Monica Duarte, her husband Nathaniel Peinado, and their two boys Ashton and Nathaniel all love the British TV series Dr. Who. They watch the shows, discuss the plots, and read the comics. So when Halloween came around back in 2013, they decided to all dress up as characters from the series. But back then the show wasn’t popular among many US viewers, and no one in their neighborhood knew who they were. Some even thought Ashton was dressed like Pee-wee Herman.
Then they heard about WonderCon, a comic book convention in Anaheim, California. On a lark, they decided to attend, and they wore their Dr. Who outfits.
“When we walked into the Anaheim Convention Center, everybody knew who we were,” Duarte tells Parentology. “Our costumes were instantly recognizable, and it was the first time we found a community of like-minded people.” Before that moment, the family had kept their pop-culture passions within their home. Now things were different. They’d found cosplay.
The term “cosplay” is a mashup of the words “costume” and “play.” Cosplay is the act of dressing up as a character from a comic book, TV show or movie, video game, Japanese animated (anime) series, or any other inspiration. Outfits can range from a basic store-bought costume to elaborate art pieces that cosplayers spend hours designing and sewing.
“There are a thousand reasons why people cosplay, but I think at its core it’s about celebrating the shows and characters we love,” Duarte says. “Conventions offer a safe place for self-expression, [being around] people who love what you love, who understand what you’re doing, who get excited for you and cheer you on. That’s not something you find in everyday life.”
Much like the atmosphere characters at a Disney theme park, cosplayers become part of the rich tapestry that makes fan conventions exciting and fun. Attendees line up to take photos of cosplayers, and fan groups meet to show off their newest designs. In fact, entire conventions have now sprung up around cosplaying itself, and along with this increased popularity have come more cosplaying families — with parents who may not even be fans.
As San Diego Family magazine noted, when parents attend these conventions with their children, they get insight into the comics, shows, and movies their kids love. “But by far the most important benefit is that it shows your child that you’re taking an interest in them and the things that they’re passionate about. It’s a place where you can connect over a shared experience that’s unlike anything else in the world. Those are memories you can share for life.”
For Duarte and her family, some of their best friends — people they celebrate birthdays and holidays with — are other cosplaying families. But, ultimately, her love for the art comes down to her kids.
“As a mother, when I go to conventions, it’s just nice to see my kids in a place where they can unapologetically be themselves and be celebrated for it, and not teased or picked on,” Duarte says. “It’s a place where they get to see other people who love what they love, and it validates that in them. Seeing that is really, really rewarding.”
RELATED STORY: Cosplay Safety — What Parents Need to Know to Support Their Kids