June 1, 2015

Why Do People Cosplay?

By Ruth Tam

Cosplayer Gretta Koplen Hayden holds the Chewbacca mask her husband Jason constructed.

Cosplayer Gretta Koplen Hayden holds the Chewbacca mask her husband Jason constructed.

If you love a book, movie or TV show, how do you show it? Perhaps you have a hardcover copy of a treasured book, a framed poster of your favorite movie or a t-shirt with a quote from a popular show. For cosplayers, that’s simply not enough. They take fandom to the next level, combining costumes and roleplay to pay homage to beloved characters in pop culture.

Cosplay picked up popularity during the 1970s when San Diego’s comic con launched new trends in fan communities of all kinds. The Kojo Nnamdi Show recently explored comic conventions and what it means to be a nerd in D.C., and it’s clear that the idea of fandom is changing. While once associated with “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” nerds, cosplay has hooked fans of current TV hits such as “Orange Is The New Black,” which happens to be hosting its first fan convention in June.

At D.C.,’s third annual AwesomeCon, hundreds showed up in cosplay –portraying everything from Captain America as a Disney princess to a Samurai-inspired Darth Vadar. Here are three of their stories.


Left to right: Bobby McKeithan, 42, works at an insurance company. His wife, Tamara McKeithan, 37, is an office manager. They are both from Columbia, South Carolina. They met Clark Oliver, 47, a Montgomery County fire fighter. Photo by Ruth Tam.

“My father was a computer engineer and a scientist. He traveled two hours to work and two hours back every day and had almost no time to spend with me and my sisters. But we always watched Redskins football together and we always watched “Star Trek.” While we watched, he would say, “That could happen. We can do that.” I’d nod, say “Okay, Daddy.” And that was our time together and “Star Trek” became very special to me. I just lost him this year in January. He knew AwesomeCon was coming up and he would have loved it. He always loved when I dressed up. It’s something he always got a kick out of. “Star Trek” makes me think of my dad. It makes me think of my relationship with my father, and it helps me remember.”

-Tamara McKeithan, a 37-year-old office manager from Columbia, South Carolina, as a Lieutenant Uhura from “Star Trek”


Andrew Blake, 31, costume shop worker at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, sewed his entire costume by hand. Photo by Ruth Tam.

“I’m going back to school, re-careering and pursuing costuming and illustration at Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s a lot of fun, [my award] is definitely a sign that I’m working in the right direction. I chose Viserys because he isn’t one that everyone does. There are a million Jon Snows and you can’t throw a rock at a convention without hitting a Daenerys. But I have never seen anyone else do this version, the crowned Viserys. … For me, the best possible endgame would be: about the time I finish my degree, to have made enough connections through my hobby to get a good internship and eventually a good job in the costuming field.”

Andrew Blake, a 31-year-old costume shop worker at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, as Viserys from “Game Of Thrones.” He won a costuming award on Saturday.


Dad Jason Hayden, a 43-year-old Marine from New Bern, South Carolina, as Darth Vader; son Austin, 15, a student as Boba Fett; mom Gretta, 36, a Marine, as Chewbacca. Photo by Ruth Tam.


Jason, Austin and Gretta sans helmets and wookie head. Photo by Ruth Tam.

“I met my wife, the wookie, back in Japan, and I took kendo for many years beforehand. Japanese culture has been a big influence in our life. I’ve also been a “Star Wars” fan since I went to the first screening of “A New Hope” in 1977. When my son was just a wee one, we dressed him up and he was just a Darth Vadar running around. So we were always into Star Wars and Japanese culture. Last Halloween, he wanted to be a mandalorian and I made it for him and posted it on social media, where it started blowing up. It snowballed after that. I wanted to get into leather work so I made a Japanese samurai-inspired Darth Vader because of the culture’s influence in our life.”

Jason Hayden, a 43-year-old Marine from New Bern, South Carolina, as Darth Vader (with his wookie wife Gretta, 36, a Marine and Boba Fett son Austin, 15, a student)

For more on D.C.’s nerd culture, listen to the full discussion on comic cons in D.C., get comic book recommendations and view more photos from AwesomeCon 2015.

AwesomeCon – The Kojo Nnamdi Show