I’ve seen it posted over and over on my social media in the last twenty-four hours: THE article. The one that says cosplayers are ruining conventions. My highly talented costumer friends – many who make a living from cosplay – are livid, stirred up into mania merely by the title of the article: “Is Cosplay Killing Comic-Con?”
In the article, the author proclaims that due to this “selfie obsessed” culture we are currently in the midst of, people are more interested in stopping for pictures with cosplayers than meeting famed artists in the artist alley. That people are showing up to these cons not because they love creators, but because they are pop culture obsessed.
While Denise Dorman (a friend of mine, for the record) makes many compelling points, the resounding consensus seems to be: NO. Cosplayers are in no way responsible for the “decline” of Comic-con. And I have to say: I agree with this sentiment… and here’s why.
1. “Geek” Culture Is EVOLVING – and Therefore Conventions Are too.
I’ve been a “geek” since I was a tiny little snot-nosed creature: my father started me on hard sci-fi at a young age, and by age 8 I’d picked up my first comic book. This quickly expanded into anime and D&D and every other spectrum of geekdom… and I know I’m not the only person with a story like this. However, I felt alone in my passions and interests: ostracized and bullied at school, very few friends with anything in common with me. I didn’t even attend my first convention until I was 18 because they were few and far between “back in the day.” I would have given ANYTHING for geek to be as saturated and accepted as it is today – comic book movies making box office records? TV shows about cosplay or LARPing? Where was this world when people were picking on me for being obsessed with Final Fantasy?
But this stark difference shows a glaring truth: geek culture is evolving. Like most subcultures, something that started small and secret has become all encompassing and continues to grow. People like me who were giant geeks when we were young are now “growing up” and taking jobs in the entertainment industry. Movies and video games are hitting the forefront of geek pop culture – the lines are blurring and expanding and encompassing… and that’s awesome.
However, so many people seem to want to cling to the “way things were”. When comic book conventions were nothing BUT the artist alley – when people had to go to their comic shop every Wednesday for actual physical copies of comics (and bring those same comics to the artists at cons to get signed). But now we live in a world where the artist alley is a SMALL part of most conventions – pushed aside to make room for movie studios and celebrity signings. Now we live in a world where comics are downloaded onto digital tablets with the click of a button – where entire libraries are digital and art is consumed in a virtual space rather than a physical one.
So how are any of these things cosplayers’ faults? They’re not. Cosplayers are a SYMPTOM of what is happening to geek culture as we blaze forward to a new horizon.
2. If Artists Are Having Problems Selling Art, They Should Be Appealing to the “New” Evolution of Geek Culture
I realize that the headline sounds dangerously like I am blaming the victims, but hear me out: the world changes. As I illustrated above, geek culture changes and evolves JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE… and if artists are not willing to change and adapt with it, they are going to be left behind. It’s like someone refusing to use social media for self promotion because they don’t understand it or “don’t see the point”: even if you cite these reasons, it’s still going to hurt you in the long run because social media is the pulse of our current social climate.
I have seen artists whose booths are forever busy because they are intensely good at self promotion. They make art that keeps up with current pop culture trends (Game of Thrones, for example) and sell prints. They offer discounts for commissions from cosplayers, or offer 15% off of one of their art books if someone comes by their booth and mentions their Tweet about it. They self promote, and self promote, and find new innovative ways of spreading their craft. They have active websites and social media channels. They interact with their fans on a constant basis.
Think about it: these days people frequently go to movies to see actors, not to see the movie. If a big name is attached to a movie, generally people go to see that movie FOR THE ACTOR, not the other way around. It’s the same way with artists: you can be the most talented and amazing artist in the world but if you don’t have fans of YOU, people aren’t going to be fans of your craft. We are in an ADD social climate where people are constantly looking for new connections – even if it’s with strangers. From a psychological standpoint, people are much more likely to go buy art and commissions from a stranger they feel they can relate to via social media than someone who is just the name on a comic book.
One of the main things that irks me the most about Denise’s article is that while she acknowledges that cosplayers are talented, she doesn’t seem to put thought or words to the fact that cosplayers put more time and money into their convention experience than potentially anyone else there. On top of the normal costs like plane tickets, convention tickets, and lodging, they also spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on costumes, makeup, wigs, and getting their costumes to the con. Cosplayers LIVE for cons because that’s where they get to go showcase their amazing costumes.
These are true fans, and they are cosplaying characters they love because they love them. They are pouring blood, sweat and tears into their craft because they were deeply affected enough by the character that they are donning the costume of that they want to portray them “IRL.” They are truly becoming a central point of conventions: an integral part of an expanding beast.
Not to mention that cosplayers are also free advertising for the characters that they portray – this offers a chance for a symbiotic relationship between artist and cosplayer. “Who are you cosplaying?” someone cries. “Well, I’m Mistress Snugglebutt from Whee Happypanda’s comic SPACE INVADING PONIES! Look, her table is over there! Go buy a book!”
4. Cosplayers Draw Crowds and Fans That Might Not Be at the Convention Otherwise.
Cosplayers have become their own beast: talented models who craft their own costumes and don them for thousands of people who admire them. We have people like Jessica Nigri or the ladies of SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay who are ambassadors for this hardcore hobby, and along with them they drag THOUSANDS of fans.
What if someone were teetering on the edge of “welllll, I don’t know if I want to go to this convention…” but then they see that their favorite cosplayer is going to be there: someone they admire/have a crush on/are Internet stalking. “Oh boy! Now I HAVE to go to the convention to meet her!” the creeper cries, and a new attendee is born. But the attendee obviously isn’t going to spend the entire time lurking around their cosplayer of choice, right? (Or at least one should hope not). So what are they going to do? Wander the rest of the convention. Catch some panels. And oh look: there’s the artist alley! Let’s wander through and look at the art… Oh, this artist drew a character my favorite cosplayer cosplays! Let me get this print and have her sign it!
Look! Another example of how cosplayers and artists can WORK TOGETHER and HELP EACH OTHER. Gasp!
5. Suggesting That Cosplayers Are “Ruining” Comic Conventions Is Ignorant, Rude, and Frankly Feels Like “Geek Gatekeeping.”
Let’s get real here: if you like geeky things, you’ve been picked on and bullied for it at least once in your life. You’ve been quizzed mercilessly to make sure you “know your shit”. You’ve been harassed and verbally if not physically abused JUST BECAUSE OF THE THINGS YOU LOVE. But you have conventions and your other geek friends and THAT’S your safe place… except recently it has not been that.
Beyond this article – beyond blaming other sub-groups within our subculture – geek culture is becoming big, and nasty, and rife with elitism and cruelty. The bullied are turning into the bullies and gatekeeping runs rampant – and that’s just not cool. Writing an article suggesting that the characters that cosplay an artist’s work are RUINING conventions is inflammatory, untrue and cruel. Suggesting that other fans are ruining ANYTHING for us causes rifts that don’t need to be there.
If you want to point fingers, point fingers at Hollywood. Point fingers at the fat-cat suits who don’t understand the solidarity and hardships we have in our subculture. Blame corporate society and consumerism. Blame the conventions for getting greedy by not offering the artists prime real estate, by selling booth space to companies that can pour thousands upon thousands of dollars into it. Blame any of these very real and very valid things, but don’t blame the cosplayers. Don’t blame the other fans. We created this community and we need to stand strong WITH EACH OTHER to make it the best we possibly can.