According to BBC News, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘s pilot episode is a hit with over 12 million viewers, but of those 12 million how many are normal everyday folk and how many of them are real superheroes? The question sounds absurd. “Superheroes aren’t real!” many readers are thinking, but they do exist. No, there are no Captain Atoms or Dr. Manhattans, god like beings with the ability to bend space and time. Unfortunately, true believers, there are still no flying cars or ways to bond adamantium to your skeleton, but you can sure try damnit. Enter: cosplay.
Cosplay is an activity that has been around since little proto-nerds crawled forth from the primordial ooze, weighted with over stuffed pocket protectors. Like many modern elements of the subculture, it is a fusion of both eastern and western imaginations. In 1939, at the first World Science Fiction Fair, (NyCon), Forest J. Ackerman, advocate and avatar of Science Fiction, was described as wearing an “eye catching street costume with green cape and baggy breaches derived from magazine illustrations drawn by Frank R. Paul.” In 1908 there’s record of a man winning a costume contest as Skygak, alien protagonist from early sci-fi comic, “Mr. Skygak, From Mars.”
According to Mathew Thorn, cosplay fomented in Japan in 1978. There was an emphasis on acting as the character. “By the late 1980s, however, the point of cos-play became not to pretend to be a favorite character, but rather to be photographed.” The term itself is also Japanese in origin, derived from the terms “costume” and “play,” although the specifics are a little hazy states Asian culture blogger YeinJee.
Although there continues to be some emphasis on being photographed at various sci-fi conventions and renaissance fairs around the country, those who participate are often driven by reasons well beyond the appeal of having their picture on the web. Jennifer Pawley, co-owner of The Geek Forge, has several reasons, stating “my three favorite things about cosplay are the creativity, the kids, and the support. You can put three costumes together of the same character, and they’ll never look the same. It’s great to get hugs from kids because you look like their favorite character, and the cosplay community is pretty supportive of each other.”
Community, connection, and support are extremely important in the cosplay scene. Many participants treat conventions as an appetizer to greater things, like social service. Organizations like Heroes Alliance specialize in charity work like visiting hospitalized children. Jon Roop is a member of the South Carolina Ghostbusters, a group that isn’t afraid of no ghosts but is also a nonprofit organization. He says “there are about 20 of us from across the state. We attend cons and charity events and any profit we make goes to either the charity sponsoring the event we are attending or our primary charity, Scares that Care. It’s wonderful to have helped a group that allows us to hang out with some of our best friends, attend conventions and raise money for charity, all while representing the best movie ever!”
Instead of being preoccupied with the muscles, many cosplayers choose to enact an ideal. Whether they are S.H.I.E.L.D. agents or Ghosbusters, the need to interact and engage in volunteerism reflects the one power every person has, the one superheroic virtue everyone can emulate: compassion.
Written By David Arroyo