My first cosplay attempt was at San Diego Comic Con in 2000, but we won’t talk about that. It was bad, so very bad, and lucky for me, no photos exist. (Let’s just say it involved a whole can of red hair spray, because I wasn’t yet versed in the power of a good wig.)
But what is cosplay? “Cosplay” is a Japanese term derived from the phrase “costume play.” Cosplayers make, buy, or commision costumes of their favorite characters from comics, anime, books, video games, etc., and wear them to conventions with other fans. At conventions, you can take photos, meet other fans, attend panels and performances, meet creators and performers, and buy stuff.
While I’d been going to comic conventions with my dad since I was seven years old, I didn’t actually start cosplaying seriously until 2002. By then, I already missed being in art school, and cosplay was both a creative outlet and social activity. I had a blast at those early-00s conventions. But after a few years of being a “cosplayer,” I stopped. It’s an expensive and time-consuming hobby, and as with any large group, the cosplay community was not without its fair share of drama. After nearly twenty years, I was over it. Something that was supposed to be fun had become stressful. I stopped going to cons entirely.
But then, years later, my friends in New York City started getting into cosplay and fan conventions. Eventually, I got sucked back in, and this time, it was different. While I’d been gone, the vibe at these events had changed. The concept of cosplay had expanded, no longer feeling as rigid or judgmental as it had when I’d started. Cosplay was for everybody, open to individual interpretation. The focus was simply on having fun. Through the experience of being part of the cosplay community, leaving it, then returning, I learned a few things that I apply to my writing.
1. Get by with a little help from your friends.
Creative endeavors need not be solitary. For my 30th birthday party, I wanted to have a superhero-themed photobooth. To prepare, I invited over a group of friends, supplied pizza and beer, and we spent the night making props and costume pieces. The level of creativity in that room was through the roof, and the crafting experience embodied what I had loved about cosplay: sitting around with friends, hot gluing, painting, and finding creative solutions to crafting problems. That birthday party was probably the best I’ve ever thrown, thanks to their help.
2. Wait until the last minute.
Okay, I’m not advocating that you stress yourself out and do a sloppy job on a high-stakes project. But you’d be surprised by what you can accomplish during a time crunch, and the level of extreme focus that appears as the clock ticks down. For example, my She-Ra Halloween costume was constructed entirely from craft foam, hot glue, and acrylic paint applied to existing clothing pieces, and I did all the painting in two sittings. Why? Because I hate sewing, and I was pressed for time. This last minute idea was good enough to wear to a Halloween party, and I was thrilled to finally cosplay one of my favorite characters from childhood.
3. Pics or it didn’t happen.
I’m the “photographer” in my group of friends. Partly because I studied photography in school and have a good eye (and long arms for group selfies), and partly because I make a point to document events. In my early cosplay days, my cousin and I were using SLR cameras, and we raced to Costco after the conventions were over to develop our photos. I still have full albums from that time. And recently, a friend told me she appreciates the photo documentation, because it reminds us what we’ve done and that we had a good time.
4. Done is better than perfect.
This month, I attended Flame Con in New York City. I wanted to dress as America Chavez, a Latinx Marvel Comics superhero. As usual, I waited until the last minute to make a costume. At the very least, I figured, I could paint a denim jacket to match the character’s. The costume wouldn’t be “perfect,” but it would be enough. And that’s the biggest shift in perspective I’ve experienced since I started cosplaying sixteen years ago. Back then, I wanted to be perfect. My cousin and I remade our Final Fantasy X costumes multiple times in the pursuit of perfection. Now? My goal is to just get it done and have fun. And that’s more than enough.
5. Fun is enough.
I started cosplaying because I liked making things and I liked dressing up as some of my favorite characters. And I’ve returned to it for the same reasons. I’m not trying to win awards (although I have) or turn it into a business (although I did for a hot second). I’m impressed by the people who do those things, but I needed to remove that pressure so I could just have fun with it. I had to learn not to take it so seriously. And in doing so, I reconnected to the joy of it.
Next up: I’m aiming to finish America Chavez in time for New York Comic Con in October. Keep an eye on my Instagram! 😉