So, there was this not-at-SDCC superhero costume party.
My original plan was to make the most half-assed civilian-clothes Cyclops costume ever: plaid pants if I could find ‘em on short notice, khaki slacks otherwise; button-down shirt; maybe a tie; one of my embarrassingly numerous pairs of red sunglasses.
I don’t generally dress up as fictional characters with whom I identify; the discrepancies bug me too much. I dress up as ones whose outfits I like, or who look and/or dress like me. But this was easy. And the plainclothes version—not trying to copy a specific look from the comics—meant discrepancies weren’t as big a deal.
The built-in gag, of course, was that I would then stand in the corner and look vaguely uncomfortable, which is pretty much my M.O. at parties anyway.
And then I was pants-hunting on Tuesday, and I found this blue polo shirt, and I thought, oh, wait, I could do that one Cyclops #2 outfit. Hell, I already basically have that haircut. And look like a teenage boy.
I shot off a text to my friend Benja: “I realize this is a completely insane question, but is there a chance you could help me make a Cyclops visor between now and Friday?”
He could. Did.
Friday night, I put the whole thing together, and I took some photos, and it was so damn easy. That awkward-teenager body language. Hands in pockets; shoulders up, hunched a little; always on guard. It helps that my face is shaped pretty similarly to the way Dauterman draws Scott’s, but the expressions in the photos are all mine.
Here’s the thing: Dressing up as this awkward motherfucker was basically license to—for the first time I can remember—act like myself at a party. To just kinda run with the body language and facial expressions—or lack of expressions—I’m usually trying desperately to tamp down. Not to worry about what to do with my face when someone else was talking.
The visor made eye contact a nonissue.
On one hand: yes, it’s absolutely a costume. On the other hand: details aside, this is how I look when you aren’t looking. This is how I stand. This is what I do with my hands, my face, the angle of my head. Take away the visor, and this is a lot closer to me: what most people see only if I’m tired or upset enough to drop the act.
My favorite costumes often involve masks: the Question, the Wanderer, Dapper Astronaut. I like the freedom of relative anonymity; more, I like the social buffer, the luxury of getting to pay attention to things without having to worry about eye contact or what to do with my face. It’s the freedom of sunglasses, magnified exponentially.
Movement—well, it’s not like I move like myself most of the time anyway. Adapting to walk and stand like someone else—Montoya’s swagger, the Wanderers’ glide, Dapper Astronaut’s disheveled slump—wasn’t a big deal.
But Cyclops—at least, this version—stands like me. In theory, moves like me. That’s what sells the costume, more than the outfit, more even than the visor: all the things my mom tells me not to do in photos.
There’s an image I work very hard to sell: shoulders down, head up, face forward. Confident, crisp, detached, a stylish sort of disheveled. I dress for it. I practice facial expressions in the mirror. I mirror other people’s faces. In photos, in conversation, I do Spockface a lot—one eyebrow raised, one end of my mouth quirked subtly in a lopsided not-quite-smile—because it’s one I know I can pull off with relative consistency, because it fits the brand.
It’s not a lie, exactly—more, curation. It’s the same thing I do on social media, in my writing, as I move from context to context, sphere to sphere. It’s so habitual that I forget how much work it takes.
Until—for a night—I stop.