A Study of Cosplay

Published April 2013 in Absolute Underground #51



Cosplay, from the phrase “costume role-play”, is the most visually defining aspect of any Comic Book/Gaming/Anime convention. It’s a lot more than putting on a pair of tights and donning a cape. There are some very serious cosplayers out there who love doing what they do.

They research the source material, whether it be comics, movies, anime or games. They create a resource list, and off to the nearest Gala Fabrics or Fabricland for materials and notions. A superhero in a spandex costume can take upto 5 meters of fabric just for the bodysuit, another 2 for a cape. Add a skirt for Supergirl or gloves and mask for Batman and at $20 per metre this can really add up.

Hours are spent adapting various patterns to make the costume, cutting, sewing, fitting and starting again when some aspect doesn’t work.

While there are male cosplayers, they are not in the majority; only 20%. So when a group needs a male character, what are they to do? Gender switching is the answer, and has two aspects. First is the act of switching the gender; imagine the male-dominant cast of Star Trek as all female. The second version is the female dressing as a male. You would think that this would be hard to pass off, but some girls even bind their chests with tensor bandages to achieve the flat-chested male form.

vamiresWhile a long brown jacket and black-haired wig with beaded dreads, may give you the look of Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), it’s the swagger, vocal slur and knowing the character inside and out that will sell it. The role-playing is the finishing touch to ‘being’ the character. So in reality Cosplaying is a performance art, complete with costume, make-up, hair, props and a stage. In this case, the stage is the entire grounds of the event.

On that stage there are always people recording the action, whether it’s a photographer getting great shots in the perfect setting, or friends recording a CMV (Cosplay Music Video). YouTube is full of Cosplayers singing to their favorite tunes, and new cosplay photo sites seem to pop-up daily. Cosplayers of the Week (cosplayweek.blogspot.com), features top cosplayers and Videos every week.

Beyond the fun of being a character from your favourite source material, where is the reward in Cosplaying? The recognition of your peers and sometimes costume contests. Awards come in a competition range from simple ribbons to merchandise or sometimes money. The biggest Cosplay contests takes place every summer at the San Diego Comic Con, where top prizes can be merchandise and hundreds of dollars. In most cases the award doesn’t cover costs of materials, let alone time, so it really is something one does for the love of it.

Cosplaying appeals to nearly all ages, but at Victoria’s Tsukino-Con with this years attendance of 1743 people the average male was 19, while the average female was 16.

To see Cosplaying in action, and check out other Geek Culture activities lookup your local anime convention. Calgary will be host to The Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo April 26-28, in Vancouver the big one is Anime Evolution June 28-30, Edmonton has Animethon August 9-11, Winnipeg’s Ai-Kon takes place July 12-14 and Tsukino in Victoria has yet to announce their mid-February date for 2014. More events can be found at: AnimeCons.com

Don McCaskill has been a photojournalist for over 25 years. His NightShadows Photography focus is on Models and Cosplayers.

A Study of Cosplay
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