Like all aspects of the geek universe, cosplay is gaining popularity. I first heard about it from Thing1 who absolutely wants to be a part of it. For that reason, I looked into it and, personally, find cosplay fascinating.
First, I apologize for the fact these aren’t the best cosplay photos. Due to image rights, I’m hesitant to post anything that isn’t mine or clearly Creative Commons or equivalent. To see some photos of incredible costumes, just do a Google image search of “cosplay.”
Cosplay comes from combining the words “costume” and “play.” People dress as favorite characters from comics, manga, anime, video games, TV and film with an emphasis on detail and authenticity and go out in public, usually to conventions, to show off their creations.
This is different from dressing up for Halloween. There’s an element of staying in character and interacting with the public that strikes me as a form of acting. For periods of time, cosplayers become the character. Some have called it performance art.
There’s a definite Japanese influence. The term “cosplay” is believed to be coined by a gentleman working for a Japanese studio who attended Worldcon in Los Angeles in 1984, was very impressed by the costuming, etc., and reported on it in magazines back home. From what I could learn, cosplay started in the West, but the Japanese and others in the East really ran with it, and now, it’s huge in the West. Apparently, due to cultural differences, cosplay in Japan, etc. has different rules. This forum thread has some very good info on cosplay in Japan, if you’re interested.
Why Do People Cosplay?
Many reasons exist, but here are some of the main ones:
1. Expression of love – Dressing as a favorite character shows love for that character and the comic, movie, video game, etc. it comes from.
2. Community – Lets face it, geeks often grow up being ostracized and bullied for their love of scifi and fantasy and the media that showcase it. Mixing with like-minded people who “get” it and have the same interests is comforting and relaxing. Cosplaying provides a sense of belonging that many have found nowhere else.
3. Self-Confidence – Normally shy and quiet individuals bloom when they don a costume and become a character. They gain more confidence in themselves that may eventually spill over into real life.
4. Technical Challenge/Creativity – Anyone can buy a costume off a rack, but many cosplayers build their own. The amount of creativity and variety of skills needed to choose, plan out, and fabricate a character costume are staggering. Depending on level of ability and type of costume, cosplaying requires a working knowledge of drawing, designing, organizing, sewing, mold-making, welding, and mechanical, electrical, and pneumatic equipment and more. I can definitely see this as an art form, with cosplayers perfecting their skills and techniques over time to create gorgeous costumes.
5. It’s A Hobby – Other people may see cosplay as strange or weird, but it’s a hobby like any other. Consider the amount of time and money sports enthusiasts spend going to games, dissecting them, and collecting memorabilia. What about collectors of everything from toys to antiques to cars? Or people who love to garden or woodwork or knit? How is cosplay any different? In fact, cosplaying at a convention is said to be like the prom or the Super Bowl to others.
6. Attention – For those whose interests lie in the geek spectrum, this is the ultimate attention getter. It’s a way to show off all the hard work and love that goes into creating these awesome costumes.
I’ll say this right now and get it out of the way – yes, some of the costumes are skimpy and skin-tight. However, this isn’t an invitation to speak or act inappropriately to cosplayers. Sexual harrassment at conventions and in the SF/F culture in general is a sad fact and a matter for much discussion. This is a dark aspect to cosplay but I believe the community is working hard to change it.
Cosplay Becoming Mainstream?
A new reality show, Heroes of Cosplay, currently airs on SyFy. It features several cosplayers as they create their costumes and enter competitions at conventions. To give you a little taste, here’s a trailer:
In theory, the show spotlights an interesting and colorful subculture and explains it better to those unfamiliar with it. However, many in the cosplay community are upset and feel it doesn’t portray them in a good light or shows only one segment of a diverse group. I found this article from a cosplayer particularly insightful about this situation.
As someone who loves the geek culture and the fantasy that cosplay brings to reality, I like it. Yes, I understand that any reality show is heavily edited to show only the interesting stuff. What those in charge of the show consider interesting is different from what I find interesting. Not surprising. I don’t watch a lot of reality TV because I don’t have patience with the drama. I get enough of that in real life, thank you very much. For me, the show is cool eye candy interrupted by annoying moments.
I’d like to see more of how the cosplayers fabricate their costumes. I’d like to see more than one male participant. My hope is the show will favorably expose people to cosplay who wouldn’t otherwise know about it. If the #HeroesOfCosplay Twitter feed is to be believed, apparently it already has.
BTW, two of the featured cosplayers on the show are Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan who have a Youtube show, Try This At Home! with Crabcat Industries on the Nerdist Channel. The two most recent videos show how to make a mold and then a cast of the mold. Good stuff – check it out!
What do you think of cosplay? Have you watched the show Heroes of Cosplay and if so, what was your opinion?