by Carrie Vaughn
So back before there was cosplay there was just costuming, and about the only place to show off your work was at science fiction convention masquerades. Flashback to 1997, when my brother Rob and I were just out of college and apparently didn’t have enough to do with our time.
Actually, I wanted to see if I could make a pair of wings. I wanted to be Peregrine.
I’m not sure now exactly how the whole thing started, but I know that was part of it. I was young, thin, and blond, and I just knew I could dress up as Peregrine, if I could get the wings worked out. (I could probably cosplay Wraith as well. At least, I could have when I was 24. Except I wasn’t willing to go out with so few clothes on. Sorry. Giant wings it is.)
Apparently I didn’t want to do this alone, so I recruited Rob. (I very often recruited Rob for exploits. Sorry, Rob.) What character should he play, that would a) suit him; b) be recognizable; and c) be within our limited capabilities to actually accomplish? Well. At the time, Rob was working as a stage hand, which meant he was burning a lot of calories, which meant he was 6’1″ and didn’t weigh much more than I did. He was also trying to grow a goatee, with limited success.
He basically looked like a sober Mark Meadows.
Oh yes. This was excellent. But he couldn’t cosplay Mark Meadows. He had to cosplay Capt’n Trips. Rob said yes because he’s a good sport. And he’s in theater, those guys’ll say yes to anything. We could do this. We used the illustration of Trips in the GURPS Wild Cards sourcebook as our starting point. Rob found a scraggily wig, made a top hat, and started constructing a striped Uncle Sam coat. (We got the colors wrong, looking back on it now. The description says the hat and jacket are purple. We weren’t too bothered at the time. Full speed ahead!) He also made his own bell bottoms, because they hadn’t yet come back into style.
We had a goal for all this, a deadline, a reason to go through the effort in the first place: Denver’s MileHi Con masquerade. Ed Bryant was set to be the convention’s Toastmaster that year. I hadn’t met him yet, I only knew him as one of the writers for Wild Cards, creator of were-alligator Sewer Jack. How cool would it be to get a couple of recognizable Wild Cards costumes together and present them to an audience that might actually know who the characters were?
It would be very cool. At least we thought so. Or I thought so. Rob humored me. I made an evening gown from scratch so I could adjust it to hide the harness for the wings. I figured out hair and makeup. I very badly burned myself with the hot glue gun. I soldiered on.
The plan was to go up to the convention for the day on Saturday, enter the masquerade with our amazing Wild Cards costumes that evening, win all the accolades, then come home that night. Rob was living with our parents at the time, so I went over to their house to put the finishing touches on our masterpieces, spend the night, and drive up early.
Then it started snowing.
It snowed a lot, that night. And then it snowed some more.
We finished our costumes. Went to sleep, dreaming of our triumphant masquerade appearance.
And woke up to discover we couldn’t leave the house because of all the snow. Which kept falling all that day and through the next night as well. I have never been so trapped by snow as we were that weekend in October 1997. Over four feet in some areas. Not only could we not leave the house, it was another four days before I was able to get back to my own place, where the final snowfall count was 52″.
We all had ample demonstration that weekend why it was a really good thing that I moved out. I might have gone just a little bit crazy.
Years later, I found out that a number of people had made it to MileHi Con on Friday night and then gotten completely snowed in, while everyone who’d planned on showing up Saturday (like us) never made it at all. Reportedly, the hotel restaurant ran out of food. To this day, survivors of that weekend call it DonnerCon, after the ill-fated Donner Party who were trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains over the winter and resorted to eating each other.
None of the DonnerCon survivors I know will admit to eating anyone.
Rob’s theater life took him away from Colorado the next year, and we’ve never been in the same place at the same time for a masquerade since, to be able to try again with our Peregrine and Capt’n Trips ensemble. A few rough snapshots is all we have as evidence that it ever happened. To this day I wonder what would have happened if we’d managed to get those costumes on stage. In the end, maybe it’s just as well that it didn’t happen. Those wings didn’t really work.
I still do a bit of costuming — or cosplay, as the kids call it. Just last fall I went to MileHi Con as Galadriel. (I’m still blond, and maybe a bit wiser than I was 20 years ago, and that suits the great elf queen.) It’s amazing to me how many resources are available to costumers now, that weren’t back when I was trying to figure out how to do those wings. I used foam, coat hanger wire, fun fur, feathers, hot glue, and the figure-8 sling from when I broke my collar bone as a harness to hang it all on. The rig was heavy and unwieldy, and the evening gown ended up looking a bit bulky with the scarf I used to cover up the harness. These days, trying to do the same thing, I’d use Worbla or some other thermal plastic as a framework, to make something lightweight and easier to manage. Plus, I could go online and look up a ton of tutorials written by other costumers on how to make giant wings. Maybe I could just buy wings from someone? (And that, my friends, is the difference between being 24 and 44.)
This whole anecdote does make me think about the possibilities for Wild Cards cosplay. Has anyone else tried it? What characters would I want to see? Tachyon, of course. With that hair? Absolutely. And so many people do such a good job with makeup and prosthetics now, even characters like Xavier Desmond or Father Squid aren’t out of reach. There’s Modular Man, Yeoman, Black Eagle, who I think would all look just amazing. Midnight Angel or maybe Gardener. My own character Wild Fox. Jetboy, as he stands on the cover on the new edition. I’d even love to see someone who looks entirely normal, a plain old nerdy guy in glasses, claim to be Tom Tudbury.
And, really, in the Wild Cards universe Peregrine is twenty years older than she used to be. A little wiser, certainly. Maybe, just maybe. . . .