Fantasy worlds work as a blank slate – a canvas with no rules, no bounds, where an artist can bring the worlds in their head to life with no limits. The stories that fantasy writers and artists choose to tell, while fantastic, adventurous and strange, often have parallels to our human lives; the characters and communities within these fantasy worlds struggle, persevere, succeed and fail like the rest of us, no matter how superhuman or alien they may be. They face struggles in ability, in self-confidence, in health, in love, and in being, yet they persevere and come out stronger. It is often these things that allow the fantasy fan to really connect with the story and its characters, and it is this connection that has spurred monumental growth in the world of cosplay – the art of not just dressing up as your favorite fantasy characters, but rather creating and living your day as a version of the character that is also uniquely you.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Barr Foxx, a cosplay artist spurring progress in the ever-growing Atlanta nerd and cosplay scene. Owner and creator of Cosplay Your Way, a brand created to make sure that everyone who wants to enjoy the art of cosplay is welcome, Foxx aims to ensure, to the best of his ability, that you can enjoy your fandom and express it loudly, no matter who you are. Over ten years, Cosplay Your Way has provided a safe space for Atlanta cosplayers of all kinds to shed their fears, ignore the negativity, and bring their favorite characters to life.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a cosplay artist. I am the owner and creator of Cosplay Your Way, a brand that I created to make sure that everyone that wants to enjoy the art of cosplay is welcome, regardless of your race, age, size, sexual orientation, or ability. I’m here to make sure to the best of my ability that you can enjoy this fandom.
I love cosplay. I’ve been doing this for years; didn’t know that I was going to turn it into a brand, didn’t know that I was going to do a documentary. Just came in for the love of it all, had a good experience, and wanted to share that; wanted to keep that inner child alive. I’m here and I’m going to stay as long as people allow me to.
How long have you been cosplaying?
I’ve been officially cosplaying since 2007. Originally, what happened is that I’ve always been into dressing up into costumes; I love Halloween and love being in different identities. I work in television and film, so it’s just a part of my make-up. In 2006, I was modeling for another convention, and my friend was like, “There are so many people down here with costumes on, why are you not down here?” I put on a hero t-shirt, ran downtown, and was like “I’m just going to see what’s going on” ….and I fell in love. It was DragonCon. Ever since 2006, I’ve been going back and it’s been amazing. 2007 is when I was like “I want to bring something – a message, to the Con. I’m glad I’m dressing up, but I also want to make sure characters of color are represented.”
You mentioned wanting to be a different character for the day, is that your driving force?
I got into cosplay to really embody the characters and the people that were my friends … I’m gonna call them my friends 一 I know it might sound weird to some people. They helped me when I was younger; reading their stories, vibing with them and really understanding their plight, and watching their struggles were things that really helped me and put me at ease. Cuz, you know, adolescence is hard, school is hard, and I needed escapism, which I found in comics. I’m honoring these characters, bringing them to life, and I’m also making sure that other people remember or get to know these characters I love so much. If they helped me and gave me peace of mind, I think it can do it for other people.
Comics, video games, and fantasy in general really allow the writers to provide escapism through their stories and characters; we can get lost in their superhuman world, while they still have very human lessons for us.
Right! I loved Teen Titans because I got something from them, and I had a best friend who loved Doctor Strange. We still were able to be individualistic in our approach of what we got out of it, but still be among the big fandom of it all.
I really got into Alpha Flight when I was younger; that’s a group that went through things like cancer and mental illness. It actually trained me a lot for real life. The writers took real world events and put them in comics where we could reflect on them.
That’s also why I loved X-men so much, because as a young, Black man, I look at the oppression: how they were treated and not allowed in certain spaces; that’s me sometimes. I love how they handled it: you had the two different ideologies of, “Hey, let’s get along with everybody,” and the other, being “we’ll just do our own Utopian world.” It helped me navigate through some different scenarios.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your cosplay journey and the start of Cosplay Your Way?
At the time, 2006, there were not that many people of color cosplaying. It’s a completely different story now, but there were not a lot of people of color in the space. I think Marvel was really excited to see somebody of color cosplaying when I was doing Bishop. I made it into the Cosplay in America book, and I was so enamored. DC comics saw my Jericho from Teen Titans and that made it into another publication. It took about three or four years of me being in a utopian, blissful state before I realized there were some issues in cosplay with people of color. They didn’t want us in certain spaces doing certain things. All I knew is I was with my people, my brethren, and we like comics; I didn’t expect that there was going to be dissension and separatism in that.
It’s because of that dissension, while getting positive reinforcement from the majors, that Cosplay Your Way began to be formulated. I came into this so innocently, so happy to find my crew, that I didn’t expect issues or discrimination. Instead of complaining, I said, “What can I do?” I met photographers of color or photographers who were open to working with people of color. I met cosplayers that were open to photoshoots. When people came to the Con, I was kind of like their personal liaison to help them transition and be in a good space. I didn’t want their first time to be something traumatic; people put a lot of time and work into their stuff, despite other people’s opinions on what it should be or not. There’s no way you need to kill their drive and enthusiasm; I want to make sure they don’t bump their heads too soon. This person may have been reluctant to work with you, but I know three other people who would love what you’re doing right now.
In past years, there had been a lot of debate around who could cosplay what character, especially when it comes to the cosplayer’s appearance and presentation. I noticed a lot of your early cosplays were characters of color. When did this start to open up?
I decided there were a lot of characters I like. If the people who are trying to play by whatever unsaid rules are still getting disrespected, I’m just going all in. I love Jericho [Teen Titans]; so, I made Jericho me. The outfit was pristine, but instead of the original blonde hair, I had a blonde afro. The afro really worked. George Perez [a DC Comics artist] saw it and said, “I love your take on it!” That’s when I said I’m doing me going forward. After that, I did Gambit. These are characters that I connected with in my heart and these are the ones I resonate with. These are the people I want to represent. These are the ones I resonate with. I started to do whatever I wanted to do, however I wanted to do it. If you like it, thank you; if you don’t like it, go away. “You’re black so you can’t IXNAY.” I’m not a part of that.
It started to flow. I love Raven [Teen Titans] … but can I do a female, nonblack character? Yes, I can! I’m just going to do me. I think I did it and did it well; I was unapologetic about it, I wasn’t hurting anyone. I just came, I did me, and that’s how the Cosplay Your Way brand started.
Why are we letting what some people are thinking hold us back and make us scared? I don’t want that life for me, and I don’t want it for any of you. I need to do something about it 一 what can I do? I’ll be the crash test dummy for everybody. I’ll go in, do what I want to do; if you think you can handle it, join me. If you don’t think you can handle it, let’s work on it and work on you, and get you to a space and time where you think you can.
What do you think of the current state of cosplaying as a cosplayer of color?
It hasn’t changed much. There are more people of color on the scene. There’s more recognition. There are more characters of color finally instead of just the five or six we thought we had to choose from. The acceptance of those people, the acceptance of cosplayers of color doing characters that are non-black, is still in a weird space.
One thing I used to go through was putting “black” in front of everything. People weaponized it, calling it “Black Gambit” … It was weird, like it was less than. “Black Robin”, “Black Gambit”, when I’m just Robin, when I’m just Gambit. You know the costume, you clearly recognize it, so why are you making that statement?
I’m so happy to see people taking the power back. Not just cowering down, hiding in the shadows, saying I can’t do this. Saying “this is not acceptable. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. This is my fandom; you can’t dictate how I approach my fandom.”
In comics, movies, and video games, there are so many different embodiments of the same character. There’s really no more masterpieces. Can you really say this character only looks like this? Open up your mind and your scope. If we didn’t allow people to play with the image and the look, we’d still be stuck with the original design and that’s no fun. Nothing would be developed; no other characters would be created if you just stuck with it. It’s 2021, so things had to change from 1980.
I had probably heard the term before but hadn’t solidified what it meant until I saw photos from Blerdcon, the most recent convention you had been to: “Blerd” being a combination of Black and nerd. We’ve talked about cosplayers of color not just limiting themselves to certain characters, and Blerdcon seemed very diverse in its cosplays, and gave a space for POC in cosplay. Can you talk more about Blerdcon?
I’m thankful to the organizer for putting it together. People needed that space – I didn’t know how much people needed that space. I’m mortified by some of the stories; I’m mortified by the social media bullying, the in-person disrespect, the dismissiveness. Blerdcon is a place where a lot of those things are just ripped out – not even a concern. You come, you are welcome, and you can be comfortable. I appreciate them doing that. Everyone is welcome, though it’s leaning on the POC experience.
There’s a difference between something like DragonCon, where you might see some representation, and Blerdcon where you are completely engulfed in it. There’s a difference between feeling pretty safe and being completely yourself without worry.
Right! Completely different. You’re not scared, you’re not reluctant, you can be creative. You don’t have to worry. You can put your bag down and do you.
What does Atlanta bring to the nerd world and cosplay culture that other cities might not have?
Atlanta is perfect to me because it was my official introduction to cosplay – DragonCon is like no other. I’ve been to many different cons and DragonCon still stands at the top because it is the fan’s con. More importantly, all the things that go on here … Places like Battle and Brew where you can go weekly and be amongst cosplayers and people who are into the nerdy mystique of life. I, with Cosplay your Way, have an annual photoshoot called CosNoir, where we put out pictures every February for 28 Days of Black Cosplay. Hair of the Dragon is something that is only here – a photo party where they bring out photographers and cosplayers can shoot with at least eight or nine photographers. That’s how a lot of us were able to build up our dossier with our photos. That’s something here that I haven’t seen anywhere else. These were things that were beneficial to me and helped to pour into me; helped me and other people expand. My Parent’s Basement as well. We [Atlanta] have one of the only black owned comic book stores – that is a plus too, because you can also go there for gaming. We also have the cosplay yard sales, which I think are so fun because you can make stuff and sell it, or barter and get rid of old cosplays. These are the things here that keep the culture going.
Do you have any upcoming conventions in Atlanta that you’ll be attending?
I did three cons in August. At the Atlanta Comic Con coming up, I’m going to show my documentary. Rangerstop Atlanta & Pop are bringing the Power Ranger fans together, which is exciting. This will be after DragonCon so maybe leave off the rest of the paragraph. I’m debating on DragonCon because I know it’s gonna be a little larger. Later, I’ll have a better gauge of where we’re at with COVID and I can make a better educated decision.
You recently began showing your documentary, CosNoir, at conventions. CosNoir highlights PoC cosplayers and how Cosplay Your Way is trying to lift them up and into the spotlight. How has the reception been?
The first debut was a virtual con called BLERD City Con, the second was Blerdcon. It was a little scary, because, you know, how are people going to respond? Although I won two Telly awards, for documentary and for editing, I still didn’t get to experience an in-person response to it until this summer at BLERD Con. It was really nice to see people and have them come back down to my table to talk about it and ask questions. They said they were positively affected by it, that they didn’t know they could cosplay characters of other races …
Hopefully this is something that can live on and be around for years to come if somebody wants to get a quick pick me up about how to break into cosplay, and what it means to be PoC in cosplay. Those are the things where we can say there’s progress. Yes, we still need to do more. Yes, there are still some changes that need to be made, but I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge these small wins.
Sometimes you need to crawl before you can walk.
It’s long overdue. If I’ve helped in any way, I’m happy about that. I hopefully knocked down some doors and opened some eyes, with Cosplay Your Way letting you know that we are here. There’s not just one type of person, we can all enjoy this. I’m going to continue pushing as much as I can, because why not?
There’s still some work to be done. I still want to have fun. I want to make sure that everybody that wants to enjoy cosplay can do it without being ostracized.