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The International Writers Magazine:Role Players

The Plight of the Narrow Stall: A Cosplayer’s Tale
• Hannah Starke
I walked into the bathroom to see four princesses and one villain, all staring at an open stall with trepidation.
“You can’t just not go to the bathroom all day,” Ariel told Belle with a roll of her eyes as she turned to the mirror and began to straighten her red wig, pulling roughly on one side so as to align the luminously plastic strands. “Why didn’t you practice?”


Belle ignored this question, contemplating instead the width of the stall door in front of her, the huge yellow ball gown she wore likely the crux of the problem. She hesitantly made her way to the stall and tried to fit through, only managing to get a fraction of the way in. She sighed, pulling off her long white gloves as she said with obvious reluctance, “One of you is going to have to help me.”
When it was all said and done, it was not just one, but three clearly devoted friends.

“Why the f*** did you choose Belle?” Rapunzel asked with a laugh as she sat on the edge of the sink in the pristine bathroom, seeming to flaunt her ability to move with ease in her rather less constraining outfit.
“Because I didn’t want to be a long haired bimbo!” was the retort from the stall, where Ariel and Drizella were wedged in and holding up a massive golden dress while Merida, bow in hand, stood guard in front to make sure that Belle’s honor was not completely tarnished.

A moment such as this, a group of bathroom royalty struggling with a toilet, is something you can only experience at DragonCon. In this land of gawking Georgians, no reliable internet connection whatsoever, and exponentially rising hotel bills, you are summarily hit in the face with heroes doing the most unhero of things.  Comic book conventions may be known for their panels with famous actors and their eclectic booths, but the true beauty of the con lies in seeing just what the cosplayers - an abbreviation for ‘costume player- do when they’re not in front of a camera.  I can watch interviews with famous actors all day long if I have a good enough internet connection, but the same can’t be said of seeing a group of hideous monsters loitering in the lobby, or the Mighty Thor using the escalator.

Everyone has heroes; mine have just always been more of the fictional and spandex fetish variety than most. It all started with Superman. I watched all the movies, all the cartoons. Not a Saturday morning went by that I wasn’t fascinated by the man while sloppily spooning my cereal in front of the TV. As I grew older, I ventured out into other genres and mediums, picking up a love of Disney along the way, but I always came back to superheroes.

When the chance arose to see all these people in person then, I naturally took it. Going to a convention – typically abbreviated to simply ‘con’- had long been one of those squirreled away dreams, something I shared with close friends but kept stoically silent about to others. At 21, I at last had the money and freedom to go, piling in a car with four other girls for the five hour car trip that involved three Fall Out Boy CDs, two chocolate frosties, and one missed turn that was nearly one Hell of a three car pileup going into the terrifying and deplorably sweltering city that is Atlanta in late summer. This was our first venture into the true underbelly that is the dorky beast of geekdom. We had all been on the precipice for a while, sitting together and postulating about plot lines of our favorite shows, movies, or book, but attending a con, and joining the ranks of the cosplayers, was the definitive leap to the other side. 

DragonCon Walking into the convention hotel that first day was the not so graceful landing into the world of cons. I expected to see the Justice League, posing in their most heroic stance. I wanted to see some zombies march through Atlanta. I was even excited to see someone pull off being a time machine. What I hadn’t expected to see was all my heroes being incredibly…human. In comics or movies, no hero takes the time to use the restroom or do anything remotely human like, but DragonCon fills in all those missing moments. Granted, there were quite a few of these heroic moments, too. The entire Justice League stood for what seemed hours on end, happily posing for picture after picture, and tolerating the anxious flash of someone too nervous to ask them permission. Even I, in my homemade Dalek dress, was subjected to this random flash of light, never quite knowing if I was supposed to acknowledge and pose accordingly or act as if I was oblivious to it.

The seasoned cosplayers are easy to spot, because they never have this dilemma.
Having developed a sixth sense when it comes to camera lenses, they are seemingly never caught off guard, and manage always to be photographed perfectly in character.

Seeing the princesses in a bathroom or The Mightily Lazy Thor on an escalator so took me off guard because even though I was fully aware that they were regular people in costumes, they were so talented at their role. It’s easy to forget that they weren’t real. My parents, having tagged along for the ‘people watching’ the con had to offer, pressed and prodded my younger brother and I to get pictures with some of the especially daring or brilliant costumes. The pair constantly held up the camera in some vain hope that my brother and I would have the bravery to ask the impeccable squadron of Jedi or the Steampunk extraordinaire for a picture. For my brother and me, it simply wasn’t going to happen. We found it completely unfeasible that you could go up to your heroes, these people you’ve spent hours watching, idolizing, pretending to be as you traipsed through the backyard with your friends, and ask for them to stop anything they’re doing and smile cheesily at the awaiting camera, though there were thousands of people that thought differently.

It was the same when I saw the bathroom royalty a few hours later taking pictures next to the massive rotunda of the hotel. Even though I had met Billy Boyd (Pippin of Lord of the Rings) the day before and had quite calmly said “Hi, I think you’re great”, and had absolutely no qualms about the 10 story elevator ride with him, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out a “hello” much less a “can I have a picture with you” to these princesses. The same scenario played out when I was confronted with Miss Marvel and Captain America, I simply stood and stared as my heroes smiled again and again before going off hand in hand to be normal people once more.

No one thinks twice when we emulate Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift. Their look is just as caricatured as any character in a novel, put together by stylists with the same love and attention to detail that any seasoned convention seamstress would have. Yet while it is completely acceptable to imitate these celebrities, it is a social disaster to dress yourself as Mulan. DragonCon is where I could finally impersonate my real heroes other than the ones that are shoved at me in every grocery store line. After all, what are ‘jocks’ or ‘fashion gurus’ but ‘nerd’ in another form.  Any true team fan could list off every player and win for the past ten years (at least). I met someone who could name every Pokémon - which stands at an impressive 649 as of August 2012. As for fashion, two girls created 17 outfits from scratch to make the most impressive army of Marvel heroes and villains that you’ve ever seen.
Darko Bunny

I met someone who could name every Pokémon - which stands at an impressive 649 as of August 2012. As for fashion, two girls created 17 outfits from scratch to make the most impressive army of Marvel heroes and villains that you’ve ever seen. And while sports fans may loudly lament the loss of their favorite team, here you’ll find a crowd lamenting the death of their favorite character. Here, we could all dress and act as our heroes for four days of uninterrupted geekiness.

As soon as the princesses walked out of the restroom, they were no longer simply women playing dress up. Fluffed and straightened costumes. Flattened hair. Firmly set smiles. A handful of princes awaited them as well as a Mulan, Cinderella, and Anastasia, taking pictures here and there with just as many adults as children. There was no hint that Belle had called Rapunzel a bimbo, or that Drizela had put aside her dastardly Evil Stepsister ways to help a princess in need. Doubtless, later that would all come out once more as they struggled their way out of the costumes or made an escape from the ever present con goers.
But the unwritten rule of cosplaying is that when you dress the hero, you act it too, because to break that is to break the spirit of DragonCon.
© Hannah Starke December 2012
http://dragoncon.org/ Book for 2013

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