Ever interested in fandoms and subcultures, I recently decided to look into the increasingly popular art of cosplay (literally, costume-play).
Cosplayers create costumes to represent their favourite anime/video game/movie/comic book character, and attend conventions or events to meet and sometimes perform short sketches.
After a few Google searches, I realised just how massive cosplay actually is, with packed out conventions world-wide. I found it unbelievable how people can look so convincingly like a cartoon character, (human or otherwise), and how much time, effort and money goes into making the costumes.
I wanted to find out a bit more about cosplay from one of the experts, so I got in touch with Iloon- 24 year old winner of last year’s EuroCosplay Championships from The Netherlands….
What first got you interested in cosplay? What was your first ever cosplay character?
I got introduced to anime related events in 2008 by friends who just started to visit these kind of events. I was already a fan of the Japanese pop-culture but never knew that these kind of events existed. So I joined them and they also wanted me to “cosplay” so we could cosplay as a group.
To show me what is going on out there, they’ve showed me some pictures of past events they have visited. I got hooked on the atmosphere, the costumes and also that you got the ability to perform on stage. As I was following acting classes back then I really wanted to make a cosplay performance with my friends. Back then I have had no idea that performing on stage was part of a contest. I’ve had the idea it was some kind of variété, something you could do on a voluntary scale to entertain the audience.
As I have had no sewing experience at all, a friend made my costume while I did the prop work and wrote the script for the performance.
So what got me into cosplay first was the ability to perform and entertain the audience.
My first cosplay was Nanoha Takamachi from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. My second one as well (a different version) but this was my first entirely self-made costume.
Are there different ‘types’ of cosplayers? If so, what are they?
Yes and no. Basically all cosplayers are doing the same thing. Dressing up and being in character (= costume play).
For what I have seen, I think the difference is in how someone is approaching this fandom.
The largest amount is cosplaying because they really like the character and series. They are dressing up out of enthusiasm and don’t care about the details and quality of the costume. They also don’t care if it is store bought or self-made. As long as they are able to feel like the character they like so much for a day.
Then there is a big group who likes the creative process of making a costume and so spending more time and money on it to provide the best quality they can within their skill range, and to be as accurate to the character design as possible. As nowadays for cosplay competitions it is required to make your own costume (or made by your performing partner), some of these cosplayers are showing up on stage as well.
There are a few exceptions were some people are making a living out of cosplay.
They fulltime produce costumes or cosplay related merchandise which they sell online or at stands at events, so they have something like a store. Most of them also sell prints and books showcasing their work.
What do you think makes cosplay so popular?
For me it is the atmosphere at events where people do cosplay that feels magical. No matter if you know each other or not, we are all one and the same. People sharing the same passion. There are no words to explain, it is something you must experience for yourself.
What makes a good cosplay?
I think that what makes a good cosplay depends on the individual person. For me, if the cosplayer is able to represent the essence of the character, I will see it as a good cosplay. For someone else it can be all about craftsmanship that must be flawless.
What do you do as a day job? How does cosplay fit around this?
I am a production seamstress working for a company who is producing (inflatable) settings for artists and events all around the world. With this company I have contributed something to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz Tour and LADY GAGA’S artRAVE: the ARTPOP ball global tour.
I graduated last year as a theatrical designer (specialized in costuming) and I started working for this company since October last year (3 weeks before EuroCosplay 2013).
Although the projects I am working on sounds awesome, it is stressy and very hard work because of tight deadlines.
“Studying or working at day, sewing costumes at night”, some cosplayers say. This doesn’t count for me. Sewing fulltime means that when back home from work I can not always go back behind the sewing machine again to sew costumes. It’s not good for my body being in the same position all day. So I have to plan in all the sewing work for my costumes carefully.
Also at work I am surrounded by seamstresses and other artists. If there is something I am unsure about with my costume or performance I can always ask my colleagues for advice.
Beside that, if I am planning to work with heavy materials (like thick leather) my domestic machines at home can not handle, I will have the ability to use a heavier industrial machine at work that goes through it easily. A luxury a lot of cosplayers don’t have. Only downside is that I need to skip my lunchbreak or spend a weekend in the workshop to get it done.
How do non-cosplayers generally react when you tell them you’re into cosplay?
They are very enthusiastic about it. Maybe that’s because I am surrounded by theatrics and other artist. When I got my intake a few years ago for my study as a theatrical designer I immediately came to the point that I cosplay. My teachers saw it as a type of performance art, but also as reproduction. Because you‘re copying an existing design. But this happens in the theatre industry as well.
Cosplay also brought me into my current day job. During my job interview I’ve showed my portfolio showcasing my costumes and some other work. They were very impressed that a young person like me have done so much already and developed a wide range of crafting skills because of cosplay.
Cosplayers seem to have a huge online presence. How important is the internet to cosplay?
Over the years it became a platform to promote your work, experiences, discuss, make new friends, chat, exchange tips and stay in touch with each other.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter makes it more easy for cosplayers to share their passion. It also makes cosplayers more accessible to people who are too shy to reach the cosplayer in person, or who are not able to reach the cosplayer in person.
Also photographers and videographers interested in cosplay are starting to collaborate more with cosplayers. This way documentaries and other media have been produced that appears online to share with the world, showing us every side of cosplay.
Beside all the good stuff, there sadly is a dark side as well. Things like badmouthing, stalking and harassment is going on as well. There is also a risk that your pictures and footage will be used for all kinds of promotion without any permission.
As a cosplayer you need to be a mentally strong person to get over all this.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The inspiration, is the character.
The canvas, is me.
That makes me a cosplayer.