By Molly Freeman
Photo courtesy of WikimediaCommons
Whether you’ve been to San Diego Comic-Con, any other convention, or just seen photos and videos online, you’ve probably seen cosplayers. Comic-Con is just one of many conventions that draw the kind of fans who like to dress up and take on the personality of their favorite characters. But how much do you really know about cosplay?
Nobuyuki Takahashi coined the term cosplay in a 1983 article for the Japanese magazine My Anime. It is derived from the words “costume” and “play.” According to Japanator, Takahashi “was told ‘costume play’ was not correct English,” but his grammatical error became the most used term used to describe costume players all around the world.
There are many different kinds of cosplayers. They vary in age, race, gender, and range from the little-known fans who go with their friends to those like D-Piddy whose “Deadpool VS” videos have become very popular online. No matter their differences though, they all share a love for the movies, television series, comic books, manga, and graphic novels that are featured at the conventions they attend.
BTR talked to cosplayers Cat-Chan, Jess Watson, and Alexander Greer about how they got into the racket, what it’s like, and what they love about it.
In 2002, a 15-year-old Greer attended a convention close to his hometown in Austin, Texas. Greer says he had been interested in anime and manga for a few years and he was interested in attending the convention. He researched what went on at these conventions and found out about cosplay.
“My mom helped me make my first costume, since I’d only been sewing for a little while on my own. The rest is history,” Greer says.
Cat-Chan first began cosplaying in 2004 when she attended Ushicon with her college anime club. A few of her club-mates dressed up in costume.
“I remember seeing their costumes—and everyone else’s for that matter—and just feeling like I was missing out on so much. I decided at the next convention I went to I was going to cosplay!” Cat-Chan says.
Watson went to her first convention when she was ten and never thought she’d cosplay. At the time she’d thought the cosplayers were cool, but very weird.
“As geeky as I was, I wasn’t that geeky,” Watson says. Almost a decade later, her friend wanted to go to a convention and demanded that Watson dress up. Though she was dragged into cosplay, Watson ended up loving it.
While a child in a schoolyard who dresses differently, maybe as their favorite superhero or other fantastical character, might be looked at oddly by their peers, the same is not true for cosplayers. Cat-Chan says the reactions to her costumes have been overwhelmingly positive from people within the cosplay community and those who don’t know very much about it.
“It’s always kind of funny to try to explain to people what exactly it is I do as a hobby but once they find out they always want to know more,” Cat-Chan says. She admits that it can be embarrassing to show her coworkers pictures of her costumes, though.
Greer says that his coworkers are also interested in his hobby, and his friends really enjoy the costumes he creates.
“My family likes to see the bizarre things I make and my friends are either cosplayers or nerds, so they appreciate what I do,” Greer says. He has also noticed that the reactions to his cosplays are mostly positive.
Watson, however, says she’s experienced a mixed reception to her costumes. She says people who don’t dress up are usually very respectful and curious but since many of her cosplays have revealing costumes, people sometimes respond negatively or inappropriately. However, Watson says she is comfortable with her body and she has a tough skin to deal with to comments about her legs or her butt.
“Does it bother me? Sure. But I ignore it, since to me cosplaying is important enough as a hobby. You can’t go to a con half naked, and not expect to get those kind of comments,” Watson says.
Scantily-dressed cosplayers aren’t the only ones to receive inappropriate comments, though. According to Watson, people who cosplay thinner characters will have to hear about their weight not being true to the character. Even people of color who cosplay characters of different skin tones are not immune to often-crass criticism.
“You have to let it slide off you like Teflon, this is your hobby, don’t let other people tell you how to do it,” Watson says. She thinks that things like weight and race shouldn’t matter, but to some they do.
Cat-Chan acknowledges that a small minority of people and websites within the cosplay community are negative, the rest of the community is widely accepting. Cosplayers want to promote a message of inclusion so that a person’s size, race, gender, age, or skill does not matter when they don their costume.
Watson, Greer and Cat-Chan alike are engrossed with the cosplay community. Watson found a core group of friends when she moved to Louisiana and got involved in the community there. They meet up frequently, organize cosplay workdays, and even helped Watson in any way they could when she lost her job.
Greer is part of The Gear Project, which he claims is a fancy name for a group of his friends that cosplay together. Originally, they made costumes from the game Guilty Gear, which is where the name comes from.
Greer has noticed that the cosplay community has changed a lot since he first became involved more than ten years ago. There are many more “big” names in the game, Greer says, and there are also many more forums online to help connect with other cosplayers.
Cat-Chan also says social media sites have helped the cosplay community to grow. When she first began cosplaying, there were few resources online for connecting with other cosplayers so it was hard to talk to anyone outside the conventions she attended.
“Now we have Twitter and Facebook and I’m getting the chance to connect with cosplayers I’ve admired for years all over the country and the world,” Cat-Chan says.
Cat-Chan also has a website, Cat-Chan Cosplay, that acts as a portfolio of her work and a way to connect with other cosplayers online. She posts photos of her costumes as well as writes about conventions and shares tutorials like “How to Make a Prop Gun Without Powertools.”
Both Watson and Cat-Chan attended conventions over the weekend for which they dressed up. Watson was working on a costume of Jam Kuradoberi from Guilty Gear and is pulling out some older costumes: Medusa from Kid Icarus, Uprising and Cammy from Street Fighter. Meanwhile Cat-Chan competed at the World Cosplay Summit qualifiers at Anime Matsure with her partner and husband.
“My next cosplay plans are for A-Kon where I’m super excited to debut a Chihaya Kisaragi costume from Idolm@ster. I’m hoping to get started on her very soon,” Cat-Chan says.
Cosplay has evolved over the years and grown well into its own subculture. Greer even points out that there have been groups of cosplayers who performed skits and became so popular they were invited to conventions as guests. The cosplayer community has grown so much that there are fans of these super fans. How meta, how fantastic.
With it being Fan Week on BTR, maybe our staff should organize a cosplay workday. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.