05 June 2015

One Hero's "Masque" May Be Another's Costume

As well as being a writer, I'm also a husband and dad.  I spent this past weekend (May 28th through 31st) at Phoenix ComiCon with my 12-year-old son, and gained some very interesting insight there.

My youngest son, Quentin, likes to practice Cosplay.  Cosplay is a compound word created by the combination of Costume and Play (or player), and hence denotes a person who is play-acting that s/he is the character (sci/fi or anime usually) s/he is dressed as.

Cosplayers may spend hundreds of dollars on their costumes, and work diligently to achieve detailed accuracy (similar to a Civil War reenactor I once knew).  And, at conventions such as this, the prizes for best costume can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Believe it or not, there are Professional Cosplayers who earn big bucks by dressing as characters from video games, television shows, or even movies.  They earn this money not only by winning cosplay contests, but also by doing work for sponsors.  I suppose this shouldn't have come as a big surprise to me; after all there's a guy who frequents the cigar store, who earns a six-figure annual income by portraying Sean Connery at business conventions or on the radio.  Pro Cosplayers earn money in a very similar manner.

I once posted here about an activity my youngest son, Quentin and I engaged in, last summer, called ICon ("eye-con"). At that convention, Quentin cosplayed (dressed and acted) as Edward Elric, the title character of the anime TV series The Full Metal Alchemist.

ICon was not a particularly giant convention, recalling (in my mind) the gaming conventions my older son, Joe, had attended when he was in middle school.  There, Joe and his buddies played Dungeons and Dragons or other board games for several days straight.

But, ICon lasted only one full day.

The Phoenix Comicon, however, lasted four days and was held at the Phoenix Convention Center (very close to where Left Coast Crime will be held in 2016). Last year, over 15,000 people attended Comicon, and this year the numbers were believed to be even larger.  Having been there, I believe it!

The Venues Included Writers! 
Storm Troopers posed for free with folks.
Phoenix Comicon had multiple venues within the convention center, but the admission "membership" bought access to all of these venues for the given day(s) of the membership.

Quen being tossed into
Batman's Arkham Asylum
Venues included two film festivals, one of which permitted members to submit films in advance, in hopes of winning honors.  There were also extensive panels and classes on writing, headed-up by successful Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Romance writers, and myriad author signings, as well as classes on screenplay writing, comic book writing and even something detailing how to become a professional still camera photographer for Hollywood movies.

Writers and pros had booths in the underground area, where steampunk and cosplay items competed for sale against Star Trek, Star Wars and other Sci-Fi and Fantasy memorabilia.

There were also movie and TV stars galore, available for autographs (about $40 to $60 each, additional cost) or to pose in photos with you (that would set a person back a hundred or two hundred bucks each),  The local Dr.Who society was on the top floor (by the stars) with their Tardis, two life-sized Daleks (one of which moved and had a suspicious-looking "Sidekick" badge taped to the front!), and a remote-control K-9.  On this floor also, one could find the Delorean from Back to the
Q sits with "Greedo" on Star Wars "set"
(photo prices supposedly donated to charity -- photos with the actor who played "Doc" in the film were even more expensive), several Star Wars "sets" created by local and distant Star Wars fan clubs, and even the Zombie Defense League and a local Pirate group.

Cosplay filled a lot of con space also, with classes and panels that ranged from how to buy and style wigs, how to sew costumes or make realistic-looking armor that wouldn't weight you down, to panels of professional cosplayers giving tips on the contests and how to make money at cosplaying.

Membership is NOT Cheap

An adult membership for all four days cost about $97.00 (a significant savings!), while a "sidekick" ticket for a kid 12-or-under cost $10.75 for the full four days.

Lunch for 2 = $45.00 LOL
By the time I finished work on Thursday, and we got downtown to the convention center, all of the full-time adult memberships were sold out.  I still managed to get a "Sidekick" membership for Quen -- though he initially didn't like it, feeling embarrassed I believe -- so he was set for all four days, as long as he was accompanied by a paid adult.

By the time it was all said and done, I purchased two adult memberships for Thursday ($30 each) so Q wouldn't have to wear his embarrassing Sidekick badge, two adult memberships for Friday (about $47 each) so my wife could go with him in the morning while I was at work, and my older son's girlfriend could join her until I relieved my wife, three adult memberships for Saturday ($57 each) so my older son, Joe, could attend with his girlfriend and myself, while Q used his Sidekick badge (and the older kids could go to the Steampunk ball or some other adult venue that night), and an adult membership for Sunday ($35) so I could go with Quen on my day off.

COSPLAY  (Hmmm.......)
A Family of Dr. Who's . . . Plus a Cyberman son ....
Talk about dysfunctional teen years! LOL

The main catalyst for our going, of course was that Quen wanted to participate in a Cosplay Contest. The problem was: Though we downloaded Comicon info from their website to our cell phones, months in advance, and that info kept updating over time, we NEVER saw anything labeled: "Cosplay Contest."

Instead, there was a "Cosplay Fasion Show" on Thursday morning, and a "Prejudging for Masquerade" at 4:00 pm on Saturday, and a "Masquerade" at a local Hotel, where the steampunk venues were being held, at 9:00 pm Saturday night.

Was the Cosplay Fashion Show a contest?  Evidently not.  Was "Masquerade" the contest, or was this a codeword for something dealing with steampunk?  We didn't know.  Nor could we find out ahead of time.

At one point, we ran into the evil "boss" from Kingdom Hearts.
You can't see it, but there is a crowd
jumping up and down and screaming behind me.
Quentin planned to dress as Sora, from Kingdom Hearts, a video game in which a young anime boy battles evil creatures with the help of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto -- though this game is not for toddlers imho.

To that end, for over a month, Quentin worked with my wife as she diligently followed his instructions, as well as online pics, to sew a Sora costume for him.  We bought a pair of too-large shoes at Goodwill, then he and I turned them into Sora's shoes using paint, tape and paper mache.  He and I constructed a "KeyBlade": Sora's primary weapon, using PVC pipe, cardboard, Styrofoam, paint, a small chain, etc.  My wife even styled his hair to match Sora's.

Thursday afternoon, Q and I entered the convention, neither of us in any costume.  Our plan was to orient ourselves to the premises, attend a few panels on cosplay or some other things, and form a strategy for the weekend.  Unfortunately, the maps in the program, cross-indexed with the buildings we were in, didn't make sense to me.  In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I -- an ex-SF Sergeant, known for finding my way for miles across empty and inhospitable terrain using only a map and compass -- never did quite manage to orient myself inside those buildings until the end our last day there.

It was not a stationary battle.  Q is waving his keyblade
as the "boss" waves his arms in attack.
I was able to navigate us to several panels . . . only to discover that Quen didn't want to attend most of them.  "I don't want to go to this.  It's like a class in school.  I just got out of school for the summer; I don't want to go to school for fun!"

I didn't blame him.  And, since he was the reason we were there, we did what he wanted to do -- while I scratched my head a lot and tried to figure out where we were on the myriad of seemingly unrelated maps inside my program.

By Thursday night, at last, I figured a few things out.  So, on Friday morning, my wife, Madeleine, and our son's girlfriend, Suzanne, knew where they had to take Q for the fashion show, while I was at work.  My daughter, Raven, wound up there to cheer him on, too.

Suzanne fixes Q's "Sora" hairstyle.
Q got a chance, there, to strut his stuff in his Sora costume, up on a stage in a huge hotel ballroom, in
front of hot lights and hundreds of people -- which I have no doubt was a good experience for him.  He encountered stage fright, but dealt with it on his own --HUWAH!!  I got there too late to see the show, but heard all about it from the kids.  My wife went back to work, while Suzanne, Raven and I took Q back into the con.  The younger folks decided to wander around together for awhile.

One panel I attended alone was called, "How to be the parent of a Comicon Nerd."  Quen had protested his attendance, saying the adults on the panel would make jokes about kids in cosplay.

He couldn't have been more wrong!

From the Mouths of Babes 

This panel was made up of a half-dozen kids ranging in age from about 14 to 17.  The theme of their panel was essentially: "What sort of Comicon Parent are you: Supportive, Disinterested, or Abhorrent?"  (Yes, they actually used the word "abhorrent." LOL)

First, each speaker explained a different facet of what a parent's comicon kid might be "into" and why it was usually "really nothing to be worried about."  They covered comic books, films, TV series, online comic books (webcomics, such as Homestuck), cosplay and other things.

They stressed the idea that "forbidding" a kid to play a game or watch a show wouldn't keep that kid from playing the game or watching the show at a friend's house.  Instead, they stressed open communication as the best way to address parental concerns.  Finally, each kid on the panel told us what her parents were like (supportive, disinterested, or abhorrent) so that we could compare ourselves to them, and adjust our actions if need be.

I was deeply moved when the girl with two supposedly "abhorrent" parents, wiped her eyes as she told us about her dad making fun of her cosplay outfit, and of how her mother refused to drive her to the con, making her take the bus, because "...that stuff is Devil worship -- you can burn in Hell alone!"  (Maybe her parents weren't really that bad, but her perception was that they were.  And, the really heart-rending part, was that I could hear how much she loved her parents and wanted to connect with them.)

Some feel EMPOWERED by cosplay.
The really eye-opening part of this program, however, was that I saw the impact of cosplay on some of these kids' lives.  Several of the panel members were dressed in cosplay outfits, which surprised me at first. Later, however, a couple specifically said words to the effect of, "I'm pretty shy, and I don't ever speak up at school or anything.  But, when I wear this cosplay, I can cosplay that I'm this strong character.  While I'm dressed like (this character), I act like (this character) and that's what gives me the ability to speak to you in front of this room, like this.  I could never do that, if I was just me."

It wasn't just what they said, either.  I could see it in their mannerism; their conviction was clearly evident, as was the importance of what they were doing, and why they wanted to speak to parents about their concerns.  Frankly, I wished that more than five or six parents had come to the panel. I also made sure to ask questions when it came time for Q & A: I wanted the kids to know I valued what they were doing.

And, I got to see one mother obtain relief when she asked, "Please tell me, what the heck is this Homestuck?  Why is my eleven-year-old daughter going to school with gray paint on her face and hands, and orange horns on her head!?!"

All the girls on the panel, along with a few kids sitting in the audience, screamed with joy, then laughed and sighed and comforted her, assuring her that it was alright, that they had all been into Homestuck and painted themselves gray at eleven and twelve.  At one point, one girl held up her arms and said, "See?  No more gray paint on my face or arms.  I outgrew it and she will too.  It's okay.  It won't hurt her.  Your daughter is fine and happy." Then, they gave the mom tips, such as: "The important thing is to keep her from getting in trouble at school, by getting paint on the walls if it rubs off her hands.  The way you do this is to seal with ...(I don't remember: something about baby powder and stuff -- but the mom took notes!)

I Realized:
Entrance to Cosplay Lounge.
Sign for Diversity Lounge in background.

Cosplay empowers people like this -- people who, for one reason or another, feel outcast or sidelined by life.  And, as these kids spoke, though they never addressed the issue, I finally began to understand why gender-bending is an important part of cosplay to many people; so much so that the "Diversity Lounge" was located next to the "Cosplay Lounge" at the con.

I also realized why taking photographs inside the Cosplay Lounge was so carefully forbidden -- because cosplayers take off their costumes in there; they are naked and themselves; they have lain their defensive bulwarks to one side and are vulnerable until they gird themselves, once more, in the armor of their character.

As the kids also pointed out: People (adults and children, both) engage in cosplay or other comicon activities for hundreds of different personal reasons.  Not every cosplayer is looking for a strength or defense that eludes him or her in real life.  Many, like my son, Quentin, just enjoy playing the part of fictional characters -- something I do, every day, when I write.  And I can understand this; I always have.

But, thanks to those brave kids, I now understand more about the genre, and the factors that may be at play in other practitioners lives.

But What About the Cosplay Contest???

Door to PreJudging Room
No Entrance W/O Permission
It finally wound up that the "Masquerade" WAS the cosplay contest.  Q and I camped out, in the hallway outside the prejudging, for several hours, but he did not get in.  The condensed answer is that we didn't understand how to apply online.  We've learned a lot, however, and next year -- WE'LL  BE  READY!

The hallway outside, 2.5 hours later.
In fact, with the help of a friendly "Sailor Venus" cosplayer, we learned of two cosplay contests he can enter in the interim, here in The Valley, so that he can get some more practice in front of a large audience.

A particularly humorous encounter I witnessed at the con occurred during lunch one day.  Q and I were eating, out on a sort of bench under shade, and there was a male-female couple in their late twenties not far from us.  The woman dressed as a Harry Potter character insisted (for some reason, I wasn't sure) on giving her husband/boyfriend a hard time about wanting to watch World Wrestling Federation on TV at home.  When the guy finally griped, "What's wrong with wrestling?" she responded, "It's completely
FAKE!"  At which point, he looked at her and mumbled, "Right.  And like you go to Hogwarts!"

For the Hill family, though, Phoenix Comicon and the lead-up -- gathering info, making the costume -- all of it, was a family activity.  And, in the end, our family really enjoyed it.  So, chalk-up a win this time!

See you in two weeks,


  1. You are a good father, Dix.

    My whole family will be heading to Spokane in August for the World Science Fiction Conference (Google Sasquan) which is a more literature oriented cousin of comicons. Lots of cosplay which i will studiously avoid. Should be fun.

  2. Indeed,Rob, cosplay is not for everyone. LOL. Enjoy the conference!

  3. Although I write more in other genres now, I started my career as a science fiction fan turned science fiction writer, and I attended several SF conventions when I was younger, though I've never attended one of the genre-related comic cons. I still attend a few SF conventions each year as one of the professional writers, so I'll share a tip with you. SF conventions tend to treat their writers better than mystery conventions.

    If you're willing to participate in a few panels, maybe do a reading, many of the smaller to mid-sized SF conventions will give you a free membership and will provide a free or reduced-price membership for one guest. You need not be an SF writer, if you have something to offer. For example, you can join a general panel about writing. Or, if you have an interest in SF, have specialized knowledge, and can add to a panel discussion about how it applies to SF, you may be a good panelist. (For example, someone with a long military career who enjoys Star Wars and Star Trek might be a good addition to a panel about "The Military in SF.")

    Additionally, many of the small and mid-sized conventions have a Con Suite and some also have a Pro Suite. The Con suite usually has a spread of food and is open to all convention members. The Pro Suite also has a spread of food but is only open to the pro writers, editors, and other panelists.

    So, if you're willing to work a little (and what writer doesn't like to talk about writing?), you may be able to cover the cost of attending conventions where your son can then participate in the Masquerades.

    Start now by contacting the convention committees (specifically the Pro Liaison) of any conventions you might want to attend and let them know you're a local, available pro writer.

    And if you're in Austin, Texas, in July, you can see me at ArmadilloCon. (Alas, this one's a literary SF convention so there's no Masquerade.)

  4. Michael, you've encouraged me to knuckle down on my sci-fi manuscript. Even in my computer, its pages are now curling with yellow.

  5. Oh, geez, Dixon, this needs a pepper-in-the-air alert. You brought tears to my eyes writing about the girl with the abhorrent parents. And you did it again when you spoke of the children who became brave inside their costumes.

    It’s a damn good article with potent writing. Your children are very fortunate.

  6. Dixon, I apologize for hogging so much space, but I wanted to mention an acquaintance of mine, Richard Fox. He’s been a Westinghouse executive, the CEO of a robotic-tech company or two, and headed the Central Florida Incubator, an effort to help companies get started.

    Richard, his wife and daughter are major SF convention fans and Trekkers (rather than Trekkies, if I remember right). So not only has he been a force within the greater Orlando community, he does cosplay as well. Your son’s in good company.

  7. I agree, you're a great dad. I think cosplay (deliberately with a lower "c") is natural to children (and adults, but we don't admit it...). When I was a little girl, my hero was Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan. I watched every movie when it came on TV, and I watched it dressed in a ballet leotard, which was the closest thing I could get (away with) to Tarzan and Jane's jungle outfits. Years later, I knew about Trekkies, but the cosplayers I actually knew were Rocky Horror fans, who went to midnight showings of the cult movie, dressed as their favorite character, complete with accessories: toast, lighters, meat, etc. And, of course, we Rennie rats are a cosplay world of our own. I have the costumes to prove it!

  8. I can't believe those prices! Food is bad enough, but those large fees for autographs? They'll be calling it Comic$$$. You're a great dad! Lovely article.

  9. My attorney and sci-fi friend (who once attended a Star Trek convention) shared a link to an essay by Wil Wheaton about this, called "Why it's awesome to be a nerd." You can find it here: http://wilwheaton.net/2013/11/transcribed-why-its-awesome-to-be-a-nerd/

    Wheaton played the boy Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is really eloquent about what these kinds of experiences mean to many of the people who love them. It reminded me of the panel of young people you attended. I hope you enjoy it. :-)

    And yeah, it's true. You are a really great dad!

  10. Anne Richards05 June, 2015 19:32

    A very touching post, I love it. Lucky kids.

  11. Great post, Dix, and an interesting article by Wil Wheaton (thanks, Anonymous!). By the way, unless I'm mistaken Wil Wheaton was also one of the four boys (the main one, actually) in the film Stand by Me.

  12. When I wrote my reply to Rob’s comment I pressed the button to have follow-on comments emailed to me, but evidently it didn’t take — probably because I was using my cell at the time.

    So, when my sister emailed, saying something about a comment posted here, I came back to check and discovered all these wonderful new comments. I apologize for not responding prior to this time; I simply thought no one had responded.

    Michael, that’s wonderful advice, and I really appreciate it. I’d never seriously considered using my military knowledge in the Science Fiction or Con arena before, but you’ve got me contemplating how I might do so. And thanks for the tips on things such as Con Suite and Pro Suite, too!

    Leigh, I appreciate your very kind words. I’m not surprised your friend is a cosplaying Trekker, I’ve met several rather sharp (and quite successful) folks who were. Have you told him you blog with Dixon Hill? LOL He might get a kick out of it.

    Eve, when I was a kid my dad and I used to turn out the pool lights in the summer and play Tarzan and his son. The rough rock planter along the pool’s back wall had plenty of vines and other plants. I think you hit the nail quite squarely in your comment, and would love to have heard your Tarzan call. Are the Rennie Rats associated with the Book Glimmer Rats? If so, I had no idea any such organization existed.

    Anon #1 I’ve never been much of an autograph hunter — which has undoubtedly saved me a lot of money over the years. LOL I have to say, the Star Wars fans who put up those “sets” were extremely kind, inviting folks to take pics for free and even providing props for their photos. In fact, beside the bar booth with Greedo, they had a “bar” with several manikin aliens from the film, and a live-action volunteer who acted the part of bartender, posing happily. He told me he usually took two hours off, each day, and spent the rest of the con hours, in costume, behind the bar because he was happiest there, helping folks live their Star Wars fantasies free of charge.

    Anon #2 thanks for that Wil Wheaton link. I liked it a lot. And, thanks for your kind words — even if you are my sister. lol

    Thank you for your kind words, Anne. They mean a lot.

    Thanks, John. And you are certainly right; Wheaton was the main protagonist (imho at least) in Stand by Me. Last summer, I also enjoyed him on the Wil Wheaton Project, a late night show that aired on the Sci-Fi channel here, and was a sort of talk/variety show dealing with Science Fiction and Fantasy themes. My favorite parts were always the game “How will they bite it?” in which contestants tried to foretell how a character in some bad Sci-Fi film scene was about to be horribly killed, and what I think was called the “Clip of the Week” in which he’d pan some terrible new SF film, but in a funny and friendly way.

    To his credit, he has also appeared as “himself,” acting as the nemesis of the brainiacs on Big Bang Theory, as well as the nemesis (portraying another character, not himself) of the gaming league in the series The League — a very funny show.


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