Food for thought making the rounds in my online circles this week was an essay titled “Denise Dorman Asks — Is Cosplay Killing Comic Con?” The author is the wife of Dave Dorman, a renowned painter with a career spanning over two decades. Their table is a common sight for us at C2E2 and Wizard World Chicago, and doubtlessly a staple at comics and entertainment conventions in other cities. His covers grace several late-’80s comics in my collection and a few items in my wife’s Star Wars library. We’re not talking about an art-school sophomore with iffy talent and no business acumen. He’s a pro.
In the essay, the Dormans reveal the total intake from their first day-‘n’-a-half at Wizard World Chicago 2014 was a whopping $60.00. Their results from this year’s San Diego Comic Con, ostensibly the convention to end all conventions, were technically worse once you factor in the thousands of dollars spent on the experience.
The Dormans’ experience isn’t a singular oddity. The ensuing site discussion, in which Denise herself has participated and clarified some points, has touched on a number of factors that may be contributing to the decline of convention civilization. However, what prompted the most outraged responses — and why I saw a few friends linking to it while rolling their eyes — was the essay’s focus on one theory in particular:
I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions — seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I’ve seen it first-hand — the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers — rather than the famed industry household name — to pose for selfies.
I read a few similar complaints in the days following Indy Pop Con back in May (and talked to one of the vendors recently), a new convention where attendance didn’t meet projections and vendors of all sizes were dissatisfied with the results, but the cosplayer turnout was quite strong. At least one artist guest later took to social media the following week and disparaged the cosplay community for the sins of that weekend, as if thousands of Indianapolis residents had walked up to the Convention Center, saw three Harley Quinns walk by in a row, freaked out, burned their Pop Con tickets, and left to go shopping instead.
Cosplay has its ups and downs. So do all the other popular con activities do. Everything at a con is a distraction to someone. Anyone who’s read this site for any length of time knows my wife and I are cosplay fans. Don’t look to us for impartiality. But we wouldn’t be cosplay fans in the first place if we thought they were a menace to fandom and ruined everyplace they walked.
Honest confession, though: I’m personally not spending as much at conventions as I used to. And it’s not because cosplayers mugged me, or tackled me whenever I whipped out my wallet, or bedazzled me so deeply that I totally forgot to buy stuff. From a commerce standpoint, I suppose I’m part of the problem.