As the fall begins, we have entered fair season.
Fried food, animals, hay bales, face-painted kids! Jousting, turkey legs, faux-Shakespearean talk, and cleavage!
Faire season! Renaissance faire season, that is! Last week, we attended the King Richard’s Faire in Carver, Mass., just a few weeks after going to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. We’ll also attend the Connecticut Renaissance Faire in October, and the New York faire is in our sights as well.
The wife and I strap on our belts, string up the corsets and boots, slip on the capes. We drink the beer, sing the songs, ham it up with the performers, ogle and get ogled. All at the nerd convention.
What a life, especially for a hobby that’s still relatively new for us yet indulges our hardcore-Halloweener penchant for costumes and dress-up.
Among the recent revelations is that, yes, I’m a Thor cosplayer now. Me. Doing cosplay.
It began with a tunic styled after Thor that I bought a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve kept adding interesting bits to it to flesh out a full outfit. After a few years and several faire visits, there’s the tunic, shirt, sufi pants, boots, bracers, armored belt, cape-like riding coat, and a winged leather headpiece. I even keep a scimitar and Mjolnir.
Last spring, I also bought a gorgeous Viking tunic that’s red and black with patterned gold trim. The plan was for a potential Black Panther outfit, but for now it’s also just generic Viking. Even wearing that and the winged headpiece at the Pennsylvania faire, I still got Thor looks, with some rather ribald and hilarious consequences.
The King Richard’s Faire was more tame in that regard, but it had moments both awesome and odd.
It’s always fun when people recognize the thunder god. Usually, they throw a fist-pump. Thor’s a warrior, a party dude, and a pretty boy. What’s not to like?
To me, Thor is everybody’s homie. I bet Thor’s Asgardian dap game is mad strong.
My Thor is especially kind to women and children. Thor loves the kids, lets them hold the hammer and jokes about whether they can lift it.
Thor appreciates the ladies, of course.
I walk a little taller, my stance a little wider, any time a woman yells, “Thor!” And usually it’s a yell. Other times, it’s just smiles and giggles. One woman came up to me, looked the outfit over and, through giggles, just kept saying, “I like this” and patted at my winged crown.
Thor can dish it as well as take it, mind you. At the Pennsylvania faire, a performer mounted my shoulders and sang that I “hammer just like Thor.” I then lifted her upon my shoulders and danced around.
But the fellas? Don’t worry. We gets down.
I would run into other dudes dudded up as Vikings and Sumerians, Dothraki and Haradrim. The guys often looked blue-collar, guys I would crack open some Budweisers with and talk football for hours. (Or, conversely, guys who might punch me out at a Trump rally, for all I know.)
“I fuckin’ live for this,” one guy tells me, through layers of barbarian fur,eyeliner, braided hair, and a Conan loincloth.
“I’m one of your followers,” a Hagar the Horrible lookalike says, flashing a Thor’s hammer necklace. We shake hands – grabbing at the wrists, of course – and bro down.
We’re here for the party. We embody the T-shirt I saw that read, “I’m here for the turkey legs and cleavage.” Good-naturedly so. And, to be honest, add the sexy knights to that sentence, and you’ve pegged nearly the entire crowd.
Among the chief odd reactions was people not realizing I was Thor. The obvious reason for such being that I’m not the same color as the Thor they know.
It was funny, if not just annoying, to have people notice the hammer, but not the man holding it. This happened the most when it was parents with young children.
“Oh, hey, it’s Thor’s hammer!”
I’m standing there, like, “Yes, and notice my costume? The red cape, blue tunic with white runic circles, the winged headpiece? I’m not here as ‘Thor’s caddie.’”
Also, because Idris Elba played Heimdall in the Thor movies, I get a lot of those reactions. (At least I didn’t get the Twitter Egg reactions thrown Elba’s way.)
I look nothing like him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my looks. I just not as pretty as Elba is, as a point of fact.
But that didn’t stop a woman who saw my costume and yelled “Heimdall!” I turned, and yelled back, “No, Thor!” She looked down at the hammer and replied, “You’re right! Thor!”
Yup. Thor. Not Black Thor. Just Thor. Though, I’ll admit, being called “Black Thor” sounds pretty damn good. Black Thor is even cooler. All the Valkyries know Black Thor. I bet he gets all the ass in Asgard, am I right? OK, OK, enough of stereotypes.
I try to have some fun with defying expectations, as sadly or benignly bigoted as those expectations may be sometimes. I don’t get angry unless folks get offensively stupid or mean. Those folks I’ll zap.
Alongside all this fun of #vikinglife is that, as a black man, I get to spit in the eye of all those white supremacists and neo-Nazis out there who co-opt Norse mythology to feed their racism. Screw them.
So far, I’ve confined my cosplay Internet presence to Instagram. Way more official cosplayers find my stuff sometimes. I’ll post under #cosplaywhileblack as well as check out the hashtag and lend support. It means a lot, especially when some folks are walking into cons feeling unwelcome at times.
As I get more involved in ren faire life, and the cosplay at work in it, I have been thinking of the next level in my fantasy life. Sure, I’ll continue Thor life regardless of whether he’s a “white” character – and schooling the ignorant with my empty bag of fucks.
I also am interested in cosplaying more as particular characters of color, too, while knowing that I am not limited to portraying only them.
The day will come when I move forward with a full-on Black Panther cosplay. Totes obvi, sure.. But why not? T’Challa is a fine, fine place to start, with so many permutations of outfits to do.
I can take that red and black Viking tunic, after all. and add leather gauntlets with claws, and a leather panther’s head. Or I can take a silver-and-black nottingham coat and do the same.
But I’ll also be looking into my Afrocentric connections and African friends to find regional fabrics of East Africa, particularly Ethiopia and Tanzania, as Wakanda is often situated somewhere in there. Given Ethiopia’s history of repelling European would-be conquerors, this sounds like a good place to start.
However, truth can be better than fiction, too.
Some black friends of mine pointed out how I looked like I was “ready to conquer Spain.” I started looking up Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Moorish general who led the Islamic Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania in 711–718 A.D.
You know Gibraltar, in Spain? That’s named after him, son.
According to history and legend, Tariq was a Berber slave from Algeria who received his freedom and was made a general. When he brought his army to Spain and landed at what later would be called the Rock of Gibraltar, he commanded his soldiers to burn their boats, because only victory of martyrdom awaited them.
Now, that’s gangster.
Reading about Tariq ibn Ziayd reminded me of how, growing up, you’d hear reverence for names such as Hannibal, Haile Selassie, Nat Turner, and Shaka Zulu. They received praise, in certain circles, as black men who cried havoc and dared to defy white men seeking empire. Throughout history, they knew that to be black and stand as a full human being was to be a scourge to white supremacy and, perhaps, whiteness itself.
That idea, of a heroic black scourge, also runs deeply in the characterization of Captain Nemo in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. Dakkar, the Sikh Indian prince who became a pirate and scientific genius.
Born into privilege and wealth, Dakkar grows discontent with British rule of India and takes to the seas to battle imperialism across the world. The British Empire makes his blood boil, and he sinks many of their vessels over decades! He takes up the name Nemo, the Latin word for “no one,” whose Greek derivation means “I give what is due.”
Dude has the technologically advanced submarine, the Nautilus, his own crew, and is feared as all get-out by those British spymasters. He’s fluent in several languages, is an accomplished player of the organ.
Especially as long as I have this beard of mine, Nemo is a great choice.
And, who knows: Once I get this outfit together, I may have to branch out to steampunk events, too.
Steampunk and Renaissance faires?
May Thor strike me with a thunderbolt.