How Cosplay Is Ruining Conventions

Lego-inspired cosplay at CONvergence, July 2015

Recent articles quote a number of folks involved — either directly or peripherally — in the comics industry, decrying the state of modern comic conventions, and how the cosplayers, are, essentially, ruining everything. Perhaps I oversimplify their statements, but the sentiment is accurate, if not precise. Denise Dorman, wife of comic/sci-fi illustrator Dave Dorman, wrote a piece on this very topic, which Bleeding Cool reprinted word for word. You can read that piece HERE. Also mentioned in the article is a Facebook rant by Comic illustrator Pat Broderick. So how are cosplayers ruining conventions?

Spoiler alert: they aren’t.

Look: conventions — particularly those catering to comic book fans — are a fairly recent development. I’m pretty certain that, if you talked to science fiction fans from the days when Comic-Cons were being promoted for the first time, you would have heard a similar lament about how comic book fans were ruining everything. Sci-Fi cons have been around since the 1930s at least, and while they suffer from growing pains and feuds from time to time, they are still with us. The trick is that resourceful people learn how to make trends work for them, and adjust to take advantage of those trends. Cosplay-specific conventions already exist, and trends indicate they will grow and proliferate over the next few years.

Four Steampunks cosplaying at Gen Con, August 2015

There’s a branch of Cosplay that I’ve participated in for the last six years: Steampunk. My local convention, Teslacon, happens to be more of an immersive event, with an ongoing storyline, and staged events that help keep the story moving as well as provide entertainment. It’s somewhat unique in that very few other conventions had such an immersive experience until quite recently. My wife and I have had great fun dressing up for Teslacon and for other Steampunk events we attend.

Conventions aren’t totally static entities; they change over time to reflect what’s popular, what people are interested in, and more importantly, what people will pay money for. To address some of Ms. Dorman’s issues, I would argue that it isn’t COSPLAY that’s killing Comic Con: Comic Con’s own success is killing Comic Con. With a captive audience of roughly 150,000 attendees, there’s a great deal of competition from big media entities to promote their projects there. Those folks have a lot more money to throw around than comic book artists like Dave Dorman, and as a result, the price of everything else goes up. Comic Cons are for-profit entities: they exist to make money for the people who run them. As a result, they are going to cater to trends that bring people in the door.

I sympathize with Dave and Denise Dorman, I really, really do. As a fifth-string fiction/gaming writer, I rarely get invited to conventions at all as a guest, and paying for a table to sell copies of books I’ve worked on is a sure-fire way for me to lose money. The fact is, the whole argument put forward by Ms. Dorman and many others smacks of entitlement. Sure you hope to make a living from selling your work at conventions and perhaps you’ve amassed a body of work that is exceptional; that doesn’t mean the world owes you a living. If a convention is no longer profitable for you, it’s time to go somewhere else. If several conventions aren’t profitable for you, perhaps it’s time to consider another approach. Fandom is many things to many people, but one thing it isn’t is unchanging.

Sometimes the old strategies stop working and that is truly sad, as in the case of so many talented comic book artists who find themselves priced out of the major conventions. That doesn’t mean it’s time to give up, but it does mean it may be time to either adapt or find a different game.

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