As actor Barry Bostwick addressed his fans Sunday during a panel on the final day of Wizard World’s Comic Con in New Orleans, he mused over the impact he made playing the role of Brad Majors in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a campy film that has been shown for 40 years on the midnight circuit at theaters and college campuses.
He marveled that even today the cult classic attracts a devoted worldwide fan base of people who flock to the screenings in costume, shouting out well-rehearsed lines and acting along during scenes, often creating communities out of a shared love for the subculture that surrounds the film.
“It’s been an honor. It’s been a real honor to be involved in something that changed people’s lives,” Bostwick said as a crowd of about 100 broke into applause. “They found out who they were. They found out how they fit into their communities and into their skin. That’s doesn’t happen very often.”
“Fitting into your skin” was the theme of Comic Con on Sunday as devoted comic book, action movie, anime, “Rocky Horror” and “Star Wars” fans flocked to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in outlandish outfits, gleefully participating in a trend known as cosplay, or costume play.
The objective of cosplay, which participants say is a performance art and far more than just dressing up for an event like Halloween or Mardi Gras, is to become a character featured in anime, comic books, graphic novels, video games or fantasy movies, often in mannerisms as well as dress.
The practice has grown rapidly in Japan and the United States as a pop-culture phenomenon since the 1990s, according to the website cosplayhouse.com, and is extremely popular at conventions like Comic Con.
Cosplayers can spend months getting their costumes together, either making the meticulous outfits themselves or paying hundreds of dollars to get them custom-designed, several participants said. But, they added, it’s worth it as a way to express themselves and be part of a bigger community, especially in New Orleans, where such creativity is celebrated.
On Sunday, 15-year-old Benjamin Franklin High School student Erin Buschemi was one of hundreds of costumed cosplay participants who could be seen wandering through the aisles of comic book- and movie-themed merchandise booths on the first floor of the Convention Center, enjoying the “see and be seen” atmosphere of Comic Con.
“I feel like a different person when I’m doing it,” Buschemi said, referring to her role as Madoka Kaname, a Japanese anime character from the show “Madoka Magica,” who is supposed to be a magical young witch and is recognizable by her signature pink corseted dress. “A little makeup, a costume, and you can be anything you want.”
Buschemi, who said she’s been cosplaying since she was in the fifth grade, will wear as many as three different costumes in one day, including Armin from the manga series “Attack on Titan” and Yazawa Nico, a main character from the anime series “Love Live!”
Although she tries to attend as many conventions and meet-ups as possible, she described her life otherwise as “normal.”
“I attend school just like everybody else,” she said, praising events like Comic Con that let her show a different side to herself and be a more outgoing person. “It’s not really that big of a deal. It’s cool, in fact.”
Zoe Thompson and Alex Nordman, 16-year-olds from De La Salle High School, were dressed up as “Doctor Who” characters and had just come from “Remember Me to Gallifrey,” a panel held by the Krewe du Who, a New Orleans-based community of “Doctor Who” fans. They said their love for the British TV series, and the costuming that goes with it, is a way for them to connect to like-minded people in school.
“We have our own little group,” Thompson said. “It’s for anyone who is a ‘Doctor Who’ fan.”
While the trend is especially popular among teenagers, people of all ages could be found decked out at Comic Con, including Chase Randle, a 30-year-old day trader from Shreveport. Randle said he enjoys the social aspect of cosplaying and was hoping to find a potential “lady friend” who might have the same interests.
On Sunday, Randle could be found near a vintage comic book stand as Green Arrow, a DC Comics superhero.
“I chose this character because he’s kind of quiet and reserved, yet he knows what’s right and he goes out to pursue that,” Randle said, adding that it took him a month-and-a-half to assemble an outfit out of a custom-designed leather vest and pants set, a hood from Etsy and a handmade bow. “It’s fun. Little kids come up to you, and it’s nice to bring smiles to other people’s faces.”
Like several other cosplay participants at Comic Con, Randle said he goes to as many as four costume-friendly conventions a year. They give him a chance to meet new people, he said, and also to explore new places, as the events are held in various cities.
Even those who didn’t dress up Sunday, such as 21-year-old hostess Shay Atkins, said they find solace in Comic Con and try to attend it often.
“I can’t really go to work and talk to too many people about comic books, video games and anime-related stuff,” Atkins said. “I like being able to find people who have the same interests, that on a normal day we would be outcast for.”