Superheroes invade daily life

Fantasy or sci-fi fans dressing up as their favorite character isn't just for comic book conventions anymore.

Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP
A 'Hobbit' fan in costume

Thousands of superheroes will walk the streets this month. Expect sightings near subway stops and local multiplexes. Who are these costumed crusaders? An army of fans with carefully crafted outfits planning to assemble before the première of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

Long a staple of comic book conventions and cult-film showings, where enthusiasts walk among like-minded strangers, dressing up in character has been gaining mainstream approval, and the hobby – known as “cosplay” – has seeped into more public events. In early May, more than 200 costumed fans announced their intent to descend on London’s Leicester Square for a run at a Guinness World Record for “the most X-Men cosplayers in one place.”

Countless fantasy and sci-fi films have inspired fans to exercise their own creative expression, and many are finding the courage to step out on their own.

Phoebe Hill, of Nashville, Tenn., has pulled together both careful reproductions and interpretations of favorite characters. She arrived at a midnight screening of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in December as “hipster Beorn,” the shape-shifting animal lover who chases the movie’s heroes. Her version: a denim vest with a back patch designed by author J.R.R. Tolkien and buttons proselytizing vegetarianism. For the 15th anniversary of the BBC show “Dr. Who,” Ms. Hill ate at an English pub in Nashville dressed as the doctor’s sidekick, Amy Pond.

“It just needs to be a special event, like a midnight movie première or an exclusive showing of ‘Pulp Fiction’ at an independent theater,” says Hill, who dons a costume about four times a year. “After that, it basically comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: Will the time I spend putting this costume together increase my enjoyment of the event?”

For these fans, stepping outside in full costume is an opportunity to show one’s artistic skill and dedication to a film or book. It allows introverts to feel like extroverts.

The spread of cosplay owes a lot to the Internet. Social media sites build buzz around the next big cosplay event. Tumblr and Instagram allow strangers to pass around photos of past work and offer words of encouragement from afar. YouTube videos reveal how to craft foam core into realistic-looking armor and braid hair like an elf.

Cosplay has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, Hill says, even if she’s faced her share of hecklers.

“Sometimes you get a few people who look at you like you are so weird for being all dressed up,” says Hill, “but that’s their problem.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.