Once upon a time, there was an Internet filled with Geocities fansites, EZboards, and if you had some cash in the bank, you’d probably create your own website that showcased your cosplay creations. While Facebook does make it easier to upload photos and to share cosplay progress and single shots from your latest photoshoot, there’s an obvious downside to Facebook business pages. Because of Facebook’s “no two personal accounts” or “no cosplay-as-your-last-name” policies, a few years ago, cosplayers have created “fan pages” to showcase their work. Some even do giveaways and collect fans by the number of likes. The downside to this, as many small businesses can commiserate is Facebook’s faulty algorithm system. The more likes a post gets, the more exposure it will get. The more money someone throws at their business page, ideally, you would get more exposure. There’s been a notion in the past couple of years along the lines of “support cosplayers – like their pages!” and “we all started somewhere with under a 100 likes…now it’s time to get more fans!”
As an old fart from the EZboard and Yahoo Cosplay Mailing List days, the general norm was “I cosplay because I’m a fan,” not “I cosplay for my fans.” Support was much more defined by helping one another and being kind to one another at conventions, in person, and online. While there are those who exercise kindness in the community, true support comes from action and attitude, not just being another number in the race for likes and fans. This op-ed aims to outline much more effective, proactive, and empathetic ways we can be there for one another as a community rather than islands in a stream of lost algorithms.
1. Attend cosplay contests. “But I can watch the video on YouTube!” has been the excuse for the past couple of years. While I do like watching cosplay contests and games on YouTube for the sake of recap, there’s something about seeing masquerades and contests live that’s special. Cosplay events are put on by your peers – they are judged by seasoned veterans and run by people who have experience running events. It’s almost like a stage production. Additionally, these are your peers who might be nervous about getting up on stage for the first time. Being a supportive audience member really helps boost up their confidence. It would be sad if no one attended the cosplay contests because there would be no audience to perform for.
2. Attend cosplay panels. I know some people go to cons just to be seen and to gallivant, but there’s so much more to conventions than being seen and shot. I appreciate that many of my peers from my generation of cosplay and convention going are submitted and participating in panel discussions on costuming creation. In more recent years, panels on social issues in cosplay have been brought to light. I find that these can be very interesting discussions between audience members and panelists alike. In one such panel that highlighted LBGT cosplayers, specific in the comic convention cosplay circuit, they didn’t know where all of the LBGT cosplayers were. This opened up conversation about the sports anime fandom and how LBGT otaku were really into shows like Free, Haikyuu, etc. Opening up conversations in person can be a much more meaningful experience in person than on Facebook groups.
4. Attend cosplay events. Different from attending contests, some conventions whether they be comic book, multi-fandom, or anime focused have events specifically for cosplayer participation. These include masquerade balls where you can rock a formal version of your favorite character, cosplay chess where you can do battle in human chess, cosplay dating game which is like an improvised version of the couples game, etc. Again, cosplayers love it when there’s an audience to perform for. This is also another way to get the most out of your convention badge dollars.
5. Look out for one another’s safety. We all know that “cosplay does not equal consent.” However, other than the con posting signage and visual aids to remind attendees, this might not stop predatory individuals from being predatory. A colleague once told me that conventions needed to focus more on bystander empowerment in their “cosplay is not consent” form. In other words, what can we do to intervene if someone is not feeling comfortable? Of course, this role might not be for everyone, but for the one person who might feel awkward in a situation they can’t get out of, getting them out of an awkward situation would mean the world to them. Even documenting and reporting the predator to the convention staff and security would also be helpful. I’m not asking for people to start creating safe spaces; conventions should be spaces that are safe to begin with.
6. Look out for one another’s sanity. This point comes from an experience at Katsucon where I had a panic attack and I needed a quiet space to recover. I had not one, but two photographers tell me to get out of their shot. Even when I told them I needed to catch my breath, they still ignored the fact I needed to recover. A similar incident happened to my partner at Otakon where he was feeling overwhelmed at a Jojo meetup and needed to put his head down and breathe. Yet, no one respected his space. We love going to these events and we know the crowds. However, at the very least, can we be more kind to one another? Can we give space to those who need a breather? Can we ask if someone is okay if they have their head down? Had my partner had one person at Otakon’s 25K attendee crowd ask him it he was okay or if he needed anything, it would have changed his convention experience completely. Look, I know we got places to go and things to do, but having that good Samaritan moment might change someone’s con experience from bad to good. I’d like to think as nerds, we understand what it’s like not fitting. The least we can do is to be kind to one another. A simple, “Are you okay?” can make a world of difference because you took time to acknowledge someone’s feelings and hurt.
Points 5 and 6 were inspired by a video a cosplay mentor shared with me a few years ago. Take a look here for more information on bystander empowerment and another one from Loyola Marymount University.
7. If you are a convention organizer, reach out to veteran cosplayers! A lot of Yahoo mailing list era (or even before that) have expressed interest in helping out at conventions, but have felt they don’t have a “fan following” like a Jessica Nigri or Yaya Han because they’re not as active on social media or have lives outside of cosplay. However, that doesn’t devalue what insight they can bring to a con. My colleague, Chris, is still interested in helping out cons in terms of programing when he’s not developing his video game and my other colleague, Jez, is always up for running the best damn cosplay contest you’ll ever have when he’s not designing costumes for A-list clientele like Cirque De Soleil. They might not be as known or curvaceous as what’s considered a popular cosplayer, however, if you ask and reach out to people who have had years of experience and insight to this hobby, you’ll be surprised how many people want to help out. I really feel that there needs to be a bridge between older generation cosplayers and newer generation cosplayers. A need for mentorship and development for the convention organizing scene is there.
Also from the other side, it is also important for convention organizers, particularly who have not run cons for 5+ years, to not dismiss any requests from veterans who are willing to help. I really feel that there is gap between cosplayers who have had background in cosplaying in the anime scene for 10+ years versus newbies who are mainly immersed in the comic con scene. Part of creating and striving for community is to build bridges and keep open minds and hearts.
8. Keep conversations going, even if it’s a simple compliment. I’m a cosplayer that’s much more active on Instagram than I am with having a fan page. While, I do like seeing people “liking” my photos of the day, what I appreciate is when someone takes the time to compliment a detail or say something about my workmanship. In turn, I like giving cosplayers well thought out compliments particularly when it comes to crafting. I get not everyone has a wide range knowledge of sewing and fabrication, but the simplest of compliments can brighten up a person’s day or keep a cosplayer from not giving up. I was about to give a few times on my Love Live (White Day version) cosplay because I only got unwelcomed criticism, but when my friends and followers complimented my progress photos before Anime Expo, it did give me a ton of motivation to finish the costume. Our actions and words can have profound effect on people. It is up to us to use them wisely.
9. Signal boost stuff. This usually goes without saying. I’m not just talking about sharing cosplayer pages and patreons, I’m also talking about sharing useful information, tutorials, for sale (ie: used wigs, costumes, etc), photographer services, etc posts from people you love to support. For example, it took me a while to find someone reliable who makes quality Sailor Moon accessories. So when I found Katzia, I endlessly signal boosted their information on my Facebook feed and with groups that I’m a part of because I loved their tiara’s and brooches. Small businesses often don’t have much money extra to throw at Facebook advertisements – signal boosting from friends and fans surely helps a lot. I’ve done this many a time with wig companies that specialize in cosplay and j-fashion when someone asks for wigs. While I don’t update my cosplay “fan page” that often, I use it more as a platform to signal boost tutorials for people who want to learn how to sew or seeking to level up their skills. If you love something – share it to the world!
10. Give where credit is due – talk about the ones that inspired you. There’s this notion of “cosplay senpai” that’s been floating around the convention circuit. Sometimes it’s used wisely wherein veteran cosplayers can have a chance to have a Q&A to discuss craftsmanship and issues in the cosplay community. Other times, it’s an extension of artist alley wherein any cosplayer can buy a table to sell this and that. I’ve had many a cosplay mentor since I first started this hobby in 2000. Most of them don’t have cosplay pages because it’s been that long – most of them came from the EZboard days. However, many of them are willing to answer questions to newbies in the scene in getting started or even figuring out your first masquerade act. Don’t just share their page – talk about the why’s and give examples as to why you find them inspiring.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with liking and following cosplayer accounts on social media. However, it can be a one sided and distant. I’ve always believed that we can strengthen our community rather than being islands in a stream. So the next time you check into the con, be sure to attend cosplayer run events and panels. It’s so much better when the community is together face to face. Let us connect beyond the follows of social media, yet instead form human connection through a common hobby.
- Eri Kagami, Editor in Chief
scarlet.rhapsody @ ymail.com