My friend and Wonderverse collaborator Chad Evett (the Top Hat of Hatters) has returned (alive!) from the land of Con and Cosplay after SDCC 2022. I asked him to pen a quick reflection of why and how Alice so invariably makes her appearance in his kingdom of costumes. True to form, his take is thoughtful and fun. Check it out:
Well, here we are: post San Diego Comic-Con 2022. Did you survive? Are you able to walk again? Did you dodge the con crud?
SDCC is, far and away, one of the greatest if not the grandest pop culture conventions on the planet, taking place every year in San Diego, CA - United States. As an international endeavor, the convention sports indoor and outdoor events, exclusive merchandise, along with a myriad of film and television announcements. Laced throughout the halls packed with comics, fans of every description, posters and costumes; there is one unifying factor: a distinct presence of everything that is currently en vogue.
Stranger Things, Star Trek, Star Wars, nearly every modern and contemporary fad is reflected. But mixed in among them, one finds a few gems from fads past: those few and faithful cosplayers that love what they love and wear it proudly for all to see. And perhaps the strangest things of all are the amount of people showing their love for a Victorian book about a curious little girl who took a tumble down a rabbit hole.
The entertainment industry is one powered by dreamers, those who are incapable of sitting still and not putting pen or brush to paper. In the first chapter of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” (later renamed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,) Alice is bored on the riverbank and takes to daydreaming to entertain herself. It is notorious that the book was written as pure escapism, so one would naturally assume that Alice would fit in beautifully between the rows and within the halls of the San Diego Convention Center.
Nat Lawson, an avid cosplayer and mother of a day dreamer (both of whome were dressed as magnificent French Tweedles) sees the Alice in us all: “I love stories about people who travel to other worlds and embrace new and wild experiences- Alice, Narnia, Oz, Inuyasha, etc.”
When asked if she thought of Alice’s moral, she described the average congoer almost accidentally, but no less accurately: “Live your life as you think you should— do the things you want to do and do not let other’s expectations shackle you into an endless loop of boring offices and minivans and warehouse stores.”
Perhaps the modern equivalent to that Victorian riverbank is indeed the boring office cubicle.
Connor Breen, another participant in the madness of the day, absolutely sees the glory of escaping the mundane: “…I feel like the reason why Alice in Wonderland continues to be so beloved; regardless of rewriting, re-creation, and rebirth of each character, is that the spirit of Wonderland is always true to what it intends to be.
Lewis Carroll created a world that has never been the same the second time you look at it. Familiar characters return in different ways for each new explorer, always there to help them in whatever way is needed regardless of if our hero or heroine knows what exactly what they needed help with in the first place.”
After a pause, Breen continued “No matter how old you are or what version you were first introduced to, every part of it feeling like returning home. Wonderland is always there for us, in that space between dreams and nightmares. It’s not always safe, but it never was dangerous either, it’s the flickering of light as you drift away, always waiting to welcome you back with a friendly smile, a hot cup of tea, and a new adventure with just the turn of a page.”
If Comic-Con is Wonderland, then each of us inhabits a part of Alice when we step onto that familiar cement floor: we explore, we renew, we indulge in a little nonsense—and most importantly, we dream.
Dreams evolve and yet defy definition—Alice’s journey through history is no less of an evolution. The story of a defiant little girl who questioned authority and the adults around her is one that parallels the ages since its publication. The cooky Mad Hatter once an exercise in lunacy has transformed, revealing a hat wielding hero underneath.
Alice absolutely would have been a suffragette—she would have marched for Stonewall, and she would have campaigned for liberty. Cosplay, functioning as a looking glass, reflects this evolution as the character has been reborn.
Frank Beddor, author of The Looking Glass Wars saw Alice (or is it Alyss?) as a character seeking to understand herself and her world through the enlightening power of Wonder and Imagination.
Tim Burton’s Alice was a lost freedom fighter seeking to define her strength through her journey. A stylistically absurdist version of Wonderland, even by whacky and weird standards, is the perfect landscape of gothic obstacles, & became a box office success.
American McGee took a second glance at the idea of Madness, and the subjective definition. His Alice saw an asylum run by the insane and the topsy-turvy state of reality cast as an adventure game soaked with the blood of those who would force order into Whimsy.
Alice, and the denizens of Wonderland around her, have been reborn and reworked numerous times, and each time it seems to work: the subject matter is unique in its pliability of translation.
The fans of Alice all flock to her for different reasons. For some, it’s the Disney flair & familiar characters (White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Red Queen, Alice). For others, it’s the idea that one person’s madness is another person’s sanity.
The concept of “Muchness” is introduced in chapter seven of the original book, “a mad tea party,” and is revolutionized in the 2010 Disney film as a metaphor for individuality and personal strength. Pushing back against the societal norms that suffocate the magic out of the young.
Cosplay is possibly the most flamboyant of the modern moves against society’s concept of Normalcy. Since 2010 the League of Hatters, an Alice-themed Cosplay club, has met on the first Thursday of Comic Con. Each member has drawn themselves to the group through their love of what Alice represents. (Yours truly has been lucky enough to be elected Top Hat for three consecutive terms!)
Watching fans of Alice exchange ideas and notes on costume execution and design is one of the hallmarks of a League meetup. Each year, new people see the advertisements of the meetings and join for a day of revelry.
Lorraine Oulette, a teacher from Connecticut, has brought her son and husband to league meetings every year since 2013. Her son River actually celebrated his 13th birthday with a HaberDashMitzvah—-a massive party where the entire league converged for tea, specialty cupcakes, music and dancing—all while dressed as characters from Wonderland. “The comradery is wonderful. Seeing all the hatters, queens, rabbits and Alices—it feels like family every time we meet up.”
And who does Lorraine Cosplay? “The Queen of Hearts. Naturally” she says with a wink.
Only in Wonderland.
Chad Evett graduated from Santa Fe University of Art and design with a degree in technical theater, with an emphasis on Costumes. He has designed numerous short films, and has worked as a theater director and production designer. His work has been seen on The View, and he has designed shoes for actress Whoopi Goldberg, and Writer/Producer Bryan Fuller. He lives in Los Angeles and works as a designer and Consulting storyteller.