Ten years ago I went to my first New York Comic Con dressed in a perfectly fine Doctor Who cosplay (Tenth Doctor, of course). My outfit was more a collection of H&M pieces and a pair of Converse I already owned rather than a bespoke look crafted by me in my parents’ garage, but donning such a getup and attending a convention was one of the nerdiest moments of my life.
Choosing to cosplay is a giant step into the chasms of nerdy fandom. But what you chose to cosplay as and how you execute it says a lot about you. Ten years ago, my cosplay said a few things: I was recently into Doctor Who and thoroughly, irritatingly obsessed, I loved wearing dress shorts (they existed in the 2010s), and I couldn’t sew or make anything myself. Meanwhile, the man wearing a gigantic Silent Hill Pyramid Head head was clearly a personal trainer, the person in The Last of Us clicker garb was a burgeoning FX makeup artist, and the guy in The Dark Knight Joker makeup was definitely the same person abusing me over voice chat in Halo 4.
Cosplay culture is multi-faceted and fascinating, and the more you dive into it the more you realise that it functions as a sort of funhouse mirror for the people participating. Your cosplay isn’t your astrological chart, but it might as well be.
Here’s what your cosplay says about you, probably. Remember, this is all for funsies, guys.
There’s a reason Captain America catches so many Tony Stark strays in the MCU movies: He’s a dork. While Chris Evans makes the dorkiness loveable, cosplaying as the most white bread-arse superhero, the one who just wears an American flag on his chest, is too much. It’s too earnest. And if you’re a somewhat handsome, muscular, white guy, it’s too predictable.
I once dated a guy who was obsessed with (and cosplayed as) Captain America, and he was also a guy who would watch himself in the mirror during sex. Do with that information what you will.
Full body paint like Halo’s Cortana or God of War’s Kratos
I salute you. Body paint can be an absolute bitch to work with — not only do you need to buy high-quality stuff like Mehron or Graftobian to try and ensure it doesn’t crack and chip throughout a long day at the convention, but you probably need someone to help you get all your nooks and crannies, as nothing looks more goofy than a Nebula with beige armpits.
Plus, if you have any sort of sensory issues like me, it’s gotta be a nightmare to have the largest organ in your body covered in not-very-breathable paint. But when body paint is done right, it looks so fucking good. Nothing will drop your jaw quite like a fully painted Kratos wielding an ax, or an Ahsoka Tano who has managed to nail the perfect shade of orange (and the right-length lekku).
You are dedicated to your craft, confident, and exceedingly patient. Also, you don’t mind physical discomfort.
As Newsweek wrote back in 2021, Marvel has a major Punisher problem, and if you aren’t aware of that when prepping your cosplay, then you have a major cosplay problem. The character, an ex-Marine turned vigilante, has recently and rather aggressively been co-opted by members of the alt-right, Trump supporters, and cop apologists. Even actor Jon Bernthal, who played him in the cancelled Netflix series, tweeted about “misguided, lost, and afraid” people taking The Punisher aka Frank Castle as their saviour.
If you’re cosplaying as The Punisher in 2023 you have a Thin Blue Line/Punisher sticker on your lifted Ford F-150 and a dire misunderstanding of the criminal justice system.
If you cosplay as anything that requires a basic understanding of electrical engineering, you are cool. You have achieved the cultural phenomenon that is being so nerdy you have looped back around into being cool, an ouroboros of acceptable nerdiness.
How can you not respect cosplays with intricate mechanical parts, like a really wild Doc Ock with flailing metal limbs, or an Iron Man with a fully functioning suit, or a Transformer that actually transforms, folding up into themselves on the convention floor until there’s a small Camaro in the middle of the show floor.
Mechanical/electrical elements in your cosplay tell me that you’re smart, you’re resourceful, and you can help me mount my Samsung OLED this weekend. DM me.
At this point, Deadpool is far too cringe of a character for me to take anyone cosplaying as him seriously. Ryan Reynolds has quipped him to death, and there’s no amount of weird, alternate versions of Deadpool costumes that can change that. If you’re wearing a Deadpool outfit in 2023, I am concerned you are living in a perpetual state of 2016, whereby Trump was never elected, covid-19 never happened, and the aggressive push for edgier superhero movies spearheaded by Deadpool didn’t result in dozens of lines of egregious dialogue added into dozens of projects in an attempt to recreate Reynold’s very specific brand of humour that he does in literally every movie he’s ever been in.
If I see a Deadpool cosplay coming down the hallway, I avert my eyes. Please don’t ham it up for the phone I’m holding in my hand, I’m Face-Timing my sister to tell her I just ran into Frankie Grande.
There is something so deliciously satisfying about queering an established video game or comic book character. The squeals of joy I break out in when I see a ripped dude wearing a tiny little slutty outfit are matched only by the ones I let out when I see a woman doing Link and leaning into his trans-masc tendencies. Gender-bending will also, in almost every case, let you get away with some of the more tired cosplays on this list.
My ex-boyfriend as Captain America saluting the middle distance for his personal trainer Instagram account? No? A Captain America in assless chaps and American flag nipple pasties twerking to Doja Cat in the Javits Centre atrium? Yes.
Eddie Munson, Stranger Things
It’s not that the people around you dislike you because you’re a nonconformist, like Eddie — they just really wish you’d see a therapist. That thing you do during arguments, where you growl and announce that you’re shifting into your final form? Yeah, no one likes that. You’re a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major — the stakes aren’t as high as you think they are. You’d make more friends if you started taking yourself less seriously. And maybe try cutting back on Rockstar energy drinks, goddamn. — Ashley Bardhan, staff writer
Bad Boba Fett, Star Wars
You hated The Last Jedi and you won’t stop talking about it to the gaggle of gangly Kylo Rens standing near the Amazon Go station. Those are Walmart sweatpants you have on underneath your cardboard armour pieces, but you’re thinking about throwing them out because you saw the Pride section they had set up there the last time you went to get a 30-rack of Bud heavies.
You thought the Boba Fett show should have had more of him wordlessly killing people and less of him out of armour helping the indigenous Tusken Raiders fight back against colonizers.
Good Boba Fett, Star Wars
You are a dedicated, die-hard Star Wars fan and you understand the power of finely crafted Beskar armour. You’ll sit at a table with the Reylos and break bread — you may not understand them, but you’re willing to listen. You enjoyed The Last Jedi, but wished Disney would have let Rian Johnson finish out the trilogy as a lot of his ideas were left on the cutting room floor. You didn’t love the Boba Fett series, but that didn’t stop you from building out a Daimyo variant for your armour.
You smell like tobacco and firewood. You’d buy me a beer at an afterparty but not linger too long.
You are incredible at makeup (seriously, everyone is dying to know your lip combo) but you’re the meanest girl at the convention. Why are you so mean? Did someone steal your Cinnamoroll plush on the subway? Are you pissed that your Tuxedo Mask — frazzled Sailor Moon’s more collected love interest — bailed last minute because he just had to stay home and play the newest Diablo?
Chin up, pretty guardian, and spray on more of the Ariana Grande Cloud perfume I know you have in your cat-shaped backpack. It’s going to be OK, and everyone thinks you look adorable. — AB
Joker and Harley Quinn Together
There are few things I dislike more than a creepy guy being a creepy Joker at a con, but one of those things is a creepy couple being a creepy Joker and Harley Quinn at a con. It’s goofy, it’s tired, it’s an annoying romanticization of a weird-arse relationship — remember when everyone was doing the edgelord Suicide Squad Harley and Joker cosplay?
Remember the thousands of shitty cosplays spawned from a movie in which Jared Leto’s Method acting prep included him sending his castmembers a dead pig? Nah, miss me with this.
Joker and Harley cosplay couples, try therapy instead.
Heisenberg, Resident Evil Village
I recognise you. I blocked you on Twitter, right? How’s your job at the Asheville escape room going?
You had way too many opinions on the Johnny Depp trial…it was scary. I know you’re super knowledgeable about microbrewed IPA beers, and Karl Heisenberg has a lot of fight in him as a mutated antihero, but neither of those things give you the right to talk over people.
Don’t you think you’re getting kind of old to be posting thirst traps to your 200 TikTok followers, too? Put the #cosplayking hashtag away. — AB
What are your spicy cosplay takes?