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New York Comic Con and the art of cosplay

A photographer’s experience seeing characters come to life through fandom.

October 17, 2022

As New York City returns to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic, its yearly Comic Con followed suit. After two years of low attendance, visitors came in droves to the Javits Center in Hell’s Kitchen from Oct. 6 to Oct. 9, ready to fully engorge themselves in fandom culture.

A cosplayer dressed in black police uniform in the Javits Center.

NYCC is a melting pot of panels with celebrities, exhibitions from retailers, lounges to connect with fellow fans and opportunities to engage with the artists who create fan-favorite stories. However, the biggest spectacles of the event are the cosplayers. Hundreds, if not thousands of the most devoted fans attend the event in full — often homemade — costumes.

A blue-faced cosplayer wearing a pair of red goggles and a glass-finished hazmat suit.

Cosplay is an art form; the artists pride themselves not only on their creativity but also accuracy to the minutiae of the character. Cosplayers will often build their costumes out of a variety of raw materials and found objects, taking many hours to build and execute. They devote attention to every detail, even painting themselves with makeup in order to accurately represent the character.

This Mr. Freeze cosplay was created by Mic Valentine.

A cosplayer wearing a mechanical mask and green wig holds a purple lightsaber.

Not all cosplays are exact replications of existing characters; some fans try to put their own spin on fan-favorite characters. For example, many cosplayers combine an iconic face with the conventions of another property in which the character never has appeared. A common example is to make a character fit an iconic franchise, such as “Star Wars,” or fit a certain historical period such as feudal Japan.

A cosplayer wears a black-and-purple robot costume accented with purple designs that look like wires and buttons. The text on the center of the outfit reads “EXTREME COSTUME.”
A cosplayer dressed in a cardboard costume of the Transformers character Optimus Prime.

Cosplayers bring varying levels of dedication to their costumes. Whereas one person can spend countless hours building a large mechanical suit with built-in sound effects and moving components, another can construct one out of cardboard and transform in front of an audience.

: A couple dressed as the Marvel character “Wanda” and “Vision.” On the left, a woman wears a red crown and matching red turtlenecked suit. On the right, a man with a red-and-green painted face and a yellow gemstone on his forehead wears a flannel shirt.
A bearded man in a blue bodysuit with the number four on his chest slow-dances with a blond woman in a matching bodysuit. The couple is dressed in Fantastic Four costumes.

While the fun of cosplay for some comes from the payoff of many hours spent designing and crafting a costume, others embrace it as a way to spend time with friends and loved ones. Cosplay allows people to collaborate as iconic duos or groups. While certain characters stand on their own as a strong cosplay, having their enemy, love interest, ally or creature companions alongside them provides another dimension of performance.

Two adults stand with a child in between them wearing Skeletor costumes. All three wear purple hoods, skeleton masks over the top halves of their faces and blue and purple body suits. They each hold a purple staff with a skeleton head on the top.
A family of four dressed in Moon Knight costumes. On the left, a person holding a staff with a crescent moon on the top of it wears mummy wrappings and a bird skull on the head. In the center, a person in a white suit and mask with a crescent moon holds a baby in a matching suit. On the right, a cosplayer in a white bodysuit, wrapped in mummy wrappings holds a brown staff.

However, not all parents who come to NYCC play the role of their costumed child’s supervisor. For some families, NYCC is an opportunity to bond by cosplaying together. Adults who love to cosplay use NYCC as a way to introduce their children to the world of fandom, using their children’s preexisting love for costumes to get them involved in convention culture.

The Khonshu cosplay furthest to the left is made by Jenn Barlow.

Two cosplayers dressed in Mortal Kombat costumes act out a fight scene. A cosplayer in black-and-blue combat gear lays on the ground. A child in a similar outfit colored black and gold places one foot on the man's stomach.

In the same way that cosplayers put effort into their appearances, they also focus on how to best carry themselves in the halls of the convention. If they are asked for a photograph, for example, some cosplayers will have a certain pose alone and a different pose in frozen action or group scenes. 

A circle of cosplayers dressed as different versions of Spider-Man surround a child and point at him. From left to right, a person in a red-and-blue classic Spider-Man bodysuit, a person in a black suit with a black-and-red hoodie, another classic Spider-Man, a Spider-Man from the Tobey Maguire movie in a red-and-blue suit with white spider web accents. A child in the center of the circle is dressed in a white shirt that reads "Super Mario" in rainbow letters, depicting the Mario character in front of a black-and-white checkered rectangle.

If you do a good job with your cosplay, you should expect people asking you to take a photo with them. Kids love to pose with their favorite characters, and cosplayers are almost always more than happy to oblige. What attracts many cosplayers to doing so is the sense of community and joy it brings both participants and onlookers. Cosplaying is not just a chance to play the role of your favorite character, but also a way to make someone else happy by letting them play along with you.

A subway passenger dressed in a black-and-silver knight costume with a red dragon-like figure on his stomach wears a black cylinder over his head. The head covering has a rectangular hole for his eyes, and small rectangular holes around his nose and mouth.

As the convention comes to a close each day, New York City’s subways become a juxtaposition of fiction and reality. For the everyday New Yorker, the sight of a man dressed as the black knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” standing next to a soldier of the fire nation from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is nothing to freak out over. Some subway riders might look up from their phones for a second to see who just boarded the train, but will return just as quickly to what they were doing.

Contact Jason Alpert-Wisnia at [email protected]

Developed for web by Samson Tu

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