WonderCon: Dressing-up for a Better World

Josh filming Ron, interviewing Joe CaseyAlmost exactly a year ago, I went to WonderCon. There I met up with a friend-of-friends who you know as Mike Romo. He dragged me (practically kicking and screaming) to the Isotope/iFanboy afterparty, where I met the strange and frightening triumvirate that is iFanboy and my life was forever changed. After a lifetime spent quietly and privately adoring comics, suddenly it was all brought to light, and with their encouragement, I went to the massive San Diego Comic-Con and dragged my little brother; Sam along with me. As I wrote at the time, we were completely blown away by the convention, it was amazing good fun.

Spiderman, Ron, and the Black WidowAt San Diego Comic-Con, Sam (who is a pretty basic sort of bloke) couldn’t get over the costumes. He said that he didn’t understand why people wore costumes that they weren’t built for, that they didn’t look like. He said that while he’d love to dress up as Superman, he really has more of a Spiderman build, and he resolved to get the perfect Spider-Man costume. For the next few months he kept talking about it, emailing me links to different costumes. I honestly never thought that he’d go through with it. I can’t describe how unlikely it is that my brother would dress up as Spider-Man. First, he’s just not a very flamboyant person; he always just uses clippers to cut his hair. In his whole life I’ve never seen him use any kind of hair product, he just doesn’t care enough to bother. He wears a kind of unofficial 20-something year old uniform of t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie. On special occasions he wears an ironed shirt instead of a t-shirt. That’s as dressed-up as he gets. I mean, this is not a really adventurous dresser.

To say that I was surprised when he actually bought a Spider-Man costume would be an understatement (I was dumbfounded). But when he toddled off to WonderCon last weekend and casually said “I guess I’ll pop the Spider-Man suit in my bag, just in case”, I never expected that he’d put it on…

This year I couldn’t spend much time at WonderCon (because I’ve got a slipped disc and I’m only supposed to walk around for 15 mins a day – which is bloody stupid). Anyway, I knew that with only an hour at most to spend there, I’d take my time getting there and make the most of it. So I got there late in the afternoon, just in time for Ron to exclaim “Have you seen your brother?!”. I quickly found him, posing with groups of people while battalions of comic fans took his photo and little children ran up to touch him. It was incongruous.

Spiderman, Zatanna, Black Widow, CreeperI am all too familiar with the power of dressing up. Over the years, my brown hair has been dyed every possible color. Black hair made people think I was a goth, turquoise made tiny kids delightedly squeal “Cookie Monster”, while their mum’s dragged them away, and red seems to appeal to homeless guys, who frequently ask “does your mum know you did that”. Blonde was interesting, as my friend Kirsten once joked “if you have blonde hair and show some cleavage, you might as well have superpowers”. Combine the ever-changing hair with all sorts of different clothes, and you can really change how people respond to you, it’s like a social experiment. My friend Tara used to tell men that they’d “better not be dating me based on the way I look, since next week it could all change”. So yes, as women we have experience with the power of a costume, and the fun a person can have with it.

big Spidey, little SpideyHowever, there are some new looks which can instantly, dramatically change your life, make-overs so extreme that they are as entertaining to witness as they are to experience. There are clothes which are so completely outside of the norm that they literally change lives. Obviously, my brother dressing up as Spider-Man is going to forever stand out as a landmark in my experience of this. He said that as soon as he changed into the suit, he walked out of the bathroom and people started taking photos. He couldn’t believe it, everywhere he went, people were taking his photo, kids tried to touch him, and it was basically “like being famous”. The really funny part was that as soon as he took it off, no one recognized him (of course). And while that may seem completely obvious from an external point of view, for the person dressing up, it’s got to be weird. After all, you can’t see yourself, and you don’t feel like you’ve changed. For a woman, this is pretty much the same thing that happens when we go out wearing shapeless, over-sized clothes and no make-up, but for a straight guy, this has to be one of the very few times that he can experience this sudden transformation from visibility to invisibility.

Spiderman, Black Widow fightI never would have thought so, but it goes to show that dressing up as a superhero can be an important experience. As silly and embarrassing as it might seem to onlookers, I can see now that it can completely change a person’s self-image, and understanding of them self, and I fully support that. I’m still not sure that I’ll ever go to a convention and dress up as any of my heroes (after all, Elektra, Wonder Woman, and Emma Frost are all far too close to almost naked, and I’m just not that brave), but I certainly empathize a lot more with those who are brave enough to make that leap.

(Many thanks go to Chunk for some great photos, and STORM who is an amazing Black Widow.)


Sonia Harris lives, writes, designs, and dresses up (in relatively unexciting ways) in San Francisco, (though she learnt to do so in her hometown of London). She’s celebrating her iFanboy-iversary.


  1. That was a delightful article. Sam makes a good Spider-man. Next year (or  maybe at San Diego,) you could go as The Oracle, Sonia. You could totally pull off the master hacker look. Then you’d show that slipped disk who’s boss.

  2. Oh Dave, thank you, but this had better be healed by then. Apparently 12 weeks is average, and I’m in week 4 now, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed and following the doctors orders. Come San Diego, I’ll should be able to wear whatever I like…

  3. That was your brother!!  wicked.  I saw him, at least I think it was him because I’m not sure how many people went as Spidey, posing all over the place with people.

    Its quite interesting how he can get the urge to want to dress up.  You go to these things and you think you know the type of personality it takes to want to dress up, but sometimes you’re stereotyping can be wrong (who would have thought???)

    I would love to convince the wife to dress up with me one day.  Although I’m not sure who I would go as.  If I choose to not wear a mask–then my darker skin, facial hair and glasses makes it quite difficult for me to pull off any of my favorite characters.  Unless, of course, I go as their mexican counterparts.

  4. Ron looks like he maybe getting a little handsy there with Black Widow 😉  I find it hilarious that it’s one of the best that I’ve seen.

    I was wondering who went as Spiderman in those pictures.  Sam did a great job.

  5. As someone who has had his fair share of back issues (not the comic kind, either), you could always do Elektra-as-being-stabbed-by-Bullseye 😉

  6. My daughter wants to dress up for ECCC. I iwish I could but being a chubby black chic kindda limilts my options. I could always glue on a beard and go as Kevin Smith……

  7. @voodoomama – Amanda Waller perhaps? Just make up a fake Checkmate badge or something and don a tasteful pants suit and you’re set! I’d say skip Kevin Smith, there’s way too much drag at comic cons as it is…

    I once stuffed a blue shirt and pink shorts with pillows, tied my hair into a ponytail and shaved appropriately to become Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. I did Jesse Custer one time too.

  8. And I wish I had taken pictures of the 50 year old dude dressed as the girl from Pokemon’s Team Rocket with his beer belly hanging out who came to Wizard World Philly a couple years ago. It truly defies description.

  9. @ActualButt yikes not sure if the Team Rocket girl is something anyone would forgive you for sharing but thanks for the idea of Amannd Waller. 

  10. Hrmmm… it seems like the pics aren’t loading.

  11. As the former owner of an Afro almost 2 feet in diameter, I can attest to the sudden loss of attention. Once I cut it, gone were the instant nods of approval, flocks of curious women, automatic invitations to parties. Maybe i can grow it back and go to San Diego as 70’s Luke cage. 

  12. This article is complete bollocks.

  13. @PraxJarvin I’m sorry you can’t see the pics, you’re missing a particularly fine one of Ron and the Black Widow getting friendly. What browser/computer are you on?

    @JoeCasey Comic writers are the scourge of the universe. Get a real job.

  14. @ShowMeYourWits – I would get in shape and bleach my hair to tag along as Iron Fist for that.

  15. Who’s that guy dressed up like Joe Casey talking to Ron Richards in the first pic? 😉

  16. Ouch.

    — Love, the Scourge.

  17. @Kenkneisel-Jeph Loeb

    @jstump and ShowMeYourWits-I’ll go as Misty Knight

  18. love the creeper costume. i love dressing up for cons!!

  19. @drakedangerz – go as Weasel from the Deadpool comics.

    @voodoomama – go as Thumbellina – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumbelina_(comics)

  20. Great story Sonia! I had a blast as the "spider wrangler" for Sam and Storm. I loved watching Sam’s reaction to all the kids who wanted to touch him! hahaha!


  21. no offence and i feel bad if this isn’t true…. Black Window is a man right?

    because it has created some very strange and uncomfortable emotions within my rural australian sexuality

  22. @CHUNK You were amazing, and answered an important question. I’d always wondered what people did with their bags and civilian clothes while pretending to be a superhero/villian. Now I know; they get a friend to play "wrangler". I definitely need to draft someone to that role, if I ever engage in any convention-related cosplay.

    @edward Yep, that’s a guy, though a remarkabley svelte and elegant one.

  23. oh jesus, oh god.. what does this mean?!!

  24. @edward – it means you know a hot dude when you see one! Nothing more than that.

  25. @soniaharris – Great article, Sonia!  I had so much fun and I’m really glad Sam suggested we dress up!  I’m working on my refelections from that day and should have a post up soon on my site.

    @edward – hope you’ve reconciled any emotions you had;) part of the power of drag for me (or costume play at all, really) is to tap into different realities of what we consider to be concrete perceptions/attitudes. it makes life  more interesting, IMHO. anyway, thanks for the compliment.