The 37th Element of Comics: Cosplay
(Sprmtt via Kelly Sue DeConnick)
So I asked Daryll Ayo about Cosplay today or whatever—I did so because I’ve read some of his thoughts on cosplay in the past—particularly in terms of indie “alt” comics or whatever that is(you know what it is)—and because whenever I want thoughts provoked about comics stuff, Daryll Ayo is the dude I go to. Anyways, I want to highlight a thing he re-said, talk about it, and then segue to talk about Kelly Sue Deconnick and the Carol Corps. Road maps in writing, this is like…almost an essay already.
So Daryll said:
“Cosplaying is for the fans. It’s part of how fans can express their emotional involvement with the work. Yet it stands separate and apart from the work itself. I always say that “alternative” or artcomics festivals need more cosplay. “
This is a pretty complex thing to unwind, and my perspective here isn’t a cosplayer, but as a comic maker, and I dunno…social media critic. But let’s start with Cosplaying is for the fans. Someone pointed out in response to this that there are of course a lot of creators who have cosplayed—so that’s not reaaally what’s meant here. It’s more that it’s an act of fandom. That a creator would cosplay is like a rapper that does graffiti, or a DJ who is also a b-boy or b-girl. So what’s being said here isn’t that only fans are cosplayers—it’s that cosplaying is an act of fandom. Now what does that mean. As Ayo says here, it means expressing a deep emotional involvement with the work. Bordering on a religious or cult-like obsession. Everyone can be an audience for a work. But not everyone who is an audience for a work is a fan of the work. You can even like a work a great deal, and not be a fan. One of my favorite movies is Cries and Whispers(Dir. Ingmar Bergman), but I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of that movie. The way I interact with the art is not what it means to be a fan of something.
So what are we talking about in terms of fan. I think it means, to have an emotional ownership of someone else’s art, or the things depicted in that art. So like, you caring about Walter White to the extent that you think how Breaking Bad ended was good or bad, based upon what you felt the character, that isn’t yours, was, and whether what he did or didn’t do matched up with what you felt was true. To be a fan, is to create a version of the art within yourself, that is beholden almost entirely to your perspective, and then measure the art as it progresses based upon how it stands up to the version of the work that you’ve created within you. There’s a tiny Batman sitting inside you next to tiny Jesus or tiny Buddha or tiny gaping void(my void is classy and moonlights at a well-respected Japanese Jazz bar)).
Something you also see is when people become a fan of what they perceive as a certain creator. So a Grant Morrison fan for instance has a version of Grant Morrison that they have built up inside them, and they judge his work based upon how it measures up with that version. And moreover the judge this man they’ve met, based upon these expectations. I went through this recently when Ales Kot, who I have the complicated situation of both being a fan of, and being a friend to, went to work for Marvel after writing a strongly worded essay telling customers and artists to boycott buying from and working for Marvel because of their stance on SOPA. The problem was because of that, and just sort of wishful thinking I had created a version of Ales in my head, such that his individual choices, contextual only to his own personal experience, might somehow be able to be judged by me, in terms of how they measured up to that. I was projecting on to him my idea of who he was, instead of allowing him to simply be who he is. President Obama has gone through this as well—and frankly, he was elected because of his ability to allow himself to be projected upon in place of creating true concrete stances that meant things. This is all the cult of personality, and while it is productive in terms of a person gaining a following and from that power, it is destructive in terms of the life it forces them to live. That shit will drive you crazy(see the withered husk of a man that Obama has turned into over the course of his presidency).
So that’s what fandom is. And I think social media and the way that people now process artists and art—is conducive to creating fan culture across all spectrums of the arts.
One of the people who is I think playing with these elements in some of the most interesting ways right now is Kelly Sue Deconnick. I follow her on tumblr, not because I like…am reading Captain Marvel(I will be reading Pretty Deadly—I already have a lot of the early issues pre-ordered, ha)—but because she has really interesting perspectives on comics, herself in comics, and the role of fandom within comics. And beyond thoughts, actual actions. She has this thing called the Carol Corps which she begins her explanation by saying:
“Fan of Marvel’s Carol Danvers — particularly in her new role as Captain Marvel? Welcome to the Carol Corps!
I am not Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel is not me and I do not presume to speak for the Carol Corps. However, as the book’s current writer, I get frequent ASKS about Captain Marvel merch — particularly the Captain Marvel hoodie everybody loves, so I’ve started keeping this list, which I’d eventually like to break down into Stuff to Buy, Stuff to Make and Stuff to Look At.
If you have links you think belong here, feel free to send them to me at my gmail address. Put CAROL CORPS in the subject line.”
There are a lot of interesting things with this. So first off let’s just address that something like the “Carol Corps” is an idea that’s always been around in comics, or used to be anyways, in terms of fanclubs that kids signed up for, and interacted with to build community through. That particular element of this isn’t what really interests me—beyond that I’ll say, it is not something I’ve seen in awhile, and the primary audience here isn’t kids really. The side of that that’s interesting is that this is ostensibly fanclub 2.0. Fanclub in real time. So on and so forth. But the internet has been around too long to still be talking about that stuff.
No, what I dig is this second paragraph “I am not Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel is not me and I do not presume to speak for the Carol Corps. However, as the book’s current writer”—the front part of that speaks directly to the weird thing in comics where the writer of a comic is in some way seen by fans as wearing the skin of that character, and being a touchable medium for that interaction with favorite character. And this is explicit about that relationship linguistically. I am not God, I do not speak for God, but as his Priest you can tell me, and I’ll tell him—type of relationship. And I also dig the “book’s “current” writer” of that, because it is almost like vodoun in that “for now, you can speak through me, and then it will be someone else”. It speaks to an ownership of this kind of relationship, that many creators run away from. See maybe Rick Remender during the debacle of “I don’t want to be called a mutant”. Kelly Sue is running directly into the predominant audience culture in comics right now.
And what’s interesting to me from a marketing standpoint is that even though she is coming from the side of a corporately owned character that she has little personal financial interest in, she recognizes an ability to short circuit the relationship between fan and corporation, through her role as writer-priest. People don’t send the Marvel tumblr their Captain Marvel cosplay pictures, they send them to Kelly Sue, and she posts them up for the larger community to interact with. Not only is she a vessell for the fan’s feelings toward their favored character, she is the conduit holding together the community around the character—such that when fans are cosplaying Captain Marvel and sending them through Kelly Sue to the larger Carol Corps community, their relationship as a cosplayer is not only to the character, not only to the community that Kelly Sue is spider webbed into self-awareness—but their relationship is to Kelly Sue herself. Which on the one hand is a lot of pressure for someone to take on, but on the other hand you wonder if that makes them more likely to carry over into her other non-Captain Marvel work. In a way that is more tangible than say when Paul Pope drew Batman hoping kids would follow it back to THB etc.
The difference in the two relationships may seem subtle, but they are profound. When you read Paul Pope’s Batman as a fan of Batman, you are ostensibly reading it just because it’s the newest batman story—and after it’s done, you will largely keep the circuit with DC, because your relationship was always about Batman, and Pope was just the guy who happened to be giving you your Batman fix for that moment. With the Carol Corps the relationship is still to Carol Danvers—that is probably why most people started reading the book, and when Kelly Sue leaves they will most likely keep reading the book. But Kelly Sue has also created a community which is a separate thing from the Marvel-Owned character. She has cobbled together people who may or may not have been aware of one another, and who can build relationships with one another based upon their shared associations, through the platform that Kelly Sue gives them as the primary conduit. Because of that, I would imagine for a large chunk of the rest of her life, she’s going to be able to go to cons and meet people who have an emotional attachment not just to Carol Danvers, but to the relationships they were able to build through the platform of the Carol Corps based upon their shared passion. Artist/Writer Message boards used to serve this function until they all became basically ghost towns. The Carol Corp is sort of a spontaneous zone of that phenomena.
So when we circle back around to what Daryll Ayo originally said:
“I always say that “alternative” or artcomics festivals need more cosplay. “
What we’re talking about here is really about having a real community, that is more than just creators buying other creator’s shit, basically touring cons to flip a dollar. This is about a passion level. Moreover, it’s about a level of projection and identification with the art, such that it means something. I’m not sure how I feel about that personally. I think before writing this, I was kind of sideways eyeballing it, as something worth doing. But on the other hand, the community side of it is cool. And I think there is a cultural side to specifically cosplay that is of merit, when you start talking about how a larger percentage of the cosplayers are women and how a lot of the condescension and scorn of cosplaying is directly tied to that fact. When we think about comic culture, we are kind of talking about nerd culture in subset, and what we’re talking about there is a kind of obsessive need to participate or know—fundamentally the narrative of nerd culture is that of the outcast finding escape or empowerment through arcane knowledge or code. When I think of when I was first getting into comics, a lot of it was because of all of the anxieties and depressions I had associated with my body dysphoria that made me distance myself from people, and I sort of sought out a space that could fill that loneliness through fantastic stories with bright bold colors, and secret identities.
The great thing about cosplay as a cultural element within comics and nerd culture is that it does seem to be a way that disenfranchised demographics within the subculture have found a way to speak and unite and build through. Somewhat in the same way that b-boys and b-girls have always kind of been more diverse than rappers in hiphop. Or even graf writers kind of bring a different perspective into hiphop. I keep going back to hiphop because that’s the culture I grew up the most through, but I think it’s instructive in that each of the different elements that make up hiphop bring in a slightly different perspective, and a slightly wider lens to what hiphop is—and the thing that I liked about hiphop at least in my era was I think mostly because of KRS-One maybe, there was a definite element of respecting all of the elements. Like you were more hiphop if you could allow a place for Djs, B-boys/B-Girls, writers, and rappers. There is an inclusiveness implicit in the legitimicy as a person within the culture, that we’ve yet to reaaally see comics embrace despite comics/nerd culture being still in some way a community of outcasts.
So I dunno really. You figure it out.