In costume or not, most folks who pile into fan gatherings and enthusiast conventions operate well within predictably expected ranges of behavior. But some folks... don’t. Now a new graphic novel offers a peek inside their heads.

Created by acclaimed cartoonist Dash Shaw and published this month by Fantagraphics, Cosplayers is a weird book. It’s not a paean to the creative skills of folks who make their own Batsuits and Iron Man armors, and it doesn’t use them as the butt of dork-snickering jokes, either. Originally released in single issue form from 2014 to 2016, the linked vignettes in Shaw’s new graphic novel use cosplay to explore areas where the membranes between fantasy dress-up and IRL personality tensions are most porous.

The collection focuses on Verti and Annie, a director/actress duo who engage in Punk’d-style improv filmmaking. Things start off with a tone that seems like it’ll wind up being twee, but as the pair continue to use unsuspecting people in scenes against their costumed selves, it makes cosplaying feel dangerous in a street-punk kind of way, throwing rules about propriety and permission out the window. The first story’s climax has Annie going into a bar and chatting up strangers…

…followed by the girls attacking two other random guys leaving the bar. I got worried after reading that, wondering if such hijinx would be setting up trauma for them or their hapless “actors.”

But, relatively speaking, Annie and Verti turn out to be the most well-adjusted characters in the book. Anything is grist for the girls’ movie-making mill, including the romantic affections of others.

When you’re disproportionately devoted to anime, comics, video games or scifi, the love affair with genre mediums can be a mercurial mix of inspiration or isolation, as shown in the short stories in the 113-page hardcover.

Annie and Verti’s encounters run across the emotional spectrum, from a man who believes reading Jack Kirby’s 2001 comics led to his super-psychic awakening to the cosplayer who becomes an object of scorn for winning a contest dressed as Street Fighter character Cammy.

Shaw’s work here transports his fictional overheated cosplay ecosystem beyond mere trendiness, standing the feedback of fiction-into-reality fabrication in front of a slightly warped mirror and taking overexposed pictures. Cosplayers reads like an account of what it’s like when a person’s soul is addicted to fantasy, leaving folks with masks some will desperately want to be their real faces.