Whenever I tell my friends that don’t read comics that I’m going to a comic con, as I did last weekend in Tucson, they always ask me the same question:
“So are you dressing up?”
As a kid, I may have donned the occasional Superman cape, and for a brief period I pretended a certain red T-shirt I wore under my clothes had similar powers to the Greatest American Hero’s alien suit — but as an adult, I’ve never ventured into the realm of cosplay. In my many years attending comic conventions, I’ve developed a strange perspective on the cosplay phenomenon — a perspective that many others probably don’t share.
Simply put, I believe that if you don’t bare some physical resemblance to the character, you shouldn’t dress up as that character.
The implications of this perspective are wide-reaching, and totally unrealistic. I understand that. Yet if fanboys can rejoice now that George Lucas will never again write a Star Wars story, I can still long for the day I won’t see a Fat Batman hoofing his way through Comic-Con. Because some people just outgrow things.
My perspective implies that women can never dress up as male characters, and vice versa. It gives African American guys very few options, and other minorities, even fewer. Hey, if I did decide to cosplay at Comic-Con next year, as a redhead, it’s pretty much just Guy Gardner or Speedy for me. Maybe that’s my problem — I’m just projecting my disdain for a decidedly small group of redheaded heroes.
No, I have another, much less shallow reason. At Tucson Comic Con this year, a fellow was strolling through the aisles as a rather remarkable Superman. Yes, his costume was fantastic, but his attitude matched the persona, as well. I watched him actually direct folks when they were lost, and occasionally extend a hand to the wide-eyed child stopped in his tracks at the sight of a genuine Man of Steel.
Small conventions like the Tucson show are family affairs. For many kids, cosplayers at these comic cons are their first encounter with “real life” superheroes, and it’s a potentially jarring break through the fourth wall of comic book pages or movie screens. The Tucson Superman’s grace takes things a step further, because, while kids will eventually learn that superheroes like that don’t exist, they may remember that a superhero’s attitude still has a chance.
So, I guess my fear has little to do with how folks look when they dress up as their favorite characters, but how they act. If the Tucson Superman had been an African American guy, I would’ve come to the same conclusion, just via a different way.
For me, Halloween is the day for consequence-free cosplay. Comic Con is a potent genre-specific experience, and my inner child doesn’t want to see Batman eating a chili dog in a convention center food court. I know it isn’t a realistic expectation. But if we may never truly see Jar Jar again, then maybe, just maybe . . .