Halloween is cited as many people’s favourite holiday, the costumes, the parties the decorations the movies and the overall theme. And yet (interestingly) Cosplay is often poked fun of in the media, often portrayed as the sort of thing that only social outcasts looking to belong to something bigger than themselves participate in.
But is it really?
When you look at it Cosplay (short for Costume Play) with it’s costumes, themes, movies, parties isn’t very different from Halloween. In fact you could almost argue that Cosplayers enjoy many Halloweens a year. Cosplay doesn’t have it’s roots in pagan ritual, rather it grows from love of items in pop culture. Comic books, movies, video games, anime and manga are all popular themes as well as mythology and even periods in history. Halloween is a set calendar event, whereas Cosplay events can occur all year.
Differing from the Japanese ‘Otaku’ sub-culture, Cosplay is a world wide pass time for many. Whereas Otaku is a Japanese only occurrence that many feel grew from an extension of high school clubs and meshed with pop culture. The word ‘otaku’ has a few different meanings, but they generally all revolve around someone who is without social graces or is an ‘outcast’. Another variation is that Cosplay has fun with gender roles. Males will dress up in female outfits and females will adapt male roles to either be the female version or give it a feminine twist.
Some would argue that Cosplayers are themselves a form of outcast looking to belong. Perhaps at one point that was true, or it certainly would appear to be true in the popular depictions of Cosplayers. And yet, while people willingly apply that stigma, Cosplayers are really just people dressing up in costumes from comic books, literature, movies and video games. Things you’d be hard pressed to find people who aren’t ‘outcasts’ don’t participate in, to some degree.
It’s extremely unlikely that people who wear their favourite teams jersey to a game, a band’s shirt to a concert or merchandise of their favourite vehicle actually believe they are part of the team, band or organization. They’re only displaying their personal likes for all to see. Likewise Cosplayers are taking the time to express things they like in entertainment culture publicly.
Who are Cosplayers? Popular depictions would have one believe that they are all social awkward males living in their parent’s basement, stuck in dead end jobs with no hope of every meeting or attracting a mate. Really they come from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds. Cosplay goes beyond race, social standing and religion. These are people from all walks of life.
One such person I spoke with was Keith Martin. Happily married with two children and a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, for Martin Cosplay is a family affair. “Halloween is an event that isn’t celebrated by everyone,” Martin said “commonly due to religious beliefs or just conflict of interest. The beautiful thing about Cosplay is that anyone from any fandom can do it, and not just one day a year.” Both he and his wife, Amy, enjoy making and wearing costumes to conventions and involve their children as well. For them Cosplay is a fun thing to do when they go to events, making them part of the event. Naturally the children love it, after all what child doesn’t enjoy dressing up and pretending to be a hero or make believe character?
“When we went to our first convention we brought our daughter along with us dressed as Batgirl to go along with our costumes. She was two at the time and liked looking at the costumes people were wearing. She likes to dress up so when we went to Hal-Con for a second time she simple went along with it. She shied away from the crowds but loved meeting characters she knew like Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians.” Amy usually handles making the costumes, and when asked about how true she stays to the original character she said ” I stay as true as I can to the original design. The exception was the Alice in Wonderland costumes. There are quite a few variations of what the characters wear so I just went whatever way I wanted with Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts”
However, not all people who dress up as characters are Cosplayers. For some wearing costumes has a different meaning and purpose other than just fun. Elizabeth Hedley, dresses up as Wonder Woman and makes appearances at charity events and other occasions that usually center around kids. For Hedley, and others she interacts with, it’s more about being an entertainer. When asked about the major difference between herself and Cosplayers she said “Cosplayers in the traditional sense are just about the creating of a costume and sharing it with other fans and the social aspects the hobby.” Currently Hedley is working to try and attract as many outlets as she can to donate toys for Toy Mountain, a seasonal charity event that collects and distributes toys to underprivileged kids. You can read more about her charity work through her Facebook page.
Watch for the upcoming ‘Heros for Hope’ article about Hedley with her friends Scott Smith and Burlington Batman. So Cosplay really isn’t the social outcasts that popular media makes them out to be, it’s really everyday people looking to have fun. And not all people who dress up in a costume are Cosplayers, some are entertainers involved in charity work.
That doesn’t really sound all that outlandish or out of the ordinary when we look at it. However for those still not convinced that Cosplay is something they are willing to think any less of let’s take another look at a couple more things. First, the elaborate staging that people will do when they wear a costume. This YouTube video, shot by at Atlanta’s world famous Dragon Con this year From August 29 – September 1.
Last, and certainly not least, are the ladies and the costumes they wear. Anyone who has opened a comic, played a video game or watched action/adventure movies knows that these are prime sources for some pretty hot ladies dressed in a variety of manner that would make most guys gibbering fools if they ever met them in real life. Well, good news fellas, go to a Cosplay event and you will see just that.
Beautiful women in exact reproductions of the outrageous outfits we see in entertainment, that many media pundits love to criticize. These ladies aren’t dressed like that because they were forced to, or to fit some ideal they feel they have to play up to. They make, buy and order parts for the outfits because they want to wear them. Video game beauties, sci-fi and comic goddess and all manner of comic heroines come to life and walking around where you can stand next to them and have your picture taken. These ladies are not the socially awkward wall flowers that people will have you believe would Cosplay. They are quick witted and genuine people to interact with who really enjoy meeting fans that happen to be incredibly beautiful.
Three well-known names are Nicci Fett (Error), Ryuu Lavitz and Ivy Doomkitty. These ladies have hundreds of thousands of followers through social media and are more than just pretty faces. Not only do they make costumes but are also artist’s models, musicians, photographers as well as prop makers and make up artists.
Nicci Fett is an American make-up artist, prop maker, costume designer and animal lover who has portrayed characters such as Red Sonya, Witchblade as well as characters from Mortal Combat, Skyrim and Borderlands and the anime ‘Attack on Titan’. One thing that is unique about Fett’s Cosplay work is her use of prosthetics to bring more macabre images to life such as a female Pinhead from Clive barker’s Hellraiser, zombie Catwoman or The Angry Princess from Thir13en Ghosts.
Framingham Massachusetts’ Ryuu Lavitz cosplays, models and plays guitar as well as experiments with photography. Her characters are drawn from video games, anime and comic books. Characters such as Roxas from Kingdom Hearts both Tifa and Rikku from Final Fantasy video games. She’s also portrayed anime characters such as Haruko Haruhara from the anime FLCL and a female Inuyasha from the anime of the same name. While she has portrayed comic characters such as Catwoman and Black Cat, Lavitz’s portrayal of DC’s Harley Quinn drew a lot of attention and her image in character was used by AOL, CBC News as well as a newspaper in Switzerland when they did stories on New York’s 2014 Comic Con.
California’s Ivy Doomkitty is an extremely popular Cosplayer who is also internationally recognized as a costume maker and designer as well as an artist’s model. She’s portrayed a range of comic book, video game and science fiction characters. Marvel Girl, Psylocke, Black Cat as well as takes on Captain America and Punisher are among the characters from the Marvel universe she has portrayed. As well as Wonder Woman, Assassin’s Creed, Star Trek, various Steampunk characters and a range of pin up images Doom kitty has a wide repertoire of looks that makes it easy to see why she is so popular. Ivy Doomkitty in Star Wars Girdle and Sith costume*(Geri Kramer Photography) appears at the top of this article.
So whether or not Cosplay is something you wish to actually participate in it’s not hard to see the appeal to it for those do that do. So when we really look at it Cosplay is regular people and beautiful women who enjoy the fun of dressing up in the outfit of a character that they enjoy. Maybe by taking a few minutes to look past labelling the very media who helped create Cosplay likes to use for entertainment value might interest some people to go to a Comic Convention or Fan Expo to see it first hand for themselves.
(*all pictures are the property of the artists and their photographers)
John Goodale is the author of ‘Johnny Gora’ (available through Amazon.com), and a number of articles here on TMRZoo.com. His monthly column ‘Indy Comics Spotlight’ appears here and through his blog Indy Comics Spotlight