The Newbie’s Guide to Charity Cosplay, Part 1: Choose Your Hero

charity cosplay marvel dc comics

Note: This is the first entry in a four-part series about entering the world of charity cosplay. Check out part onepart twopart three, and part four!

Children love their heroes. Think back to your childhood (or now!) and how your favorite superhero or hero from another inspired you. One of the most thrilling experiences is ‘meeting’ that hero. Just look at stories of Hollywood actors visiting children in hospitals in character, like Chris Evans (Captain America) or Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow). But, what if I told you that you don’t have to be a big time actor to be a hero to someone less fortunate? I’m, of course, talking about charity cosplay.

Charity Cosplay for Dummies

What is charity cosplay you may be asking? It can take many forms, but what I’ll be discussing today will be dressing as a character to volunteer. This can be hospital visits, appearances at charity events, or many other things. The most famous organization dedicated to this cause is without a doubt The 501st Legion, a worldwide organization of Star Wars cosplayers. You don’t have to dress as a character from that franchise though, there are opportunities to be any kind of hero, and they’re closer thank you think.

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As in, ‘four miles from my house’ close. Image property of The Excelsior League.

You can be a hero to someone less fortunate. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child’s face light up when their favorite hero enters the room. This post will be the first of a three-part series about entering the world of charity cosplay and giving back to the community through a hobby you love. Today, I’ll be discussing how to select your hero.

Fishing the Mainstream

It sounds like a simple thing, right? Just pick a character, get a costume, and hit the events. If one wants to be serious about charity cosplay however, you mustn’t just choose a character you love. Other considerations exist. It’s a serious decision, and I’ll be going through those decising factors one by one.

The most important thing is to choose a recognizable character. We cosplayers love giving some love to obscure characters or creating creative, abstract twists on popular characters (like my human-version of Cubone). You have to leave a hipster streak at the door though. Most children don’t have decades of comics, movies, television, and video games under their belts. A meticulously crafted representation of an obscure DC Comics character may win the cosplay contest at a convention, but to a child without encyclopedic knowledge of comics, it might not get a reaction beyond, “Cool costume!”

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This is the most beautiful cosplay I have ever laid eyes on but it wouldn’t fly for a hospital visit.

It took me some time to accept this, but you have to shoot for a well-known, mainstream character. There are exceptions. The few children who do recognize your character tend to be even more excited to see you. Don’t take this as an absolute. I’ve seen cosplays of all stripes get great responses from children.

The Wal-Mart Principle

Suppose you aren’t familiar with what the kids these days are into. I don’t blame you if you aren’t. There’s a simple solution for this problem I have dubbed the Wal-Mart Principle. Just roll over to your nearest big box store and peruse the toy aisles. This works for both male and female characters. The toys on the shelf represent the TV shows and movies kids are watching right now. Look for a character that you already like or ones that you think are interesting.

charity cosplay walmart creepy creeper
Just try to avoid looking suspicious when you’re browsing the children’s toy aisle.

Alternatively, turn on the TV and flip over to Cartoon Network or Disney XD. Those are the shows that are defining the childhoods of the current generation, for better or worse. See if a character resonates with you. Who knows, you might find a new TV addiction in the process.

Lastly, you can go straight to the target audience to gauge their opinion of a character. If you have a young sibling or cousin and you have a specific character in mind, ask them if they’ve heard of [insert character here] and ask if they or their friends like them. Opinions vary from kid to kid of course, but it’s a good way to get a feel for who will or won’t be recognized.

Other Considerations

If you join up with a group (more on this in part two), they tend to have a ‘roster’ already in place when you join. People who contact these charity groups prefer not to have multiple people portraying the same character. Ask the group which characters they already have, and plan your own costumes accordingly. This isn’t to say you should ditch a character just because someone else already ‘claimed’ them. After all, there may already be a Batman or an Elsa in your group, but they probably won’t be able to make it to every event.

charity cosplay deadpool
Otherwise you end up with this.

Another potential pratfall people run into is the allure of a villainous character. People love supervillains as much as the heroes that fight them, kids are no exception. The 501st Legion was founded on portraying the villainous Galactic Empire. Harley Quinn is just as popular with children as she is with adult fans. The Joker is, well, everyone loves the Joker. Unfortunately, some events specifically request no villainous characters. Where is the balance?

A simple metric is to consider how ‘scary’ a villainous character is. A Predator wouldn’t be welcome at just about any hospital, but most of Batman’s most popular villains would. To return to the Joker for a moment, a classic or animated series style costume would probably be more appropriate than Heath Ledger’s version of the character.  The grand exception to this villain rule is Star Wars. It doesn’t matter that Anakin slaughtered a dozen children in cold blood or that Ben Solo impaled his father through the chest, kids will always be excited to see Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.

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Seriously, why are people okay with this guy?

When choosing a character known to be scary or violent, do what you can to tone down those aspects of the character. Leave the weapons at home, holsters included. Keep scowling and creepy faces within reason. Use your judgment.

Phase Two

Choosing the character you wish to portray is just the beginning. If you’re new to cosplay or picking a character you haven’t portrayed before, you have to create or purchase your costume. Next week I’ll cover how to suit up without breaking the bank in the process. You’ve started your journey, now keep the course. You’ll be brightening the lives and smiles of children in no time.

Thanks to members of The Excelsior League and The 105th Squad for input on this article.

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