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January 21, 2018

Comic-Con in London: a helluva costume drama

People want different things from costumes, I realised, at the Comic-Con convention at London’s Excel. Some people just want to show you their washboard stomach, and will dress up as any character that typically wears a short shirt. Some are transfixed by detail, and will spend three hours on a realistic wound or some nose shading.

Others still are trying to animate a character, drag Poison Ivy into real life with careful attention to the bodice she might wear and the facial expressions she would be likely to make. Some just want to carry a fake gun.

The variety is wide, with one pretty significant uniting feature: they all really like dressing up. Although you can’t call it dressing up when you’re an adult. This is cosplay.

Sunny Strike as Xiao Qiao from Dynasty Warriors at Comic-Con in London.
Sunny Strike as Xiao Qiao from Dynasty ­Warriors. All photographs: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

The main sources for costumes are video games, cartoons, Japanese anime (like cartoons, except taken more seriously) and comics. Sunny Strike, 18, is dressed as Xiao Qiao from Dynasty Warriors, “a game based on the Chinese war”, he explained carefully, “that took place in history”.

He loves this game. “It creates this comfort zone where it’s just you, you’re in this entire world, you don’t have to think about your problems, but sometimes you find the answers to your problems inside the game.”

Ros (left) and Liam as Lady Hulk and Hulk from Resident Evil at Comic-Con in London.
Ros (left) and Liam as Lady Hulk and Hulk from Resident Evil.

Ros, 32 and Liam, 38, have come as Hulk and Lady Hulk from Resident Evil. I can’t imagine how many life problems you could solve from inside Resident Evil. At home they play the game for maybe 15 hours a week; discuss it when they’re not playing it; dream about it. That’s what Ros says, anyway.

Liam I can’t hear at all, through his gas mask with the reflective red eyes. These two are quite unsettling to look at, but I didn’t scream out loud until I met a Swedish guy with contact lenses that made his eyes look like they were swimming with blood.

“This is not a big thing for me,” Kris Resin, 29, said, from beneath a long black wig, his maroon satin suit so tight I could tell you the model of his iPhone. “I’ve come over from Sweden, this is just a fun thing to do with my pals.”

Michael Compitus as Barry Burton from Resident Evil at Comic-Con in London.
Michael Compitus as Barry Burton from Resident Evil.

Michael Compitus is with the Resident Evil lot, dressed as Barry Burton, a character about whom he doesn’t know a huge amount; he chose the character for the gun.

These games generate huge merchandise markets. Maybe everybody else already knew that. “I only change into this once I’ve arrived,” says Compitus. “From what we know of the New York Comic-Con, there was a lot of confiscation of weapons. It’s fine for the Disney princesses. They’re not generally coming as Elsa or Snow White with an M16.” Yeah. Princesses get all the breaks.

Rik Booker, Roxas Strife and TJ Bailey dressed as Gothic Lolita, Doctor Who and Rose Tyler respectively at Comic-Con in London.
Rik Booker, Roxas Strife and TJ Bailey dressed as Gothic Lolita, Doctor Who and Rose Tyler respectively.


Rik Booker is a 27-year-old Gothic Lolita, which is more of a Japanese fashion trend than an actual character. He looks exquisite, like a young Grayson Perry. His friends here, Roxas Strife and TJ Bailey, are the Doctor and Rose Tyler, respectively. I ask him what his other friends, the ones who aren’t here, think of cosplay. “I don’t really have any other friends,” he says, delighted.

A bit later, Sarah, who is a zombie with her boyfriend, Tom, and his flatmate, Sam, says: “I can come here once a year and feel actually normal.”

Emily Birch as Poison Ivy at Comic-Con in London.
Emily Birch as Poison Ivy.

Emily Birch, who is Poison Ivy, says: “Personally, I find it hard to meet people. You take yourself completely out of context, you’re in a costume that makes you happy, people appreciate you for the effort you’ve put into it. I love it.”

Everybody is open, and open-hearted. They all claim to be misfits or oddballs or geeks; they all come across as people who could walk into any room and take it. I feel like they’re saying it as a favour to me, because if I had any idea how great they truly were, I’d feel bad. In my scarf. With my flat, brown hair.

Birch then explains to me the two different readings of Adventure Time, and describes how she made her hair when she dressed as Princess Bubblegum. Fan conversations, deeply shared enthusiasms, are very intimate. I notice that today for the first time, which I suppose is because there just aren’t that many things I like.

Eleanor Herbert and Katie Hopplewell at Comic-Con in London.
Eleanor Herbert and Katie Hopplewell.

With Strike, though he only met them for the first time this morning, are two stepsisters, Eleanor Herbert (“I’m nobody,” she says modestly of her wings. “I’m just a regular demon”), 16, and Katie Hopplewell, also 16 (“It’s really quite crazy that you could wear something at school and get loads of comments about it, whereas here, it’s normal to wear wings.”)

“We’ve made so many friends,” says Herbert. “Lifelong friends,” agrees Hopplewell. Are they really talking about each other? The thought makes my eyes prick, sentimentally. They’ve only lived together six months. What do their parents think, I wonder … “Isn’t it great that they share this interest?” or “WHY ARE THEY WEARING WINGS?”

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Comic-Con in London: a helluva costume drama

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