Dreaming in Public

Hey, check it out five foot tall classic Luke Cage, gaggle of Slave Princess Leias, Hello Kitty, Hulk, this is Cosplay Nirvana!

Road map note: the italicized quotes in this piece are all things I’ve said witnessing cosplay at comic book conventions.

Power Girl  Power Girl  talk about your double-take!

Well, maybe some of them I just thought.

“Did he really paint everything that wasn’t concealed by his speedo Silver?”

If you need a footnote: in Cosplay, short for costume play, players adopt costumes, accessories and behaviors to represent specific characters from comics, manga or other pop culture veins. Key to the concept – they are in character, in public. Like method actors, they are not wearing a costume, Rather, they have become… themselves.

I’ve never written about this creative slice of pop culture, but I’ve been thinking about it as long as I’ve attended comic, film and horror conventions to promote my work; despite some intentional humor in my italicized comments, I don’t deride these people, their way of life or this subculture – I celebrate it.

It just wouldnt be The Black Panel without Captain America! (Hello, Eddie!)

I’m a fan.

Is this a comic con or a Harley Quinn con? I dont care!

I take pictures, engage and play with them with my daughter, ask them about their journeys, even follow them on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t play a character myself, haven’t even imagined doing so, but I my professional world would be beige, bland and generally boring without cosplay to spice it up.

How come no one dresses up as M.O.D.O.K.?


Some of you are asking, “Why?” as in “Why do they do it? Are they delusional? Is this wish fulfillment?”

“Damn, that’s a Fat Flash!”

There may be a touch of the pipe-dream in some of the characters you bump into, but I don’t think that paints the picture entirely. Even the young man who once approached me at a signing in the Midwest wearing a Crayola-d Faust mask fostered no illusion that he was my damned psycho slayer. My wife got a little nervous when he said, “I have every Faust issue. Even the ones that were… hard to find…  when I went away for a while.”

Judge? Not I, sir. Bespoke button-down, badge and uniform, hoodie or pumped-up kicks, we all wear the costume we think we’ll make us who we are supposed to be every day. These people just get a little freaky.

You have to admit, he makes a great Lt. Uhura for a guy.


And speaking of freaky…  is it all a sexual fetish?

Hmmm…  that reminds me, I started a short story about fetishized supervillain costuming I need to finish one of these days.

“Follow the fleet of Tardis girls.”

AND yes, the carnal carnival is another piece of it for some of the Sailor Moons and Wolverines you meet out there—but outside of Craigslist Dragon-Con, the scene’s just not as heavily Kink with a K as some of us imagine in our closets.

Doctor Strange just followed me into the mens room. So much for astral projection.


I mean, come on, really. Nothing says “I don’t have sex,” like Green Lantern, right?

“Dude, zombie is the new drag.”

Here’s where I come down. Beyond performance art, fantasy or sexual obsession, I see cosplay as aspirational. As in, we’re all heroes in our own stories. Some people just expend the energy to look like it.

Is that such a bad thing, compared to all the negative, hateful applications of human DNA these days?

Of course I’m not the first to propose it – Deepak Chopra, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison have all explicated, soliloquized and four-color dramatized this point in different ways – but I think we all know that our inner selves, our best possible selves, are more interesting than the face we walk behind in the mundane world. David Bowie put the words in our brains, imagining human love breaking through the Berlin Wall. The heroes we could be – just for one day – are worth cherishing.

I see Iron Man is using plastic now to give Magneto, Master of Magnetism, a headache.


Here’s what I mean by aspirational. Cosplayers remind us we don’t have to be ordinary. We all have talents, abilities, skills – we either use them to make our world better or worse. Imagine, then, if you will, accelerating those abilities to expand our sphere of influence. We might not put on a cape and fly…  but on the other hand, we might put on a cape, as one teacher did, and inspire his classroom to learn to read, write and dream.

I said I don’t dress up in costume. But I do sometimes invoke my inner super-hero. Whatever powers of communication I’ve been gifted with, I work every day to hone them. I make a conscious practice of it. Not to get too Dr. Strange, here, but I’ve even projected myself into what Chopra might call a quantum reality – to visualize using communication to help disconnected people – including me, at times, — connect and heal.

Then I wake up, sure. But then I try to do that in the mundane world, anyway.

Pikachu in a bikini. Now thats commitment.


If that’s too woo-woo for you, think about it this way. We’re all gonna die. Until then, we’re going to do things like pay taxes, struggle with bureaucracy and wait in line at the airport. Are you seeing what I am seeing when I say airport? Ugliness, incompetence, , impatience… a seething, boiling undertow of bad feeling. Everyone’s making everyone else the problem. Humanity? Drop the bombs, this story’s not getting any better.

Uh, thats not a Blade, thats the real Wesley Snipes.


Or you could visualize yourself dressed up in mutant crazy color on that airport line…  and take a moment to be human to someone. Say excuse me, say thank you, help a passenger with a carry-on. Humanity. Let’s revisit those bombs, just for a few minutes.

If you don’t get arrested, you just might help save the world, at least a few feet of it at a time. Just by being brighter, better, less hateful, and – though no one can see that you are Captain America but you – more fabulous.

Ill shake your hand, Lady Death, but please dont rub that white junk on my suit.


You might think I am really running away with my imagination, but these are the kind of thoughts I think of when I see the cosplayers dreaming in public. That’s why I wrote them this love song, heh.

Marry me, Red Sonja.


Do I really think these dress-up kids are actually saving the world? Well, I think they’re doing more for it than most of our elected representatives and AT&T.

Of course, it is also a great effing hide. Folks in the know tell me Sarah Michelle Gellar and Denzel Washington have free range walked the Comic Con International floor in Stormtrooper Drag and no one recognized him. So there’s that.

So, crazy color cosplayers, I will embrace you at the conventions in Toronto, MoCCA, CCI and NYCC this year.

All the rest of you, thanks for playing. And remember, whatever costume you’re wearing, it’s Wonder Woman or Airport. Your choice.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi said that.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter Parker said that.

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.” Bob Dylan said that.

“Reality is up for grabs.” I said that.

99 SONGS I WANNA HEAR AT MY WAKE: Say You’ll Go and Peg O’ My Heart

Copyright 2010 Janelle Monáe

Like many born before the Apollo Moon landings, I listen to a lot of 20th century music. I’m not only old enough to have amassed actual vinyl. I’m so old, my own first record was released exclusively vinyl, ‘cause that’s what they sold at Tower Records through most of my college years. But despite what my young collaborators and my six-year-old daughter may think, I’ve not succumbed totally to hardening of the musical arteries.

You know, like that poor soul you know who just can’t get over (Choose one, please) A. The Death of Biggie Smalls, B. Genesis Fronted by Phil Collins, C. Metallica Haircuts, or D. MTV Ruining Western Civilization.

I know there’s good 21st century music. In fact, there’s awesome 21st century music. You just have to look harder.

I’m lucky as hell, here, indeed we’re all lucky as hell, because thanks to today’s 24/7 digital now, we no longer have to endure the slog of the life of an after hours club creature to hear new music that’s off the beaten path and, you know, alive. And by that, I don’t mean live. I mean music that defies the narrow confines of music business marketing.

In other words, this here meta-fictional funeral playlist, 99 SONGS I WANNA HEAR AT MY WAKE, includes music by new kids, too. As long as it is music that jolts me, body and soul, saying Carpe Diem / Carpe Noctem! Seize the day / Seize the night! Music I imagine wanting to move to ONE MORE TIME.

Today, that would be the glossy yet primal sound of Wondaland Arts Society’s Janelle Monáe, a song called “Say You’ll Go.” Listen to her Rocket Love Here.

“Love is such a novelty

A rarely painted masterpiece

A place few people go or ever know

An underwater rocket love

Exactly what I’m searching for

You’re brave enough to go…“

When I bumped into this recording – on one of the many online radio feeds I listen to – I was immediately comfortable, BUT also transported somewhere new. A live contradiction…  and a catalyst for dreams. Artists that blend genres do that for me. “How have I NEVER heard this before?,” I wondered, then bought a download (legally, thank you!), played it on repeat and jumped on search engines to find more on this amazing young artist.

What I learned added a fascinating dimension, STORY.

Without digressing too far away from Monáe’s shuddery, hypnotic melody and the undulating rhythm throb – ahhh, thank you for musicians that still play – I learned the track comes from an ambitious sprawl of suites inspired by (among other things) the classic futurist film Metropolis. It’s kind of a pop parable: “Cindi Mayweather,” an incarnation of the singer herself, is a messianic android sent back in time to free us Urban Citizen-Slaves and Set Us Free To Realize Ourselves and Love.

I think I’ve got that right. My six-year-old will correct me if I don’t.

But I honestly can’t hear this song enough. Reliving my first listen, I felt the presence of an artist that intuitively and  intellectually understands and embodies a long continuity of musical traditions, bringing something new to vivid life while celebrating (is that Debussy the angel androids sing at the end?) the past. “Brave enough to go,” for real.

Girl is living in a musical comic book…  makes Lady Gaga look kinda ordinary. “It’s like Ziggy (David Bowie) Stardust and Stevie (Songs in the Key of Life) Wonder had a mutant kid and sent her to school with Outkast!” I thought.

Daring to blend musical genres and content styles, brazenly putting on science fiction utopian drag, she’s ripping apart those narrow categories in popular music marketing that bug me so much. More than illegal downloads, it is rigid categorization in the music business itself that is killing the music business. But that’s another rant for another day… right now I am just too pleased to take a trip with an artist fearlessly keeping head, hand and heart at play:

“Our love will sail in this ark

The world could end outside our window

Let’s find forever

And write our name in fire on each other’s hearts”

– Janelle Monáe

Hey, wait, don’t go! The party’s just starting. Here’s a pumped-up Dropkick Murphy’s Peg O’ My Heart for your St. Patrick’s Day mosh pit, with love and memories of my grandparents, William and Margaret “Peg” Jones!




“Dizzy he was screaming

Next to O.P. who was beaming

Monk was thumping”

That’s how the percussive, syncopated lyrics Jon Hendricks sang vocalese / scat style to Thelonious Monks’ In Walked Bud begin. Countless recordings of the song out there. Monk revisited it himself many times. Find a good example on a classic 1968 album, Underground.

Drop a virtual needle in the groove, here. I’ll wait.

Why are we hearing this at my wake, nodding our heads affirmatively? Because the song, both words and lyrics, demonstrates and dramatizes – and sweetly – the joy in rhythm, the risk and thrill of improvisation and the emotional high we all get from collaboration. The song embodies the almighty creative force, one of the most powerful forces in nature, in a song about the thrill of creation. A jam session song… that actually jams.

Lest you think I take this too literally – hey, I’m kind of a word guy, that’s my spot – talk for a minute about the music that drives the words quoted above: the uptempo melody bounces downstairs, kind of a loose-limbed, patter down the steps, slide down the banister, jump down the elevator shaft take on Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. Then it hits the pavement, swivels its hips under the streetlights, and snaps into the signature line that concludes the verse, Thelonious Monk style.

Thelonious Monk style? In other words, with a bit of a surprise… a touch of the strange, the unfamiliar, the challenging in its harmonies…  and cooler than anyone has a right to be cool.

Listen to that change-up that ends the first verse while kicking it into the second:

“Suddenly in walked Bud and then they got into somethin’”

Do this for me at my wake, friends. Play this music loud. Prove the simple but profound equation that life is to be LIVED LARGE and when I say lived large I mean to say LIVED LARGE NOW.

Listen again, second verse trips down shaft…

“Oscar played a mean sax

Mr. Byers blew a mean axe

Monk was thumping”

So it can wind you up to shoot back up again…

“Suddenly in walked Bud

And then the joint started jumping”

For me, the real Thelonious heart and soul reveals itself in the next part, what I guess would be the B section, when the walking blues blue skies harmonies drop down into a bit of gutbucket blues. The contrast is a thrill, a challenge – it swings almost aggressively:

“Every hip stud really dug Bud

Soon as he hit town

Takin’ that note nobody wrote

Putting it down

And that “note nobody wrote?” That’s collaboration. That’s improvisation. That’s creation. And each player is here to do his best.

Even without the lyrics, you hear each musician swagger into the spotlight.  Hendricks imagines an epic jazz showdown, with giants: Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach and of course, Monk. If you saw one of those guys with company on stage, you’d be amazed. Tonight, they’re all there. (LIVE LARGE, CELEBRATE TOGETHER)

And how much respect is Monk paying to Bud Powell in this eponymous tribute? Well, first imagine the sound of those…  titans!

And then in walked Bud.

And then the joint started jumping.

I know I’m not overstating Monk’s friendship for Powell. Monk lost his cabaret license, essentially losing the right to perform for a living in his home town, because he chose to stick by his friend in a drug bust. But I don’t want to retell the biographies of Monk, Hendricks, or Powell, really, because I think this is such a good example of a song speaking for itself.

Monk’s music is a passion for me. I first heard him played by Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight soundtrack, then Carmen McRae’s all-star band recording of this tune. Those led me to Monk and his music, himself, and once I heard Monk by Monk, I had a new favorite in American Music.

I’ve even had to defend my appreciation of his uncanny timing and unique harmonic choices, arguing with the musically sophisticated and the musically dull alike that there is not merely one way to count in music. Monk stretched syncopation to the breaking point. He grabbed at notes with his fists at times, or so it seemed. He opened up huge spaces in between notes that tell their own stories, as interesting as the tones you do hear.

My first wife used to complain that she liked Monk’s tunes, but they had too many “mistakes.” Hey, Monk didn’t dub one of his haunting melodies Ugly Beauty for nothing.

You may have seen the man on video. Monk himself said, “Sometimes it’s to your advantage for people to think you’re crazy,” so I think he cultivated a bit of a “Brother From Another Planet” act at times. I think it helped him keep people at bay so he could take care of his business, which was the business of creating uncommonly original music that touches the mind, the soul and the body.

So when we rock out of the gutbucket “B” section, signing about that note nobody wrote with a challenge to all, we go back neatly to the top, LIVING EXTRA LARGE NOW…

“Dizzy he was screaming

Next to O. P. who was beaming

Monk was thumping

Suddenly in walked Bud

And then they got into something.”

-In Walked Bud, Words Jon Hendricks, Music Thelonious Monk

 Quinn gets asked why he calls his blog In Walked Quinn. Now you know. He’s such a big Monk fan that when he invented a fictional but scientific basis for time travel in the Motown Machineworks comics line, he based the fluidity of the rules of time on Monk’s music. 99 SONGS I WANNA HEAR AT MY WAKE will continue. You’re all invited. Bar’s open.


Imagineer for a Day

I was talking about Marvel in the 90s, a bloody time for comics:

  • A superhero speculator boom cycled bust
  • Marvel’s owners pushed it toward its bankruptcy
  • Publishers shipwrecked the industry upon short-sighted exclusive distribution deals, costing thousands of people who made comics, published comics, distributed comics or sold comics their livelihood

Amidst the Marvelcution, do you know what some of us used to fantasize?

To repeat if you missed it, the other writers and I, the artists, inkers, letterers, editors, the bruised, bloodied virtual Bullpen? We used to speculate that Marvel’s corporate owners would dump their debt-laden company… and a global media player would pick it up. And instead of strip-mining the company, its assets and the distribution system, this global player – a Sony, a Paramount, a Disney – would set up a state-of-the art killer vertical, cross-pollinating global media with our stories – and we, our people like us, fans of these characters and the work of those who preceded us, could go on creating.

Comics would be more than Franklin Mint collectibles again. Instead of death by attrition, in those slow bandwidth days, visual storytelling would splash back into the mainstream. Found in comic shops, sure. But also every bookstore. Online. Even in theme parks… See where I am going?

Disney’s owned Marvel since the fourth quarter of 2009. And it’s changed everything, right? No.

Maybe I’m wrong, but Marvel characters, now ubiquitous in globally successful movies (how different is that from the 90s?) got there on their own. It took decades, but Marvel moved toward producing its own media rather than simply renting out the characters and…  magic.

And publishing? Did our daydream come true? Well, you tell me.

Fortunately for my friends still toiling on staff and chipping away at freelance assignments, Marvel’s showing no signs of shuttering comics on paper. Presumably the relatively steep price tag on current print / digital issues helps, because average top tier sales numbers would have barely scraped the top 100 in the early-to-mid 90s.

But, again, I see no evidence of corporate owners taking a hand’s on approach to publishing, outside of the Mouse’s legal team asserting its white-gloved, three-fingered fist when it comes to setting trademark protection precedents. That was to be expected, sadly. As Harlan relates in his classic Stalking the Nightmare, “Nobody f—s with The Mouse.”

No, it seems Disney’s C-Level is watching profits quarter to quarter, but not involved in characters or content – or involved so minimally it’s transparent to casual readers.

And what about distribution? That old fantasy we used to indulge in, bringing comics to the mainstream again? Has the multi-national Disney souvenir store brought Marvel characters to the world in every format and every language?


Diane and I took our six-year-old daughter to Disneyworld last November. I kept one eye open for evidence that Disney was selling Marvel. And I saw… nothing.

Granted, if I was looking for comics, I wouldn’t have found any – not even comics with Mickey, Minnie and Donald. I saw very few books / print publications for sale at the park, period – they must be a lower-margin sale, and more difficult to inventory and sell through than apparel, accessories and toys – but I didn’t see a single Marvel character on these products either. Exception that proves the rule: I did see two adult men in Marvel characters shirts – an FF logo and a Jim Lee Wolverine drawing – but these looked like older tees on older guys, not park purchases. Princesses galore, pirates for the boys…  but no Peter Parker, no Punisher… not even a Power Pack.

As we took her picture with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Tiana and Pocahontas, it seemed like a missed opportunity. As our daughter said, “What is there for the boy princesses? I mean, the princes?”

The storytelling / theater geek way I’m bent, I couldn’t help but play imagineer for a day.

If that’s a new word for you, it’s a Disney coining I’ve always dug, from back before you were born, probably, when Disney planners/designers/builders/performers used it to describe their work on large-scale experiential storytelling for resorts, theme parks and attractions, hotels, water parks and cruise ships. You know, “rides.”

In line to buy lunch for the family, this imagineer for a day was seeing, at least in my mind, a 360 degree What If? Marvel Universe in between Adventureland and Tomorrowland. The Marvel rides.

Audio, actors, environments, animatronics, high-speed, large-format holographic projection and gravity-defying ride systems… all to transport us to:

  • Xavier’s School for the Gifted: fight simulated Sentinels with Wolverine and Kitty Pride in the Danger Room, hit the Beast’s lecture hall, then food fight with your fellow muties in the cafeteria.
  • Spider-Man: swing through the Big Apple by night to save Aunt May, Gwen Stacy and JJJ from the Sinester Six!
  • Avengers! Arena Earth: Join the intergalactic Kree / Skrull War With Iron Man, War Machine, Thor, Captain America, the Falcon etc.
  • Inhumans: You survive an airline crash to discover Attilan, a secret Shangri-la for a bizarre race of superbeings. Now convince them that your accidental incursion is not a first strike by humanity on their home to avert a holocaust.

And then I woke up. Twilight Zone. Pirates of the Caribbean. Dumbo the Flying Elephant. But no Fantasticar. No Black Bolt, Medusa and Lockjaw. Not even one, little tiny M.O.D.O.K.


Or maybe I should say, “Not yet.”

These things take time. Imagineers actually employed by the Mouse could be working on all of this. (Hey, get in touch…) Still, the fourth quarter of 2009…  that’s a lot of quarters slipping by without, as they say up in the expensive seats, ahem, leveraging this branded content. Look how fast the Pixar characters became Disney-mainstream.

I’ll be watching to see where this goes…  what would you like to see?

Remind David Quinn some time to tell you about how he worked on the first Faust movie inside the Disney Animation Building in Burbank  for one day.


“I believe the children are our future.”

“I also believe that when you travel into the past, you won’t alter the future, only create an alternate timeline.”

  • Right now Her Royal Shortness thinks Star Wars is just another lame cartoon her cousin watches. And on the first grade playground, if you get called “Jar Jar,” it’s cloberrin’ time. But some day soon, she’s going to see the first movie, now called the fourth, and then…. Cosmic.
  • Biting into a tangerine over her Mandarin translation, La Principessa informed me that Princesses have Chinese homework, too, but they have “servant children” do it for them.
  • The six-year-old Diva confirms my chocolate chip cookies are better you can get flying first class. Then keeps me in my place by adding that they are almost as good as Mama’s.
  • “Daddy, Daddy, I want you to get Barbee™ Fashionista! I want you to get Barbie™Fashionista, Puh-LEASE! On TV, they said ORDER NOW!” – Golly. I married a Betty. So how did my daughter turn out to be a Veronica?

What If The Mouse Bought Marvel and No One Came

All Engulfing Maw copyright Disney

Hey, in our Internet face this month:

  • Odd, amusing and counter-intuitive revelation: Aquaman, who suffers “talks-to-fish” jokes even in his own title outsold the monthly product dump of X-Men
  • Depressingly business-as-usual outrage du jour over a complex case of trademark enforcement

It’s got me thinking about Marvel. Remember Marvel? Marvel, the company. And Marvel, the characters and their creators. Two very different things, as these events demonstrate.

Before I adopted a strictly creator-owned policy with regard to creating comics and other intellectual property, I scripted comics for Marvel. For context, we’re talking 1993-1996, the years the direct market for comics distribution nearly committed suicide. Outside of the decimation of the industry going on at the time, it was a good creative experience and a decent job. At the time, I might have even said “dream job,” which is how I heard my colleague Dan “Amazing Spider-man” Slott describe it lately, and he’s not far off.

Dream job, why? For the same reason any other comics creator since the Roy Thomas era will tell you, because we are fans. Fans of the characters and the creators. (If not always fans of the corporation.)

I met (and in some cases collaborated with) creators who had a profound influence on me as a kid discovering storytelling, among them Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, Marv Wolfman, the Romita family, more talent than I can mention here…

Even Stan Lee, who inscribed my Silver Surfer comic “To Dangerous David” and generously invited me to come see him in Los Angeles when I was working on the first Faust film. Stan advised me sagely on my media projects… yes, you read right, advised me on creator-owned deals, outside of my Marvel assignments. Stan had nothing to gain, not directly. His energy just extended beyond the call to helping the younger guys. He had a wealth of experience… and he shared.

Many of my friends and collaborators today are a legacy gift of my Marvel and DC associations in my work for hire days. So, while I no longer sling pitches to write a Thor reboot or the sixteenth Green Lantern title, these characters – and again, their creators – rank right up there in my personal pantheon. (Just below the Beatles, Sly Stone, Thelonius Monk, the Ramones, Berry Gordy, Jr, George Romero and Gandhi.)

“But, inwalkedquinn, the 90s sucked!” some of you are saying. “I lost my six figure a year inking job!” “I lost my comic store!” “I lost my house! “My wife left me!” “I’m still trying to unload these variant cover comics!” “I moved to the CrossGen compound!”

Yes, it was a bloody time. Show of hands, how many of you have a collection of t-shirts from comics companies now extinct? It was a time when none of us knew where the bottom would be before comics as a viable business stopped getting worse and started getting better.

  • A superhero speculator boom was naturally cycling towards bust
  • Marvel’s parasitic owners were leveraging the company, pushing it toward its eventual bankruptcy
  • And publishers were entering the “exclusive distribution deal” fiasco that ultimately shipwrecked the industry, costing thousands of people who made comics, published comics or sold comics their livelihood.

So, I told you all that to tell you this.

Do you know what some of us used to fantasize? The other writers and I, the artists, inkers, letterers, editors, the bruised, bloodied virtual Bullpen? We used to speculate that Marvel’s corporate owners would dump the company once they’d saddled it with debt. And a global media player would pick it up. And instead of strip-mining the company, its assets and the distribution system, this global player – a Sony, a Paramount, a Disney – would set up a state-of-the art killer vertical, cross-pollinating global media with our stories – and we, our people like us, fans of these characters and the work of those who preceded us, could go on creating.

Visual storytelling would be mainstream again. Found in comic shops, sure. But also every bookstore. Online. Even in theme parks…

Now do you see where I am going?

Disney’s owned Marvel since the fourth quarter of 2009. And it’s changed everything, right?

Come back in a week and I’ll continue that thought… or comment below. Please be good to each other till then.