Excitement ripples through the gathering at the 2014 Fan Expo Vancouver as hundreds of cosplayers showcase their latest costumes and observe the creations of their peers. Amidst the crowd of Sailor Moons, Pikachus, and other characters stands a burly father of four: known to some as Bob Smylie, but better known to others as Thor, the God of Thunder.
Cosplay, a word that combines “costume” and “play,” is a form of performance art that involves dressing in the clothes of a particular character, usually from American comic books or Japanese manga. While the exact origins of cosplay are debated, it is likely that a combination of American and Japanese influences helped bring about its popularity. However, according to Smylie, the influences behind cosplayers’ costumes are irrelevant: all that matters is that it expresses who they are underneath.
What got you into cosplay?
Halloween. My friends and I started dressing up, and I haven’t stopped. I’ve been doing it for a long time.
Tell us about your costume.
Thor, the God of Thunder — it’s based on the comic book version, but a realistic style. I made everything on it. I’ve had this for five or six years now, but it’s progressed over the years. The original costume took me about four months to make. […] It’s a lot of sewing, leather-working, working with foam, working with wood. I try to make it as comfortable as possible.
Do you feel that people judge you for dressing up?
Sometimes I feel like I’m being judged, but when I feel like that I just say to them, well, maybe you should just have some fun sometimes. You don’t always have to live in this world that we live in — why can’t you just go and have a little bit of fun, make a kid happy to see this character that [he/she] loves so much? That’s worth it. [Cosplay] is definitely misunderstood.
I love dressing up. If I could be in costume every day, I would be. Costumes are my way of getting out there. I’m not very personable in the real world, but when I put on a costume I’m able to break that mold and break the barrier; I’m able to talk to that person. When you’re looking at a costume, you’re not looking at me. It’s my chance to shine.
No one is worried about what they look like here.
Exactly. I have made so many friends at [conventions] that I normally would not make. It’s just based on the costumes.
Do you like the mix of American comic book characters and Japanese manga at these events?
For me, it’s not about the American or the Japanese — it’s about the costumes. The love of making the costumes, the love of wearing the costumes, the love of going out there and seeing other costumes, and seeing the joy in little kids when they see you dressed up. It’s not about Marvel vs. DC vs. Star Wars vs. anime. For me, we’re all a big family.
Your kids must love it.
Oh yeah. I’ve got four kids: three boys and a little girl. They all have costumes; they all love dressing up. To be a positive role model to my kids is the greatest thing I could ever do, as well as being a positive role model to other people’s kids.