Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say ”BLAARGH!“
This week: Cosplay Drama
Cosplayers and costumers now, more than ever, are an institution of fan conventions and events. The ubiquitous Costume Contest at conventions large and small is oftentimes the most highly-attended event of the weekend, and for a show like Dragon*Con, the army of cosplayers in attendance is one of the biggest draws. The cosplay hobby has created a whole new burgeoning industry, and with it, a heightened level of competition amongst the community. If you’ve ever befriended a cosplayer on Facebook following a convention, it’s probably no secret to you that there is a heavy layer of inter-personal drama bubbling just underneath the spandexed-surface of the hobby.
Cosplay is a relatively new concept in the United States, and has only become a staple of fan conventions in the past decade. Sure, 10 years ago, you were sure to bump into a lumpy Superman or a half-assed Wolverine while wandering Artist Alley, but these days, the community has grown by leaps and bounds in sheer number and skill-level.
Jess Jupiter, Chicagoland, IL: “I feel like the fact that the costumed community has grown so exponentially over the few years that its been here in the U.S. is a HUGE feat! To put it simply, we have as much diversity as any group of fans!”
FN_Pryde, Ft. Lauderdale, FL: “The idea of it being socially acceptable to dress in costume and step out of my boring life on any given weekend was a huge draw. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t cool in high school. To walk around a convention and be begged for photos sorta makes up for all those moments I feel like I missed out on. It’s nice to find a place where I felt I could completely be myself.”
Paul Heid, Chicago, IL: “I also always felt different from the rest, or just plain wanted to be special. Like virtually everyone in the costume/cosplay community, Halloween played a big part in my wonder years. Escapism at it’s most innocent. This was my childhood reborn.”
Freddie Nova: “I grew up a mega-outcast with a big imagination, & I’m hyperactive which requires me to constantly need projects. Being a huge nostalgia nerd as well, reading comics for 16 yrs now, I decided to not just attend cons for deals but give the costuming a try, & it is CRAZY ADDICTIVE.”
Jess Jupiter: “I finally found a place where I could be comfortable saying ‘Hi, I’m Jess. I like to run around my house pretending I’m part Power Ranger, part Sailor Senshi.’”
How is it that a hobby which brought most into the fold because of their past experiences as black sheep, seems to breed the same kind of clique-ish exclusion and catty back-biting they tried to avoid in high-school?
Kendra, Wisconsin: “Drama is an unavoidable part of human nature, and cosplay is not immune to it (in fact, it tends to thrive off of drama!). The drama that occurs within the cosplay community is a bit too ridiculous for my tastes, and I tend to avoid it, but I am definitely not ignorant to it.”
Tiffany N. Perry, Rogers Park, IL: “I hear other cosplayers complain about the people that do not create/modify/sew their own costumes, but simply buy a packaged outfit from the store, then enter contests. The vast majority of cosplayers invest a great deal of time and money in their costumes, and I feel that they want proper recognition for their efforts, especially if they have engineered a unique design. For many, cosplaying isn’t simply a hobby, it is a lifestyle.”
FN_Pryde: “The cosplayers that sew their own costume show disdain for those of us that piece them together from made materials. The sexy cosplayers are hated for being too sexy while the obscure character cosplayers are hated for being too obscure. There are many different types of cosplayers and each finds fault in the other.”
Paul Heid: “One of the saddest byproducts of the costume/cosplay community, or any group for that matter, is Ego. It’s like the Rob Liefeld of the costume community- it sparks something different, but usually ends up igniting into ugliness. That is to say, “Ego” in the sense of “Confidence”, can evolve into something we’ve never seen before, or never understood how to pull off. Unfortunately, it just ends in spite and the retardation of budding creativity. A cancer to something truly rad.”
Could we chalk up the majority of cosplay drama to the demographics of the hobby? It’s no secret that a LOT of cosplayers are of the female persuasion, and call me “sexist“, “misogynist“, “privileged white male“, or even “Fattie“, but you put a handful of women in the same vicinity for an extended period of time, you’re bound to see someone get their eyes scratched out.
FN_Pryde: “I have run into a particular female cosplayer countless times in the local circuit. She will extend a her meticulously painted claw and introduce herself to me like I’m a complete stranger. It’s a way for her to say to me, “You are so unimportant to my little world that I can’t seem to recall your name or face.” I’ve learned to feel out who is there to make friends and who is in it for personal fame. I tend to ignore the latter.
But, apparently, the in-fighting isn’t limited to the cosplayers receiving their monthly subsciptions to Red Sonja.
Paul Heid: “Personally I’ve never experienced firsthand any drama in the costume/cosplay community, but I’d be naive to say that I’m immune to it. In fact I do find myself questioning the choices that some of my colleagues/peers/whatever we call ourselves, make. I usually can write that off as an aesthetic difference. For example, I’m pretty vocal on costumes I “hate”, and frankly find lazy and uninspired in their original concepts-Batman Beyond, Future Foundation Spider-Man, Venom, Booster Gold, etc. It’s just my taste. We all have our own goals and tastes for what we create, and shitting on that is counter productive to the spirit of the “muse”.”
Sure, drama is simple human nature, and a similar level of controversy and conflict could be found in most hobbies and fan-groups, from Magic: The Gathering to pro-Quidditch to Bronies. However, once cosplay started to become an industry unto itself, cos-business, so to speak, and many saw a chance to make a few bucks off of their hobby, the seams truly started to show. Whether it be those with sewing skillz, propmakers, or photographers, there’s now a niche market creating another layer of competition amongst comrades. Then there’s the potential for cos-fame by making a name for yourself in the industry as a pro-cosplayer, or utilizing the notoriety from the hobby to gain Twitter followers, web hits, or traction in the entertainment industry.
Jess Jupiter: “The crowd that gets drawn to comic book conventions tend to be more into making connections and building something from their costuming hobby than the younger generation. Personalities are big and out there in the comic book costuming community so there’s a lot more to clash with.”
Just like with any industry, you’re going to run into a few bad eggs with shoddy business practices. Even though cosplay is growing exponentially, it’s still a pretty close-knit hobby, therefore, if someone feels like they’ve been wronged or didn’t get what they paid for, it’s bound to spread like wildfire via word of mouth and spam Facebook posts. It’s not like you can just go on Yelp, y’know?
What’s the cos-solution to all this cos-drama? Well, if you’re just an onlooker, like most, you can just unfriend all of those cosplayers you met at the last convention. Short of that? Maybe cosplayers need to take a look in the mirror…well…more than usual.
FN_Pryde: “Honestly, geeks are intense about their hobbies/passions. As long as there is a prize to be won or a photo to be snagged, there will be no way to end the drama.”
Paul Heid: “So what to do with Ego? It’s ultimately callow to think that it can be completely excised, but neutered perhaps. Recognizing that yes, there are some who can pull off some amazing feats, and others who may not be so accomplished… yet. Like any creative medium, it’s subjective. And it’s evolutionary. And when we begin to strangle that muse that drives us all, individually, we wither and die, as a community. It’s a constructive art. So by all means, be constructive.”
Jess Jupiter: “My stance on drama? Don’t let it happen. Don’t talk smack about another costumer. Don’t get involved in petty issues like “HE/SHE STOLE MY CHARACTER.” I’ve been on most sides of the coin. I’ve been the somewhat delusional 14 year old who thought that only *I* should be allowed to cosplay as Rogue. I’ve been the 18 year old who thinks their hot shit and talked about people in a less than pleasant manor. I’ve been the 21 year old photographer who’s dealt with some unsavory egos. Be the bigger person and help create the positive, accepting environment that you came into this hobby for.”
Kendra: “Tact, it seems, is something that few people in the world have, and sometimes it can seem like the cosplay community didn’t get any of it. If you have something to say to another cosplayer about their costume, good or bad, be sure to always be respectful. On the flip side of that, if you see a cool cosplay, you better let them know! There are few things more fulfilling to a cosplayer than hearing someone tell them that they like their work!
If someone is rude to you because of a character you chose, don’t let it bother you and ignore them (and get away from the situation if you can!). No one should EVER feel like they are not good enough or be excluded simply because of a character they chose to dress as. If you happen to be one of those people that judges and excludes, then listen up: YOU were in their place once. You were a newbie, you weren’t so great at sewing, or whatever else is bugging you. Get off your high horse and learn to smile and be friendly or, at the very minimum, courteous. If someone is admiring your work, be an inspiration, not a deterrent. ”
Jess Jupiter: It may sound weird but if more people learned how to let things go and how to not care about what others are doing, it would get rid of SO much of the problem. Yes, some people make revealing costumes or sexy variants of a character. Yes, some people purchase or commission their costumes. Yes, some people dress as a character that you despise. Yes, someone will be wearing the same outfit as you. But until someone comes up to your face and says “Yes. I did something to explicitly hurt, offend, or demean you.” its not your place to be angry and speculate about it.”
Cosplay isn’t all backstabbing and position-jockeying. There are a lot of great people who do a lot of cos-good for the sake of cos-humanity. There are no shortage of costuming groups like the 501st Legion, Wolf Pack Elite, and Costumers With A Cause with the express purpose of donating their cos-time and raising funds for great causes. But at it’s base, isn’t the best part of cosplay the ability to make someone’s day because they were able to meet their favorite character, 2-D or otherwise, live and in living color?
Tiffany N. Perry: ”Ultimately, cosplay shouldn’t be a competition. For me, cosplaying is about celebrating a joy in stories and characters that have impacted my perception of the world in a meaningful way.”
Jess Jupiter: ”Back when I first started going to conventions, almost seven years ago, there was this quiet hush-hush attitude about costuming. Now!? We have whole community sites, help forums, costuming groups, national news coverage to spread the word. While the average person probably doesn’t know the term ‘cosplay’, the overall attitude towards costumers at conventions has changed to be a much more accepting and complimentary place.”
Kendra: ”I think that cosplaying has created an amazing, diverse, and complicated community. I think that the greatest achievement of this community is the ability to come together and support one another, bestowing upon others a huge amount of self-esteem and confidence. It is truly amazing to see people come out of their shells and feel confident enough to show off their talents. Along with a being supportive, the cosplay community is also amazingly talented. It constantly blows my mind and inspires me when I see the amazing works of art that people poured their hard work and talents into. Remember: the most important part about cosplaying is enjoying yourself and enjoying the process of creating a cosplay. Everyone gets better with practice, so you better keep trying!”
Paul Heid: ”Creativity is the fiber of who I am. I like to even think, all of us. It is man’s philosophical pursuit, in some circles of thinking, “To Be God”. Creators. Engineers of accomplishment. In costuming, I choose to interpret this engendered trait. Just as an architect fulfills this in structural design, a musician in song, or a poet in sonnet. The greatest achievement of this community, or any, is personal success. It’s inherent to why we continue to exist. Beyond this altruistic view, my selfish consummation, much like that of most cons, are the kids. The dream I always had as a child- if not to be Spider-Man, then to meet Spider-Man. And when I put on that suit on Kid’s Day, me, in the past, is proud.”
Jess Jupiter: ”I like to think that because I’ve dealt with this for while, it helps me to keep the important stuff in focus and block out all the meaningless petty stuff that’s just going to take away from my friend’s and I’s fun experiences. Remember that we’re all just nerds in costume! We’ve all taken the time to say “You know what, I’m going to put myself out there and show my stuff.” and we all deserve respect for that. We’re not here to judge, we get enough of that from outside of our hobby. We’re here to have fun, make costumes, take some kick ass pictures and do it all again at the next convention! Put your ego away and just have fun!”
Special Thanks to Jess Jupiter, FN_Pryde, Paul Heid, Freddie Nova, Tiffany N. Perry and Kendra for participating in this discussion.
Filed Under: BLAARGH!