AMONG THE ELVES: NEW YORK COMICON
A piece that previously appeared on Yahoo.com
I accepted an assignment to go to New York COMICON, because the editors had come up with an irresistible conceit: I would be dressed in haute couture designer clothing , trying to blend in with the Superheroes and Otherkin. High fashion and Cosplay were strange bedfellows that obviously needed to end up in a public restroom together at the Javits Center. I loved the cognitive dissonance/recontextualization of the idea: One of my all-time fashion heroes is a guy I saw years ago at the Renaissance Faire dressed in a yellow plastic biohazard suit with a tinfoil helmet, running around in a panic screaming, "Have you seen my DeLorean?! I've gone TOO FAR BACK INTO THE FUTURE!!"
My sister took pains to warn me about the seriousness of the situation on the telephone.
"Listen," she said, keenly aware of my ADHD driven-tendency to make inappropriate remarks that often offend people.
" OK, it's a costume event like the Renaissance Faire, but wa-a-a-a-ay more so. This is more of a religion. These people aren't dressed like comic book characters, they ARE comic book characters. They relate to the back-stories of their characters in deep way. Like, mythology, Joseph Campbell-archetype-psychology DEEP. Cosplay is very real for them. You have to think of this like you're walking into somebody else's church."
It wasn't until she said that that I realized that high fashion and Cosplay are exactly alike.
Luxury designers are certainly Gods to some. Marketing demands that all retail brands have "souls" these days, and I was wearing a Jankele couture Mohawk head-ornament made of uncut quartz and an impossibly fabulous Iris van Herpen laser-cut leather number that was something Aeon Flux's slutty older sister would definitely wear to her Dubai bachelorette party the night before marrying a robot-spider-sheikh.
I had seen fashion events become the sun around which several worlds rotated, besides the obvious fashion world itself.
The Renaissance Faire has long had a reputation for being the place where Dungeons and Dragons nerds with strong S&M proclivities could revel openly among members of their own like-minded, creative-anachronistic gene-pool, talk about the historical etymology of the band name "Steely Dan" over pewter mugs of frothy honey-mead and make chaine-maille chastity tunics out of bent coat hangers.
I had been dragged to a few fetish parties in my day, and, though a tourist, I felt I understood the essential libido behind the Will to Latex.
I have also known for years about the topless pyrotechnics of Burning Man, and the kind of liberty the sight of tits and fire together can inspire in a group of people who devote most of their lives to dutiful software engineering.
I developed a theory that events such as these, in an increasingly dehumanized, hive-like and hive-minded corporate world, actual life is more like Second Life, whereas CosPlay events are taking, for many, the pole position of First Life. The Avatar and the Player have swapped positions, and virtual reality, as science fiction has long predicted, has become the preferred home environment.
Cosplay is indeed a very serious business at New York COMICON. What was a bit of a revelation to me is how overtly kinky it is (while still sort of pretending that it isn't).
"COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT" chastened a bunch of oversize signs near all the entrances, apparently in response to what had become an annual groping epidemic. In truth, given the vast proliferation of vinyl corsets and mounds of hoisted, buxomatic cleavage straight from vintage Heavy Metal magazine covers, NY Comicon does, in fact, resemble a breast-grabbing invitational, or at least a burlesque convention in Mordor.
Some costumed enthusiasts are so wildly convincing, and so wildly convinced of their baroque and wholly realized otherness, there is no point in arguing that they are human beings. It would only confuse them, and be a cruel waste of time.
There was a tribe of pastel-haired, prepubescent children seated on the floor at one point -- we opted not to interview at first because the thought of having to scramble around securing release forms from their parents was too daunting. Later, I spoke to one of them: an elf-girl with giant pink eyes and long blue braids who, though she was well under 5 feet tall and weighed no more than 70 pounds -- turned out to be fully-grown, adult woman, carrying a handmade missile-launcher with a stuffed bulldog inside the barrel. Her fellow tribespersons, it turned out, also just happened to be preternaturally tiny, lissome, mischief-causing imps with giant anime-eyes and adult bodies the size of human nine-year olds, who shared a fanatic devotion and identification with the same comic-book series - and had somehow all found each other and were able to work this out.
At the risk of sounding offensive, it did beg the question: if these aren't real elves, what exactly are real pygmies? And what could they claim over these elves in terms of realness? Villages? DNA? History? Magico-Realism? NY COMICON problematized identity politics into one big miasma of glitter-glue and penis-gourd ornaments.
What was really so different about all this costumed rigamarole -- steely-jawed, humorless rubber Batmans, light-saber-wielding Jedi Knights, or blue girls with four arms -- and, say, gentlemen who stand on street-corners wearing Official NBA basketball jerseys? Or, for that matter -- what makes COMICON so different from Courtney Stodden? Don't most of us inject a little fantasy into our fashion every day, even if it's only a blue blazer that has never been within 20 nautical miles of a yacht club?
While one of the producers was actively bleeding from the feet after spending the day in yellow couture boots (from Moschino's recent "Sponge Bob" collection - no lie), I thanked my lucky stars that I'd at least picked up one intelligent tip from fetish balls past: I was wearing genuine vinyl sex-worker thigh-high boots, instead of "genuine" couture foot-shredders.
Whether you're Catwoman, a unicorn princess or merely a working fashion journalist, it should always be remembered that boots are ideally made for walking.
Contact Cintra Wilson for all of your editing, script-doctoring, and book-midwifing needs. CintraW@gmail.com
Artwork: “Barbie Submission,” oil on linen by Cintra Wilson, 2021