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Father and daughter bond over the magic of cosplay

Jason Isaacs posing with John Tierney and daughter Niamh as they cosplay as Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange

The family that cosplays together, stays together.

“Dad, do you know what cosplay is?” 

As a father living in Sydney, John Tierney had no experience with cosplay, or even any idea that it existed. Sure, he did enjoy the occasional fancy party and turning up in drag to Rocky Horror showings, but he had left his geek days long behind him—or so he thought. 

But when his teen daughter, Niamh, came to him with a special request, Tierney discovered what more and more families around the globe are coming realize: The family that cosplays together, stays together.

“I realised that cosplay didn’t have an age limit”

Tierney has tried to make his weekends with Niamh count since he separated from Niamh’s mother a decade ago. Like any good dad, he made sure she always had amazing Halloween costumes. He even crafted a personal Hogwarts uniform for her to wear at school and to Harry Potter premieres when she was young. Of course, as she got older, she outgrew her Hermione costume and her penchant for dressing up. Or had she?

In fact, Tierney’s penchant for supporting his daughter’s dress up inadvertently gave her a love for cosplay that never left. Here’s how Niamh tells it, speaking to the Daily Dot via email:

My dad works as a graphic designer and has always been pretty crafty and did a brilliant job on my costume, making the whole thing out of wool and gabardine as if it was the real thing.

Not long after that the last episode of the Harry Potter series was premiering at a local cinema at midnight and Dad was going to take me along. I was only ten at the time and I had never been out so late before. Dad asked me if I wanted to dress as Hermione to go to the cinema and I said, “No, that would be so embarrassing.”

When we got to the cinema there were people everywhere dressed in Harry Potter type costumes. It was the first time that I realised that getting dressed up for special events was a “thing” that people did – kids and adults. I wished that I had dressed up for the premier. Luckily dad had pre-empted my change of heart and produced my Hogwarts robe from his bag. I put it on and next thing all of these older Potter nerds came running over and saying things like “Look at little Hermione” and having their pictures taken with me.

That was the moment that the cosplay bug bit I suppose.

In 2013, now a teenager, Niamh came to Tierney with a special request: She wanted him to help her recreate her Hermione costume—but this time, she wanted to wear it at Supanova, a large geek convention in Sydney. Tierney readily promised to help his daughter recreate her childhood costume. 

“Should I make something for myself?” he asked her in the busy weekend they spent putting the Hogwarts uniform together.

Niamh told him no. A dad cosplaying with his daughter? She thought that might be a little weird.

“Cosplay has been a way of maintaining interest in each other at a time when a lot of kids start to lose contact with their parents.”

But when they went to the con and saw how many families around her were getting into the event as an ensemble, she realized her missed opportunity:

“When we turned up to the expo I realised that cosplay didn’t have an age limit and that it would have been much better if my dad had worn a costume as well,” she wrote. “But it was our first time—how were we to know?”

Although it was her first year, Tierney challenged Niamh to enter the cosplaying contest, which she described as “a total embarrassment.” But the two of them, now armed with knowledge about what they were getting themselves into, dove headfirst into the world of cosplay. They started with more Harry Potter cosplay, since Niamh had decided her “’just-got-out-of-bed’ hair was perfect” for playing the villain Bellatrix Lestrange.

Courtesy of John Tierney

“We made her dress out of heavy black linen which we totally hand painted with spirals,” Niamh told us. “We made a leather corset out of scrap leather and Dad bought me the boots on line.”

John Tierney

Tierney cosplayed Snape alongside his daughter and had a blast.

“Over the last two years the whole cosplay thing has been a wonderful way of maintaining interest in each other and the things we are doing at a time in her life when a lot of kids start to lose contact with their parents,” he told the Daily Dot.

“Two years ago my daughter asked me to make her a cosplay costume. I didn’t even know what it was at the time but two years later we are a great father/daughter cosplay team,” Tierney recently wrote on Reddit, where he shared his photo of the two of them posing with Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs. Since they were cosplaying as Bellatrix and Snape, Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy in the films, rounded out the perfect Death Eater trio.

“We decided that instead of getting one of the usual happy snaps with Jason we would hand him a wand and ask him for a scowl instead of a smile,” Niamh said.

John Tierney

“When [Tierney dressed as Snape] entered the room [Isaacs] took a step back saying, ‘Oh no! My nemesis,’ which was pretty cool. We handed him a wand and asked him for a scowl and he was more than happy to accommodate us. We ended up with a totally awesome picture.”

Tierney also helped design his daughter’s costume for her cosplay as Avengers‘ Wasp for Sydney’s inaugural Oz Comic Con last fall. “I loved the reaction I got from little kids,” she said.

Photo courtesy John Tierney

The two of them have now upped their cosplaying game. At a recent showing of Back to the Future II, they recreated a hoverboard, and they’ve made a “ritual” of going to see all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re currently planning to enter the cosplay competition at Sydney Comic Con in September—as Sweeney Todd‘s homicidal barber and his sidekick Mrs. Lovett. Niamh has even created her own Facebook page to document the adventures of her cosplay persona, Miss Mimic.

John Tierney

Tierney says the entire experience has renewed his love of geek culture. As a kid he loved comics, particularly Iron Man and Spider-Man, but has only recently revisited those passions thanks to his daughter:

“Doing cosplay with Niamh over the last two years has given me a new appreciation of pop culture and nerd culture and it encouraged me to introduce Niamh to old haunts of mine from my youth,” he said. “Recently I took her to Kings Comics, my favourite comic book shop in Sydney, that I hadn’t been to since the early ’90s. It was great to go there again after so many years.”

So would he step out on his own and do cosplay by himself? Nah. For him, cosplay is a family affair. 

“I couldn’t see myself doing it without her,” he said. “The community is great and it is such a wholesome family thing to do, and that is what is best about it for me. “

Photo courtesy of John Tierney

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.