By Patrick Reddick and Jesse McRae
Have you ever seen someone walking around in a highly unusual outfit, perhaps acting in a decidedly unusual manner, possibly with a party of equally unusual people? If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is a chance you have had an encounter with people engaging in cosplay.
Essentially, cosplaying is the act of dressing up as a fictional character and often extends to include taking on their mannerisms. The term is a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”, coined in 1984 by Nobuyuki Takahashi of Japanese animation company Studio Hard, after a visit to the Los Angeles science fiction convention Worldcon.
Originating within sci-fi with printed examples dating back a hundred years, the practice has since expanded to include other genres like fantasy, and more recently, anime and video games. The art’s popularity has exploded in Japan; in a nation with traditionally stringent mores and societal conventions, an opportunity for artistic individuality can serve as a beneficial outlet for self-expression.
In the age of the Internet, web-based media have also become fair game. The genre-defying webcomic Homestuck also features a sizable and devout following of folks who dress up as its characters.
Long time cosplayer Evan Nelson, who was playing Rose Lalonde from the series when we talked to her, defines it as “a webcomic that somewhat follows the form of a text-based adventure game and is about 132% of the length of the King James Bible.
“It follows the story of four kids who try to save the world through an immersive, reality altering video game.”
Fellow cosplayer Claudie Scott-Buccleuch, replicating the likeness of Jade Harley, points out that “it arguably follows almost every genre, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.”
Nelson comments that Homestuck characters are so fun to dress up as because “it’s in 2D; there is lots of room for interpretation.”
Scott-Buccleuch also points out the positive “artistic challenge” of cosplaying. “It’s interesting [and fun] taking something that’s not exactly real and bringing it into the world.”
The notion of creative expression is certainly not exclusive to the Homestuck fandom. Kylie Ring also cosplays at as many as four conventions per year, but prefers not to emulate characters.
“It’s extremely rare that I dress up as a character because I like getting creative and I would hate to see the exact same outfit on 10 other people at the same place, so I try to be original and stand out.”
However, this is a process which can be difficult and frustrating before results are actualized. When asked about the process of creating a costume, Chelsea Strider tells Arthur “the process is me sitting on my ass until the convention, then I spend the next week panicking and pulling all nighters to get them done.
“Of course there’s also waiting for wigs, contacts, shoes and who knows what else in the mail, plus altering them once they get here. … As far as props go, I usually try to bribe people into making them for me, especially weapons; I’m not good with tools and stuff, and they’re usually a lot of work.”
Later on, Strider remarked “I wanted to make ‘sacrificing goats to Satan’ jokes while explaining the creative process [to you], but decided not to.” Regardless of the occasional difficulty and obligatory satanic ritual, the end result seems to make the process of creation worth the trouble for Strider and others.
Despite the common phenomenon of a lone cosplayer slaving away at their craft, as well as the individualized nature of the final products, there is a strong community aspect to the practice. As Strider says, “I get to meet new people with similar interest who I probably wouldn’t have met if I didn’t cosplay. I meet lots of people at conventions with interests like mine and have friends from all over.”
Ring adds that cosplaying is “important to me because I get to meet new people, see what other people have been able to make and showcase my own ideas/talents.”
The Trent Science Fiction and Fantasy (TSSF) club recently held a cosplay pub night at Sadleir House. One of the group’s executive’s, Meghan Trimble spoke about her reasons for holding the event.
“The main reason why the TSFF executive and I chose to host a cosplay party is because we felt it was a good way to bring together members of the Trent community with an interest in any form of science fiction and fantasy, be that anime, comics, television, or what have you.
“It was also a great excuse to dress up! Many people cosplay as a hobby and put a lot of effort into making their costumes, but don’t get many chances to wear them, save for Halloween and conventions. Our pub night gave people a chance to play as a character around others who are like-minded and have similar interests, who understand your love of dressing up and your love of a character. It was a very fun and relaxing experience, even for the people who did not dress up, to meet and be around people in your own community who are among ‘your kind’.”
If the idea of temporarily channelling your favourite fictional character while being surrounded with the likeminded is beginning to sound appealing, you can check out the upcoming Toronto convention Anime North, scheduled for May 24-26.
If such a large convention is intimidating, don’t let that discourage you. As Strider points out, “usually there are other opportunities that come up where you can dress up too. I know I’ve dressed up for a few movie premiers […] and there’s also obviously Halloween.”