So, now you’ve read about my experience with cosplayers, and why I believe they do what they do. But what about the how? Do you know how much work goes into cosplay? Have you ever seen someone create an original character? And why do some people get paid to cosplay at shows? It’s time for Part 2 of my cosplay dive! Time to answer questions I left unanswered in Part 1!
Have you ever sewed anything before? I mean, ANYTHING…a hole in something you own, a patch onto a jacket, or even a full garment? I have minimal sewing experience, but even the simple garments I‘ve created have taken hours. Some simple things can be created in a short time with a pattern, good material, and a steady hand. However, many costumes in the cosplay world do not have a standard pattern. So, every time a person wants to make a costume, hours are spent on research, planning, and studying the character they wish to mimic, plus even more time spent picking fabrics and materials. Many costumes also involve the use of wigs, which can require dying, styling, cutting, and more. Do they have accessories like jewelry, weapons, armor, or other unique costume elements? What about the shoes? Do they have interesting tech? These are just some of the many elements that go into the design of a cosplay costume. So how long does it take to create?
The average cosplay takes about 20-40 hours on the low end, and many of the more elaborate costumes can take over 100 hours to complete. That is months of time, energy, money, and patience as cosplayers figure out how to make their vision of a 2D character work on a real, 3D body. Sure, there are some characters that people cosplay from movies, but even that can be time-consuming. One group, the Paladins of Cosplay, creates intense custom builds of great characters, like a Voltron suit that requires the wearer to walk on stilts and towers at about 8’ tall! They use a massive amount of creativity, resourcefulness, and knowledge to make lightweight suits for characters like Marvel’s Carnage, or the Kaiju from Pacific Rim. The fangirl in me loves to see these marvelous monsters represented in any fashion outside of the silver screen, and Paladins of Cosplay do such a fantastic job!
Aside from armored suits that light up, or complex battle armor that mimics real metal or leather, there are other costumes that are equally as elaborate but very different. I attended a panel by the wonderful Lyra Bird Cosplay and Hikaru cosplay about creating your own ball gown, and I was completely awestruck. The amount of knowledge required to make these dresses, the understanding of fabric and where to find it, the combination of different patterns, and the immeasurable amount of patience required to make these pieces was beyond my comprehension. Then, I considered other costumes that were custom, and I recalled the time over a decade ago when I wanted to be Chun Li from Street Fighter. I spend at least a dozen hours working on the costume and got basically nowhere. I knew right then and there that I was not cut out for cosplay.
My point here is that every costume has its challenges. There are some who actually own businesses designing and selling wigs for cosplay use, or designers who make props for the person who simply doesn’t have that skill or the time. Like any art form, cosplay requires a community of people who support each other in various ways. When I’m drawing and I can’t figure out how to make something look right, I can go to YouTube and look up a tutorial, post to artists for advice and critique, and even seek advice from people directly. If I draw a comic book page, but don’t have the skill to color it, I can hire someone else to do that step. Cosplayers do the same things just for a different type of craft. Before writing the parts of this article, I didn’t acknowledge or respect the fact that cosplay truly is an art. I am acknowledging it now.
That being said…
It is still very uncommon for cosplayers to get paid for what they do. After asking around, I learned that shows will often give a cosplayer who is popular free access to their venue and possibly even a free table to promote themselves and any product they may sell. However, cosplay in and of itself is little more than an attraction for fans at a show, and a form of self expression for those who are in the costume. That’s not to say money can’t be made as a cosplayer. Some celebrities like, Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri, have been very successful in making enough money to be considered professional models and cosplayers. Cosplayers who work with photographers can sign and sell prints of themselves, and some even have other items they sell to promote their personal brand.
Speaking of personal brand, there is a different form of this craft I’ve encountered that I found to be uncommon in the cosplay world. Many cosplayers are either copying a character exactly, modifying the character (like a gender bend or a parody), or doing something creative with what already exists to make it more their own (like designing your own Power Ranger or making up your own Captain America costume). What about an original character of your own design? I happened to meet a cosplayer who has done just that, and he is making one hell of a name for himself–Father Evil.
I met Father Evil for the first time at Garden State Comic Fest. An ominous presence who slowly wanders the show floor with a priest’s garbs, demonic eyes, and a swinging Rosary wrapped around his hand, he will bless his sinners to the sound of Gregorian chanting playing from somewhere on his person. The thing is, he was such a character that I found him charming rather than scary. He was amazing! I didn’t know what he was from, but whatever it was, I wanted to know about it. Which led to my discovery that Father Evil was actually the original creation of Lou Avilleira, a lovely husband and father, with an affinity for storytelling and a deep appreciation for the horror genre.
In a recent interview, Lou told me how his concept started as a Halloween costume and developed into a fully fledged original character with a backstory, a brand, and a devoted following. His first convention appearance was at Chiller Theatre, a local horror convention in New Jersey. After a hugely positive response, Lou decided to dive deep into this character. Officially, Father Evil has been making appearances at shows since 2012. In 2016, Father Evil became its own official brand, which lead to Lou having a vendor space at the shows he attends. He has even been hired to be at weddings, private events, and parties, because his image is so iconic. I asked him how he feels about cosplayers now that he’s been on both sides of the fence. He said, “I myself am not a cosplayer, because I am the persona–the brand– I play. Cosplayers are dressing up as something established. They can sell prints of their image, but they can’t dress up as Wonder Woman and put that character’s name on their prints.” Basically, it is harder for others to brand as cosplayers, because no one thing they do is completely unique. This is even more true for a male cosplayer. Most of the well known names in cosplay are women. At the end of the day, though, Lou acknowledges the amazing skill that many cosplayers have. His wish for them is that they turn some of their incredible talents and creativity into their own characters, and maybe one day there will be other people cosplaying them!
To sum it all up, I’ve come to believe that conventions are truly not the same now without cosplay. Despite that sometimes we want to complain that they are in our way, creating traffic jams, or throwing off our sales as vendors, they are also a real part of the convention aesthetic. Shows would be far less interesting without the creative interpretations and colorful garb of our favorite characters moving through the crowds with us. It can be a real spectacle when someone of great talent comes by, and I’ll admit, good cosplay is just more fun. Yes, there will always be people who buy a cheap costume and run around a show wanting attention. But, that does not disqualify the number of people out there who work their hardest and truly dedicate themselves to this art form. I still have questions about cosplay, but I truly feel that I have a better understanding now, and I believe that cosplayers deserve to be respected and appreciated so long as they are behaving that way themselves. After all, no one likes a diva!