I’ll start today’s column with a confession: it took me the longest damn time to understand cosplay. I just didn’t get how cosplay was a fandom in and of itself. I understood furries before I figured out cosplay. With the thinking that if someone who studies fandom had trouble with this, there might be others who don’t get it as well, let me walk you through my education on the subject.
Like many kids, I would dress up on Halloween every year and go trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhood. I would try to get or make costumes of characters that I found exciting or that I looked up to in some way. I was Batman one year, Luke Skywalker another, Indiana Jones after that. By dressing up as these heroic characters, I hoped to emulate those qualities I liked best about them.
Years later, when I heard of cosplay and saw that was a thing, I applied the same basic idea to others who dressed up as fictional characters. If I saw someone in a Star Trek uniform, I assumed they really enjoyed the show and found something in it that inspired them. If I saw someone dressed as Gomez Addams, I assumed they liked something about that character. So even if I didn’t personally like the character, or knew nothing about them at all, I believed the person dressed in that costume found something in that character to enjoy and they wanted to showcase that enjoyment to others.
But then, as I started attending more and more conventions, and seeing people cosplay as multiple characters, sometimes in a single day, I started to wonder about that. Did they really like that many different characters so much to dress up like all of them? And some of these characters were bad guys; did that mean the person likes evil? And on top of all that, their outfits started looking more and more elaborate and expensive; how are they paying for all the materials in addition to all the books and DVDs and whatever else that feature the character?
What I had missed, though, was that I was applying my own ideas about costuming to others. If I were to dress up like a character, it would be a character I was trying to emulate in some way already. Their personality, or the strength of character, or whatever. But that’s not why other people necessarily choose characters to dress as.
After doing some research, it finally dawned on me that some of these people are more enthralled by the act of creation. Sure, they may have thought Gargoyles was a cool show, but their real interest is in figuring out how to create a costume with a working set of wings! The Dark Crystal was a good movie and all, but could you make a Skeksis costume that was operated by only a single individual? Can you craft a costume solid enough to withstand the rigors of travel and days-long operation? Every cosplayer is going to approach things a little differently, depending on their skillset and their own ideas about the art, but it’s not just about highlighting your favorite character.
So that cost? The money cosplayers spend on fabric and props isn’t any different than what I spend on comic books. They don’t need to read every single issue of Fantastic Four to make a good Thing costume; they have a different set of interests and priorities than I do.
And I think that’s something to keep in mind about every other fandom: the reasons why you’re into whatever it is you’re into aren’t necessarily going to be the same for everybody else. You may follow Batman because he embodies the ideals you’d like to see in yourself, but maybe the next guy is more interested trying to figure out how to make Azrael’s wing/cape thing work in real life.