Old Guard Comics Dudes: Stop Hiding Behind Your Cosplay Hate

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Micronauts #6. W: Dave Cockrum A: Pat Broderick. Marvel Comics, 1979 - 83. Comics artist Pat Broderick once drew Batman: Year Three, Doom 2099, and Micronauts. He quit drawing those things in the 90’s and left the industry, during a time when many were doing so, because comics suuuuuuuucked to work in due to the industry bottoming out after what is called the “speculator boom.” Now he’s back and ready to complain about those dang cosplayers that are cluttering up what used to be convention halls full of exclusively sweaty white dudes.

Sam Maggs of the Mary Sue issued a flawless takedown complete with one of the better-curated selections of gifs that I’ve ever seen. A little while ago, when Tony Harris, another comics creator and good ol’ boy, posted a similar complaint about cosplay, the glowing and magnificent Angelina responded in an equally fantastic way. This is not a new point of offense for the Comics Gatekeepers of Olde, and snark-filled responses are mercifully plenty whenever these little rants pop-up (usually on Facebook. It’s like, come on, get a tumblr, it’s 2014).

So, let’s unpack what the problem is, rather than just acknowledge it for its baseline stupidity. I mean, the argument basically paints itself as idiotic: “Cosplayers are narcissists who only do it for attention and that’s wrong – because it takes ATTENTION away from ME! I’M THE TALENT!”

Scream into the void all you want, little man. The days of being “the talent” are long behind you. The Internet is an open book, and anyone willing to put in the grind and hustle is inevitably acknowledged in some way, whether that’s a webcomic, a blog, or, yes, even a dedication to making costumes of other people’s characters.

But the problem here isn’t really that cosplayers are obscuring your table/signage/beautiful visage, is it? The real problem here is that a large number of cosplayers are women.

The author & friends being a goddamned nuisance at NYCC 2012.

The author & friends being a goddamned nuisance at NYCC 2012.

The outrage over the “narcissism” involved in cosplay has nothing to do with the time and effort spent on looking good: it’s the fact that these are women, wearing the costumes you and your peers designed to be skin-baring, daring to get looked at for wearing those costumes, having the nerve to own not only their fandom, but their own bodies, even if they don’t have flawless physiques or are the “wrong” race– how dare they? That there are men lining up to take photos with an cosplayer rather than the creator who drew her – and yeah, the motivation behind some of those dudes lining up for photos is sketchy and creepy, but that’s not your point either, is it? Your point is that having women there at all makes you uncomfortable, because it means that things are changing. It means that you can’t get away with writing your rape fantasy, for drawing out your ridiculous, biologically impossible idea of what the perfect fuck object female should be. You have accountability now, and that scares you, because your fans and fellow creators will leave you behind.

Do you get angry when you see a dude dressed as Batman, or do you shake his hand, pose for a photo? Do you accuse him of doing it for “the attention,” or do you praise him for the level of detail in his costume – detail he can afford to have, because his costume wasn’t designed to be a bikini held together by straps?

Publisher: DC Comics First Appearance: Fury of Firestorm #7 (December 1982) Created By: Gerry Conway and Pat BroderickYour issue with “selfies” comes from the fact that it has become a gendered concept. That it’s a “girl thing” that stems from narcissism, vanity. For a woman to feel good about how she looks, or the work she put into a costume, is threatening to you, because it takes away some of your power. There are other ways to get this power back – shaming those who might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, or may be new readers, is a common tactic, because if you can’t control how they feel about their looks, you can get into their heads, make them feel unwelcome.

But where does that leave you? Alone, behind a folding table, in a hall full of people who are enjoying themselves, still irrelevant.

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About Author

Ivy Noelle Weir is a Librarian, Writer, Photographer, and feminist geek out to ruin everything you love. She tweets excessively at @ivynoelle.

6 Comments

  1. I totally agree with this, but I wanted to add that i think this kind of BS can also be traced back to that central tenant of misogyny that claims women are inherently narcissistic, vain, and shallow. Why else would we spend so much time worrying about how we look? If you want to get really fancy you can go from there to the idea that female=body&emotion while male=mind&reason. What women do is automatically seen as silly, and now they’re contaminating the Serious Bizness of comics with their silliness (and their joy and sense of fun – horror of horrors!).

  2. Simply put, the cosplay phenomenon has transmogrified a subculture that once flatly and pointedly disregarded personal aesthetic appearance into one in which aesthetic appearance has become the zenith of the entire experience.

    It’s sort of like when grunge went from a being a small, anti-establishment sound on a bunch of indie labels in the Pacific Northwest to being the soundtrack at Wal Mart. Perhaps if Cobain had Facebook he wouldn’t have suck-started a shotgun, but I digress. The point is: this is hardly the first time that the original participants of a subculture have lashed out at the latecomers (“poseurs”) who they see as having bastardized and “sold out” the principals that drew them to that subculture in the first place.

    The opposite of narcissism is empathy… perhaps you could begin to disprove Mr. Broderick’s accusations by seeing things from someone else’s point of view, instead of forcing it through your self-serving lens of petty bourgeois radicalism.

  3. nunya bizness on

    I completely agree with you that there is something ironic about comic artists accusing cosplayers of narcissism when art itself is an indirectly narcissistic endeavor. But I disagree that their protests are rooted in misogyny. I am both a cosplayer (501st) and freelance illustrator (for over twenty years), and a comic book geek since the silver age. I can see both sides of the coin. Comic book illustrators are frustrated because their market is deteriorating. The illustration world in general has been hard hit by the digital revolution. It is non-trivial to spend decades of your life training for an industry that is now reinventing itself every day, and many artists who once might have made a decent living are now struggling. This cultural shift at the cons is another manifestation of these changes, and it can be a sour experience watching a new mob of kids move into the playground you built and kick you off the swings. That being said, I personally think it is wonderful to witness the growing diversity of pop culture at the cons, which are becoming (I think) more about the experience and less about the merchandise. But that is an obvious problem for artists, because they need to sell merchandise. It costs more and more money for them to be there as the crowds grow, and if they are not breaking even, they will leave (probably for smaller, more focused cons, thus coming full circle). But I don’t think their frustration is rooted in misogyny. It is just the old guard yelling at the kids to get off their lawn.

    • Claire Napier on

      You’re right, of course–that is non-trivial. There are grounds for compassionate thought. Nevertheless… it would be a strange thing, for this to be the only area in which industrial misogyny doesn’t manifest.

    • I don’t think their frurstration is rooted in misogyny, as you say, and most certainly agree that cons are becoming more and more expensive for these artists. But, as someone who has worked with the vendors and artists at a major con, I can also say that they can and will do very well for themselves, even within this changing market. I have had vendors and artists alike (including some of the older artists who have been cited in articles on this issue) book for future events with the cash they made at the present one, stating that they were quite pleased with how well they’d done at the event. I’m not going to say that is the case for every artist at every con, but in this particular experience, it was certainly a majority.

      The industry most certainly has changed and artist and conventions alike need to re-evalutate their investment in it. But that doesn’t mean shunning the fans that are consuming the medium now in a different way. All these kids dressing up and standing at your booth? Maybe they don’t know you, but if you reach out to them, they will. Batman, X-Men–all these things are common ground for fans, old and new. Rather than accuse them of stealing the show, people need to take the opportunity to connect with them instead of, as you say, kicking them off the lawn.