Seemingly Unrelated to Record Prices, Cosplay Booms
By J.C. Vaughn
For those who report on the comic book and original comic art markets, and pop culture collectibles in general, it’s been a fantastic time.
There have been some incredible record prices paid – $3.2 million for a CGC-certified 9.0 copy of Action Comics #1, $326,000 for the CGC 9.2 Northland pedigree copy of Incredible Hulk #1, $657,250 for the final interior (story) page from Incredible Hulk #180, which featured the first brief appearance of Wolverine, $203,150 for The Phantom of the Opera one-sheet, and $210,000 for the 1900 Coca-Cola calendar – and there have been new options in the marketplace, such as the addition of a competing third party, independent comic book grading service, CBCS,
All of these have rightly commanded attention, but there’s another trend that over the past few years has become a major component of comic book conventions ranging from small local shows to the powerhouse exhibitions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego and the New York Comic-Con.
While the term “cosplay” – costume play — is still relatively new compared to the long history of popular culture or even comic character collectibles, the notion has been around for decades. Many different niches have seen dressing in character or even creating one’s own characters as part of a larger story or universe for quite some time.
Back before the financial success of the Spider-Man franchise, the X-Men franchise, and the first go-around with the Batman franchise, Star Trek fans made dressing in costumes a regular component of Star Trek and science fiction conventions. Star Wars fans took it to another level with the addition of service-based organizations who do activities out in the community, but in costume.
The larger the gatherings, the more cosplayers there are, and the more acceptance they’re getting. One can readily see the costumed attendees in the mainstream news coverage of these events, as well in more collecting-centric media.
The fans of Japanese manga and anime didn’t invent cosplay, but they probably were the ones who made it a significant activity that their conventions. At their gatherings such as Otakon in Baltimore, it can seem that there are more in costume than not.
The crossover event, through which cosplay broke out from is anime-inspired niche into the general American comics sphere, was Sailor Moon. Veterans of Comic-Con International: San Diego remember the influx in the mid-1990s. It represented a major demographic change in the attendance at the show; first girls, then young women, then entire families significantly changed the composition of the crowds.
The presence of cosplayers has filtered to local comic conventions as well, and many show promoters actively recruit cosplayers to attend. In fact, there are now professional cosplayers, something that not all too long ago would have seemed difficult to imagine.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum President Melissa Bowersox and cosplayer Eddie Newsome have teamed for a new book on the subject, The Overstreet Guide To Cosplay. While recruiting many other cosplayers to participate in the project, the duo will serve as lead authors.
“Cosplay has already had a real impact on many conventions, but it’s clear that not everyone knows what to make of the phenomenon. To some people it must seem as if it’s happened overnight, but it’s really been percolating through fandom for decades,” said Bowersox.
“We’re looking forward to spending the next year developing our book with a comprehensive approach that documents what’s been going on, offers a solid “how to” segment, and looks at some of the issues cosplayers face,” she said.
Newsome will participate in the book’s kick-off event at the Virginia Comicon’s two-day show, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, November 22-23, 2014 at the Richmond International Raceway, 602 E Laburnum Ave, Richmond, VA 23222. The Overstreet Guide To Cosplay is due out in November 2015. Cosplayers in attendance at that show and others over the next few months will have the opportunity to be featured in the book.
The Virginia Comicon is a telling choice for the event. Begun by dealer and fan Guy Rose started as the “Chester Comic Collector Club” more than 28 years ago, the show has grown to become the leading comic book event in the state. After well over two decades of one-day shows, The Virginia Comicon now hosts one two-day convention and four one-day shows each year under the direction of show promoter Brett Carreras. Attracting top creative talent, retailers, collectors and fans, the show offers a family-friendly experience, and part of that family-friendly approach is inviting lots of cosplayers.
Carreras said that the atmosphere it creates – along with plenty of photo opportunities for kids to pose with their favorite characters – is something that really adds to the overall experience of going to a comic convention. This year his goal is to have 1,000 or more cosplayers in attendance for their November event.
“Over the past few years, both at our one-day shows and at our big two-day events, The Virginia Comicon has seen a tremendous surge in cosplayer attendance. In addition to our long running costume contests, we’ve offered free admission for cosplayers, we’ve offered special photo shoot opportunities, and we’ve even brought in top cosplay guests, but this year we’re going to show the cosplay community a welcome like never before,” Carreras said.
Whether this trend translates into the cosplayers becoming high end collectors in significant numbers is something that will have to remain to be seen at this point.
J.C. Vaughn is Vice-President of Publishing for Gemstone Publishing.