Seeing superheroes and fantastical characters walking by on city streets has become an increasingly common phenomenon in the western world.
It's part of the growing cultural movement of cosplay (short for costumed play), in which fans pay tribute to their favourite characters and pop culture icons by creating costumes, dressing up and roleplaying, often at events such as conventions and competitions.
For her PhD in Anthropology, University of Adelaide student Claire Langsford decided to study the practice of cosplay in Australia. Her research has found that there are many social and cultural benefits of this activity.
"Cosplay and other costuming movements are a kind of performance art. It's existed in one form or another for decades, and it crosses age barriers and cultures. There are now second-generation Australian cosplayers, and entire families who engage in cosplay," Ms Langsford says.
"A key finding of my research is the level of creativity that goes into cosplay, because most people make their own costumes, and there's a kind of prestige in doing that. This process means they are often rediscovering traditional art and craft skills, such as sewing and knitting, which otherwise would have been lost to their generation.
"The traditional creative skills can also be combined with high-tech equipment, especially in some of the more advanced costumes, as well as digital design techniques. A lot of dedication, time, effort, and money goes into the costumes."
Her work explores imaginary 'floating worlds' created in staged cosplay photography, a popular activity with the community. By working collaboratively with photographers, cosplayers recreate the fantasy worlds of the characters they're roleplaying.
Langsford – who also became involved in cosplay while conducting her research – says being a member of the cosplay community helps to create a social bond.
"Cosplay is very much a shared activity. Cosplayers demonstrate their skills to the broader community through various forms of social and digital media, helping others to learn and join in on the fun. In this way, people are able to construct stories about the things they make, which is an important aspect of the culture.
"There is a stereotype that cosplayers are socially isolated but it's very difficult to cosplay on your own. Being involved in such activities can help people to find friends, feel socially accepted, and express their imagination and creativity with people they consider to be their peers.
"These days it's much more socially acceptable to be involved in cosplay, as evidenced in the growing interest at conventions," Ms Langsford says.
Claire Langsford will present part of her research at the Inkers and Thinkers Symposium at the University of Adelaide on Friday 15 May.
Visitors to Adelaide can witness cosplay first hand this weekend at Oz Comic-Con.
Banner photo courtesy of Angelo Beltran of I Got Superpowers.