Toward new horizons: Cosplay (re)imagined through the superhero genre, authenticity, and transformation

  • Ellen Kirkpatrick Kingston University
Keywords: Costuming, Embodied translation, Fandom


I identify and explore connections between cosplay and costuming practices characterizing the superhero genre. Utilizing the concepts of authenticity, context, and transformation, I open a dialogue between these cultural texts and interrogate and rearticulate the spaces and surfaces of cosplay. I work with cosplay as a simultaneous performance—as source character and as member of the cosplaying community. Analysis permits the presentation of three interconnected assertions. First, cosplay is readable as an embodied reception of the unstable modes of identity worked within the superhero genre. Second, cosplay, although conventionally sited and treated within fandom, is also performed within spaces away from organized fandom, notably on screens (industry costuming) and streets (copycats or real-life superheroes). Cosplay can thus be reconceptualized as a spectrum of intersecting behaviors rather than as a limited fan practice. Third, the idea of transformation does not adequately reflect the actuality of performing as a source character. I assert and demonstrate instead that cosplay exemplifies a moment of what I have termed embodied translation, where cosplayers transfer the source character from a limitless fictional landscape to their delimited physical one. Such creative consideration complicates and troubles our current understandings of cosplay and commences the project of reconceptualizing this most complicated and manifold practice.

Author Biography

Ellen Kirkpatrick, Kingston University
PhD Candidate School of Performance and Screen Studies