Joshua Tehee

July 30, 2014

Tehee: Comic-Con puts cosplay culture on display

I don't cosplay.

I don't cosplay.

Cosplay — a mix of the words "costume" and "play" — is a trend for a growing number of geeky teens and 20-somethings who choose to dress up as their favorite comic book or video game characters.

I did once make myself a superhero mask out of a scrap of black leather, a la "The Incredibles," but I never wore it out. It must have seemed really weird to anyone who saw it sitting in the back of my closet.

Cosplay is a movement spawned by Japanese pop culture and given a national audience thanks to YouTube and San Diego's international Comic-Con, which ran last week.

While the annual Comic-Con is a hub for the latest comic, sci-fi and video-game news, the real attraction has become the hundreds of people who show up in costume. At Comic-Con, cosplayers are treated like rock stars.

A great costume can get as much attention as the latest "Batman vs. Superman" teaser trailer (a cell phone video of which was leaked from the convention). Even famous actors got into cosplay this year: Daniel Radcliffe showed up in a Spider-Man costume, which probably helped him remain incognito.

At its base, cosplay runs parallel to the maker movement — a subculture of do-it-yourself tech enthusiasts, crafters, homesteaders, scientists and garage tinkerers who gather across the country at events known as Maker Faires.

Most cosplayers are makers. They sew their own costumes — using Halloween-store morphsuits as a base — and create various accessories from plastic, Styrofoam and cardboard.

Indeed, cosplay is another means of creative expression, says Simon Martin-Hurtado, with Fresno Cosplay and Filming. While it focuses on fictional characters, the costumes often re-imagine them in new and interesting ways.

So you'll see a female Stormtrooper, for instance. Or Darth Vader decked out in full pink. Or, the toddler version of the alien hunter from the "Predator" movies that appeared at this year's Comic-Con (seriously cute).

Locally, Martin-Hurtado says, a lot of women are making Jack Skellington costumes — the stick-figured protagonist of "A Nightmare Before Christmas."

He first experienced cosplay at Fresno's annual Ani-Jam convention (this year on Aug. 16-17 at Fresno Convention Center). He was in high school at the time and attended with his then-girlfriend and felt seriously underdressed. Since then, he's helped organize cosplay gatherings in the area, where he has dressed as Desmond from the video game "Assassin's Creed" and an all-black version of Spider-Man.

Mostly, he settles on Deadpool, wearing a zip-up hoodie over a black-and-red T-shirt. The Marvel comic book character (known for his ninja-style jumpsuit) is particularly popular in cosplay circles.

Martin-Hurtado finds camaraderie in connecting with people who have similar interests (you might call them nerds).

And while the majority of cosplayers are in their teens and 20s, age isn't a necessarily a determining factor, he says. He's seen cosplayers in their 50s.

Suddenly, I feel better about my mask. All I need now is a good red jumpsuit.

"There are no boundaries for the types of people drawn to this," he says.

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About Joshua Tehee

Josh Tehee

@joshuatehee

Joshua Tehee is a Renaissance man. He writes about music and pop culture. He plays in a band. Bowls. Commutes on his bike. And is a cheerleader for Fresno. His column is all about exploring Fresno's culture. Email Joshua at jtehee@fresnobee.com or call him at 559-441-6759.

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