Cosplay is emblematic of modern culture.
Scroll through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and countless other social networking sites and the pressures and expectations of modern life are laid bare. You'll come in contact with our needs: the desire to remain genuine while shaping and controlling our image; the desire to be seen as role models, superheroes or celebrities; and the desire to create friendships with others who share our passions.
If that isn't a description of cosplay, then I don't know what is. But for something that's so relatable to millions of modern individuals, cosplaying has a hard time. It suffers from stigma, negative commentary, it's neglected, viewed as narcissistic, and in extreme cases it's seen as contributing zero value to the art forms it celebrates.
But for those involved and who see the value in this form of expression, cosplaying is something very different.
The World Of Cosplay
For myself — and I don't think I'm alone here — the closest I've come to cosplaying a particular character is throwing on a suit and calling myself "The Godfather" on Halloween, and I'm sure a lot of people don't care to notice the distinction between my attempts and those of a cosplayer. In simplistic terms, yes, cosplay is the practice of dressing up as characters from films, bands, TV shows, video games, books and comics. But recent years have seen such a remarkable cosplay explosion that you could almost call this a cultural movement.
And, as with any movement, it's been received in a variety of ways. So here's...
A Note On Negativity
Some share a rather strong opinion on the merits of cosplaying. For instance, Pat Broderick (a comic book artist who worked on things like Captain Marvel) launched an attack on the practice in December of 2014 with the following statement:
"If you're a Cosplay personality, please don't send me a friend request. If you're a convention promoter and you're building your show around cosplay events and mega multiple media guest don't invite me....You bring nothing of value to the shows, and if you're a promoter pushing cosplay as your main attraction you're not helping the industry or comics market.
[C]osplay are just selfies in costume, and doing multiple selfies is about the highest expression of narcissium [sic].
This is extreme. We like to think that individual's views on cosplaying have developed with the times (they have to; this celebration of personalities isn't going anywhere). But cosplaying is changing and a new debate has brought an unusual aspect of the practice to the fore.
The recent debate of monetizing professional cosplay has seen an array of opinions crashing on to the web, kickstarted by the recent public relations shitstorm that accompanied the Santa Fe Comic Con.
See, almost all of the professional cosplayers in the world don't make money off of their creations. There are very few individuals hired to cosplay at conventions. Some, if lucky, will receive a ticket to attend an event like E3, Gamescom or Comic Con, and that's it. No flights to the con, no hotels to put them up in, no hourly pay.
However, for those that make cosplaying their day-to-day job and who create 1-2 costumes a month for various events around the world, host panels at conventions and prepare presentations to entertain and teach people about cosplaying; getting paid for this work is of paramount importance. And why wouldn't it be?! We'd demand the same were we in their position. And of course there's the argument — which is more a fact than an argument — that cosplaying helps raise awareness and buzz for a particular brand, be it a video game or a movie. How many times do you think Blizzard has commissioned a cosplayer to attend BlizzCon as one of their characters? Cosplaying works for the industry. But it ain't cheap.
Artists can spend hundreds of dollars on materials for their outfits alone, and that's not even counting the tens of hours that will go into making them. Of course, their passion for the source material is what drives them and that same passion may exist in any of the numerous cosplayers you see at conventions, but just like the Pewdiepies and Markipliers of this world, shouldn't these mega fans be appropriately compensated for their work?
Why Cosplay Matters
Cosplaying, just like Let's Plays, has seen the rise of a new form of celebrity in the video game world.
“Bringing cosplay guests to Oz Comic-Con is as natural as bringing any other celebrity that has a fandom of followers. Cosplay guests bring with them a passion for the craft and the culture, and that reflects back in the way they interact with the community.”
- Oz Comic Con’s Content Manager, Guy ‘Yug’ Blomberg
Mention the names Alodia, Reika, Kaname, Angie, Nigiri, Tasha and Denka on the floor at gaming conferences and you're likely to find a few who'll know of their accomplishments. These are people who turned their passion for video games and other popular forms of entertainment into art. While doing so, they managed to generate a new form of excitement around a character or intellectual property.
With their celebrity status, these individuals have proven the merits of cosplaying on a large scale. They've attracted people all over the world to cons who just want to meet them, take a selfie and stare in awe at their new creations. But for those who've been taking part in this scene on a smaller scale, the merits of cosplay have been abundantly clear for years.
Loki has been cosplaying since 2007 and her first outfit came from the manga Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, hence the name. Since then she's cosplayed various video game, anime, manga and film characters.
We asked her what it was like to attend a convention as a cosplayer:
My favorite part about being a cosplayer is switching into different roles and styles while using all my creativity to achieve my goals.
My favorite kind of moments as a cosplayer are those when I meet fans of the character I’m dressed as. The excitement that sparks from these encounters always makes my day, because I feel like I made someone else’s day too.
I’ve never had any bad experiences with other fans, but secretly I fear being judged or seen as not being good enough for the character. This is why being in costume at large conventions is very thrilling in both ways. The pressure to be top-notch is incredibly high, but as soon as I step into public and get positive feedback, I’m in my element.
For over 9 years, Micawber has been cosplaying at various conferences with a wide variety of male and female characters, but her first creation was of a member from the Japanese metal band, Dir En Grey.
For this piece, we asked her: Why does cosplay matter and what can cosplaying do for the people that choose to get involved with it?
"Cosplay matters because it keeps people creative and can even lead to success or job opportunities. You meet new, likeminded friends all around the world and you get an eye for details and broaden your horizons when it comes to fabric, craftsmanship and sewing. It's creative, sometimes difficult, but always worth the time and effort."
As an avid cosplayer for many years, Septieme has a lot to say about the cosplay industry and what it means for her to be cosplayer. We asked about the stigma that affects cosplay and those that that take part in it. Here are her insights:
A lot of people don't really understand why others do cosplay; they think it's silly and make fun of it. People tend to think that cosplayers dress up because they don't accept who they are, want escape from reality and don't have a normal social life. Of course this is something that makes people, like me, who put a lot of effort into their costumes, uncomfortable. But it's a common misconception.
It's sad that society shows this kind of intolerance towards this normal hobby like any other, but in fact it's a subculture which is already marginalized by “normals”. For me personally, cosplay is just a different form of art and a different way to express my love for a certain character and story. Others might show their enthusiasm by buying t-shirts or pillows, drawing fan art or writing fan-fictions etc.
[C]osplay is something that you can grow from as well. You have to learn and enhance skills like sewing, crafting and be able to make a costume [...] but it also teaches you how to socialize with others and make friends.
What We Think Of Cosplay
At its best, cosplaying is an artistic celebration of fandom that crosses the unnecessary “barriers” of body type, skin tone and gender. It encompasses all those who share a passion for entertainment and great characters. Blomberg is right when he states that "its popularity has grown organically out of the wonderful communities that surround these events,” and those who've been a part of its movement should celebrate their involvement.
Cosplaying is still stigmatized. Some individuals who take part feel they have to hide their participation for fear of embarrassment or not being taken seriously. But as you look through the images in this article and read the statements from cosplayers themselves, it's hard to imagine why.