Friday, 6 April 2018

The secret life of a cosplayer

Before I start - I want to admit something to you. I’m not a cosplayer. Despite attending numerous comic cons, festivals and conventions frequented by cosplayers, I was always too busy working on the Offend My Eyes stall to take much notice of the cosplayers other than a few quick photos when I saw someone cosplaying a character I liked.

More recently however, I’ve been meeting more and more people who cosplay and have started to learn a bit more about what it means to be a cosplayer. Turns out, it isn’t just about ‘dressing up’ at all. The more I learn, the more I realise that this is about a group of people who interact as a community surrounding the world of anime, film and gaming. 

With the summer fast approaching and the MCM comic con shows looming over us, I decided to chat to individuals who were proud to be cosplayers, and see what it was that drew them into this diverse and intense fanbase.

A group of cosplayers pose for a group photo (Photo credit: Tabatha Barton)

What is cosplay?

In it's most simple terms, the word is a combination of 'costume' and 'play' and it is when somebody dresses up in a costume and assumes a role.

Deeper than this however, cosplaying has various levels of commitment. From young kids dressing up as their favourite superhero to full time professional cosplayers who spend thousands of pounds and sometimes even several years building costumes.

Stuart MacMillan, 34, Somerset (Photo credit: dcphotodc)

Rebecca, who is a 31 year old part-time teaching assistant and mother of one, says cosplaying is all about celebrating what you love.

You can pay tribute to fandoms that you enjoy, meet people and have unique experiences. To me, it's an art form allowing people to express themselves through costume and craft.

She says that it gives her the opportunity to become someone else for the day.

I have always suffered from low self esteem and have experienced bullying and emotional abuse. Cosplay gives me the chance to escape reality and have unique and fun experiences with like minded people. 

And it isn't just Rebecca who thinks like this. A lot of cosplayers have experienced bullying and often suffer from anxiety issues. Could it be that this hobby helps them to deal with identity and confidence issues? Some would even take it further, with Fletch Arrow, a London based cosplayer, and Rebecca claiming that cosplaying has actually improved their lives.

I’m typically quite a reserved person among strangers but cosplay hasencouraged me to become more outgoing and express myself. I love to talk topeople and make new friends, and take pictures with people I meet so that Ican connect with them later on social media; dressing as a character I lovereally pushes me out of my shell and allows me to communicate and makefriends lots easier than usual. It also puts you in an area where you’re with a lot of people who enjoy the same things as you, so it’s really encouraging  to find people who share interests. - Fletch

Confidence in a pose (Photo credit: Fletch Arrow)

I am definitely more confident than when I'm in my normal clothes. I'm happy to have my photo taken where I usually shy away from the camera. I also tend to be more smiley and chatty. I suffer from extremely low self esteem due to body dysmorphia and an emotionally abusive relationship. Cosplay allows me to be someone else for a little bit. It's not me people are interacting with so I can let my guard down. - Rebecca 

Super Girl (Photo Credit: Rebecca)

When you read heartfelt and inspiring stories like this, it's a shame that cosplayers are often dismissed as being geeks or weirdos. Some of the appeal of cosplay is that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or even what gender you are; everyone can escape their regular life to become whoever you want to be. It’s easy to see why it is so addictive for this reason alone. Just like clowns or actors, cosplayers put on a disguise and become an entirely different person with different accents, mannerisms and even character flaws.

What kind of people cosplay? 

If you think of loners, nerds and awkward teenagers. You’re right, but you’re also very wrong. I came across a diverse range of people from all walks of life who were serious about cosplaying, from people like Tabatha, who at 24 years old, is a Archaeologist and avid cosplay fanatic, to Sammy, a 19 year old student from Newark-on-Trent.

I feel like the cosplay community is one of the most inclusive anddiverse communities, there are some bad apples but generally the communityis a friendly and safe place for people who feel outcast by society.  

Sammy told me.
Another cosplayer, IT consultant Steph, would agree with her too.

I think the cosplay community is great. Everyone seems to be friendly who I’ve met and also very helpful on giving out tips on how to improve your costume. As a whole the community is great.
Cosplayers pose for the camera (Photo credit: SammyWinchester)

While cosplaying seems to attract a myriad of people who are all completely different, I did start to notice one thing that was continually mentioned by people who I spoke to, and that was the reaction of other people when they take their cosplaying into a public space.

19 year old Chloe from Essex, told me a story about volunteering at a Harry Potter event at Waterstones.

We were not getting paid but we got chatting to the people that what the and it seemed like a really fun thing to do for charity. So I went as Newt Scamander and my friend went as Draco malfoy. It was going really well and we had decided to play a “duelling”  game with the kids.    

After a long time playing this game with children, Chloe went home only to receive an email from the parent of a child who is disabled and was playing with Chloe at the event.

She said that her son had had the most amazing evening. She told us how he struggles with feeling excluded because of his wheelchair and the the other kids don’t always let him join in. And she also mentioned that he is sometimes made to feel uncomfortable because he loves Harry Potter so much. So in letting him join in on our game and making him feel included and comfortable made such a difference to him. Especially coming from a few of the wizards from the world the love so much. And she just wanted them to thank us.

This meant so much to me because we’ve really made a difference to him and all we thought we were doing were being silly adults and rolling around on the floor in costume. But the fact that we’ve been able to make a difference to that child really meant a lot.  

It's not just about the outfits (Photo credit: Chloe)

Similarly, Alice from Birmingham told me about her experiences which she will never forget.

The most memorable thing to happen occurred when I was dressed as Rapunzel at Birmingham  mcm where a small child also dressed as Rapunzel ran over to me  crying because she was so excited to see me , I took her to a meet for Disney fans and she stuck by my side the whole time and refused to leave my side  as she said “ I never want to leave , I want to stay with you forever" . That moment really touched my heart and encouraged me to keep cosplaying the characters to life as it can make a child's  dream come true

The impression that I got was that cosplayers are kind people who enjoy bringing smiles and fun to other people's lives. In a world where people are often quick to judge others and online technology has taken bullying to a new level, hearing these stories is a breath of fresh air.

How do cosplayers make their outfits? 

I was shocked to hear about how much effort goes into making an outfit just for one day! i have to hand it to the cosplayers; they're a dedicated bunch.

Aaron cosplays as his favourite character - Indiana Jones, who he affectionately calls 'Indy'

Aaron and his favourite character, Indy (Photo credit: CosplayTvUK)

This can take anywhere between weeks and months. I don't have any skills to make the pieces, so I'm reliant on ordering my gear from vendors and having people make the props for me. I've learned numerous skills in painting and weathering of props to make them look worn. I've also learned how to weather clothing as well, so it now looks like Indy has been on adventures, rather than wearing pressed clothing.
Most cosplayers take great pride in making their own outfits and props from scratch. Aside from socialising and being able to express themselves, the process of making an outfit seems to be one of the most important things that define a cosplayer.

I typically pick predominantly fabric-based cosplays when I think ofthose I want to work on myself, since I probably have the most skills inthe sewing department. I also like to cut up and repurpose parts of old clothes or jewellery!  - Fletch   

When creating a New outfit  it can take anywhere from two days to 6 months  depending on the complexity of the outfit. If the outfit is very simple such as Alice in wonderland  I would just have to buy  a blue dress and make a small  apron . But If it’s something more complex like my current project ( wedding Rapunzel) it can take months to  find the right shade of fabric, and then of course creating the outfit including added all the details can take many months  because you do not want to rush a outfit if your fabric has cost you over £100! - Alice
Bringing people together (Photo credit: Alice)

There are options for the budget cosplayer (charity shops and adapting old clothes) to cosplayers who spend significant amounts of their income on projects (recently, I saw someone dressed as Iron man who had told me his outfit cost £4500 in total)

Discussing techniques and sharing tips online or in person is part of the social aspect of cosplaying, and once you are in your outfit there are plenty of meet ups and social gatherings to make new friends and join in with others who share a love of cosplay too. 

Where do people cosplay?

Perhaps it would be easier to answer the question, where don't people cosplay?!

Aside from private outings with your friends and fellow cosplayers, there's hundreds of UK based events which have specific cosplay groups and shows, sometimes involving competitions with pretty cool prizes. 

Scroll to the bottom of this blog to see a complete list of events!

I caught up with drag queen and actor Razz Berry at a recent MCM comic con event. While I was immediately drawn to his Dr Frank-n-furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I soon realised he was a master of cosplay, having been Beetlejuice, Hellboy, Azarel and soooo many more!

Like other cosplayers, Razz has been lucky enough to meet celebrities through cosplaying. While at Coventry comic con, Razz met Patricia Quinn, aka Magenta herself, and together they danced the timewarp! 

After learning more about the creativity, the passion, the kindness and the close community feeling around cosplaying I had a lot more respect for it. It’s the ultimate show of appreciation and a way to transform yourself into your idol for the day. Next time I see someone cosplaying, no matter how simple the outfit, I will know how much dedication went into it and be able to share that gratification with others who feel the same.

I'd like to say a massive thankyou to everybody who took the time to talk to me and let me use their photos for this blog. You are all fantastic and it was a pleasure to find out more about your fun cosplaying adventures!

If you're a cosplayer and you find yourself at MCM London this year, come and see us on booth BB4 and show off your cosplay creations!

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