“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 wouldn’t be The Black Panel without Captain America!” (Hello, Eddie!)
I’m a fan.
“Is this a comic con or a Harley Quinn con? I don’t 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 men’s 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 that’s 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, that’s not a Blade, that’s 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.
“I’ll shake your hand, Lady Death, but please don’t 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.
4 thoughts on “Dreaming in Public”
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I think cosplayers are amazingly creative, and I really admire their dedication to their craft, as well as the confidence & bravery it takes to go out to comic cons in these handmade creations. I’m really looking forward to seeing what cosplays there are at New York Comic Con 2021 next week.