Cosplay, or costume play, is a bonafide staple in the comic con world, and it’s only getting bigger. There are design kits you can buy, professional cosplayers bringing in full-time salaries. One woman even created her own college major in cosplay.
So of course, dogs have to get in on the action.
Dog cosplay is a small but growing field. Canine cosplayers dress up as their favorite characters from popular movies, TV shows, video games and comic books, and promenade alongside other cosplayers for photographs. Sometimes their costumes even match!
However, it’s not as simple as putting your dog in an outfit and showing her off. Unlike dog costume contests, where canines are grouped together and can socialize, a canine cosplayer is often one of the only dogs in a large stampede of comic con attendees. For dogs that aren’t used to navigating crowds of people, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Kiba, a 5-year-old Corgi, has been cosplaying for a couple of years now as Corgi Cosplay. Typically, Kiba’s the only one in a costume, although owner Nicole Spickerman occasionally dons a complementing costume. Kiba made his big debut in 2013 at a comic con in Phoenix dressed as Link from The Legend of Zelda. Since then, he’s appeared at several conventions as some of Spickerman’s favorite characters, like Deadpool (“Dogpool,” she called him), Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Edward Kenway from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag.
“It’s nice to be able to have that creative outlet with him, especially because he takes it all like a champ,” Spickerman told BarkPost. “Being able to show my love of characters through him is amazing.”
Normally, dogs aren’t encouraged to attend comic cons, given the number of people who attend. After all, last year’s San Diego Comic Con had over 130-thousand attendees. However, Kiba is Spickerman’s ADA service animal, so he’s been trained to handle large crowds. Spickerman said that’s also why he’s comfortable wearing costumes, because he was raised to don a service vest.
“He was very used to the idea of wearing stuff. When it came to actually the cons, it just took more training with the props and putting stuff on his face,” Spickerman said.
Spickerman designs and puts together all of Kiba’s costumes herself. She said she didn’t have a lot of previous sewing experience, which is why she doesn’t make her own costumes, but she loves getting to create the outfits for Kiba. She said it takes anywhere from a few hours to several days, and they typically cost less than $60 to make. She said the Assassin’s Creed outfit took a whole week because she had to design and create his leather vest from scratch.
The best part, she said, is getting to show Kiba off. Spickerman said Kiba loves the attention, especially from ladies “with the skimpiest costume[s],” and people love giving him that attention. Normally, Spickerman asks people not to pet Kiba, since he’s a service animal, but she said she makes an exception at comic cons. Not only because it’s rare to see dogs at conventions, but also because she considers it a form of therapy. Cons are notoriously stressful, with long lines, bad food and never-ending crowds of people spending more money than they should.
“At a con, I’m a lot more relaxed on his leash, because I know a lot of other people are stressing,” Spickerman said. “The benefits he can provide are very helpful. They’re petting him and they’re thanking me, saying it helps immensely.”
Spickerman knows firsthand how calming a presence Kiba can be. Spickerman said she has anxiety and depression, and she got Kiba to help her feel comfortable in public spaces. Kiba has helped Spickerman make new friends at conventions, and she said without him, she probably wouldn’t be able to attend comic cons at all.
“Even if I’m in costume with him, more of the attention is focused on him, that helps bridge the anxiety issues,” Spickerman said. “I laugh when I tell friends that I’m just a backup dancer, and I’m fine being the backup dancer. But at the same time, [comic con attendees] look up and they go ‘Hi,’ and that eases me into getting to know people.”
For anyone wanting to get their dog into cosplay, Spickerman has one piece of advice: Be cautious. She said it’s fun getting your dog into cosplay, but if he isn’t prepared for the costume or crowds, he could get extremely anxious. She recommended practicing costuming with the occasional hat or shirt, to see how he responds. If you can get him into a costume comfortably, start by bringing him to smaller events, like costume contests with other dogs. And whatever you do, keep him outside the convention’s doors.
“For dogs that aren’t service dogs, please please please don’t try to bring them into the convention center, “ Spickerman said. “If something happens, it’s going to make it way harder for people with service dogs and need them to bring them into public places.”
Luckily, plenty of cosplayers gather outside, and any of them would love to see a cosplaying puppy showing his stuff. Plus, there’s always Instagram.
Currently, Spickerman is working on a couple of new costumes for Kiba, including Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon and Green Arrow from season 4 of Arrow. They’re planning a Kiba calendar with several other cosplayers, and are developing Kiba plushies and enamel pins to sell at upcoming conventions.