N.B.: Follow links at your own discretion; some content may be unsuitable for work or children.
My boys were enthralled with playing Super Smash Bros. on an old Nintendo 64, so they didn’t notice the black-bearded man in the long, bleach-blond wig, white halter, cape, and white g-string pulled up over his basketball shorts (imagine a dude in this). It was my third Comic Con, so I knew to expect a range of costumes and costume quality, but this was the first where I noticed the cross-dressing cosplay they call “crossplay.”
If you go to Comic Con, you’re going to see some stuff, and it will teach you something about how you see—especially as a male. Imagine if every fifth woman you saw was squeezed into Harley Quinn spandex or Catwoman leather or some suit that projected her bared chest out for the world to admire. One needs to watch one’s thoughts.
There were impressive male costumes, too, like Captain America, Mr. Freeze, or Cardinals Iron Man. And there were playful, elaborate costumes like the Charizard with extendable wings or the 8-foot-tall, Ewok-piloted AT-ST with articulating legs, or even the girl in the BB-8 dress on white and orange roller skates—not to mention any number of winged, intubated, or grotesque characters I didn’t know.
I’m ambivalent about taking my young boys—four and seven—into these situations. Most of the time they don’t seem to notice the more unusual or “adult” costumes since they are distracted with the Pokémon and Storm Troopers. When I asked, afterward, if they’d seen anything they didn’t understand or if they had any questions, they shrugged and kept eating their graham crackers.
What would I say, anyway? I don’t quite understand a lot of cosplay, much less crossplay, despite my penchant for choosing female video-game avatars or my fondness for Spider-Woman and Wonder Woman.
Frankly, a lot of cosplay seems garish and in poor taste to me—and I’m not a big fan of camp. It doesn’t ruin my time or offend me; it’s just not what I would choose to look at, certainly not to do myself.
I get that it’s about transformation. It’s like Halloween in HD. For a brief time you get to participate in the existence of another persona, you get to alter your habitual way of being in the world, even if you don’t look great doing it.
But it really started to click for me when we passed a group of four very large women corseted up in gothic leather with plenty of ties and laces. Their hair and makeup was blue and black, their skin pale, their breasts almost obscenely bulging out of their tops, and there they were, sitting in a circle on the floor with their hot dogs and their plastic bags full of toys and comics like it was a normal thing to do.
If you clicked through any of the links above, maybe you felt that mixture of contempt for “the nerds” and envy at their dedication to their passion. It’s easy to feel superior at Comic Con, but if you are at Comic Con, then you’re the nerd in someone else’s eyes.
But I didn’t see nerds in that circle of busty, hot-dogging Goth girls. I saw regular people searching for the story that would make their reality match their inner sense of their universal significance.
That’s not vanity, that’s the imago Dei in them. Aren’t we all destined for something greater than earning a paycheck and consuming entertainment media? Whatever their errors, the “nerds” understood the importance of belonging to something greater than themselves.
Maybe heaven will look a little like Comic Con: a mass of society’s oddballs glorified in unexpected ways by grace. The challenge of being a good artist—or human—I think, means trying to see that shimmer of Heaven through the cleavages in the present.