“wearing it is easy” — undead giraffe, cosplayerBack
“You’ve not seen anything as funny as cosplayers running from the rain,” says Alex Barwell, aka Undead Giraffe. “Your costume is going to be soaked, your makeup is going to run – it’s your worst nightmare as a cosplayer!”
If the rain doesn’t get you, the heat will.
“I was dressed as White Walker from Game of Thrones at London Film & Comic Con last July, on what must have been the hottest day of the year. I was stood there dressed as a polar bear with white body paint all over me and I was like, ‘I’m dying! But I can’t take it off!’”
Isobelle Rothery-Smith, in full costume as Cruella De Vil, adjusts her layers of fake furs and nods in agreement.
“I think London was the most stressful because we had to travel on the tube and it was heaving,” she says. “We had furs and tons of make-up and by the end of the day we were just sweating.”
To cool off the London Con has The Fox, where the cosplayers head for drinks as soon as the day is over, resulting in sights like a dinosaur pursuit along the banks of the Thames, and worse for wear cosplayers on a quest to locate their hotel rooms. By that time the finer points of costume are temporarily forgotten.
“It entirely depends how seriously you want to take it,” says Dominic Murphy. “There are cosplayers that go to every convention, enter all the masquerade contests, and take it very seriously. People like me, we do it for fun: it’s a hobby, we enjoy the craic and meeting people and being with friends, just generally messing around.”
“It’s a nice way to meet people who enjoy the same things as you,” says Heather Feeney. “Me and Dom enjoy some of the same things, but I’m a real big fan of Harley Quinn and DC Comics stuff, and Dom is more into Marvel. So it’s nice to go to a convention and see other Harley Quinn cosplayers and go off with them.”
Finding like minds is one of the big draws for cosplayers. Alex has been volunteering at Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds for the last few years, where the cosplay is organised in association with a fund-raising charity called Heroes Alliance, but his first visit there in costume was a nerve-wracking experience.
“If you’ve just started cosplaying, it’s the most terrifying moment ever – walking down to the con.
“It was just me and my best friend Conor walking all the way down from Tesco to the Royal Armouries, and I was dressed as Kurosaki Ichigo and he was this clown… and it was just us. We were like, oh my god, are we the only ones dressed up? Oh no!
“Then this old woman came up to me and was like, ‘I love your cloak!’ Great, a little bit more confidence, we can do this… then we got round the corner, and there were hundreds of us, all in costume. I was like, ‘My people!’ And we went running happily into it.”
Alex and Izzy say that the atmosphere among the cosplayers at Thought Bubble is among the best to be found at any convention.
“I just feel more comfortable there,” says Izzy. “I’ve always been a shy person and cosplaying helps with my confidence. It’s what I love – I love art, I love comics, I love films.
“I do a lot of illustration work and that’s the good thing about Thought Bubble – it’s all about the art and I think that’s why I like it, there are lots of other artists around.”
Cosplay can also bring opportunities for closer interactions with the comics and games that you love.
“You do it as a con thing – if you’re going to a con you dress up as a character and that’s traditional,” says Alex. “But then I realised that if you wanted you could make it into a career path. Some famous cosplayers, like Jessica Nigri or Yaya Han, they get paid to go all around the world to represent companies or themselves, or to judge competitions.
“When I did my Lysandre costume I emailed Nintendo and sent them a few photos, and they asked me to do a professional cosplay photo shoot with loads of Team Flare Girls at Nintendo HQ. It’s publicity for them, and I get loads of free merch and have fun.”
The attention a good costume can generate is a reward for the hours of hard work – and makes up for the hidden pins left in the carpet that await your bare foot when you’re done. Good cosplay is as hard to do as any other creative work, and like any other creative work, it has to be enjoyed.
“I put my creativity into my appearance and my artwork,” says Izzy. “I’m a creative person and I’m about going crazy with it. I can be a bit of a perfectionist, but at the end of the day I just want to enjoy myself, not get too stressed and not have fun.”
“The stressful part of cosplay is bloody making the thing,” says Alex. “Wearing it is easy!
“The words ‘simple costume’ just don’t exist. You look at a character and think, I want to do that character, but when I think through how difficult it’ll be I think no, I really shouldn’t do that… but I love it. And then I know I’m going to do it anyway.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 17