by Zachary Clemente
In October, comics veteran Patrick Broderick announced that he was returning to DC for an unnamed project after 20 years. A few days ago, he posted the below on his facebook page, requesting that people who are cosplay personalities or represent conventions who build their show to include cosplay and media guests should not invite him and went on to suggest that the inclusion of those individuals bring no value to the show and that the people in charge of these shows are not a positive force in comics. This is an open letter to Mr. Broderick, whose works includes: The Fury of Firestorm, Micronauts, Creature Commandos, Batman: Year Three and many others.
Dear Mr. Broderick,
Can I call you Pat? Cool – thanks. I want to talk to you about the you made comments a few days back that have drummed up quite a din in the comics world. I’m concerned that you haven’t really been keeping close tabs on what many folks have been discussing when it comes to cosplay at conventions and to a lesser extent, media/entertainment guests. Before we get into it, let’s be clear: I think you and everyone who has sided with you it wrong as wrong can be; let’s talk about why.
Before I go further, I’d like to discuss the history of costuming at conventions and cosplay. “Cosplay” is a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play” that was coined by Japanese reporter Nobuyuki Takahasi, who wrote up his experiences at the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention for the My Anime magazine. That was around time you were working on Sun Runners for Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics, yeah? Secondly, it’s important to point out that it was at the 4th annual San Diego Comic-Con where their first masquerade was held – a now-common convention event where costumers are encouraged to show off their work. It was a big enough deal that June Foray (voice of Rocky the Squirrel) emceed. That was 1974, right around the time where you started working for DC, unless I’m mistaken.
To run the gamut, I want to know if you’ve heard of Forrest J. Ackerman – I hope so because even I have. For those unclear, Forrest “Forry” Ackerman (born in 1916) was the collector of science fiction books and movie memorabilia and, arguably, the most important science fiction fan to have lived. The influence of his work in the world of science fiction is nothing short of monumental; hell, he coined the phrase “sci-fi”. I’d also like to point out that he was costuming in 1939 – two decades before you were born. For the first ever World Science Fiction Convention, Ackerman showed of his slick duds, dubbed his “futuristicostume” – looking akin to an early superhero. He, in essence, was the first ever cosplayer. The point of all of this is that what cosplaying, as a pursuit and a sanctioned and supported activity, has been around in the convention scene essentially as long as you have, if not longer. Perhaps not to the degree that it is presently, but around nevertheless. You are saying that something that has been part of the very marrow of comic conventions for as long as you’ve been working in comics “brings nothing of value” and is “not helping the industry or [the] comics market”. How do you codify that arrangement?
Pat, I urge you to ponder where these statements are coming from. Who are these people not helping and what kind of help, exactly, does the comics market require? Additionally, what is your definition of the “value” that needs to be brought into a convention space to be worthy? I press you on this because I think your notions of what a convention should be and what they have, for the most part, evolved into are very different and that troubles you. Due to this disconnect, this is now how I read your request:
You bring nothing of value to
the showsme. You’re not helping the industry or comics marketme.
All of this is part and parcel to the true issue that your “request” is wrought with: entitlement. Not to beat around the bush, the first reason most comics pros will complain about cosplayers at conventions is that it detracts from their sales. I don’t truly know if this is your exact issue, but your voice is one of many such voices decrying the presence and the support of cosplaying at conventions; that cacophony is what I aim to address.
I’m sorry to break the news, but attendees at conventions owe you nothing. Like you, every attendee had to pay to be there and has their own agenda which does not always include dropping money on comics, toys, paraphernalia, or the various other items typically sold on the floor. Like buying anything, essentially anywhere – the choice of when, what, and how someone purchases is up to the consumer. I’m not trying to say that it’s exclusively on the the shoulders of the retailers and exhibitors to ensure that they make any sales at all; I’m saying that suggesting that one factor in the economic ecology of conventions is the problem is laughably narrow-minded and indicative of a dangerous unwillingness to take a step back from an exhibitor table and take a thoughtful look around.
What kind of help does the comics industry require? I think the most easily addressed need is that comics need more readers and you know – I think that’s (mostly) being worked on. Comics, especially those published by DC and Marvel are typically not very accessible to new readers. Runs spanning hundreds of issues, complex interwoven plot arcs, and more character death/rebirth/reboot than you could shake 52 sticks at. Other companies have made a far more concerted effort to accommodate with quality books, but they don’t yet garner the percentage of sales that the Big 2 get. However, the numbers are changing and that indicates a change in the interests of comics readers, and subsequently, the change in the demographic of comics readers. The biggest growing demographic in comics readership is women – especially teenagers. Quick poll: who is most likely to be cosplaying at a convention? You got it: women. I genuinely believe that these two factors, among others, are correlated. The more contemporary convention has more reasons for people to attend and one of those reasons is to cosplay. These spaces are for more than just comics now, especially at SDCC or NYCC which haven’t been for a decade or more, but that’s all part of knowing what show is best for your needs.
Pat, you ask that conventions that push cosplay and media guests as a main attraction shouldn’t invite you. You know, I don’t think any of them will have a problem with that.
Maybe your SDCC or NYCC just aren’t the sort of shows that you want to exhibit at anymore. That’s totally fine, feel free to check out this intense list of shows that run annually. You are sure to find something at least once (if not twice) a month that accommodates for your needs. That’s a personal preference, not a problem. Really, this whole thing can be a non-issue for you.
What irks me, however, is the aforementioned cacophony of pros shaking their proverbial fist at the generally younger attendees in their outfits and crying foul; all with the misplaced irritation Abe Simpson harbors against an atmospheric mass. This isn’t a generational thing, though age is absolutely a factor; it’s a blame thing. They’re desperate to pin one easily targetable group of people for being the genesis of change that it’s so easy to forget that an audience doesn’t have direct voice in how conventions are run. It’s not like cosplayers go to ReedPOP’s offices to tell Lance Fensterman that there needs to be more cosplay events or they’ll bust his kneecaps. There’s isn’t some super-influential underground society of geeky seamstresses who appear on the oaken boardroom table of San Diego Comic-Con’s planning committee demanding that the masquerade go two hours longer. The notion of blaming cosplayers for the changing climate of conventions is putting the cart before the horse then trying to blame the cart for the lack of motion.
What’s actually happening is that the passion of costuming, that’s existed as long as the modern American comics industry, has found a rejuvenated home with a younger demographic and conventions have, smartly, provided them a platform to celebrate that passion with other like-minded folks alongside dovetailing interests. This is thing that should be celebrated, not decried; quit trying to ostracize a huge group of potential new comics readers because they celebrate their interests differently. Literally any fandom that centralizes around comics have been revitalized by an active cosplay community. On the scale of expressing passion for a thing, spending months making a costume to wear at a convention is way up there, just under getting a very large and visible tattoo. It’s time to accept that buying original comic pages and attending panels aren’t the only ways to show that you’re a fan of something at a convention. I urge you to check out the #CosplayersAREfans tag on twitter to see tangible proof that people who cosplay buy more than enough at conventions.
I want to settle on a positive note, so I’m going to highlight one of the very best shows I attended this past year and why I think it was a perfect combination of cosplay, media guests, and comics. I’m talking, of course, about Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon, which runs annually in late March. First off – it’s pretty big: around 70,000 attendees. There’s a TON of space, so it’s easy to accommodate for cosplayer needs. In fact, there were 2 bookable fan meet-up spaces that were considered part of the official schedule. The size also affords the convention the ability to section off a large swath of the floor for their media guests so all it happens out of the way of the show floor, easing any confusion of congestion. All that said, I was blown away by the sheer percentage of exhibitors that were comics creators. It was easily 75%, the rest being a combination of games dealers, vendors, publishers, art collectives, and the alike. Additionally, they don’t skimp on their comics guest list – having a mix of 150+ comic writers, illustrators, and colorists already on the docket for the upcoming show in 2015. To top it all off, they ran the most successful campaign addressing the harassment of cosplayers – an unfortunately common problem at conventions. It was openly discussed, with promotion spread far and wide weeks before the event. Coupled with the prominent signage all around the show floor, ECCC’s “Cosplay is not Consent” campaign is an excellent example of a convention addressing a genuine problem appropriately with ease. It’s a brilliant show, Pat. You should check it out.
As my once-almost-editor David Harper often says, we’re all in this together. There’s the thought I always want to come from whenever I see this sort of attitude voiced by you and many others. There’s a good future available to us in comics and you’re holding us back from it. Thanks for reading Pat, I hope you reconsider your stance.
All The Best,
PS: If you really think selfies are the highest expression of narcissism, I suggest you don’t look at any European art after 1433 as Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man is commonly thought to be the first self-portrait.
PPS: After finishing this letter, I noticed that you posted a followup to his original request. It elaborates on your point and it doesn’t change my response; your voice is once of many that needs to be addressed. However, there was one comment you made that drives me up the wall:
…but keep in mind that these shows started and continue to be [PG] rated family friendly events so consider the children who attend with their parents and the uncomfortable position you’re putting the parents in with your designs.
Sure, some of these outfits are a bit revealing, but have you taken a look at the majority of the canonical female-bodied superhero costumes DC and Marvel have to offer? Not much to work with there, Pat. Additionally, if you’re going to suggest that cosplayers should be cognizant of only presenting kid-friendly content, let’s be sure to take down every artists’ cheesecake pinup of Mary Jane Watson, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, or I don’t know – pick literally any female-bodied superhero and someone will be selling a print of her in a “sexy” (read: exploitative) pose. This is the only thing you’ve said I’m not willing to play ball with Pat. You want exclusively “child friendly” content at cons? Then you’re going to have to make sure nary an artist has visible work that falls outside this category and then we’ll talk. Please don’t act like cosplayers are the problem here; you’re holding them to a standard that straight-up doesn’t exist on the show floor. Pat, this is the first image I get when I do an image search for “Superheroine”. Tell me how that image is PG while the costume would not be.