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Cosplayers at Portchester Castle Comic Con.
Cosplayers at Portchester Castle Comic Con.
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As a nation, the British are naturally rather reserved. To many, the thought of pulling on a Bat Girl outfit or a Super Mario costume in the middle of the day would seem a bit too bizarre.  

If someone told you that one of their hobbies was cosplay, you may think they were a bit eccentric.

Lee Kiddie dressed as a Ghostbuster at Guildhall Comic Con

Lee Kiddie dressed as a Ghostbuster at Guildhall Comic Con

But that is exactly what's happening as a new Japanese / American craze hits these shores.

Cosplay, in simple terms, is dressing up to mimic the outfits of fictional characters from comic books, films, TV and video games.

You need only look a the Portsmouth Comic Con (comic convention) that took place earlier this month to see how cosplay has exploded in the region.

For some, it is a relatively cheap hobby; get a tank top and some combat trousers and you have yourself a Lara Croft costume – the star of the video game, Tomb Raider. 

Others will spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds, constructing their very own Iron Man outfits.

As the popularity of these comic books grows in the mainstream media (see the Avengers: Infinity War box office ratings for reference) cosplay has rapidly become a more generally accepted hobby, and one that is now treated with a level of respect.

One of those who attended Portsmouth Comic Con was 42-year-old Ghostbusters fan Lee Kiddie.

Lee travelled from his home in Essex to attend the event and says it was worth the journey to meet the city's comic book enthusiasts.

He says: 'Events like this are truly amazing.

'You get a lot of people coming through the doors and days like this give them a chance to really enjoy themselves.

'I think they like seeing everyone dressed up in cosplay as well because you don't get that at any other time of year.

'I came to the event as a Ghostbuster, so I have the flight suit and a proton pack that I made myself.

'It took me a year-and-a-half to build from scratch but it has all the lights and sounds, so I am really proud of it.

'The thing is with events like this, it isn't all about the money.

'Sometimes cosplayers can get caught up in how expensive their costume is and take it very seriously, but then events like this bring them back down to earth because everyone is just a fan of these franchises.

'That makes it a really relaxing environment to be in; everyone is friendly to one another and it feels like this enormous community of film and comic book enthusiasts – which is the way it should be.'

Mark Hendley from GoGeek Events – one of the brains behind Port Solent Comic Con –says that the growth of cosplay in Portsmouth is down to how welcoming and inclusive it is as a hobby.

He says: 'For me it started when I joined the 501st Legion, which is a group for Star Wars cosplayers. Things like that are huge now.

'The fact that fandoms have grown so much that they are able to do things like this really is remarkable.

'But what has really made cosplay so popular is just how inclusive it is; it doesn't matter who dresses up as who because there are no rules.

'It doesn't matter if you've spent hundreds of pounds on a fully-functional Iron Man suit or if you've made something out of cereal boxes, everyone gets treated the same.

'A lot of cosplayers we meet at events are simply glad to have the opportunity to express themselves as someone different; it can give them a lot of confidence and seems to breed a lot of positivity between everyone.

'That goes hand-in-hand with the genres themselves getting so big, which is why cosplay has suddenly become so big around here.'

Mark and the rest of the GoGeek Events team organise a number of cosplay events throughout the year, including Cosplay At The Castle, at Portchester Castle, which took place last month.

'One of the things I really love about these events is the variety' says Mark. 'Some people will build their own costumes from scratch and these events are there to showcase what these creative people are able to achieve.

'It's just so much better than simply wearing a Superman t-shirt because it is a greater extension of that passion for a certain franchise.

'The only way I can describe it is multi-faceted. There are so many different things and interests that come together when it comes to cosplay, and it gives people a chance to really enjoy themselves.'

Mark also believes that cosplay has a positive impact on people's mental health – something he is fairly familiar with himself. 

He says: 'As Brits it can take a lot for us to do something like this; it seems to be part of our psyche to be naturally reserved and I think that's why it has taken time for cosplay to grow here.

'But it has such a positive impact on so many people. I know that before I got into this I was an incredibly anxious person, and I have met lots of other people who are the same way.

'But when you put on the costume or you put the helmet on you're able to escape whatever else is going on in the world – it's this beautiful escape and it really lets people come out of their shells.

'When I joined the 501st Legion I had suffered from anxiety and depression in the past; but doing something like that allows you to become someone else, and I saw a huge improvement in my mental health.

'It also helps that when you go to these events dressed as a stormtrooper or something, you can put a smile on people's faces – and that's a nice bonus.'

What is comic con? 

Port Solent has received a national award for the success of last year's Comic Con event.

Comic con events are now a widespread phenomenon across the UK, with events taking place all year round.

Cosplay certainly plays a big part in these events, with Portsmouth Comic Con holding a cosplay competition over the course of the weekend.

Thousands of those who turned up over the course of the weekend dressed up in their best superhero outfit – with Captain America and Harley Quinn seeming to dominate the costume choice.

But comic con events are so much more than cosplay; Portsmouth Comic Con also opened up the Guildhall to comic book retailers who were able to pass on their extensive knowledge to comic book fans.

A short walk around the venue would see you bump into members of the Gosport Steampunk Society and try your hand at some retro games – from FIFA Street on the PlayStation 2 to the original Pong.

As well as that, there was the chance to meet and greet some of the masterminds behind the comic books and familiar faces from the world of entertainment.

One of those was Marc Silk, the voice of Johnny Bravo, Shaggy, Scooby-Doo and Dangermouse.

Mark said: ‘It has been great – this is a brilliant day out. The queue on Saturday morning was right down the street and round the corner.

‘I have been meeting people and signing things all weekend but meeting other people who all love the same thing has made it really fun.'