I caught a brisk chill as I swapped to the 7 line to catch the subway to 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. Crowded streets, honking horns for seemingly no reason, and bagels everywhere I looked. A normal day in New York, until I was stopped in my tracks by a man blocking the escalator dressed in professional quality makeup and an award-winning costume of something like Darth Vader meets a swamp monster. What he was is still unclear to me, but the crowds of people taking pictures seemed to love it. I got onto the subway to be greeted by Luigi, Mario, and Peach as well as the Flinstones and Tellatubbies. I was no longer a tourist in New York City, required to stare at a blue dot on google maps; instead I followed the crowds and signs that headed towards nerdom. “These are my people,” something I never imagined I would think while walking beside Superman, especially not alongside Super Freddy Mercury.
The first time I heard the phrase “Cos Play” was from the editor of this very website. I wrote in my notes, “Find out about this thing called ‘CausePlay’.” She could tell I was clueless and explained it’s about costumes. I felt like an idiot. Like many outsiders to the comic world, I understood the purpose of dressing in superhero costumes as actually believing one might develop superpowers. Oh, was I wrong. Boy, did I learn a lot.
Anna and her husband Scott attended their first comic convention together a few years ago. Scott was always interested in comics and had been attending the Washington, D.C. AwesomeCon for years. Since their son, Dean, started to show interest in comics, action figures, and movies, they decided to turn it into a family affair. Together they brainstorm costume ideas and design. For them, it isn’t about the superpowers that come with the cape, it’s about creating super family memories.
I found myself asking permission to take photos of the many people in cosplay. To my surprise, this was unnecessary. One member said to me, “I dressed like this today, didn’t I? Please take my picture!” You don’t have to buy a booth to become an attraction at Comic Con. You can arrive with friends in some epic outfits, plan a display or stunt, post up in the center of the convention center and feel the craze of energy surrounding you.
Dressing in costume is not just for entertainment, it’s also an artform. This is the reason there is an entire stage dedicated to CosPlay at Comic Con. There are panels of makeup artists and designers, one after the other, all day long, talking about the techniques they used on this show or that. I listened to a woman talk about blue skin paint for 15 minutes. I stood in amazement as she went on about texture, shading, placement, potential rashes, quality, application, etc. When it came time for Q&A, a long line formed of aspiring professionals and hobbyists of the craft.
These two friends have been coming to Comic Con participating in CosPlay for years. Susan dresses as a different version of Miss Piggy each year because she was the first plus-sized character that Susan had ever seen. The first time she ever felt understood on television. Lynette makes costumes displaying the topics she finds important. This year she is Mother Earth, not a superhero by comic book definition but a powerful figure that needs protecting now more than ever. They both have volunteered for CosPlay non-profits, knowing the importance of having a community and feeling included is for children. The Avengers of New York is a non-profit organization created by a group of Marvel inspired cosplayers for charity events & hospital visits. The Justice League of Western New York is an all-volunteer non-profit group of costumers, cosplayers and prop builders dedicated to bringing smiles to those who need them most through costumed appearances, charity work and community service. There are several more across the state and country.
Khyle McKelver and Mike Williams are amateur cosplay friends but appear as if they’ve been doing it for decades. Though, I found them catching a break in the rest area, I could feel the energy still pulsing off them. When I asked if putting on their costumes meant escaping reality, they disagreed entirely, sharing with me, “We don’t put on a mask to become someone else, we put it on to become a different variant of ourselves.” The human side of any superhero is incredibly important.
Cosplay is not to escape reality, but instead to make reality limitless. The superpower isn’t the ability to fly, have incredible strength, the ability to spin webs; the superpower is the characters’ ability to do all of those things and remain human. A relatable back story where a character faces adversity and doubts themselves is crucial to the fandom that follows. If it were as simple as putting on a cape, cosplay wouldn’t exist. So, whatever the reason for painting your body, putting on a mask, wearing a cape, donning boots, a shield, a sword, there is no harm, no animosity, no judgment, simply smiles for expressing your creativity and spreading out across the infinite cosplay universe.