The Art of Cosplay

What is a workable definition of cosplay?

BRLTW45JKU0N1508366402637Cosplay is an incredibly popular phenomenon of culture, and while it has so much in common with other costume based art forms, there are some specific characteristics of cosplay that have turned it into the unique beast that it is today. People dress as characters from movies, comics, books, fanfiction, and anything that is recognisable in pop culture. They put immense amounts of time and effort into their art, and have their pictures taken, all to varying degrees of expense and professionalism. The cross-overs of creative industries and rise of conventions for fans of sci-fi, anime and fantasy have helped in the boom of cosplay, and the people involved in it define it by what it is – and what it isn’t.

cosplay1Cosplay as defined by Mountfort, Peirson-Smith, & Geczy, (2018) is “…a performance medium in which embodied textual citation and photographic practices come together and sometimes collide.” So… let’s work on rephrasing that. It’s about bringing characters to life through costume. However, in this medium, it’s not necessarily any character. There is a reason people go to cosplay conventions as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), but not as the same character from the Pride and Prejudice BBC series (1980). It’s hard to pinpoint, but it seems to be to do with the “camp” nature of cosplay. Camp, as in the “spirit of extravagance”, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Singh-Kurtz, October, 2018) Let me be clear here – cosplayers themselves can be very serious about the effort they put in to their art, but the artform itself is intrinsically playful. Genres like science fiction and fantasy lend themselves more to the visual medium of cosplay far better than literature and “high art.” It is similar in this way to Drag- and indeed, “Crossplay” is a subgenre of cosplay- Drag being a hyper-exaggerated form of gender costuming, and cosplay a form of character costuming. (Nichols, 2019)

Speaking of Drag, which has also enjoyed a recent boom in popularity, the competitive f1e47e3ccbe9d7fe5538f9ef000d7f74side of the two artforms is worth looking at as we decide on our definition. Drag history is deeply rooted in pageantry, offering queer people a safe place to play with gender and costuming, then adding a competitive element for the sport, and for audience participation (Firkus, 2018). Cosplay often feels similar to drag in many ways, there is an acceptance of weirdness and artistic licence, and respect for the story that a costume can tell (Nichols, 2019). However, when cosplay competitions are set up, often the judgements can be problematic; sexism and body shaming came into the mix when the reality series Heroes of Cosplay (2015) aired, and while there are plenty of different versions of cosplay competitions out there, criteria for fair and unbiased judging just haven’t reached the level of nuance that Drag competitions have managed to find (Christofí, 2015).  Cosplayers seem not so much to look for validation through of a panel of judges – the satisfaction from cosplaying is largely in the audience it reaches – through the lens of a camera (Mountfort et. al, 2018).

65448827_2147197025409164_7818625496322583041_nPhotography is to cosplay what milk is to cereal. You could enjoy the cereal alone, but the experience is not as satisfying. There is a catharsis that comes from having a photograph of oneself in the garb of a fantasy world – everyone who’s ever dressed in a Halloween costume knows this. Of course, there is a dark side to the symbiotic relationship between cosplayers and cos-photographers – birthing the movement known as Cosplay is not Consent, which aims to remind people that touching and taking pictures of those in costume must be consensual (Romano, 2014). One (less sinister) reason for this is that often, costumes have been styled so that they work best from a certain angle- it can be very disheartening for cosplayers to work for weeks and months on a design and a synchronised pose only to see a photo of themselves online in said costume with their shoulders slumped over as they check their phone.

So, we put all this together, and what have we come up with? The main themes are of creativity, costuming and playfulness. As with all art-forms, there is a sort of bleed into other popular current mediums, and the flexibility of cosplay is one of its many charms. Perhaps a good working definition of cosplay is this: A modern form of costuming art centred around pop culture texts, created for pageantry and widely consumed through photography. Even that could be tweaked a bit. One could call it post-modern in many ways, if one were inclined to sound clever. I won’t, though. I’m not that serious. In truth, Mountford et. al. nailed it right out of the gate – but as with all art-forms, there’s always plenty of different ways to say the same thing.

 

References:

Christofí, H (2015). Cosplay Contest Judging Criteria, Cyprus Comic-con. Retrieved on September 30, 2019 from http://cypruscomiccon.org/cosplay-contest-judging-criteria/

Nichols, E. (January, 2019) : ‘As if’: women in genres of the fantastic, cross-platform entertainments and transmedial engagements. Retrieved 01.10.19 from https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/doi/full/10.1080/10304312.2019.1569410

Mountfort, P. Peirson-Smith, A. & Geczy, A. (2018). Planet Cosplay: Costume Play, Identity and Global Fandom. Chicago University Press.

Singh-Kurtz, S. (October, 2018) Susan Sontag’s 54-year-old essay on “camp” is essential reading. Retrieved on October 6th, 2019 from https://qz.com/quartzy/1419465/susan-sontags-54-year-old-essay-on-camp-is-essential-reading-to-understand-culture-in-2018/

Firkus, B. (September, 2018) InQueery: Trixie Mattel Breaks Down the History of “Drag”. Retrieved on October 6th from https://www.them.us/story/inqueery-drag

Romano, A. (October, 2014) Cosplay Is Not Consent: The People Fighting Sexual Harassment at Comic Con. Retrieved 6th October 2019, from https://mashable.com/2014/10/15/new-york-comic-con-harassment/

Week 9

  1. What is a workable definition of cosplay?

Cosplay is a performing agency, which finds its meaning through popular culture and is expressed often through photography, (Mountfort, Peirson-Smith & Geczy, 2018).

  1. What are some of the major fan conventions, when did they begin and how do they differ from each other?

In early december 1995, Armageddon began in Auckland, New Zealand, (Armageddon, n.d.). Starting out as a space to share comics and trading cards, Armageddon quickly expanded to Wellington two years later, then on to Melbourne in 1999 (Armageddon, n.d.). Armageddon quickly transformed into the major New Zealand and Australia fan event that we know today, with multiple events held across the countries each year. As the convention grew to host nearly 70,000 annual visitors [ref here mountfort], the event spaces changed with it. Starting out at raceways and community centres, before moving on to theatres and small event centres, before moving to exhibition spaces, areans, and showgrounds (Armageddon, n.d.). With an annual attendance of around 130,000 across Australasia, in just 20 years the kiwi convention is now rivaling San Diego’s Comic Con, (Mountfort et al., 2018).

Beginning in 1969, a group of young American men came together to create Comic-Con. Chris Chafin (2017) of the Rolling Stone, suggests that they “were all outsiders who worked together to make a place where outsiders could feel at home”, (para 3). Mike Towry, one of the originators, agrees that “you were an oddball or an outcast if you were into that stuff” (Chafin, 2017, para 4), so it is no wonder that creating a safe space for a community who felt marginalised by society was a big hit. The first convention drew 300 people, but as that number grew – just like Armageddon – the venues were upscaled. Beginning in Hotels and Universities, before moving to the San Diego Convention Centre in 1991 (Malloy, 2008). One of the initial factors for the quick growth of the event is said to have stemmed from the Comic Con organising committee networking with other fandoms (Glanzer & Sassaman, 2009, p. 75). With the event now bringing in 135,000 attendees, it is competing with other fan conventions across the United States for numbers (Guerrero, 2019).

The differences between conventions lie within their geographical locations and genealogy. Australasia’s Armageddon offers a variety of popular fandoms within the NZ and AU culture. For example, Officer’s O’Leary and Minogue are guests at this year’s Armageddon in Auckland. They are known for their spin off tv-show Wellington Paranormal, being birthed from What We Do In The Shadows, created by Kiwi’s Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, (Armageddon, n.d.). The conventions are designed with their attendees in mind, so therefore there are differences (as well as similarities) to be expected.

 

 

 

 

 

Armageddon. (n.d.). History – Armageddon Expo. Retrieved from https://www.armageddonexpo.com/General-Info/History/

Chafin, C. (2017, July 19). San Diego Comic-Con: The Untold History. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from https://www.rollingstone.com/

Glanzer, D. & Sassaman, G. (2009). Comic-Con 40 Souvenir Book. San Diego: San Diego Comic-Con International

Guerrero, D. (2019, July 11). Breaking Down Comic-Con 2019 by the Numbers. Retrieved from https://visitsandiego.com/2019/07/breaking-down-comic-con-2019-numbers

Malloy, E. (2008, April 18). Charting Comic-Con’s Hulk-like growth. San Diego Source. Retrieved from http://www.sddt.com/

Mountfort, P., Peirson-Smith, A., & Geczy, A. (2018). Planet Cosplay: Costume Play, Identity and Global Fandom. Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press

Week 9 Cosplay

What is a workable definition of cosplay?

Cosplay is a term blended with the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’ (Winge, 2018). It is a performance art in which participants whom which are called cosplayers wears costumes and accessories to represent their favourite character. Cosplayers are joined together through conventions, interacting with each other in which it forms a subculture. When it comes to cosplay, gender as well as identity is a minor aspect as people feel more comfortable in their true self when in cosplay, the term ‘crossplay’ exists in this area as it is a form of art that a person displays him/her self in a character with the opposite gender.

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Many speculate that cosplay originated from Japan, but Winge (2018) suggests that it started back in 1876 with Jules Verne’s masquerade ball where he had asked his guests to dress up as science fiction characters, it continued on for a few years when Takahashi Nobuyuki attended Worldcon and introduced “kospure” or “cosplay” to Japan, terms in which he created to describe the art behind costume and competition.

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A woman cosplaying a strong and powerful character

 

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A female ‘cross-playing’ a male Marvel character

Cosplay can be defined by the individuals who participate in this type of art performance. Through vigorous research of their chosen characters and elaborate costumes and activities, Cosplayers work out fictional identities out of place and time. One of the main benefits behind cosplaying is being able to live behind the fantasy of a cosplayers’ favourite character, this can be defined as an escapism from reality (Winge, 2018).  It is a practice in which fans interact with each other, learning of each other’s true identity and interacting with their chosen narrative and characters and therefore being able to identify themselves (Nichols, 2019). Dressing as a powerful character can provide a sense of power and agency, adopting a costume is used as a disguisethat the Cosplayer may be more confident, adventurous or bolder than without the costumes (Winge, 2018). In Nichol’s article (2019), she states that the different lists of characters played by one woman (characters in which are diverse in age and gender) can be a proof to the freedom and power that women can find behind being part of this performance art

Reference:

Nichols, E. (2019, Jan). Playing with identity: gender, performance and feminine agency in Cosplay. Journal of Media & Cultural Studies. Retrieved from https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.aut.ac.nz/doi/full/10.1080/10304312.2019.1569410

Winge, T. (2018).Costuming Cosplay: Dressing the Imagination[DX Reader Version]. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aut/reader.action?docID=5557324

 

 

 

Week 9, Cosplay – Question Three

3. What are some of the major fan convention, when did they begin and how do they differ from each other?

Fan conventions have offered fans from different fandoms to express their love for their interests. Over time, there has been a variety of different fan conventions which have developed into annual and prominent events in their own right such as the Armageddon Expo and the San Diego Comic-Con.

The Armageddon Expo has been holding events for the fans for (approximately) the last 23 years. According to Mountfort (2018), “it began as a comics and trading card event” in Auckland with follow-up events occurring in 1997 (pg 91). Due to its popularity and demand, the Expo spread to Wellington in 1998 and then in 1999 to Melbourne, Australia. Additionally, the event has been running as an almost yearly event ever since. With the events running more frequently, the size of the venues also expanded. The Expo started in small community centres and then with the increase of its popularity, eventually moved into larger convention centres. Meanwhile, with the growth of the Armageddon Expo from a small trading card event, it has evolved into a convention which celebrates fandoms from different genres, such as sci-fi and comics, with the various events they hold during the Expo weekends. This is evident by the planned cosplay contests, tournaments and celebrity guest panels which allows fans to meet, get an autograph and attend photo sessions with their idols, just to name a few ways the event attracts people to attend it. So, without a doubt, the Armageddon Expo is a major fan convention in Australasia.

The San Diego Comic-Con in the USA is another extremely popular fan convention which started in the 1970s. Comic-Con was the result of a meeting between acquaintances in 1969 who were interested in comics and cosplay and the fandom culture. According to an article by the Chafin for the Rolling Stone (2017), the creation of the event was inspired because they “were all outsiders who worked together to make a place where outsiders could feel at home”. So, evidently, the purpose of Comic-Con was so there could be a safe place for fans to express their interests without being isolated. In fact, similar to the Armageddon Expo, Comic-Con also provides fans with numerous opportunities to meet their heroes, get their autographs, buy merchandise, and of course, to cosplay without harsh judgment. Over time, as this event managed to grow and develop into one of the biggest fan conventions in the world, and over time, also achieved their goal of mainstreaming and normalising such behaviour and events.

While the San Diego Comic-Con and the Armageddon Expo are both major fan conventions and are similar in many ways, there are also quite a few differences between the two events. One of the major differences would relate to the commercialisations Comic-Con utilises to their benefit, while the Armageddon Expo does not do so explicitly. While earning money from events like this is not unusual in the USA (Coachella does this very similarly), it has been raised as an issue for a lot of people. For example, the prices of the tickets to enter the convention centre have increased and “comics publisher Mile High announced they would no longer attend… due to the rise in the cost of a booth… from $40 in 1973… to $18,000.” However, regardless of this commercialisation, Comic-Con fans have a lot of loyal fans willing to go no matter what. Comic-Con provides rare opportunities for fans to get “sneak previews of highly anticipated new movies and encounter the likes of Gal Gadot, Chadwich Boseman and Tom Holland in the flesh.” (Sommerlad, 2018, for the Independent (UK)). Movie companies and TV channels and streaming services etc. also hold back their special announcements for plans, solely so they can announce it at Comic-Con – such as how HBO would previously promote Game of Thrones. That experience and prestige created by Comic-Con outweighs the monetary aspects of the industry and thus, continues to succeed and attract more attendees.

Chafin, C. (2017, July 19). San Diego Comic-Con: The Untold History. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/san-diego-comic-con-the-untold-history-194401/

Mountfort, P., Peirson-Smith, A., & Geczy, A. (2018). Planet Cosplay: Costume Play, Identity and Global Fandom. Chicago University Press.

Sommerlad, J. (2018, July 18). Comic-Con 2018: How the San Diego pop culture festival became a commercial juggernaut. Independent (UK). Retrieved from  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/comic-con-2018-san-diego-popularity-cosplay-cult-superhero-movies-marvel-history-a8452236.html

Week 9 – Cosplay

3. What are some of the major fan convention, when did they begin and how to they differ from each other?

In America, the biggest fan play convention is Comic-con, established in San Diego in 1970 by Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, Mike Towry, Barry Alfonso, Bob Sourk, and Greg Bear. Staring out as a comic book vending place focused more on fantasy/sci-fi television shows and content, it has since evolved into a large-scale fan convention containing cosplayers, merchandise, panels of actors, directors, etc. from all genres and areas of popular culture and brings in over 130,000 people, growing each year[1].

In Japan, there are several popular culture, anime and manga events that garner a lot of fan attention. These include Comiket, Anime Japan, and Jump Festa. Comiket started back in 1975 and had only 600 attendees in its first year. Now it brings roughly 500,000 attendees every year. Much like Armageddon, Comiket has plenty of popular culture pieces available and ten of thousands of comics for sale. There is also a cosplay culture within Comiket, as is there with Comic-con and Armageddon. 

Anime Japan started in 2014 and focuses more on showcasing new animation products and special effect-based products or services associated with this field[2]. Anime Japan brings in roughly the same numbers as Comic-con with reports of 130,000 attendees in 2016.

Jump Festa started up in 1999 under the name Jump Festa 2000 and its popularity grew to similar numbers as Anime Japan and Comic-con. Jump Festa, sponsored by Shueisha – the creators of the Jump anthologies – is used to showcase new animes, mangas from the Jump properties, and presents new games, game trailers, gameplay footage or game demos from Bandai Namco, Capcom and Square Enix[3].

Armageddon Expo is Australasia’s biggest popular culture event, first held in Auckland in 1995, Wellington in 2001 and Christchurch and Melbourne in 2007. In recent years, it has evolved from its roots of showcasing comics and trading cards to computer and video gaming, animation, film and television, cosplay, comics, live wrestling, and retailers selling pop-culture merchandise. The convention hosts celebrity guests from the worlds of movies, TV shows, animation, cosplay, YouTube, comics and gaming.[4] On average, Armageddon Expos across NZ and Melbourne garnered a combined yearly attendance average of over 120,000 attendees which sets it on the same shelf as Comic-con, Anime Japan and Jump Festa in terms of its attendance rates.

Whilst these conventions all attract roughly the same number of fans, they differ in their environmental atmosphere and their ways of running entertainment for the attendees. I can only speak about the atmosphere of the Auckland Armageddon Expos for that has been the only popular culture convention I have attended, but from what I have seen in pictures and videos, each convention has its own style and uniqueness that carries through into the expression of cosplay and freedom of cosplayers in these conventions. Armageddon, debatably, has the most freedom when it comes to cosplay as there are no restrictions to where one can and can’t go in cosplay (that don’t apply to everyone) and, if anything, it is encouraged to walk the floor in cosplay.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Diego_Comic-Con#Accidents_and_incidents

[2] https://www.tokyocreative.com/articles/18682-3-large-anime-conventions-in-japan

[3] https://www.tokyocreative.com/articles/18682-3-large-anime-conventions-in-japan

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armageddon_(convention)