This blog wouldn’t exist if comic studies hadn’t made great strides over the past decade or two (well, the blog might exist, but it wouldn’t have many readers). At the same time, studies of fandom (both comic and other) have taken off – see influential work by people such as Henry Jenkins, Jeffrey A. Brown, and Will Brooker, amongst others.
What isn’t always clear, however, is how work in one area – the study of how fans react to and interact with both their favored texts and with each other – and work in the other area – the study of the nature of these texts themselves – connect. This is a topic that has been mentioned on this blog before, but I want to address it directly: How do the events, practices, and attitudes of fandom affect the way that fans understand the relevant source material, and how should it affect the way that scholars approach and address these same text?
In his recent sequel to The System of Comics, titled Comics and Narration, Thierry Groensteen suggests that in some cases the connections are rather remote. In particular, he suggests that the relationship that cosplayers have to their source text is rather different from the relationship that genuine comics fans have to these same texts:
Of course, we have to acknowledge that comics is now put to many other uses, and arouses, among certain groups of younger readers, different expectations. To be convinced of this, one needs only to consider the phenomenon of “cosplay” (derived from “costume play”, originating in U.S. science fiction conventions but subsequently appropriated by manga fans worldwide) to realize that these young people who dress up as their favorite hero have little interest in the story – what they are seeking in comics is the hero or heroine with whom they identify. The emphasis in on the characters themselves, their costumes, their attributes, possibly the values that they incarnate, but not at all the context in which they appear or the adventures they have had. This phenomenon of identification is difficult for readers of my generation to understand – we were also crazy about heroes, but what mattered to us was how they gained hero status through their actions and how they swept us up in the excitement of their adventures. (p. 76, emphasis added)
This passage strikes me as mistaken: Cosplay does not necessarily have to involve an alternative means for appreciating comics texts, but can instead involve an extension of traditional methods by which we imagine or make-believe the content of fictional works. In addition, I am somewhat skeptical of the claim that cosplayers in general have less attachment to, understanding of, and engagement or identification with the heroes of their favorite texts, when compared to non-cosplaying fans.
So I am wondering: In your experience, what differences, if any, do you see between people who cosplay their favorite comics, and those fans who merely(?) read and enjoy them?
Jessica Nigri as Deadpool
Anthony Misiano as the Joker
Yaya Han as Catwoman
Groensteen, Thierry, Comics and Narration, Ann Miller (trans.), Jackson MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2011.