You wouldn't think that folks dressing up in Sailor Moon costumes would strike fear into grown adults. And yet, for many in the comics industry, cosplay—“costume play”— seems to produce unusual levels of anxiety and bile. As first reported in Bleeding Cool, the most recent individual to publicly shout at the X-Men to get off his lawn is artist Patrick Broderick, who wrote on Facebook:
If you're a Cosplay personality, please don't send me a friend request. If you're a convention promoter and you're building your show around cosplay events and mega multiple media guest don't invite me....You bring nothing of value to the shows, and if you're a promoter pushing cosplay as your main attraction you're not helping the industry or comics market..Thank you.
Writer Mark Ellis then suggested that cosplayers had "narcissistic personality disorder" and took a brave stand against "overweight women in Power Girl and Slave Girl Leia costumes posing, posturing and demanding $20 to take a photo of them. A guy I know just said, ‘You’re standing around in public looking like a fool…shove your $20’ and took pictures anyway."
The dynamic here is clear enough. As Sam Maggs writes at The Mary Sue, the superhero comic world has long tilted overwhelmingly towards guys. That's changing though—and cosplay is both a result and a cause. Cosplay combines comics with the stereotypically feminized world of fashion; it's a way for folks to combine a love of Batman or Thor with a love of fabric and sewing and dressing up. As Maggs says, "Cosplay is an industry largely dominated by women; it opens up the world of comics—a world which has overwhelmingly felt exclusionary to girls and women—in a whole new way."
The question is, why do folks like Broderick and Ellis find that threatening? How exactly does someone cosplaying Power-Girl next to your booth damage you? People sometimes make vague claims about loss of revenue, or that the cosplayers don't buy enough comics—though it's hard to figure how more people at a convention filing past your table is going to damage your bottom line. The real vitriol, in any case, as in Ellis's statement, seems to be directed at the sexuality of cosplay, and even more at its artificiality. It’s the same mentality behind the fake geek girl meme—the idea that women cosplayers aren't real fans, and, beyond that, aren't actually real people. As Julia Serano argues in her 2007 book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, the feminine is often denigrated as artificial and sexualized. The cosplayers threaten to undermine the authentic purity and virtue of the comics industry. A woman is getting her picture taken close by—how can we ever take our magic wishing-rings and giant-sized Man-Things seriously again?!