As someone who has done comics retail for 6 years, I feel confident speaking on the subject of cosplay and comic conventions, and the recent trend of industry professionals and retailers complaining about cosplayers.
Let these people dress up as the characters. A good number of them are fans of the character they dress up as, but some are ignorant, and I say let them. Let them come in not knowing and then let them walk into a comic store or up to someone’s booth, to people who will educate them, if they’re willing to learn.
Superheroes and comics are mainstream. Not becoming, they are. It’s the job of the comics professional, be they retailer, writer or artist, to show these new, enthusiastic fans what comics are about. Anyone who throws out a customer, retailer or creator, because they don’t know about a character shows bad business sense. The days of being an elitist gate keeper of the exclusive comic book club are dead. What business sense does it make to forsake any demographic that wants to give you money? On top of that, the cosplay community is close knit and fiercely loyal. They will support each other and retailers who are supportive of them. In this era of social media, bad word of mouth is lethal to anyone, particularly if you’re running a business.
And here’s my greater point: how are people going to learn if you don’t tell them about things?
The thing that made me happiest at Midtown Comics (besides getting to the toys before the public), was introducing men and women, boys and girls of all ages, sizes and types to comics. Be an ambassador for comics, not a guardian of an antiquated ideology of elitism. Embrace the new. These people are going to be the lifeblood of comics. Creating new fans is creating new business, which only benefits creators and retailers. There are other, non-financial benefits as well.
Cosplay isn’t just exhibition at cons, it’s people getting dressed and going to hospitals dressed up as a beloved character to cheer up sick kids. It’s inspiring people wearing the imagery and iconography that grabs attention. It’s freedom to express yourself, it’s an escape from who you are and embracing a part of you that you may not have thought was in you. Like comics, cosplay represents a lot of things to a lot of people. To deny or dismiss cosplay as narcissism is to be ignorant of an art form that evolved and benefits from comics culture.
If the culture and industry of comics is to continue to grow, everyone who profits from it must embrace the evolving, diversifying fan base. From embracing women to setting up events with cosplay, the times are changing. It’s just a matter of adapting to them.
Raphael Soohoo is a self-professed comics expert who spent six years working at the flagship location of Midtown Comics in New York City. He currently resides in Maryland.
You can find his work at http://lifeofraph.squarespace.com. Any opinions expressed are solely those of Raphael Soohoo, and do not reflect on any employers past or present.