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Anatomy of a Cosplayer: Tales from Behind the Mask

Anatomy of a Cosplayer: Tales from Behind the Mask

by James Hannon


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COSPLAY - Its a word that invokes a multitude of reactions and explanations.

From comic conventions, to charity events, to movie premieres and parades, there are people donning the costumes and personas of every character from comics, video games, pop culture, and even internet memes. And behind the masks and tights of this costumed community are everyday people - doctors, lawyers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, and a lot of computer professionals of all ages, genders and races.

Author James Hannon introduces you to a cross-section of costumers, and takes you behind-the-scenes of cosplay life over the last decade. From the small niche of early Star Trek and Star Wars costumers to the modern cosplayer community, meet the people who have been there along the way.

ANATOMY OF A COSPLAYER has everything you ever wanted to know about cosplaying, but didnt know (or were too afraid) to ask. Learn about the costumers - the how and why they got into this hobby. Read about some of the larger costumed organizations, and their impact on the community and fandoms worldwide. Join others on their individual cosplay adventures and learn how they deal with the changing environment, costuming skill development, and what it really takes to survive a convention. Hear from over 70 cosplayers as they honestly tell of their experiences, good and bad, within this silly, yet rewarding thing we call COSPLAY

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781546247135
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 06/30/2018
Pages: 412
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Growing up in the Bronx during the 70s, author James Hannon never imagined hed be spending almost a decade of his adult life dressed up in costume, but sometimes life takes unexpected detours that somehow includes spandex and plastic armor.

James has personally seen this hobby explode from a small niche of Star Wars costumers to the worldwide cosplay phenomenon of today. He has portrayed Stormtroopers, TIE Pilots, Gorilla Soldiers, Cylons, SuperVillains, and a professional-wrestler-turned-governor.

James is also the author of 2010 book Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang, and is the director of the 2004 documentary Out of Our Dens: The Richard and the Young Lions Story.

He currently resides in New Jersey with his wife Jackie who thankfully also costumes, and his cat Buster, who just isnt surprised at anything that goes on at the Hannon house anymore.

Read an Excerpt



July 9th, 2017

As I open my eyes, my life for the last 9 years hits me. I am sitting in a flimsy folding chair behind thick black curtains. My beautiful wife Jackie is standing above me with a tiny paintbrush and small vial of black wax in her hands. To my right, a full makeup kit and a bunch of plastic storage tubs, garment bags, and hangers. There seems to be a lot of activity on the other side of the curtains.

As I sit here about to have my wife apply black wax directly onto my teeth with a paintbrush, followed by her applying copious amounts of black makeup onto my eyes, forehead, mouth and chin, I realize that my life is not a normal one.

Welcome to Sunday at the 2017 Garden State Comic Fest at the Mennen Ice Arena in Morristown, New Jersey. I am in the process of being transformed into a Gorilla Soldier from the Planet of the Apes movie and TV franchise of the 60s and 70s.

There is a sent email on the phone in my pocket to yet another local horse stable about possibly getting them to provide a horse for a photoshoot of me in the traditional Gorilla Soldier costume. Oddly enough, local stables aren't jumping at the chance to have a guy in a gorilla costume come in and ride their horses while a professional photographer takes pictures.

Due to my lack of makeup skills, and there only being gender-specific changing rooms at this event, Jackie and I have had to hijack the changing area of the Extreme Costume crew to apply my makeup. And while that's their company name, it perfectly describes them as they are premiering a monstrous 10-foot-plus Reinhardt costume - the Tank character from the Overwatch videogame. Last year, they debuted an equally huge Hulkbuster costume. So, they needed a large area to get changed into their costume. Luckily, they had just left the area to walk around the convention in costume, so Jackie and I snuck into the area and rushed the gorilla makeup application before they came back and kicked us out.

In addition to the traditional Planet of the Apes Gorilla Soldier, I brought another version of the gorilla costume with a twist - I used the same makeup and mask, but instead of the iconic gorilla costume from the 1970s movie, I was stuffing my not-so-skinny body into a red and black spandex Red Lantern unitard to match a comic book cover from a recent crossover comic run between Planet of the Apes and Green Lantern.

Three days earlier, I had just celebrated my fiftieth birthday, so this particular weekend was my celebratory birthday weekend. If you had had asked me ten years ago what I would be doing to commemorate my fiftieth birthday, I can pretty much guarantee that walking around in public in spandex and a gorilla mask was not in the top ten-thousand options.

I should also mention that this would be the first time ever that I would be walking around in a spandex costume. Years ago, I vowed never to wear spandex costumes, but as I turned fifty, I decided I wanted to do something that scared the hell out of me.

How did I get to this point in my life? If you've read my prior book Lost Boys of the Bronx: The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang, you would have seen that I was raised in the 1970s in a pretty rough neighborhood of the Bronx, where putting on a costume would mean getting your ass kicked.

This is nowhere near where I expected to be at 50. As a younger man, I figured I'd be settling into middle-age watching my kids go off to college and start their own families. But good or bad, my wife and I were not graced with kids, so we had a lot of time and money that we might not otherwise have had. And something just clicked along the way that led us down this costumed path.

Throughout the course of this book, you will see many of the pieces that clicked into place that led me to this exact moment. And I am not alone - you will also see stories from other costumed people from various walks of life who have travelled their own paths and have reached a similar point.

This book you are reading was started in 2011 - shortly after I released my Lost Boys of the Bronx book. I had really enjoyed utilizing the oral history format of that book, and wanted to do something similar. I had just started costuming as a Stormtrooper with the 501st Legion a few years earlier, and had lots of friends who costumed, so a costume-based book made complete sense.

So, I grabbed about seventy or so costumer friends with whom I had interacted with in some way, and asked them if they would answer a "few questions" about what brought them into this hobby. Those few questions turned into over fifty questions, but the interviewees happily answered them.

Once I had the first batch of questions answered, I went about grouping and cataloging them into chapters and writing this book. This took longer than I expected because I was working a full-time job as well. I had switched jobs back in 2013 and now had an hour and a half commute each way. Along with switching industries and having a lot to learn, I just couldn't get the traction to write consistently. So, I put the book project on hold.

And as the years passed, I figured there was just too much time gone by, so I officially pronounced this project dead.

And then 2017 came around. That long-commute job came to an end, and I had a lot more free-time and brain bandwidth. During an out-of-the-blue dream meeting with one my favorite authors Richard Price, he asked me what I was working on. I had absolutely nothing creative going on and I panicked. Out of desperation, I talked about this long dormant project to make myself sound more "interesting." I wish I could say that Richard, one of my writing inspirations, thought this idea was great, and that's what re-ignited the spark for this book. But no such luck. He politely acknowledged it, but I could tell that cosplay was a foreign topic to him.

However, on the drive home from the meeting, I called my friend, Nedd Jacobs and told him about what had happened, and joked that I needed to start this book up again to "stay honest" to the statements I had made earlier that night Big mistake! Like a crocodile, Nedd bit into that statement, and would NOT let go. He just kept badgering me every time we talked and eventually I started looking into starting the book up again - just to shut him up.

But surprisingly, while going over my past work on the book, the original passion for this project kicked in again. Sure, I lost touch with a few of the interviewees, and a lot of the interview answers were obsolete. But I had gained a lot more friends and experience during the lost four years, which gave me an entirely new perspective on costuming.

Back in 2013, I was doing mostly Star Wars costuming w ith the 501st Legion. But by 2017, I had expanded my costuming repertoire to include SuperVillains, Battlestar Galactica Cylons, Star Trek and G.I. Joe characters, WWF/WWE Wrestling superstars, and the previously mentioned Gorilla Soldier from Planet of the Apes.

I had also been in various administrative roles in the 501st Legion, been the second-in-command of the Finest G.I. Joe Costume Group, and was the founder and president of the Legion of SuperVillains cosplay group. All this experience and the new friends associated with it gave me a lot of valuable insight into group dynamics that I did not have before.

Also, now that I just turned fifty, and I am realizing that I am not invincible and I am realizing that I might not be able to do the more physically demanding costumes much longer. Which is a totally different perspective than I had when I was starting out costuming in my early forties.

I hope this growth will turn this into a much better book than I would have written years ago as a relative newbie into costuming. But I'll let you, kindly reader, decide that.

But first, let's just jump in and figure out the basic terms you may need to understand what I'm talking about. Don't worry, they're not too complicated.



As with most hobbies, there are plenty of terms that get thrown around. Some are easy to figure out, and some just don't mean what you would think they mean. This costuming hobby is no different.

There are some basic definitions that I use in this book that might not make sense to everyone reading this, so I will list them out here. I'm sure I will miss some of them, but a quick trip to Google or any other search engine should help you out.


Let's start off with the most basic term for this book - "Costumer." Or is it "Cosplayer?" It may sound simple enough of a concept, but I have seen nasty fights happen when I have asked a group of people what they want to be called. The costumer/cosplayer community has a lot of passionate people.

When I started wearing a costume back in 2008, I was purely a costumer, and there was no way on earth I would EVER consider myself a cosplayer. Cosplay was a term I didn't really know at the time, but I found it to be related to people who costume in the Japanese Anime genre – which is not something I was into at all.

Well, dear reader, times have changed. No, I still have not put on an anime costume, but the term cosplay has changed over the years and has gained huge popularity thanks to events like New York and San Diego Comic Cons.

Now, many people - especially the older generation of costumers like myself, still don't like to acknowledge that we are called cosplayers. Some actually despise that term. But it doesn't really matter what we think - the world today considers ALL costumers as cosplayers thanks to the media.

So, I will be using the terms cosplayer and costumer interchangeably. I have a tendency to favor "costumer" in writing, and "cosplayer" when speaking. It just makes things easier for me so I do not have to keep explaining to people that I am not writing a book about "customers."

Here's what some of my costumer friends have to say about the subject:

Chris Feehan

I have always thought of myself as a "Costumer," not a "Cosplayer". I think "Cosplayers" are people wearing costumes who are also re-enacting or playing out LARPs (Live Action Role Plays) in costume. Cosplayers assume those characters the whole time they are in costume, both in body and mind. They are the Anime crowd, Fantasy crowd, and some of the historical re-enactors.

Nick Abruzzese

I use the terms interchangeably, although I know that is far from the norm. I like the term "cosplay" because it is something the public knows, and people who are not into it can understand the term because it is now in the normal day-to-day vernacular. So, I use "cosplay" around people who are outside my social circle. I try to use "costumer" around others who costume. I feel like "costumer" is a term that shows you've raised the bar a bit and goes beyond just the "play" part of the term. To me, a costumer is someone that can create something themselves, or really goes beyond what you might normally see at a show. I don't find either label derogatory, but I know some people who get offended if you use the wrong label for them.

Nedd Jacobs

I prefer the term "costumer", but I feel the term "cosplayer" is okay for some who do this merely for fun and/or attention. But my main "costume" is that of a Mandalorian and when I wear it I do so to raise awareness and money for charity, while showing my love for Star Wars. And it becomes more about the costume itself which is what the public sees, not the man inside.

Neil Anthony

I always consider costumers as the ones who are being paid or trying to get paid to be at an event and they suit up for a living. For example, the characters in Times Square who charge people for selfies or someone who advertises and gets paid to be at birthday parties. Cosplayers are those who suit up because they love the character, series, film, comic, etc. I do not find either term offensive - to each their own. But I have seen people take offense to being labeled or called the wrong one.

Suzanne Lo

I consider the two terms to intersect, like a Venn diagram. "Costumer" to me is someone who creates their own costume but has no requirement for them to act the part. In contrast, I see "cosplay" to require some kind of "play" where the person gets into character with a costume on, but has no requirement for them to build anything themselves. Of course, someone could be both.

Bonnie Feliciano

I'd have to say I consider myself a "costumer" when I'm dressed as a 501st/Rebel Legion member and a "cosplayer" when I'm dressed as Harley Quinn. I guess it's because with the 501st, they have an official process to get your costume approved. Meanwhile with groups like the Legion of SuperVillains, it's more casual. We still look awesome of course and take the same pride with our costumes, but it's more relaxed.

Joseph Roa

I use them interchangeably. It usually depends on who I am talking to and what term the other person uses. It's almost like Trekkie vs Trekker - it doesn't really matter at the end of the day.

This was a pretty friendly discussion here, but you can see that there are a lot of different views on costuming and cosplay. As I said, I will use them interchangeably.

Now for other "less contentious" terms ...


Trooping and Troops are originally a 501st Legion term that has gained more acceptance in other costuming groups now that 501st members have expanded out into other genres. It was originally used for costumers who dressed as Storm-"Troopers" who attended events.

When I use the term in this book, it just means someone in costume going out to do an event.


Suiting up or kitting up are the terms used for simply putting your costume on – usually for a troop.


Spotting just means going out to a costumed event (or Troop), without wearing a costume and being support staff for the people in costume. This could mean helping them get their costume on and off, taking photographs, or helping folks whose vision is impaired (due to helmets or masks) navigate crowds or stairs.

People who do this are a major help to the costumers and I have been helped numerous times by numerous spotters over the years.

Different groups call this activity different things. Spotting, Squiring, Helping, Henching (for henchman), etc. I will normally use Spotting in this book since it's the one I started with in the 501st Legion and it "stuck".


CRL stands for Costume Reference Library, and it is another 501st Legion term. It is basically the official reference guide for every costume that the 501st has in its database. It contains pictures of the costume, detailed description of the parts, and requirements for basic and advanced approval in the 501st Legion.

I asked the current Garrison Membership Liaison of the 501st Legion's New Jersey garrison (Northeast Remnant), Taylor Arthur Goodson, to explain what exactly happens when someone puts in a costume application for the 501st Legion:

Taylor Arthur Goodson

When I receive a new costume submission, either from a brand-new member or as an addition to an existing member's profile, it is always an exciting thing. Everyone is always so proud and enthusiastic about their creation and their potential start to becoming a character from the universe we admire so much.


Excerpted from "Anatomy of a Cosplayer"
by .
Copyright © 2018 James Hannon.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dedication, v,
Acknowledgments, ix,
Rogues Gallery, xiii,
Foreword, xxxiii,
Chapter 1: Introduction, 1,
Chapter 2: Terms You Need To Know, 7,
Chapter 3: Types Of Costumers, 19,
Chapter 4: Exposure To Gamma Rays, 29,
Chapter 5: Halloween Memories, 35,
Chapter 6: My First Costume, 43,
Chapter 7: Costumes, 61,
Chapter 8: League Of Extraordinary Costumers, 81,
Chapter 9: Friends And Family, 103,
Chapter 10: Jobs And Co-Workers, 115,
Chapter 11: Costumed Couples, 119,
Chapter 12: Cosplayer Communities, 127,
Chapter 13: 501st Legion, 137,
Chapter 14: The Rebel Legion, 143,
Chapter 15: The Mandalorian Mercs, 149,
Chapter 16: The Legion Of SuperVillains, 153,
Chapter 17: DC Cosplayers East, 159,
Chapter 18: The Finest: A G.I. Joe Costume Club, 163,
Chapter 19: Costuming Skills Development, 171,
Chapter 20: Armor Making Basics, 181,
Chapter 21: Prop Tutorial: Captain Cold's Cold Gun, 193,
Chapter 22: Best Costumed Experiences, 201,
Chapter 23: Celebrity Experiences, 229,
Chapter 24: Trooping With The Real Boba Fett, 257,
Chapter 25: Worst Costumed Experiences, 261,
Chapter 26: Weapons And Policies, 275,
Chapter 27: Stalkers And Harassment, 283,
Chapter 28: Bodyshaming And Bullying, 291,
Chapter 29: Professional Cosplayer Backlash, 297,
Chapter 30: I Spent How Much?, 305,
Chapter 31: Physical Issues, 313,
Chapter 32: Leaving Cosplay, 323,
Chapter 33: Dream Costumes, 337,
Chapter 34: Why Do We Do This?, 341,
Chapter 35: The Future Of Cosplay, 363,
Chapter 36: Final Notes, 369,

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