One of the most difficult times of year for geek parents like myself is the month or so leading up to Halloween. Not because Halloween isn’t the most awesome holiday in the United States, but because geek costumes aren’t the type that you can buy off the rack at Target. No, that would be too EASY and it certainly would make cosplay a hell of a lot less esoteric.
I don’t know the history of cosplay at all, but I do know it’s been around longer than most people think (the term wasn’t coined until the mid 80’s, but people have been dressing up as favorite characters since at least the Victorian age). It has gained more and more prominence in the last decade or so as people have glommed onto nerd-dom as a valid form of popular culture. The SyFy channel’s Heroes of Cosplay is the most recent example of cosplay going a bit mainstream, which is pretty damn awesome. It means that kids who love to emulate their favorite characters in all forms of media now have people to look up to and, perhaps, learn from. Sadly, it also means that my children are extra demanding about their costumes this year.
For the past 3 Halloweens, I have had to bite the bullet and construct my kids’ costumes for them. Because, as I previously mentioned, geeky characters just are not readily available in your standard big chain retail stores or Halloween pop-ups. They are occasionally available online, but as they’re handmade by other nerds, they’re not exactly affordable. And if a costume IS available on the mass market, it’s basically just crap. I mean, really crap. Five years ago, #2 wanted to be Leia for Halloween and #1 wanted to be Ahsoka (damn Clone Wars). I bought both off of some online costume retailer or another, they both fell apart in my hands and didn’t fit anyway. To my kids’ major disappointment, they were both stuck wearing random old pieces that we had lying around the house. They had their hearts SET on those characters, but I had no faith in my ability to make something better. Another random Halloween went by before the fit hit the shan. October 1st rolled around and they, determined as can be, requested Finn and Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time.
Both of these costumes are now readily available (beware of crap), but at the time the only people dressing up as any character from Adventure Time were cosplayers. Thank goodness for that, as cosplayers have established some fantastic communities that revel in revealing their processes and collaborative support. I was able to find patterns for Finn’s hat and Princess Bubblegum’s crown. Though most of it was up to my genuinely craptastic sewing skills. Still…
I managed to help my kids be who they wanted to be for Halloween! And then the next year they wanted to be Hogwart’s characters. And then LAST year? Nyan-Cat and Link. Seriously, who the hell dresses up as Nyan-Cat??
I didn’t even know who Nyan-Cat WAS, much less how to go about making a costume. But here’s the really fun part about having kids that don’t want to be the usual suspects for Halloween — I get to help them create something. Though I will admit to a majority of the sewing work, my kids collaborated with me in the development and execution of all aspects of their costumes. This is a vital piece of what it means, to me, to be an SF parent — DIY.
I have found that the SFF community is as much about the creation of works as it is about the consumption of them. We are not passive receptors of all things “Geek,” but the creators and participants in those things. We establish entire communities dedicated to just TALKING about geeky things. So when my kid comes home and says, “Mom, I want to be Yukio for Halloween,” I don’t just stand there wondering who the frak Yukio is (though that is part of it), I also see it as an invitation to find out what my children love and why they love it. (By the way, my children often dress in pairs… the other one wanted to be Rin. Seriously, JFGI). Then I get to do what cosplayers do — create those random costumes using bits and pieces of material and ingenuity. It’s crucial to me that my kids are involved in this process as it teaches them the value of hard work AND imagination.
So what ARE the kids going to be this year? Yuno Gasai and Doctor Stein (not pairs). Which means I’ve got a whole lot of anime to catch up on again.