NYCC 2012: The Cosplay Experiment

I've been going to conventions for over 20 years now. I started with my parents and brother, going to comic book expos and fan conventions with kids days. Then, as a teenager, I started going off to horror conventions and niche TV events in the tristate area. I'm always willing to give a new convention a chance if my schedule is open and the tickets are reasonably priced. I had done seemingly everything at conventions. I've shopped like a maniac with no impulse control. I've met celebrity guests and left a strong enough impression with a few kind words to be recognized at later events. I've entered contests, tried demos, and and spent entire weekends panel hopping.

The only thing I hadn't done was cosplay. Going to New York Comic Con on a fan badge, rather than a press badge, to cover the event gave me the means to go for it. I have a certain uniform I wear as a writer that people have come to know me by. I'm the really young looking guy in the bright shirt/tie combo and thick prescription glasses walking around with a notepad and camera all weekend long.

For NYCC, I wanted to explore not just the experience of cosplay but reactions to various styles of cosplay. I decided to stick to contemporary film and television based on mainstream clothing and some movie magic. I also chose a cult figure, a cartoon character, and an original character inspired by a very popular and recognizable franchise. The results were interesting.

Day 1: The Cult Figure

Friday at NYCC is like the training ground for experienced convention attendees. It's crowded, but you can still walked down all the aisles and get a feel for the convention. I went with the assumption that people willing to take a day off from work would better recognize a cult character.

NYCC Cosplay 2012 ShaunI chose to go as Shaun from Shaun of the Dead for a number of reasons. One, I'm a big fan. Two, it's as complicated as you want it to be. I actually grew out a goatee, colored my dirty blonde hair ginger--eyebrows and goatee included--with greasepaint, put together a replica bouquet as a prop, and did the shirt up with fabric paint by way of my home haunting knowledge for shocking realism. Three, I knew he was a character I could get away with even at my size.

The day went basically how I expected it to. The small percentage of people who recognized the character went nuts over the cosplay. As soon as I walked into the absurd basement holding pen for the show floor, I was stopped by a con volunteer raving about the cosplay. People would walk by and say, "You have red on you," and many of the people who stopped me said I actually looked like Simon Pegg. Sure, a short Simon Pegg with an extra fifty pounds. I got more than one "aww" when I bust out the bouquet, as well.

The experience on Day 1 was great. It took me a little while to adjust to the attention but it didn't feel nearly as strange or unnerving as I expected. I was just a fan paying tribute like all the other fans there.

Day 2: The Cartoon

Day 2 was going to be the big day of the convention: Saturday. More people show up and stay on the floor because they actually can. Everything seems more crowded as one day or weekend only attendees rush to fit everything in. I chose to go with a character I've seen a lot because I wanted to explore how the more hardened con-goers respond to a costume they've seen over and over again.

NYCC Cosplay 2012 FryI chose Fry from Futurama for the same reasons as the Shaun costume. No one would mind my type if I got the details correct. I sculpted my own wig--actually did more styling after this photo to clean up the back and side--with scissors and mousse, altered a strange hoodie with a rigid color underneath to be the jacket, and threw on my clean black Converse and bright blue jeans. I also added a sign to my water bottle so that I could take off the jacket throughout the day if the floor got too hot without losing the character.

Again, I was not particularly surprised by the reaction. I had a lot of catcalls taken from the show: "Shut up and take my money;" "Not sure if...;" etc. People called out, "Fry," every few minutes but only three people wanted to take a photo; one of them thought I was TinTin.

NYCC Cosplay 2012 EmperorI had fun dressed as Fry for the day, but feel like I want to revisit it with an unexpected twist on the costume. I'm well-versed enough in sewing and electronics to do a cool spin on "My Three Suns," where Fry drinks the emperor.

The bigger takeaway for me on Day 2 was having confidence while cosplaying. I fully intended to enter the costume contest on Saturday night to be able to write about the experience; I didn't. I backed out at the last minute and watched as thirty people--some in store-bought costumes, others in poorly made costumes--get onstage for hundreds of people and stand up as their character. I could and should have done the same.

Day 3: The Dreaded O.C.

If there's one thing I know about cosplay, it's that cosplaying as an original character can be controversial. Other people spend weeks trying to recreate a beloved character while you show up dressed as something wholly new. You're doing it as a fan, but you're not exactly playing by the common rules.

My O.C. was a Slytherin student traveling to NYCC to recover stolen artifacts. I had the licensed tie, a hand-painted beanie with the crest on it, and a variety of mismatched black and green clothing. I also put on fake scars ala Umbridge punishing students with lines about supporting Voldemort and painted snake tattoos onto the opposite arm. I also had a wand I made myself years ago.

The reaction was what I expected. I totally over thought the concept and only had a few people realize what was happening. It wasn't a big let down, either. I had no wig to take off (ripping out hair in the process) and no need to shampoo my hair eight times until it was my color again. I had fun putting that character together, but would stick to existing characters in the future.

Doing this cosplay experiment opened up a new side of fan culture to me. It was fun to go around in character all day. It was a great ice breaker with fans, guests, and exhibitors I wanted to talk to. I felt like a much more active participant in NYCC and like I actually belonged.

Have you ever done cosplay at a convention? Have thoughts on awesome cosplay you've seen? Sound off below.

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