In Flickchart terms, “Marvel vs. DC” is the ultimate match-up, made very clear by the fact that the Big Two occupied the two largest booths at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo this year. Marvel’s booth was dominated by a stage with a backdrop of The Avengers release poster, in front of which guests were invited to be photographed with props of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
Across the floor, DC Comics was surprisingly light on movie content; The Dark Knight Rises was represented almost entirely by a single, modest placard with the current poster and a TV loop of promo clips and ads that included the movie’s trailer. Where Marvel wants to emphasize the synergy between the printed page and the screen, DC is clearly trying to reassert itself as a comic book publisher and not an idea farm for Hollywood. It was with this dichotomy in mind that I set about exploring the relationship between the comic book industry and film.
A comic book convention is now as much about film and television as it is about comics (though I give credit to C2E2 and the exhibitors for making a very pronounced effort to emphasize the printed page more than some other shows have done in recent years). There continues to be a sense that movies legitimize comic books. Readers want to see their favorite characters and stories realized in some way on the big screen. Geek culture has also become part of mainstream entertainment throughout the last decade. Perhaps the most telling sign of this was the heavy representation of The Big Bang Theory television series on the show floor. I can’t be entirely certain, but I think that show was better represented on T-shirts worn by attendees than a lot of comic book staples.
I recently ruminated on the futility of endless discussions about film and what there may be left to even say about them. One of the responses suggests that we engage in the exercise as part of our “love affair” with the medium, and I think that’s true. In the interest of getting a new perspective on that love affair, I found a few representatives of the cosplay subculture willing to share their thoughts.
Cosplay (costume role playing) is the realm of fandom in which people attend public functions in costumes associated with the subject matter. The average cosplay article makes a point to tell the reader that these are “mostly normal people” who are “just having fun.” I’ve read those articles myself and I found them lacking insight and somewhat condescending.
I cannot tell you the alter egos of my interviewees because they were never shared with me. Black Cat and Spider-Man are married; Kick-Ass is Spider-Man’s brother and Hit Girl is Kick-Ass’s girlfriend. As Spider-Man put it, “It’s like having Halloween for three days.” Part of the appeal of cosplaying is being recognized for having a less obvious character choice and a well made costume. Being asked for photos, particularly by or with young children, is gratifying. Recently, there was a minor media stir caused by the traffic citation of cosplayer Lenny Robinson, who has taken to appearing in costume as Batman at children’s hospitals. His visitations bring some measure of pleasant distraction to the young patients, and if you can find a better way to put one’s enthusiasm to good use, I’d like to hear it.
Cosplayers take great pride in their posing skills because they know that no one wants a boring, static photo taken with someone in a bold, dynamic costume associated with a character known for action. Spider-Man practiced poses for half an hour in the morning before leaving his hotel room, and continued to stretch on the ground throughout our interview (though, admittedly, this was partly because I took his seat. Sorry, Spidey!). It’s a thoughtfulness about the end product that belies the camaraderie of the cosplay subculture. Cosplayers are happy to take photos with you, just make sure you ask first. They want to get it right, you see.
There were a few Jokers modeled after Heath Ledger’s makeup and costume from The Dark Knight. Other cosplayers present appeared as the Ghostbusters, Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and there were several various Star Wars characters well represented. I asked the foursome how they felt about those who attended comic book conventions dressed as the movie versions of comic characters, or even as characters who existed only in movies. They were a little defensive that it signified that comic book conventions were being hijacked by the movie world, but their only real criticism was that they had seen entirely too many Captain Jacks at shows. One of the cardinal sins of cosplaying is a lack of originality, and those new to the subculture through movies should be mindful of this. No one wants to be seen wearing the same dress as someone else at the same party.
Cosplay can be a competitive subculture (Black Cat and Hit Girl inform me that women should be advised to avoid particularly exhibitionist costumes because they’ll just make the other women snarky), but on the whole it’s very inclusive. It’s okay that you may not have read the actual comic books and are only familiar with the big screen incarnations of your favorite characters. Movies are perfectly acceptable inspirations for costumes! Indeed; Kick-Ass confessed he didn’t know anything about his character until after the movie was released. The previous day, Spider-Man and Black Cat had patrolled the show floor as Shaun and Liz from Shaun of the Dead. I am told that you will be welcomed even if you buy a cheap costume sold in stores rather than spend hundreds of dollars crafting your own. The point is not about one-upmanship, but about celebrating our collective love affair with entertainment.
En route to a panel the next day, I encountered a family of Green Lanterns. To my surprise, it turned out to have been Mom’s idea. She was quite clear that no one was really into it even up to just before the start of their day, but that once they arrived the kids got a kick out of walking around in costumes as a family and that it had been a terrific bonding experience. Mom had created a scavenger hunt for the family, consisting of various subjects with whom they were to be photographed (such as “Take a picture with Spider-Man”). My friend and I had traipsed across the show floor all weekend, running to one panel or booth after another and I was pleasantly surprised to stop and consider their relaxed adventure.
It turned out that the Lantern family dressed up previously for Dad’s birthday as The Incredibles (from which mom borrowed her gloves for her Lantern costume). When I asked if this was something they thought they would continue to do as a family, they were all enthusiastic about the possibilities. Finding a theme that allowed the four of them to participate and express their enthusiasms was very appealing to them.
If you want a starting point for some ideas, you might consider taking a look at “Wait, That was Based on a Comic Book?” in which I explore a few movies that many people do not realize were adapted from comic books. Also, take a look at our Based-on-Comics genre page for more highlights and recommendations!
Do you suppose if I dressed as Seymour from Ghost World that anyone would recognize me? ‘Cause I really identify with that dork.
I apologize to the Green Lanterns for failing to photograph them. This is what happens when I conduct an interview in a line for a Star Wars tutorial and get to thinking about a Green Lantern with a lightsaber!