Now that comic conventions have become huge cultural events, cosplay, the act of dressing as your favorite character and parading around at conventions, has been getting a lot of attention in large part due to its incredible growing popularity.
When I participated in what were then just called Costume Competitions wearing my signature THING costume back in 1979 there were only a handful of brave folks that would take the stage. Nothing compared to the legions of cosplayers that attend cons today.
What an outlet for creative costumers cons have become. As I think back on it, before science fiction and comic conventions, the only opportunity to get dressed up and run around like your favorite character was Halloween.
Just for this reason, Halloween was my favorite holiday. (Or at least a very tight second to Christmas!) Nothing was more fun than donning costumes with my brothers and pillaging the neighborhood for candy with my grandmother who, small in stature at 4’8″, would also disguise herself as one of the kids just to help keep our group identity obscured.
It didn’t take long for us to graduate from the conventional costumes made by Collegeville or Ben Cooper but I will never forget those vacuum formed masks and cheesy, one-piece coveralls. They came in all kinds of characters. The first I remember having was Porky Pig printed in a fluorescent orange color to aid visibility at night.
As far as superheroes were concerned, I remember a Captain America knock-off that had a triangular shield printed on the mask bearing the words “American Hero.” We also had a Batman outfit that just wasn’t quite the same Batman we were watching on that famed 1966 series. Other kids had Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-man, Hulk and not many others of cape-and-spandex fare.
In an attempt to dignify one of my favorite heroes my first homemade costume was of Batman. I pieced together a black cowl and a cape draped over a gray sweatshirt and pants with black rain boots and swim trunks. I was pretty young at the time and my efforts were rudimentary but I had the bug. Each year after that, it became a badge of honor to craft my own costume and to outdo the one from the year before.
Eventually, it seemed like a shame to put so much effort into a costume for a few hours of enjoyment only on Halloween. Then I discovered comic conventions. What an outlet for the costumer in me! Not only did conventions happen throughout the year, the competitions created an atmosphere that ensured the costumes would be creative and well made by like-minded people that appreciated each other and their skills.
Cosplay has since grown into a phenomenon developing a culture of its own.
Halloween has evolved too. Costumes are no longer vacuum formed and packed in pie boxes. They come in all shapes and sizes with accessories to match. Superheroes abound in costumes with built-in muscles or sexy variants of most of the world’s favorite characters that have been popularized in almost every medium. It is as if the two worlds of Cosplay and Halloween have collided to make one big, year-long, costume extravaganza.
For costumers, this is almost too good to be true and that is a concern.
Halloween has become so popular, communities have become defensive to prevent it from getting out of control. Small towns now limit the hours of Trick-or-Treating to as few as two. Some cancel the evening altogether and offer a festival or a parade in an effort to control some random acts of violence, mischief, or safety hazards.
Cosplay is experiencing growth pains of its own with issues of privacy and sexual harassment becoming a prevalent discussion causing conventions to establish rules and regulations that will eventually reign in the casual antmosphere that conventioneers have come to enjoy.
A few rotten apples, once again, will ruin it for the whole bunch.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We could all agree to be civilized and respect each other’s dignity by simply attempting to act like the heroes we admire. Is that expecting too much cosplay fantasy in a real world or do we have to ask the hard question we ask every Halloween, “Trick or Treat?” and be satisfied with what we get?
Hopefully, no rocks.