There has been a point of contention recently between professional comic book artists (and their spouses) and the cosplay community. This is strange and troubling because not only do these professionals and other naysayers have the wrong idea about how cosplay artists work and function within a comic book convention, but also – these professionals are alienating an audience of dedicated cosplay artists (yes, they are artists in their own right) who more often than not pour their very soul into their cosplay creations, trying to emulate the look of the very characters that the artists, in turn, have poured their own artistic souls into.
Don’t take my word for it, though. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
1. From Tony Harris:
2. Denise Dorman (Wife of Star Wars artist Dave Dorman):
“I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, COSPLAY is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I’ve seen it first-hand–the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers–rather than the famed industry household name–to pose for selfies.
The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry….those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn’t have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies. At what point do you start to wonder if–other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time–the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles?
I’ll be the first to admit I revel in the amazing, visually arresting costumes. I snap photos. I have cosplay friends who dedicate their lives to it. I admire the creativity, the expense, the time investment, and the sacrifice–especially the imaginative Steampunk cosplay. I just float the idea that maybe we’ve reached a tipping point. Have the expenses of dressing up, rising ticket prices, price gouged hotels, and parking costs to attend these costly conventions made it financially unfeasible for people to actually spend money on exhibitors anymore?”
3. Pat Broderick:
Aside from these three comic book industry folks, there are many people out there who do not appreciate cosplay, have never been involved with it, and maybe just plain dislike it. It’s all well and good if you’re not a fan of cosplay (you can’t be into everything as a person with a limited lifespan) or even if you think it’s silly. However, you cannot be ignorant of the benefits of cosplay in general (countless cosplayers helping out with charity organizations and hospitals, schools, etc) but also of cosplay’s role in amplifying the comic convention experience – which is the complete opposite of detracting from it.
My experience comes from being a lifelong comic book and pop culture media fan (no, seriously – since I was three years old) and a cosplay enthusiast of only about four years or so (but someone who has always loved costuming before he knew there was a name for it and a community that supports it). I cosplay as three characters but am always looking for the next cosplay challenge.
I started out by attending Coast City Comicon here where I live in Portland, Maine, back in 2011. Since then, I’ve attended at least one convention per year – but mostly multiple conventions. It’s been fun, exciting, and meaningful. I’ve been able to meet amazing artists, amazing celebrities, amazing fans and fellow nerds/geeks. So what all those naysayers had to say about cosplayers simply does not compute.
For one, let’s talk about the main point of contention – that cosplayers take revenue and attention away from other artists who are there to sell their own artwork and prints. While it’s true that sometimes conventions give booth space to cosplay artists, it’s not true that if someone didn’t have cosplay prints to buy that they’d then buy your artwork as a comic book artist. Here are some concrete facts I know about my own experiences as a cosplayer and convention-goer:
1. I have limited funds. This means that most of my time on the convention floor is spent not just in costume, taking photos with excited people – but deciding what I’m going to purchase with that money. Sometimes, all I’ve bought at a convention is a single piece of commissioned artwork because it’s so expensive. Other times, I’ve bought prints, original artwork that was non-commissioned, action figures, books, games, right down to pins/buttons. I’ve bought tons of stuff from tons of artists. Local, famous, anything that catches my eye and sense of taste. Just because I may have spent money on my cosplays doesn’t necessarily mean that I would have spent it on commissioned artwork, either.
In fact, here are a few of the things I’ve bought just in the last year or two at conventions – and this is only a small sample.
2. I have been a comic book fan for as long as I can remember. Not once while cosplaying have I felt above anyone else. If anything, I feel almost like a walking banner ad for geeky fandom as well as an unofficial mascot for the convention. Those people posing for photos with me as Obi-Wan Kenobi aren’t wanting a photo of Joseph Carro – Cosplayer Extraordinaire…they just want to get a photo with their favorite Star Wars character, who seems to be walking around and represented in the physical realm. They can interact with me, ask questions about my lightsaber, and have a cool story to tell people later. Even if I didn’t cosplay like I do, I would still go to cons partly to see people in costume. It’s a Halloween culture we live in, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There are always bad apples in the bunch who strive only for sexual attention or other forms of attention, but that’s because people are complex and not everyone who does a particular activity or hobby can be painted with the same brush strokes of society.
A lot of what I do is for the kids and for the fans.
As far as anyone else is concerned, I know that I can’t speak for everyone just from my experiences. But I know many cosplayers and they are some of the most energetic, enthusiastic fans of geekdom in the world. Passion for comics can take the form of donning a Green Lantern tee shirt and Batman belt buckle – or flat-out dressing like Batman or Green Lantern. Some people show their love and appreciation for comic book and movie and video game and literary characters in different ways and none of those ways detract from how much money a comic book artist will make at a con.
So, do yourselves a favor, professional comic book artists (and those who support them) – embrace the fact that conventions have evolved. You could always have someone set up a convention where there are no cosplayers allowed and see how much that affects your business. Until then, though – examine your own work. Are you involved online with your fanbase? Are you promoting outside of conventions to let everyone know you’ll be there? Are you being personable at your tables or booths? Is your artwork appropriately priced? Ask yourselves these and other questions, first, before you try to find a scapegoat for your lacking sales.
If I were to bet anything, I’d bet that cosplayers not only contribute directly to your artistic coffers but also indirectly, by posting to social media accounts to endorse you and the con (free advertising), posing with you in photos (free advertising), drawing people to your booths (free advertising), discussing how cool it was to meet you (free advertising).
Misplaced aggression is not your friend. Be nice to cosplayers.