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a dispatch from phoenix comicon 2015

This is the first in a series of articles about Ziggy’s experiences at Phoenix Comicon 2015.  The accompanying pictures of convention cosplayers were all taken with consent to photograph and publish.  Heartfelt thanks to these wonderful people who are in so many ways the heart and soul of the con experience.

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

– William Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

And so the curtain has closed on the grand spectacle that was Phoenix Comicon 2015.

What’s the first thing everyone asks – nay, demands – to hear about my con-going experience?

“Tell me about the costumes!”

And why not?  After all, even more so than the invited celebrities on the top floor and the exhibitors manning the booths downstairs, it is the attending fans who are the true heart and soul of Comicon, and it is the cosplayers who are their ultimate ambassadors.

Trust me; anyone on the Comicon floor who’s not wearing a costume wishes they were (as do, I suspect, those non-attendees pumping me for recollections), and everyone looks up to and appreciates those who make the effort.  Rarely if ever does one see a one-and-done store bought costume; the vast majority are carefully handcrafted and/or acquired piece by piece, paid for less so with cash (though yes, there is often considerable cash involved!) than with blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul.  It’s a price cosplayers are more than happy to pay, for these are far more than special occasion outfits: they are outward expressions of who the cosplayers are, who they wish to be, who inspires them, who lifts them up from the depths of darkest night.  The costumes are souls worn outside the skin: the bravest and most generous form of self expression. 

It is the effort and the dedication and the bravery that the rest of us applaud; it is the generosity and the trust we know the cosplayers have placed in us to join them rather than judge them that we look up to and admire.

And it is the fun – the heart and soul set free – that we ultimately appreciate.

I very much appreciated – and still appreciate – the cosplayers of Phoenix Comicon 2015.

I loved the well-tailored look of the Steampunk lady standing at the base of the escalator, a small Cthulhu resting upon her shoulder.

I laughed with delight at the ingenuity of the exhibitor who found a way to come to the con as Sharknado.  Yes.  Sharknado.

I was thrilled to see my personal favorite comic book character, Harley Quinn, so well represented; with never quite the same look twice, and often accompanied by her (or his!) very own Mr. (or Ms!) J.

I marveled at the creativity of the woman who not only crafted a Steampunk wheelchair, but continued on to give it retractable wings.

I was a Star Wars fan before anything else, so the Jedi, Sith Lords, Stormtroopers, Ewoks, Cantina aliens, Rebel and Imperial Officers and Pilots all made me giddy.

I admired the minute attention to detail that various Captains America, Groots, and so many other heroes and Guardians of the Galaxy put into their intricate costumes.

I applauded the young lady who knew that a great costume doesn’t always require a great budget, and who took a “bloodied up” t shirt and half a plush toy and turned herself into the victim of a chestburster from Alien.

I smiled at the creativity of the cosplayers who combined multiple interests into hybrid costumes that went beyond the boundaries of single characters.  I’m especially thinking here of the young cosplayer I saw across the corridor whose wonderfully crafted, pastel colored Mandalorian (Boba Fett) armor was also adorned with the rainbows of a My Little Pony mane and tail.  (I only regret not being able to get close enough to ask to take a photo.  Yes, you always ask; cosplay is sharing, but it is not automatic consent.)

I was especially amazed by the cosplayers who took things to the next level and really put the play in cosplay.

I grinned at the Donnie Darko rabbit who not only had a fantastic costume, but who also delighted in theatrically (and obviously non-threateningly) quick-toeing about the hall and giving mischievous “boo” scares to con attendees.

I was floored by the Ring girl, whose every move was haunting, who sat without sitting, and who never said a word.

I was glad to see a “villain” demonstrate humanity at its best when a burly, fantastically costumed Bane happily agreed to pose for “fight” pictures with a little kid he’d never met before who was dressed as Batman.

I enjoyed efforts of all of these cosplayers and hundreds (indeed, thousands) more at Phoenix Comicon 2015, but I encountered my absolute favorite of the weekend not on the con floor, but in the lobby of my hotel. 

After dropping off a long day’s haul in my room, I went back downstairs for a few drinks amongst fellow con goers who also weren’t quite ready for the night to end.  As I stepped into the dimly lit lobby, I looked to the bar… and there was Rachel Tyrell.

Of course, she was really a cosplayer with a painstakingly well done costume, perfectly styled hair and makeup, and a decent resemblance to Sean Young, right down to the posture, but her look was so spot on, especially seated with a drink at that Deco bar, that for a split second, it really felt like I had stepped straight into my all-time favorite movie, Blade Runner.  I was completely, utterly blown away.  (I never learned your name, Rachel, but you made my con without even trying.  Thank you so much.)

Pop culture geek that I am, I’m usually pretty good at identifying the subject of any given cosplay, including the hybrids (what’s up, Loki Fett?), but I am occasionally thrown for a loop.  A common thing in such cases might be to ask: “Excuse me; who are you supposed to be?”  But I, for one, consider that blunt phrasing to be rather rude, especially given the massive amount of heart the majority of cosplayers put into their costumes.  To me, a better approach is one proposed by my friend and podcast cohost, Eric, who prefers to begin such inquires with: “Excuse my ignorance; I’m unfamiliar with your costume, but you look awesome, and I’d love to hear about your character!”

Much more polite, that.

With that said, though, I think that if one were to approach any given cosplayer with a blunt variant on “who are you supposed to be?”, and that person really thought about it, the most honest answer that anyone – whether wearing the garb of Harley Quinn or of Darth Vader or of a Steampunk zombie slayer – could give would be the same:

“I’m me.”

And that is the most wonderful thing about cosplay, and the most wonderful thing about Comicon.  We ditch the ridiculous “business casual” disguises that we are forced to wear most of the year and reach for something honest; something real.  Here, amongst tens of thousands of friends, we are all free to be who we are, and who we wish to be.

To our own selves we are true, and it follows as does the night the day that we cannot be – are not – false to anyone.  If that’s not the world as it should be in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.


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The Ring

- Written by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2015

With thanks to the amazing Cosplayers of Phoenix Comicon 2015, and to the organizers who made this wonderful event possible.

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

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