider intel.
"It's like the difference between a hammer made out of D2 and a hammer made out of 1045 carbon steel," he explained to a confused customer trying to differentiate between a kobuse and a wariha-tetsu blade.
The kind of niche obsession that Echat encourages in his clients is well-placed at Wizard World, a home for people with very particular and deep interests. Some attended lectures like "Running RPGs for New Gamers" and "The Marvel Saga: The 78-Year History of the House of Ideas From the Beginning to Logan to Guardians of the Galaxy." Others lined up to buy limited-edition comic books or talk with a favorite graphic novelist.
Mohammed Said, in his 30s with a sand-blond beard, manned a booth for Ringing Rocks Archery, an online bow-and-arrow business. Said agreed that Wizard World tends to attract the dedicated –– most of his customers were devoted hunters and archers.
"I expected most of my customers to be into Cosplay," Said explained, referring to "Costume Play," in which fans dress up as favorite characters from books or movies, such as the Green Arrow or Hawkeye. "But most of them are just archers who really love to shoot."