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London Comic Con: Cosplay, Creativity and Healing

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What is in a costume? Apparently, your inner self. Social Work Helper spent time at Comic Con 2017 asking people about their character costumes (“cosplay”), and what it means to them.

The first interviewee was a homemade character called Puppet. “By hiding myself, I can be more of myself”, she explained, gesturing to her bright and fur-clad head mask. “I’ve wanted a fur suit since I can remember.. In real life, I’m quite shy”. The flamboyant and impressive costume was this person’s way of making herself known and expressing her true self. Her friend played the Pokemon Sylveon, because “I’ve loved Pokemon since I was a child – it’s cute!”.

Finally, there was the woman who had created her own character (or “OC”) based on a girl with special powers from the Black Plague era. Like her creator, this character was misunderstood by others and sometimes dealt with her difficulties through self-injury. This character, this cosplay, was a way by which a young woman creatively dealt with their own demons.

Finally, there was the woman who had created her own character (or “OC”) based on a girl with special powers from the Black Plague era. Like her creator, this character was misunderstood by others and sometimes dealt with her difficulties through self-injury. This character, this cosplay, was a way by which a young woman creatively dealt with their own demons.

A trio of Star Trek crew also had a deeper meaning to their costumes. They spoke of the Star Trek universe being “hopeful”, and a representation of a utopian society towards which humanity can strive. Some modern technology has, arguably, been inspired by the show (such as mobile phones), and given the Star Trek crew’s habituation to technology, “The mundane can be fantastic!”. They argued that Star Trek also teaches us that although difficulties and challenges are inevitable, we can get through them.

The trio spoke of the show being inclusive of gender and race, and trailblazing with its inclusion of Nichelle Nicholls – a black woman as a crew member who reportedly inspired the likes of Whoopi Goldberg. Indeed, Nichelle later went on to support diverse recruiting for NASA. A woman dressed as a Vulcan (an alien race which cannot understand emotions) went on to say that she has a diagnosis of autism. From Star Trek, she learned from half-Vulcan Spock that “just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m not important too. Everyone is different, everyone is unique”.

From Star Trek to Star Wars, the man who played Rey from the new Star Wars franchise had some insightful comments about his choice of female character. He suggested that cosplayers are respected if they play with gender and that he had received a lot of positivity – “It makes people happy! With gender play, the only limit is your imagination”. He also spoke of his pleasure that there is “Finally a lead female” in the Star Wars franchise, a character who is “confident, humorous and strong” (although Princess Leia has a solid presence in the Star Wars film, she was not the leading character).

There was a range of other cross-gendering characters, from the woman who created a home-made version of Marvel’s Dr. Strange – which had taken six months to hand-stamp and create – to the slow-moving and frankly chilling female Pyramid Head (a horror video game character).

Let us not forget the animals of ComicCon, for example, Catz of the eponymous musical. Most of the weekend, they were found lounging on the floor (or on each other). As we talked, occasionally one would lazy stalk around before curling back up at the foot of another.

Their sun-bright makeup and costumes were painstakingly home-made, the former taking several hours and the latter taking months. “We get lost in their world, acting it out”, they told me, “We wanted something different”. They met online and at conventions, and one said “I’ve been a fan of Catz since I was little” They talked about how it was a “confidence boost”, particularly with a number of passers-by (understandably) taking pictures and admiring their presentation.

Their sun-bright makeup and costumes were painstakingly home-made, the former taking several hours and the latter taking months. “We get lost in their world, acting it out”, they told me, “We wanted something different”. They met online and at conventions, and one said “I’ve been a fan of Catz since I was little” They talked about how it was a “confidence boost”, particularly with a number of passers-by (understandably) taking pictures and admiring their presentation.

This small cross-section of interviews was only a hint of what the weekend had to offer. ComicCon hosted anime characters such as Naruto “He’s goofbally and prideful, he likes to help people – I relate to him”, and his sensei Kakashi “We’re similar – he has a dark past and changed as a person over the series”, Merrida of Disney’s Brave “Doesn’t need a prince, is fierce and independent”, the Dark Souls Elite Knight who had hand-forged his armour (“He’s a cool guy, something different to Snake [from video game Metal Gear Solid] and people keep coming up to me”). The cast of The Hunger Games spoke about the importance of a group costume, particularly in gaining people’s interest, and Lego Batman seemed to enjoy bringing smiles and laughter wherever he waddled.

What can we make of this? Clearly cosplay, for many people, is an important part of self-expression. A chance for people to be creative, confident and expressive; a chance for people to connect with their childhood; a chance to “be yourself” through not being yourself. It was a place where people could socialise in weird and wonderful ways, and actively invite the attention of strangers. For some, the experience of creating and becoming different characters was actually a way of dealing with their own stories – and everybody had a story to tell.

Indeed, if there’s any take-home message from our cosplayers this weekend, it’s that we all wear our masks. We all have our inner selves, the parts of us we don’t express. ComicCon simply gives us the opportunity to celebrate them.

Chey is a mental health worker from the north of England. She currently works with adults with learning disabilities. Her interests include gender, sexual and racial equality, human rights, social inclusion, older citizens, mental health and wellbeing, poverty and disability rights. She has participated in a range of charity and/or fundraising projects over the years, and looks forward to your ideas for the next one!

          
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