One of the best parts of any New York Comic Con is the walk to the Javits Center, when hundreds of people dressed as superheroes, alternate universe Victorians, and anime characters descend on Midtown Manhattan. For a few days, the blocks around Penn Station come alive with color, playing host to interactions between costumed attendees and the baffled or intrigued locals and tourists who no longer own the streets.
After a while, the lines between cosplayer and civilian start to blur: when enough people are in costume, everyone is. When enough people have thrown off the conventional wisdom dictating that clothing should be merely utilitarian, decorative, or indicative of who you are in real life, it’s easy to start picking it apart to look for a story.
That’s a great police officer outfit, you think. If I can get closer to read the badge... at which point, you realize that you’re staring at security for NYCC, not a meticulously attired facsimile of John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises. Suits are even more ambiguous, with indications of character as subtle as a certain posture or tie. Anyone with a bald or shaved head may as well put on a blazer and decide whether he’d rather be Agent 47, King Mob, or Spider Jerusalem. More muscular ones can come as Bane, who’s seen a resurgence after the release of Nolan’s film.
There’s a certain sensory overload attached, a feeling that you’ve got to uncover the intentions behind every shirt and accessory. But living temporarily in a world imbued with fiction is also tremendously beautiful. For a few days, everyone is a costume designer for their own personal drama. At New York Comic Con, an unconscious survival tool becomes a thing to celebrate, and one simple question — "who are you?" — becomes a little more fluid. Are you a fictional character? A man or woman behind a facade? A canvas for a painstakingly constructed masterpiece? Or are you, for a few days a year, just being yourself? — Adi Robertson
- Thor Mitchell chose to attend his first Comic Con dressed as Thor. He and his best friend Dominic (Spider-Man, below) decided to attend NYCC after they stumbled upon a comic book shop. They’ve never read comics, but they see every superhero movie together.
- Mike Nelson with Crow T. Robot When Danette was a little girl, she used to watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 with her dad. She came to Comic Con as Mike Nelson — not Joel Hodgson, as she was quick to note. Crow T. Robot was assembled using parts scrounged from eBay. (Not pictured: the Tom Servo she was also carrying.)
- Stormtrooper Vladimir has been coming to Comic Con since 2006 and has always dressed as a female character. “Comic Con is pure and utter joy. This is my Super Bowl,” he says.
- Blades Fred and Raymond met through a mutual acquaintance on Facebook and met in person for the first time at this year’s New York Comic Con. Fred (left) has attended cons since 2003 and has never been to one as himself. Raymond loves cosplay because it feels like a family.
- Hawk Girl Last time Tori went to a convention as Hawk Girl, the giant feather wings she and her fiance Josh constructed turned out to be too cumbersome. This time they chose a steampunk interpretation that featured mechanical brass wings. Josh is a software engineer, and he designed the wings.
- Oswin Oswald and Dalek Jody has been coming to conventions for more years than she can remember. This marks Ethan's second. “You can tell how much heart people put into [their costumes],” she said.
- The Empty Child and Doctor Who Mason and Max are great friends but came to NYCC as adversaries from the Doctor Who universe. Mason (left) dressed up as The Empty Child (from the eponymous 2005 episode) and Max’s costume is The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) — his favorite.
- Kingpin Rick has been a steelworker in West Virginia for forty years. He came to Comic Con with his son, who insisted he wear a costume. Fortunately, the entire costume was already in Rick’s wardrobe. He’s going to let his hair grow back for the winter.
- Doctor Doom “Everyone wears masks everyday, let’s be honest,” Peter says. He’s a graphic designer and bartender that also volunteers teaching art in schools. New York Comic Con, to him, is “a safe, fun place... We’re all the same here."
- Steampunk Nicol (right) had most of the various steampunk accoutrements for her costume in her closet. She just doesn’t normally wear it all at the same time. Her daughter Ellianna loves superhero movies and manga. “I can’t imagine what you would wear here to feel weird,” Nicol says.
- Leeloo Ali is a lighting and audio engineer. She’s often worked at conventions in the past, but decided to take the weekend off to attend NYCC as Leeloo from The Fifth Element.
- Druid John is an actor and assembled his costume from leftover theater costumes and props. He loves musicals like The Secret Garden and Showboat.
- Emma Frost and The Scarlet Witch Haleigh (right) and her friend Kayla came to Comic Con dressed as two of Marvel’s more fetching heroines, Emma Frost and the Scarlet witch.
- Daleks Coraline and Alex wanted to show New York the softer side of the Daleks at Comic Con. “We thought it would make a cute dress,” Alex said.
- Gunzerker Matt didn’t have to do much to transform into the Gunzerker from Borderlands 2. He already had the beard, after all.
- Mechanical Angel Vanessa’s Mechanical Angel costume was so complicated her boyfriend Michael had to serve as her “cosplay handler.”
- The Taskmaster “I like to know there’s people like me around here,” Alex said. He works in retail and sells sneakers. This was his second Comic Con.
- Captain America and Peggy Carter Casey and Sarah attended Comic Con as a couple and wore a different pair of costumes each day. They first met at a convention where they arrived separately dressed as Rory and Amy, the coupled companions from Doctor Who. They attended NYCC as Rory and Amy on day one this year.
- Poison Ivy Tiffany has come to New York Comic Con every year and has been a cosplayer for 10 years. “If I’m in casual clothing, I’m in a costume. If I’m dressed up as a character, I’m in normal wear."
- Hatsune Miku and Kaito Joanne and Dominic, like many couples at Comic Con, chose to dress as characters who also share a close bond. Miku and Kaito are two of Japan's most popular virtual Vocaloid pop stars.
- Ronnie Some costumes are not direct reproductions but instead represent a cosplayer's general interests. In this case, Ronnie's costume reveals the influence of multiple Japanese subcultures.
- Spider-Man Dominic came to Comic Con with his best friend Mitchell (Thor, above). He’s not that into actual comic books, but he can’t wait to come back. Dominic and Mitchell represent a mainstream convention audience that has been growing for years. Attracted by the massive entertainment industry, they’ll be back year after year for the culture.
- Bender from Futurama Wilson is a senior in high school who plans to major in history or engineering. He’s been to New York Comic Con three times. "In costume," he says, "you can be whoever you want. If you’re into this stuff... you’ll fit right in."
Producer: Ross Miller
Camera: Isaac Cohen, Jimmy Shelton, Sam Thonis
Production Assistant: Noah Gebstadt
Editor: John Lagomarsino
Editorial: Adi Robertson
Photography: Michael Shane
Photography assistant: Jacob Kastrenakes
Special thanks to everyone who participated. You all are incredibly awesome.