What is Cosplay? A Look at 2022 Cosplay Culture

2022 Cosplay Culture

What is cosplay? Cosplay is an expression of fandom — most notably by external means, such as altering one’s appearance through costumes, accessories, makeup and physical actions or body presentation. But cosplay is also often accompanied by internal, psychologically transformative expression as the cosplayer adopts the character, personality, power or abilities, gender and/or sexuality of their chosen subject. The end result is the cosplayer’s personal version of their desired fandom.

Each year, on Labor Day weekend, the sidewalks and streets of downtown Atlanta take on a different flavor. (Not literally. Don’t lick them or anything.)

Peppered in amongst the visiting jersey-adorned college football fans, the business travelers and the local pedestrians, there are flashes of bright colors and ominous shapes and many, many questions. “What is that? Is that something from anime? Where are they going? How did they get their hair to do that? Why are there so many Deadpools?”

Dragon Con: A Special Breed of Awesomeness

Passersby are witnessing a hallmark of Dragon Con: a shockingly broad spectrum of cosplay, and the culture that comes with it. Cosplay culture is at the heart of Dragon Con. But it of course extends vastly beyond downtown Atlanta on a humid Labor Day weekend.

From coast to coast, and even some other distant lands, cosplay culture is born from celebrating fandom and passion and community—and, personally, I absolutely love it.

I am a multifaceted geek living in Atlanta. So I’m a little biased toward our special breed of awesomeness that is Dragon Con. However, I would be remiss to only highlight our ATL cosplay mecca. There are other pretty cool happenings elsewhere, like say San Diego and New York and wherever. Those places are alright too, I guess.

The Meaning of Cosplay Culture

But wait, backup a moment. Culture? Yes, culture! Cosplay is more than simply throwing on a costume, explaining to your Uber driver that you are indeed aware it’s not Halloween, and walking around until someone asks to take a photo. It’s about stepping outside of your normal day-to-day self and into a slice of imagination—of human creativity that you appreciate or admire or even love.

Cosplay is many things, but one is certainly that it is a manifestation of fandom. By its own nature, fandom breeds culture and community. Look at every major sport across the country and world. In fact, look at American football – both at the collegiate level and NFL – and you’ll find many a painted face, outrageous attire, exaggerated expressions.

You will also find a great deal of bonding, even across a sea of total strangers. That culture, that sense of community—they allow a person to embrace a different part of themselves, to feel a sense of release and belonging. Acceptance. Affirmation. This is why I love cosplay. (Also, full transparency, I find it freeing to deliberately not take myself too seriously at times. Good for the soul.)

Box Heroes / Credit: Kara Johnson Photography
Box Heroes / Credit: Kara Johnson Photography

My Own Cosplay Experience

One example from my own experiences involves donning a custom-made cardboard suit, hand painted to look like Nightcrawler from X-Men, a slice of the Marvel comics universe—and something I grew up with, even leading to my career as a Designer.

Though admittedly I’ve not suited up in over two years, I have spent more than 10 years as part of the Box Heroes of Atlanta – a group of rather awesome individuals, founded by a brilliant nerd named Stephen Larkworthy who also happens to be an exceedingly skilled craftsman. (For the curious, check out this PBS mini documentary by Jack Walsh. It’s pretty rad.) 

It’s About the People and the Fan Community

Sure, the suits are cool and the attention is super fun—but that’s not what matters most to me. The people – the relationships with truly enriching, good-natured human beings – is what matters to me. We have our own weird little community of angular superheroes who march in parades here and there, fist bumping wide-eyed kids and laughing adults alike, as we waddle by with scuffing cardboard and a remarkable amount of sweating inside our suits that hopefully no one gets close enough to notice (or smell).

But why am I mentioning all of this? Because those people – and that Nightcrawler suit – make me feel genuinely good about myself. I jump and dance around like a ridiculous oversized robot, making random strangers grin and chuckle and sometimes even shout out “Nightcrawler!”, to which I typically overreact because HOLY CRAP THEY KNOW! And there it is – that community and culture, poking through the crowd.

I’m probably not telling you anything that you didn’t already know. Though, I will say, it’s good to be reminded here and there. There is a community – and a broader culture – of people appreciating each other. Personally, I think that’s something to celebrate.

Cosplay Culture Is At the Core of Dragon Con

To its credit, Dragon Con is indeed its own particular breed of awesomeness—and cosplay culture is at its core. Speaking for myself, I truly missed it in 2020 and 2021. I missed the weekend of embracing my own fandoms, of celebrating others’, of immersing myself in a sea of glorious weirdos. The mashups! The epic, incredibly clever cosplay mashups!

There’s even the “Cult of Jon”, a spontaneously devout group of Dragon Con acolytes who carry the sacred memory of Jon the FedEx cardboard cutout from years past. Because of course. Side note: the cult was strong in 2022! #UnderHisGooglyEye

Dragon Con 2022
Photo Credit: Doug Sprinkle for FanBolt

2022 Cosplay Culture

Let’s take a look at what this cosplay culture of raw creativity has cooked up in 2022!

Being at Dragon Con 2022 was important to me, as I know it was to thousands of others. And it should be. We’re a community, even if we don’t know each other. So, high-five from a corner of Atlanta. You keep doing you. Love your style. See you at the Con.

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