A big part of the comic and entertainment convention scene is the presence of people cosplaying as their favorite characters. It adds an exotic and textural dimension to the shows. You can see a massive variety of costumes from store bought to incredibly intricate custom made versions.
We got a chance to chat recently with one of the most iconic cosplayers at the con circuit, especially at east coast shows. Harry Crosland is a imposing figure and his long dreadlocks are as unmistakable as his infectious smile. A Maryland native, he has been cosplaying at shows for over a decade along with his wife Gina. He also is professional photographer specializing crafting fantastic and inclusive artistic representations of people cosplaying.
This interview was fun and covers topics that are important to deal with regarding respect and acceptance at our favorite nerdy gatherings. Harry (or HC or Aitch Cee) is a fantastic ambassador for geekdom and if you ever run into him, you will be glad you did.
You can listen to the audio of the interview below. We also included some of the key interactions in the conversation transcribed below.
Pop Culture Squad: I wanted start off with you telling your origin story in cosplay. What, when and how did you start getting into cosplay?
Harry Crosland: Okay, so I’m going go way, way, way back to half past 2007-ish, I would say 2007, 2008. Gina [Harry’s wife and partner], I were just starting to date and Halloween was around the corner and she’s asking me, “Well, what are you gonna dress up in?” I was like, “What do you mean what I’m gonna dress up as? You know, grown people don’t do costumes like that.” Then, I thought about it for a little bit. I wanted to do something cool. Let me just kind of test the water. So, I decided to do a Matrix costume where she took Neo’s long coat from The Matrix, and she did a hell of a job on that coat, and believe it or not, I still have it. That was my first costume.
It wasn’t until about 2008 or so when I discovered Baltimore Comic-Con. I had just started getting back into comic books at that point. I had a friend of mine who literally was calling me every week kept saying, “Man, you need to understand what’s going on in Secret Invasion.” You know what, I thought, “Let me go see what this is all about. Where can I go to talk to other people about this?”
So, in August 2008, I’m at my very first comic con in Baltimore. Of course I’m not in costume. And that’s when I started meeting other folks, Fred Holt, being among them. And at that point, that’s when I started seeing, okay, there’s a place for cosplay for grown adults. And I said to myself, after going through Baltimore, seeing all these, you know, grown folks from all different walks of life, shapes, sizes, colors, whatever, have you? I said, you know what, I’m gonna Coplay next year.
Yeah. 13 years later. So much time has gone by. And then, I got Gina into it. I got my best friend when into it.
PCS: What was it that, that drew you into saying, “I need to make this cosplay a big part of my life”? You travel for it. You put a lot of thought, a lot of effort, I’m sure, a lot of money in it.
HC: I probably got really excited in cosplay because I saw not only what it can do for myself as far as like being able to enjoy going to some of the venues, but I like inspiring other people as well. Like seeing younger folk than I, who are nerdy, who are of different backgrounds, be it black, white, Asian, Latino, heavyset, skinny. I kind of used to be tall, awkward, and gawky, and it’s like, I want to be able to do this too. How can I do the things while it’s possible? You just put your mind to it. And, and that’s one of the biggest enjoyments I get out of this.
And I believe that if you go in it really just to have fun and to take a weekend and kind of blow some steam while also, you know, dressing up as your favorite characters, you can really, really get into it, enjoy it. And if you’re someone who does happen to find an avenue to be able to profit off of it, or, or establish yourself, or make a name of yourself by all means, do it. Just remember, you gotta put work into it. This isn’t something that you’re just going to say today. “I’m just gonna throw on the costume and the entire world was gonna recognize me and my works and that’s the end.” No, no. You got to, you got to put blood, sweat and tears into this.
PCS: Can you talk about the cosplay community. As a regular attendee, but still an outsider to the community, it seems welcoming and supportive on the whole.
HC: I I’ll be brutally honest, and I tell people this all the time. it’s what you make of it. It’s what you bring to the table. The attitude that you have, and your miles may vary based on the people that surround you and that you let yourself become in contact with. Because, I would say, the group of people in my atmosphere and their extended friends, we tend to be very warm and opening because we realize, especially looking at some of us, you know, some of us are getting older. Some of us are not cosplaying anymore. Some of us are moving on other things. But the community, as far as I’ve seen, it has been welcoming.
If people who come to the cons by themselves or they come with one or two other people and don’t really know anybody find us and they’re in our atmosphere, before they know it, they are one of our peeps. Right. And that’s how we’ve always tried to make it be because most of us already know what it’s like. You’re going to travel someplace far. You are on your own by yourself. You might be lucky to have one other person with you, but you’re gonna run into a whole bunch of like-minded souls. And I mean, that’s what comic conventions are all about. We are gathering in a space where we are sharing likeminded interests. You know, we love our comic books. We love our toys and gadgets and games, and we are getting a chance to meet creators. And we finally get a chance to talk to other people and interact with other people who can fully understand why we are passionate over this.
Harry and I talked about creator appreciation and interactions with cosplayers. Check out the audio for more story around this clip of Harry from Baltimore Comic Con 2014 and the amazing George Perez.
We also talked about some of his favorite costumes and his plans for the future that you will find exclusively in the Squadcast.
PCS: I want to get to your photography. You are a published photographer. You’ve been in Star Wars Insider and Men’s Health, just to name two. I’ve seen your photography for years now, and it always strikes me. There is always something that calls my attention, and I need to stop and look at. As a photographer, do you have a designed overarching purpose in your artistic photography?
HC: I do, especially when it comes to cosplay, I’m going to actually start with cosplay and go into everything else. How it came about for cosplay, especially for people of color was when we first started, it was always one of those things where I was seeing way too many of us who had these really nice extravagant cosplays. They were great looking. They were eye catching. Everybody wants to get a picture. Everyone wants to do the videos, but by the time the show was over, and the pictures and videos went up on various websites, you didn’t see any of us. Wow. It was like we never existed. If that video or photo gallery was a measuring stick of who was there, the people were falsely represented.
Especially when you are a person of color, there’re so many challenges a person of color going to a con has to face, and if that video was an indication of the people that went, you wouldn’t think that any person of color went, and you wouldn’t think any guys went. So, a lot of us back then, we were taking Umbridge to this fact, and it was just a fact that we weren’t being seen. So, at that time, I was really just developing my skill as a photographer.
I was trying to figure the whole thing out. And quite frankly, I didn’t know the camera, all that well, outside of auto, but I said, “I’m gonna start taking some pictures.” I’m gonna try to get better along the way, because I felt like this is one of those times. This was a place in a space where I could be part of the solution rather than continuously complaining about the problem. Because no matter how many times you see other photographers at shows, you can’t control what they’re going to print. You can’t control what they’re going post. You can’t control what they’re going to take a video of. So, I made it a point that as long as I had a camera in my hand, and I’m at a show, I’m going to try to get pictures of everyone. And just to be brutally honest, everything that caught my eye, I don’t care who you were.
So, that way it was better represented in whatever I posted with where people could see that a girl had on this particular costume, that was great. This guy here had on this particular costume, and that was great. Everybody needed representation. And then the further along I got, when I started getting more and more opportunities, I’m doing red carpet events, I’m doing events for PBS, and shooting sports. [I realized that] I needed education to get better.
So I decided, I took approximately two years, and took some courses through a professional I know, and got better at my craft. And then one of the really big things I started learning was more about lighting.
One of the things that happened to me early on was before I decided to take the class, I did a drop in one night. The teacher asked me to come through and, you know, introduce myself. So I go there and I introduce myself, and people asked, “Well, why do you wanna get in photography?” I said, “Well, I want to learn photography because I want to get better in shooting cosplay.” And of course, everyone’s asking like, well, what is this cosplay thing? So, I had some, some pictures had some pictures of myself and Gina and some pictures of other people I took, and a couple people laughed, you know, they’re like, “Oh, that’s cute.” That is because most people, when they wanna go learn photography, they wanna go shoot weddings. Right? No, yeah. Me and wedding shooting don’t exactly get along. Yeah. Couple of people chuckled. But now as people have seeing that I’m getting published that I’ve had my, I works at a museum and we, you know, Gina and I plastered the streets of New York subways with cosplay. People ain’t laughing no more. Yeah.
You can find Harry online at his website: https://eyesofaitch.wordpress.com/
He is a great follow on any platform and you might just find him at a con near you.
If you are new here, you can check out all our Pop Culture SquadCast Interviews on the Main SquadCast Page.