Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cosplay 101 - Getting into cosplay

One of my favorite shoots this year, it had a great outfit and perfect character depiction,
but she started as a novice like everyone else.
Cosplay is one of my favorite subjects since it is one of the aspects of anime conventions that draw me in year after year. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, cosplay is a portmanteau of costume play and it describes the culture of dressing up as your favorite fictional character and taking on their physical appearance and/or personality traits. Earlier this year I have written a breadth of articles on the subject of cosplay, they go from tips on getting great photo shoots to choosing the right cosplay. Recently, it has been brought my attention that I do not have an article about getting into the hobby of cosplay, a sort of cosplay 101 article for people to send out to friends who want to get into cosplay. Having been into the hobby of cosplay photography, I know the culture of cosplay fairly well and can provide some insight into getting started into cosplay.

Before getting into cosplay, I suggest reading my article about choosing the right cosplay. This article provides a list of suggestions that a novice or expert cosplayer should consider when choosing a future cosplay. Using my metrics, along with other suggestions from cosplayers, I believe that a person should be able to choose a cosplay that is right for them. Choosing a "right" cosplay is one of the hardest things when getting into the hobby, but it is a great adventure that offers infinite possibilities. After choosing a cosplay that you like, you should consider the four basic parts of cosplay: wig, outfit, contacts, and weaponry.

Contacts can really
improve your cosplay
Regardless of your level of skill, some parts of the cosplay will have to be purchased. Unless you can change your hair color and eyes to a variety of colors found in anime, manga, video games, movies, and comic books, purchasing those two will likely happen. When it comes to suggestions for wigs and colored contacts, I suggest going to cosplay.com and read the message board for advice on websites that provide the best value and the best product. There are also great blogs written that have deep knowledge on the subject, like my friend Angeline Woo's site that reviews colored contacts. The wig you wear is eyecatching, and choosing the right wig means that your character can be spotted instantly by fellow fans. Likewise, choosing a wig that may not fit will mean that people may not recognize the character you are trying to cosplay as. When it comes to colored contacts, remember that they are things that you stick in your eye, so pay attention the quality of the product and please do not cheap out when you buy them because it can have long-term effects on your body. The worst case scenario is that you cosplay as a character with more natural eye colors so that you don't need to wear contacts.

She makes her own
outfits, but her level of
skill and talent is rare
When it comes to the cosplay outfit and weapons, there is the option to make them yourselves or to purchase a premade one. As I mentioned in my article about choosing the right cosplay, an important aspect of your decision on the cosplay outfit should be a cost, skill, and time decision. Buying a costume is more expensive than making it yourself. If you don't feel that your level of skill is good enough, then don't be afraid to buy a cosplay from someone who has a level of skill that you feel works for the costume. One of the most important decisions is time, creating a cosplay from scratch is very time consuming and it should also be part of the consideration when it comes to buying or selling an outfit. Like with colored contacts and wigs, I highly suggest reading message boards of people who are heavily into the hobby for proper suggestions for purchasing an outfit. Passionate fans are a great way to gauge the quality of a product and the level of service they give to the customer. When it comes to the weapons, I suggest that you do not buy a working weapon because it is very hard to modify (ie: Don't buy a Japanese Katana from a master craftsman). Replica weapons are good, but remember that as long as it looks like a weapon it can become a future issue in a convention.

Once you have all the required materials for your cosplay, you are ready to go. Before going to an anime convention or comic book convention, feel free to find an amazing photographer who can bring your costume to life in a full blown photo shoot. I also suggest going to the website of the convention you are going to and look at these items on the website:
  • Weapons Policy: All conventions have a weapon policy which gives the basic rules and protocol for weapons that cosplayers carry at a con. Enforcement of the weapon's policy is normally done by the convention's access control and convention operations unit. To have your weapon approved by convention staff, a cosplayer needs to have their weapons peace bonded. This means that it is inspected by convention staff and approved to fit within the guidelines of convention policy. Once a weapon is peace bonded, the cosplayer cannot make modifications to the weapon, since modification changes whether the peace bonded weapon fits within convention guidelines. (For example, here is Anime Expo's weapon policy.)
  • Clothing Guidelines: This is not for all cons, but some conventions may have clothing restrictions. For example, if a convention is a family-friendly event, there may be more rules against wearing scantily-clad clothing or there may be rules against wearing clothes that promote certain companies or brands. In general, just consider that your outfit will be seen by many people, so consider whether your cosplay is appropriate or inappropriate for the event.
  • Code of Conduct: A code of conduct is the expected norms and rules of the convention in how people conduct themselves around other people. This is posted on the website of the convention and is normally in the program guide. The code of conduct is reasonable expectations that a convention has regarding how people act. There are certain actions that will result in removal from the event, such as threatening people or participating in dangerous acts. As a cosplayer, following the code of conduct means that the convention experience will be a good one.
When all your cosplay is ready, and all the research is done you are more than ready to go the convention and enjoy your experience as a cosplayer. As a brand new cosplayer, you have entered a unique and special community of fans who use their bodies as a way to express their love of a particular character, series, or costume design. Cosplay is a special hobby, but it requires a bit of common sense when it comes to deciding what to cosplay, how you will do it, and how you will conduct yourself in an event. I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope to see you on the other side of the lens in an upcoming anime convention.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the west coast.

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