Troy Doerner/Cosplay Deviants,
Undressing the Art of Playing Dress Up
(Schiffer, 2013)

OK, so this is one of the more unusual art books to come across my desk. It's a photography book, yes, but its subjects are all women who like to dress up like comic-book, movie and cartoon characters. And then, while the shutter is still clicking away, take their costumes off again.

The cosplay world is a strange and mysterious one for those who don't move in those circles. And yet, as a self-identified nerd who geeks out over a lot of this same stuff -- and who, let's admit it, enjoys a good photo of a pretty girl -- I enjoyed Undressing the Art of Playing Dress Up.

This book isn't really by anyone -- there's a long list in the back of all the models and photographers whose work is featured here -- but it owes its genesis to Cosplay Deviants, a password-protected website featuring ... well, more of the same thing I described already. (Troy Doerner isn't actually listed in the book as the author, but as CEO of Cosplay Deviants, he gets much of the credit.)

The volume is divided into sections, some of which are within my sphere of enjoyment and some of which are not. I'll confess, when I opened the book to a cover-page photo of an especially stunning Slave Leia, I figured this book would get a pretty good review.

There are four chapters: The Girls of Gaming, Cuties of Comics & Cartoons, Adorable Ladies of Anime & Manga and Sirens of Sci-Fi. The gaming section doesn't do much for me; I think the only one I recognized was the erstwhile Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, who apparently wears a pink and gray bra under her trademark togs. And the anime and manga section passes over my head, although I think maybe there were a couple of Sailor Moons in there.

The comics, cartoons and science fiction sections, on the other hand, are pretty damn cool. The women within dress up as genre luminaries ranging from Katniss Everdeen to Catwoman, a female Riddler to Crysta from Ferngully. You like superheroes? We have Wonder Woman, Raven, Miss Marvel, Psylocke, Zatanna and Black Widow. There's Death and Delirium from the Sandman books. Even Velma from Scooby-Doo.

In case I was too subtle before, please note that the women in these photos are in costume in some of the photos. In others, they are partially, or in some cases entirely, out of costume. This book is NOT appropriate for all eyes.

The photos are artfully framed and presented, so if you're in it for the craft, you'll appreciate the work that went into all this. If numbers impress you, the collection includes the work of 45 models and 67 photographers.

As a collection, there are some weaknesses here. As I said, I didn't recognize a fair number of the characters represented, so some descriptions -- or even just basic labels -- would be nice. The layouts would be better with some text, identifying the characters, maybe telling us a bit about what went into crafting the costumes, something. However, words don't play a big part in this book; pretty much, the text is limited to a foreword by Cosplay Deviants promotions director Edgar Munster. I think here the makers misjudged their audience; I don't know about gamers, but science fiction and comic-book fans usually don't mind a little reading.

There are also a few pages that pull you out of the moment, too. For instance -- and let me be clear, I'm not anti-tattoo as a rule -- seeing Wednesday Addams strip away her somber duds to reveal brightly colored ink up and down her legs spoils the moment. A little spiral heart inked in a naughty part of an otherwise amazing Slave Leia detracts from one photo in her set.

Minor quibble, but there it is.

Overall, though, this is the sort of photo book that will appeal to a variety of people, fans of the various genres represented as well as glamour photography enthusiasts.

book review by
Tom Knapp

23 April 2016

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