I slide into my cab to Comic-Con, holding my wig and apologizing to the driver for getting lube all over the seat. My driver, Douglas, compliments me on my full-latex outfit. I ask if he knows who I'm dressed up as. In a thick foreign accent, he warmly says, "It doesn't matter." I slide to the other side of the car as he makes a hard left turn and think, Word.
Every year, Comic-Con allows me a few days to unabashedly indulge in my superlove of comics, costumes, and being a tax-paying adult who dresses up like a fictional character in public for free. Yep, I cosplay. And while it's more of an annual hobby for me, I love resurrecting the skills of my (now basically defunct) fashion design degree and embodying some of the badass female characters I’ve always adored.
In the past, I’ve always cosplayed iconic characters and get dorkily excited when strangers try to get my attention by using my character’s name. It’s inarguably dope to have people light up at your take on a character they know.
But then I started thinking, What if no one could yell my character’s name…because no one knew who my character was? Because I literally just created a random character and showed up? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to find out. Would people admit to their lack of knowledge or pretend they knew me (because: nerd cred at any cost)? Besides, it’s amazing to watch people lie when you know they don’t know you know they’re lying.
Is it obvious yet that I created a villain?
Since I wanted this vat full of BS to potentially trick the major-league players of comic book fandom I was sure to meet at SDCC, I had to do more than just show up in a latex bodysuit and push-up bra (though that was 100% my tactic to draw attention); I had to create a legit villainous persona complete with a backstory, awesome superpowers and abilities, a cheesy civilian name, and the pertinent deets of her actual comic and world. I called her Head Cannon.
I’ve always loved the so-bad-they’re-good heavy-metal comics of the ‘80s and ‘90s that tried to make actual bands the heroes of their comics (and vice versa), so I decided to make my meta madwoman exist in a world like that. With a name like “Head Cannon” being a subtle homage to fanfic culture, I had to keep everything else about her reasonably ridiculous but not an outright joke. I worked with a latex clothing designer to create the costume, got my "Nega-Nanny" wig together, pulled out some "hooker boots" from my closet, and put the finishing touches on this beast.
The thing about latex is that it instantly reads “comic book” (or “BDSM” — either is chill), but as a fabric, it breathes as well as Batman’s parents. I almost never consider my own physical comfort when I put together a cosplay costume, and Head Cannon was no exception. But while I could definitely tough through hours in the heat on eight-inch spiked heels in what is essentially a spiked body condom, the biggest source of my unease was actually the possibility that literally no one would care to interact with me. People would see me, not know who I was, and point their attention to the Sexy Diglett cosplayer or something more interesting, like the line for a $17 soft pretzel. I was embarrassed at how much I cared.
But then I remembered I was a villainous ex-groupie who could telepathically infect people she doesn't like with rapid agnosia, and therefore I needed to go-go, not cry-cry.
"Hi, I'm so sorry to bother you." I turn around, mouth sucking up the tequila soda I immediately ordered at the Gaslamp District bar where I was dropped off. A tiny lady and two dudes with Comic-Con lanyards are standing there, phones in hand. "Could we take a picture with you?"
It was then I realized I wouldn't need the social lubricant — this was already happening. I was ready to walk these streets in my boots made for superpowered street-walkin'.
I got about 10 feet out of the bar before a guy stopped me for a picture. He didn't ask who I was; he just asked his friend to take the pic longways. A woman with a small army of children asked for a picture right after. Tiny crowds were forming. It felt great that people liked the costume enough for pictures, but no one seemed to care who it was. I was low-key OK with that because look, I didn't want to lie to all these good people; they were saying nice things to me, asking me to pose with their kids, handing me their dogs like I was some sort of goth mayor.
But within a few minutes, someone did ask me who I was, and of course, it was a happy young girl who was volunteering in the hot sun for a children's charity. I saw no other option but to lie to her face.
"Her name is Head Cannon. She's from this cult, sort of Heavy Metal-type comic from the '80s..." I was totally forgetting my bit. "I found her comic in an antiques shop in New Jersey last winter and was like, oh my god, I have to cosplay this." What??????
Whatever, that angel was just stoked to get a picture.
I didn't expect to actually feel so gross about lying to people, but lie my wig off I did. I lied to a gallery owner, a waitress, a dad who mistook me for Catwoman, and every cosplayer I came across.
Speaking of feeling gross, you want to know what's grosser than lying to sweethearts? Wearing black latex in San Diego. I planned on being able to pop into air-conditioned spaces as I explored outside the convention center, but I didn't actually anticipate so much stop-and-pose requests that all happened to occur outside.
But here’s the thing about cosplayers: If we’re tough enough to leave the house wearing what we wear, we’re tough enough not to die of heatstroke.
Probably the most surprisingly awesome thing was that not one person acted as if they knew who I was just to seem "cool." Because being cool isn't what you aim for at Comic-Con. This in turn makes Comic-Con full of some of the most legitimately cool people ever.
- The experience of cosplaying a made-up character is pretty similar to cosplaying a real character in that people will constantly stop you for pictures and some chitchat — but not quite to the same extent. People love a spectacle, but when there's no personal connection to it, it's just that — and in no way did it feel as awesome to cosplay a shell of a character.
- Wearing latex in the heat is kind of like Deadpool's head: awesome on the outside but an absolute atrocity beneath. Unzipping was like a scene in Titanic.
- My skanky-demon-boot pain tolerance quota = four hours.
San Diego Comic-Con literally takes over the entire city of San Diego, and it’s seriously an amazing place to be a geek, whether you can get into the convention hall or not.
No matter what you cosplay, the most important aspect is making sure you feel awesome in it. You can cosplay absolutely ANYTHING and it can help create a really memorable Comic-Con experience— but being physically comfortable in your costume is a huge plus.
Even after throwing my boots out and limping down the stairs in torn thigh-highs and sunglasses, people still asked for my picture. Of course, Head Cannon obliged.