A Cosplayer's Manifesto

With less than three months remaining until Gen Con 2012 preparations are now in full swing. Flights have been booked, hotel rooms reserved, and the oft-stressful process of event registration has been concluded. Whew! This leaves just the costume to finish. My endeavor to become a Jedi for a day got a significant boost in the form of this early birthday present:
Forget diamonds; lightsabers are a girl's best friend
 The costume currently stands at about 40% completion, though the pieces that remain, particularly the headdress, will definitely pose a challenge. But, for me at least, that challenge is a large part of what makes cosplaying so much fun.

Contrary to popular belief, not every cosplayer you see walking the convention halls is "just in it for the attention." Are there con-goers who bought their costumes off-the-rack and the extent of their efforts was to retrieve their credit card from their wallet? Sure. Are there plenty of attendees who choose outfits that are, shall we say, quite generous in the quantity of flesh left exposed in order to attract as many gazes as possible? Of course. Will you occasionally ask a topical question of a cosplayer only to find that he/she has no clue what you're referring to because they have only a rough idea concerning the character they're supposed to be cosplaying as? Definitely. Are those cosplayers all cosplayers? Absolutely not. Of course there's no statistical data available on cosplayer demographics, but I'd argue that the aforementioned individuals make up only a small percentage of those who choose to attend a convention in costume. (curse you lack of mathematical proof!) Still, the pattern of derisive judgment or inherent skepticism remains. Why?

Part of this is simple human nature: we, as a species, like to judge or bifurcate a given situation into stark categories. The motivations for this can be manifold and deep-seated and, ostensibly, vary correspondingly with the individual passing judgment. Part of this is also our reaction, as cosplayers, to this behavior. For us, it's not a ploy to garner attention from our fellow con-goers. It's an avocation, a fabulous hobby, a way to get the old creative juices flowin'. Since it's something near and dear to us, we tend to perceive inquiry from outsiders along these lines:

R-squared = 0.973
The vast majority of humanity likely reacts similarly when the subject of their adoration is called into question. It's what we do. Still, it's not as though this prevents us from making and donning costumes. If anything, knowing that this skepticism exists can help us define or refine exactly why we do this at all.

As mentioned above, part of the appeal is the actual process of making the physical costume pieces. Inherent to this process is a certain amount of designing, brainstorming, and plotting (and sinister finger-steepling on occasion). Of course, each nerd attempts to realize his or her cosplay in different ways, but, for me, the preparation work almost always soaks up the lion's share of the time I put into a given costume. The inspiration to become a given character for a day often strikes without warning (probably akin to a creative burst in any other medium) but I have a few base guidelines that I make every effort to adhere to in my cosplaying:

1) I only cosplay as characters from properties that I am personally familiar with
If I haven't read the books, seen the movie/series, or played the game then I will not mimic a character from said property. Active creative processes aside, an enormous portion of what makes cosplaying fun is getting to pretend to be a character that I've developed an attachment to. If you're going to spend considerable time and resources bringing a specific figure to life it certainly helps if you like the character.

2) I myself try make as much of the costume as possible.
Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, almost everyone now has access to a number of venues from which you can procure readymade costumes. Wholesalers and generic retailers exist alongside specialist sites that offer custom work and individual artisans. Many are genuinely awesome and several can be excellent resources of both products and costuming knowledge (as experienced when I procured my lekku from the lovely Pam). I don't hold anything against con-goers who buy their garments off the rack, as the talented individuals who produce said wares assuredly deserve the business, but that's not a route that I personally take in my cosplaying if at all possible. As mentioned in Point 1, I make every effort to make my cosplaying an extension of my existing affection for a series/character. Building the costume to become a character is part homage and part fangirl so actually creating pieces with my own two hands seems like a natural transmutation of that enthusiasm.

3) I take pains to make each costume as accurate as possible.
I'm well aware of the audience to whom I'm presenting a costume and I, too, am an obsessive fangirl. We nerds don't garner our reputation for nitpicking and microanalyzing for nothing. While some characters allow for a measure of creative license (i.e. a heroine from a book that has yet to be adapted for the screen) many more are derived from media that provide a pretty exact image to be copied. Furthermore, as a fellow nerd, I appreciate the expectations and emotional response that my con-going brethren may have concerning a given character. One of the most rewarding parts of actually wearing the costume is witnessing someone's thrilled reaction upon seeing their favorite character come to life. I bear a deep respect for that. I owe it to the character, the character's creator(s), and everyone I may encounter at a convention to do justice to the costume. The common, and profoundly true, mantra amongst cosplayers regarding this is, "You do it right or you don't do it at all."

4) I remain as gregarious and accommodating as possible while in costume.
The attention that accompanies the wearing of a costume can be a double-edged sword. After several hours of picture-taking and being on your feet, it's only natural to get tired. The stereotype of nerds as socially awkward and/or demanding, ravenous fans does occasionally hold true (more on this subject can be found here). Neither of these is a valid excuse to break character or be snippy. The Golden Rule is always applicable, even when your feet are killing you or your think your masseters will be sprained if you smile just once more.

That last point touches on that controversial notion of attention. The key differential that this post hopes to establish between most cosplayers and actual attention whores is this: for most cosplayers, the attention garnered at a con is participatory recognition, not showboating. Is it nice to get attention for your costume? Of course. Much in the same way that you enjoy being recognized for completing a song/poem/novel/painting/sculpture or finishing a road race that you'd trained for. For most cosplayers, actually walking the floors of a convention is the culmination of months of work.

And I have at least two more months of construction ahead of me! Best wishes for a wonderful holiday weekend!

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