ASPEN's #COSPLAY Flips the Switch on the Cosplayer/Comics Connection

Credit: Aspen Comics
Credit: Aspen Comics

No matter what type of event it is, there's one thing that almost every comic convention has these days: lots and lots of cosplayers. Whether they're clad in the costumes of anime characters, or video game fighters, or spandex-covered superheroes, the cosplay community is a growing subculture of comic book fandom.

In 2014, Aspen Comics will be incorporating the cosplay phenomenon into one of its latest projects with #Cosplay, a new title that features a team of crime-fighting, costumed heroines who have a passion for cosplay.

But according to the creators of the comic, it's not just about girls who like to dress up. These girls can also kick butt, and there's a much deeper, more meaningful story behind their adventures.

#Cosplay is one of eight new comics that Aspen will be launching in 2014. Four books were revealed earlier this year, and the other four will be announced at New York Comic Con. In 2013, the company celebrated its 10th anniversary with the "10 for 10" initiative that offered first issues for only $1, as well as other extras for buyers of this year's debut issues. Readers who bought all 10 of the #1 issues also received added incentives.

Aspen executives Vince Hernandez and Frank Mastromauro, the creators behind #Cosplay, told Newsarama that they're planning a similar initiative for 2014. We talked to them about the concept behind #Cosplay and what readers can expect in a comic about a team of girls who like to dress up and fight.

Newsarama: Was this inspired by the women who cosplay that you see at cons?

Vince Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely! We had planned to do something with Mike DeBalfo after Soulfire. We wanted to do a group book with female leads that kicked butt, in the vein of Charlie's Angels or Danger Girl. But we also always look for genres that might be untapped or things that might make the book more appealing to a new audience.

So once we sat down and discussed it, we started thinking, why hasn't anybody done a book about cosplay yet?

From there, it felt like a no-brainer. We've been to hundreds of cons, and we've met thousands of people who love to cosplay, and we've seen that audience grow in the last few years.

Frank Mastromauro: It's just grown so much, and there are even people who are headliners at different cons just because they're so popular.

Hernandez: And once we decided to go for it, the ball just started rolling.

Nrama: Tell me about the girls at the center of the story. They like to cosplay, and then the story turns into something more?

Hernandez: Yeah! It's fun and action-packed, and our heroines are able to save the world, but at the same time, they enjoy cosplay.

Mastromauro: And they're able to use their knowledge of cosplay to their advantage in their adventures.

We don't want to give away much about the story yet because this book is awhile away, but believe me when I say this comic isn't going to be what you expect. I think it's like Executive Assistant Iris. When we announced that book, I saw some people saying, "Oh, just another chick assassin book." But then when they actually read it, they were like, "Oh my gosh! This book is so different. It's much better than what we expected." And I think it will be the same way with this #Cosplay book.

We're getting a lot of great feedback so far about doing this book, but for people reading this who are thinking it just looks like girls dressing up in different costumes, that's not the gist of the story.

Credit: Aspen Comics

Nrama: You said it's an action book, so are these girls fighters? Have they been trained somehow?

Hernandez: Like Frank said, we don't want to give too much away, but it incorporates everything you just said and a whole lot more. Each one of them has been trained in different ways — for example, one with technology and one with explosives or knives or guns. The team is a cohesive unit that can take on any situation.

But there's also a twist. And we don't want to give that part of it away. Let's just say there will be larger-than-life elements that are still grounded in reality.

Nrama: Can you compare it to something? When you say "larger-than-life" elements, are you talking about the action?

Hernandez: Yeah. I think we'd describe it as being like 24 with Jack Bauer, where you'd see him in normal situations where he's just trying to fight terrorists at a mall, but then it escalates and escalates, and all of the sudden he's trying to take down nuclear weapons and stuff as just one man. So it's fantastical, but it's still kept in a realm of believability.

We're trying to incorporate those same elements in #Cosplay, to make sure these girls are believable and grounded in reality, yet they'll come across major threats that will challenge them in big ways. And we'll be introducing challenges that help develop their character while also pushing the story along.

So it will be much more than just "girls who dress up," although that will be one fun aspect of it.

Nrama: You mentioned that Mike DeBalfo is working on the comic. Is he the only artist? And has he started?

Hernandez: Right now, he's doing character designs. But on this book, we're going to be doing something a little different that will involve two artists on each comic.

We'll have intro sequences that are about four pages long, and Mike will draw those, and then we'll also have the main part of the story, with another artist. The stories will not only have a few extra pages, but we're planning to make it episodic with these action-packed opening sequences that show our girls in an awesome light, and give a fun part of the story at the beginning of each issue.

So Mike DeBalfo is creating the world and the character designs, and he'll be doing the opening sequences. But we'll have another artist backing up with the meat of the story for each issue.

Mastromauro: We're really excited about the format. We've never actually created a book this way.

We want to capitalize on the best of both worlds. Mike DeBalfo's wife is having a baby in a couple months and they're going to have a whole lot going on. And he was 100 percent committed to this project, and we wanted him to be on board with it every step of the way. But it wasn't possible for him to do the entire book, month in, month out, because of his family commitment.

So what we wanted to do was still include Mike's art, but as Vince mentioned, he's going to get to do these opening sequences, which will be the first four pages. It will present the dilemma for that particular issue. It will bring you into the story immediately.

Then on page 5, you'll have the title page with all the credits and information, and then it will lead into the start of the story and how it led up to that action sequence, or ramifications that led to that, or whatever development we come up with for that issue.

So Mike is the one that's been setting up the character, setting up the designs, setting up the world. And then we'll have a different artist that executes the rest of the book. Whether it's the same artist for every single issue or a different one, we're not sure yet, and we're going to be looking at what would be right for the story.

Nrama: Are you going to have something like this year's "10 for 10" initiative, to introduce this book and the other projects you've got coming out in 2014?

Credit: Aspen Comics

Hernandez: Yes. We'll be announcing that soon, and it will be something similar to the 10 for 10. Retailers should be able to get on board with it all year long. It will be very simple, something easy for them to utilize to entice new readers and promote the books in their stories. We're excited about the way retailers were pushing the 10 for 10 this year, and there were some things we thought we couple do even better next year. So we're getting all that worked out right now.

For #Cosplay, we're looking at a late spring/early summer release.

Nrama: And I have to ask about the hashtag at the front of the book's title...

Hernandez: Yeah, the actual title has a hashtag. It's "hashtag-Cosplay."

Mastromauro: I think we're the first comic book to have a hashtag in our title, aren't we?

Nrama: I don't remember seeing it in the title of anything else. But does that mean the girls name themselves "hashtag-Cosplay" in the story or something?

Hernandez: Well, the name of their group isn't going to be called "#cosplay," but that name, with the hashtag, will be part of the story. It will be something they utilize within the book.

It's just like how we were saying earlier that the book isn't what you would assume it is. What you see on the surface isn't all you're going to get within the book — in a good way. There's much more depth to it. We've got a lot of cool plans for this team, and for the hashtag [laughs] and for the whole world of #Cosplay. Once you get into it, there will be layers and layers of story, and we're excited to really dive into this property and get the readers on board.

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