5:46 PM EST
Step 1: Gather materials for cosplay!
Step 2: Start combining materials to make cosplay!
Step 3: Actually wait.. this is harder than I thought it was.
Step 4: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. WHY DO I DO THIS.
Step 5: Stare at materials as if willing cosplay to make itself.
Step 6: Roll around on floor crying.
Step 7: Hurriedly throw everything together in a panic.
Step 8: Somehow cosplay?
11:41 AM EST
Too many costume ideas for the cons you have planned.
Not enough money/time off to go to more cons.
So I was laying in bed last night, and I had a lot of thoughts about cosplaying, why it means so much to me, and what I’m doing with my life. So finding a job is hard. Sometimes I worry that cosplay is really detracting from that, or some sort of big counter against me, or that I really have no skills that will ever get me anywhere. But cosplay, even though it doesn’t provide me any actual income, means a lot to me, and it’s not a meaningless hobby, by any stretch of the imagination.
Cosplay takes courage.
No, really, it takes TONS of guts to cosplay. As a person, not just as a person contributing to a fandom, to your own personal portfolio, or even just because you want to, it takes serious courage. In cosplay, you’re putting your face out there, your body out there, to bring a character to life. It’s SCARY. People can judge your art or fanfiction from afar, and you can feel as though it is not you personally that they are judging (this is not always the case, but bear with me for the sake of example), but in cosplay, a big part of what you’re putting out there is you. Physically speaking, your body and your face. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, and some people like some shapes and sizes more than others, so it’s hard. It really requires tenacity.
Many cosplays require you to show your face, and people can judge your cosplay and simply say “yeah I don’t like their face for such-and-such character.” And that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their own headcanons of what a character looks like or is like if they were real, but a cosplayer is essentially in some way, bringing that character into reality. Sometimes cosplayers have to show lots of skin, or wear difficult-to-fit outfits. Even taking photos of yourself in your bedroom in a half-finished cosplay, it takes courage to put those on the internet. It takes guts to show up to a con, to let everyone in that convention center or hotel look at you, in hopes they’ll see you as that character. Even more than that, if your pictures hit the internet, you have thousands of people judging you, looking at your cosplay, looking at photos of you.
To the public eye, people who don’t understand fandom, cosplayers may be many of the only faces they see, especially for internet-based fandoms. Cosplayers are often scrutinized by people who don’t even know what they’re doing, but at the same time, strangers on the street who might see them in costume can greet them with a strange curiosity and a reverence for what they do. We’re literally putting our physical selves out there, displaying our costumes on our bodies for people to see.
If it doesn’t take courage to step out of your bathroom or bedroom or hotel room in a cosplay, I don’t know what does.
Cosplay is creation.
Whatever we do, no matter how big or small, we’re making something new. Whether we go to Goodwill and buy some old clothes and wear them, make something from scratch, or buy our cosplays off of the website, no two cosplays will ever look exactly the same, no two cosplayers will ever be exactly the same, because it’s unique as every single person can be. Even if two people share the same outfit, they’re different people—they’ll wear it differently, look different, and bring a different personality to the character.
Some of us stay up late at night, or panic days before a con, staring at photos, videos, illustrations or drawings of their characters, trying to get little details right, whether they be their hair, the way they move when they speak, or trying to decide based on a murky or unclear reference how a detail would look in real life.
We’re essentially being our characters for a day, bringing them out of fiction (or from far away, for those of us who cosplay actors and movie characters) and into wherever we might be, or to our tiny corner of the internet.
Cosplay is dedication.
For 99.9% of the cosplay community, no one is paying us. No one is asking us to do this. Most of us don’t have a very strong online presence, nor do we have a following. No one is asking us for photos or begging us to make costumes. No one is offering us money to wear these costumes, or gather large groups of people to do these things with us. We run on sheer love of the characters and our craft, we run on dedication and motivation to do something we care about. Actually, to the contrary, we’re often paying for these things ourselves! We dish out money for costume parts, for the gas to get to cons, for the space in our hotel rooms, sometimes we’re paying disgustingly exorbitant amounts of cash just for parking, or we procrastinate and then have to fork over just as much cash for shipping on materials, supplies, or parts from the internet to get them to us in time.
We subject ourselves to date deadlines that are almost immovable, unless the conventions themselves are postponed. We spend our precious time making things, finding things, searching for things on the internet, rifling through thrift stores, emptying out fabric stores, cutting and styling wigs, buying clothes from china or whothefuckknows where, coordinating with friends and strangers to bring plans together, sometimes writing skits, gathering and taking photos, painting, drawing, whatever we do, we’re spending our time doing it.
It’s delayed gratification and we know it. Everything comes up to the convention, and after the convention, the photos, videos, and memories that will come out of it. It’s almost masochistic, really, but for those of us who haven’t quit yet, we’re either totally crazy, or we fucking love something about it, who knows what. We’re dedicated, even if we’re not motivated. Even if we sometimes lay on the floor, curled into a ball because we’re not done or don’t know how to handle part of a cosplay or don’t think we can meet our own standards or just have so many feelings that we need a moment, there’s something that keeps us going. Something that makes us get up the morning of the con, put on that costume, and step out into the public eye. We’re fucking determined.
Cosplay is a community.
There are tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of us out there. Even if we don’t realize it sometimes, we’re a gigantic community. A convention like DragonCon usually has around 40,000-50,000 attendees, and I’d say it’s safe to say about a quarter of them go in costume. Go to a more anime-based convention like Anime Expo, which had 47,000 attendees in 2011, we can assume around at least one third of them were in costume. That’s a LOT of cosplayers!
Some of us put on panels, or host huge gatherings. Some of us host askblogs (bless your precious brave faces) or make youtube videos. Some of us plan meet-ups in the park to meet and get to know other cosplayers, because even if we’re crazy diverse, and like all kinds of different things, we do have this one thing in common.
Our numbers are great, and our ability to forge friendships and create memories is even greater! Sometimes we can meet complete strangers at a con and just have fun with these people we’ve never met before! There’s something great about that.
Cosplay is art.
It’s more than just wearing homemade creations or compiled creations. Cosplay is an art in itself. Sometimes it’s acting, sometimes it’s painting, sewing, drawing, writing, wood or metalwork, leatherworking, wiring electronics, doing makeup, cutting and styling wigs, interpreting illustrations, planning, organizing, improvisation, innovation, and photography.
There’s so much that we do, I don’t think there’s even one particular category we can put our craft in. It’s art in the act of wearing, in our very presence. It’s always a work in progress. You can never be perfect, everyone can improve, but at the same time, everyone is amazing, because if you think about it, it’s your personal take on what a character would be like in real life. It’s different for everyone, just like the way art is perceived.
The number of different standpoints from which we can observe cosplay—photography, acting, construction quality, makeup, etc, is incredible. If you don’t have the resources or skills to do these things yourself, you either must teach yourself or find someone who can do them for you. It’s incredible, because there’s so much to the craft. There’s so many different aspects, despite the facts that the characters may not always be our own, there is always an art to it.
Maybe it’s an art only some of us can appreciate, but if you ask me, it’s to be admired.
Here’s to the cosplayers. You’re amazing.
(Cosplayers featured in this post in order of appearance include frankenfreddie, miramoondarling, murisaboy, sonameam, eternallyfacetious, tradanui, and shes-a-pirate. Photos are from Metrocon and Megacon, by various photographers.)