Welcome back to my obscure and tiny readership. I’m back to the blog, so let’s dive in.
Back in November, I had the good fortune to secure a vendor spot at the Great Allentown Comic Con. It’s a regular convention in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a great show lost in the mob of epic large scale conventions that are encompassing the current convention landscape. I packed up my little Subaru with some long boxes of dollar comics, a few higher dollar books, and several plastic totes of comic book related action figures. I’ve done these smaller shows as a hobbyist, so this was the first “big” show I had attended as a vendor.
After a two hour drive, I secured my badge and set up shop. I glanced around and saw some other comic jockeys that I had seen at other shows, looked at the posters for the few celebrities that were kind enough to add this show to their busy schedule, and even saw some familiar faces, like Mr. Eric Cooper, local creator of the Knight Seeker, an urban hero supported by a series of excellent novels. Eric is one of the hardest working men working on the big break, showing up at many shows in a custom costume of his creation, and wonderfully blurring the line between fantasy and reality as the cosplay embodiment of justice.
Cosplay is one of the great fun variables to any convention. You get to see costumes made by hand after months of planning and building, and the low-effort (nothing wrong with it) single accessory plus tee shirt combos. But cosplay is often overshadowed by one simple shallow fact:
Guys love girls in costumes.
As the convention opened, one of my first customers was a rather tall, bigger built woman in her 30s dressed as Sif (I’m not going to hyperlink all of the characters, but take a moment to check out the comic depiction). As part of my sales technique. I try to engage my customers by getting them to just talk, find out what they like, and if I don’t have an item, I’ll note it for next time or refer them to someone I’ve seen at the show who has that treasure they’re looking to buy. When confronted with a six foot Sif, my first reaction was a common, “great costume”. After a quick glance up and down, I repeated myself. “GREAT costume!” This woman had multiple armor and fake leather layers, carefully groomed hair, and a KICK ASS SWORD. I had to ask her about her costume. She told me a little about the time to make it, how much she LOVED SIF, and I started to notice that she was with her boyfriend, also in an Asgardian costume, and he was beaming as much as she was while she talked. His face said one thing, “This is MY girlfriend, and yeah, she’s the shit.”
A little later on, a woman approached my table in a Phoenix X-Men tee shirt and asked me with a fever if I had any Jean Grey toys. I was sad to say no, but noticed her low effort costume included a wild mane of natural red hair. I was chuckling inside thinking about the red headed woman as a child, being possible made fun of by classmates, and now idolizing one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. If only her classmates knew that she was an ass-kicker…
I started to notice a strong mix of girls in the stereotypically male dominated crowd. I witnessed a Guardians of the Galaxy themed family, a Wolverine themed father who brought two pre-teens dressed as Domino and Psylocke, and a gang of girls in elaborate steampunk Victorian gowns, walking in a “Mean Girls” V formation and turning the heads of every teen boy scouring the boxes of back issues.
“You got any Deadpool?” demanded two girls who wore flannel shirts and cardboard cutout masks. I hooked them up with some copies and thought about these girls in the back of history class reading about a taco-eating, sword-wielding maniac while the other girls were trying to read fashion magazines. If you want to get the boys, I pondered, read comics.
Then I realized I had to correct my inner monologue.
These girls weren’t trying to get the boys by diving into the pool of comics. These girls just loved comics and didn’t care who knew.
I looked around the convention floor. Every girl and woman in costume was not showing off their bodies, or peacocking to dominate other girls, they were just being themselves and having fun. Some of these costumes were really elaborate, showing off an artistic mastery of mixed media that could encompass an entire degree program at an art or fashion school. The mechanical attributes or gimmicks required some serious engineering and organization. And as each was put on the spot by folks like me, or local press covering the event, or other cosplayers, they were reporters and public speakers and salepeople pitching their costumes and sharing their accomplishment.
These women and girls, in the middle of what the Big Bang Theory might stereotype as a festival of introverts and social outcasts, were the most confident people I had ever met. Just being themselves and happy with who they were.
As the show wore on, I kept seeing guys looking at these girls, and staring at their feet. “Just say it,” I kept wanting to whisper to them, “all you have to say is ‘great costume’ and they’ll talk to you.” But alas, the boys just didn’t get it. It was easier to stand head down by a table than to talk to a girl dressed as Boba Fett who was already putting herself in a much more self-conscious situation by wearing spandex and not being shaped like Brooklyn Decker.
If these women, the cosplayers, could just let the boys know that it’s okay to believe in yourself and put yourself out there, maybe there would be a lot less lonely people, people with little or no friends in school, adults who shut themselves in at home instead of going out and interacting. Maybe, these people would learn that the world is a bright place where heroes really do walk among us, and that sometimes being a hero is as simple as dressing like Sif.
At the end of the show, they handed out the awards for best costume. While there was a technical winner, one of the finalists was a guy with stomach paunch in spandex, and a giant foam headdress he created. His costume? Powdered Toast Man from Ren and Stimpy. Everyone who met him during the day gave him a high five, or “I love your costume” accolade. I saw him take of the mask, and he was smiling from ear to ear.
And I was smiling too, knowing that the lesson I had learned and observed from the women of cosplay was already in action.