‘Cosplayers’ is a fandom love letter

By Robert Johnson Jr.
Arts & Features Editor

Not many people know this, but before I enrolled at FSU, I was an avid cosplayer. 

Back when “Homestuck” was the big webcomic of the day and when “In the Flesh” was a hidden gem on British television – or, “telly,” if you will – I spent many a Saturday afternoon hanging out in the Boston Common with my friends in costume.

In fact, the only reason as to why I’m at FSU is because I followed one of my closest cosplaying friends to campus. Just, you know, two years after they enrolled.

That’s enough about me, though. We have a graphic novel to talk about.

“Cosplayers,” the graphic novel in question, is a 2016 compilation of cosplay-related vignettes by cartoonist Dash Shaw, the creator of “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea.” 

While each of these vignettes is different in some way, each one focuses on the cosplay escapades of Annie and Verti, a costumer/videographer duo who make their mark not only at cons across the United States, but also on the internet through their low-budget films.

The duo are not the only fascinating characters in these stories – Shaw manages to characterize and capture the best and worst types of people that one might encounter in a convention setting.

Let’s be real: we all know that one pompous know-it-all who always has something to say about what constitutes a “real fan” of a given work, or that one person who goes to conventions who is very knowledgeable about the subject matter they work with, but underneath that exterior, they are socially inept and only know how to go to the bathroom in a potted plant outside of a hotel.

OK, you might not know someone who emulates the latter, but Shaw has that particular situation covered in his story, “Saturday.”

On a less bizarre note, “Cosplayers” is full of references through the cosplays represented in the story – “Princess Mononoke,” “Devil May Cry,” “Final Fantasy,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” are all here, but so is “Street Fighter,” “Steven Universe,” and the works of the late Osamu Tezuka, too. Every base is well covered, and no corner or era of fandom is left out, which is great on Shaw’s part.

Shaw’s art also has to be commended here – the style is definitely one of a cartoonist’s, but every color is just so vibrant and the way he draws his characters and their costumes are playful and, occasionally, awkward. It’s a good kind of awkward, though!

“Cosplayers” isn’t just about watching two internet friends go across the country to dress up in costume contests. It also features the most grueling, yet interesting, component of the cosplay process – the creation of the costumes themselves.

One of the untitled segments near the end of the book shows Annie visiting various thrift stores, pop culture shops, and fabric stores to get the equipment she needs to make a costume of Indiana Jones carrying the Holy Grail, which is a process that began upon seeing a trophy her mom won ages ago in the attic of her house.

Shaw, while not much of a cosplayer himself – yes, of course I had to research this – covers this developmental process in such a funny, yet honest way. I remember afternoons with my parents that turned into frantic Easter egg hunts, just because I wanted to get a white button up shirt to dress up as Dr. Flug Slys from “Villainous” for ConnectiCon 2017.

Good times.

Shaw might not be the most recognizable name in the comics industry, but, my goodness, I do not regret picking up “Cosplayers” on a whim at a Harvard Book Store warehouse sale. It’s a brilliant homage to a particular niche of nerd culture – one that would have quite the impact on said culture as we know it, should it not be as big of a factor as it is today.

If you want to look back at your dorky high school days shuffling your way around tight crowds in a large building, you need to give “Cosplayers” a read and have a laugh.