“Cosplay is more than just fun to me. It’s my life…. The most sincere way to be a fan. To be a geek. To be yourself.” – Yaya Han
It has almost been 50 years since the first Costume Players (Cosplayers); graced the convention stage in full masquerade and spectacle. According to Dr. John L. Flynn (a three-time Hugo-nominated author, psychologist, and college dean); the first ever costume fandom occurred at the inaugural World Science Fiction Convention in New York in 1939. It was there that 22-year-old Forrest J Ackerman and his friend Myrtle R. Jones appeared in the first Science Fiction costumes among the 185 attendees.
Their presence and accuracy of costumes inspired by the 1933 film “Things to Come” drew such positive attention, that the following year, over a dozen persons joined in the celebration in sci fi masquerade. In spite of its half a century longevity however, there are still numerous persons who see this phenomenon and are still unsure about what it truly is. Hopefully by the end of this article, this writer can give you a transparent understanding of this particular pop culture experience.
To start at the beginning, Cosplay is mostly associated with Japanese comics, animation and video games, however it is by no means limited to these genres. The practice of dressing up in character(s) range from Sci Fi movies/series, Manga, (Japanese Comics); Anime, (Japanese animation); Television Shows, Cartoons or any other character(s) from the pop culture stratosphere. As it relates to Barbados, Cosplay as it is known today in its more popular form is in its new born stages. From my own experience here in area code 246, the idea of being a professional cosplayer was literally “just beyond my imagination”. I am a well known geek, I have my own fairy wings, and I wear my Attack On Titan and Batman necklaces in board room meetings. However any fan can do that, but putting on costume and masquerading as a character that you have fallen in love with or even their philosophies can be truly empowering.
Furthermore it can even be a form of escapism for some. There is now a micro community here in Barbados who have been looking into Cosplay as a profession (or at the least a very serious hobby); and I do believe that the Golden Mushroom Cup should be given to Animekon Expo for being a major catalyst in that regard. For the past six years, this company has given an outlet to new and upcoming cosplayers by introducing them to international prop makers, performance artists, and comic book writers. This has caused grand excitement in this little community, and can be seen through the improved level of construction of costumes each year at the Animekon Cosplay Tournament. In spite of this however, there are some setbacks here in Barbados that make cosplaying quite challenging.
It is not a surprise that due to the recession things are well – a little brown. From the exorbitant cost of raw materials, freighting and customs it would make a Bajan cosplayer weep and curl themselves tightly in fetal position (yup been there); or even the lack of stock on island is another painful pressure point. Simple things like EVA foam – a thermal plastic, to make body armor for example do not exist on the island but it’s where to find them and the volume of stock available.
Similarly, there are some stores who do have a small collection of fabrics that you could try to obtain, but when you are creating something let’s say in the Crop Over Season where band houses are preparing their costumes for Kadoomment day – and you only have two stores in Swan Street selling fabric to the entire island – well, you get where I’m going with this. Another challenge comes from the business side of cosplay. Most international forums and specialists state that it’s extremely difficult to be a full time professional cosplayer. In reality, one is not a ‘true’ professional until they make a majority of their income from cosplaying or by extension employed full time within a field related to cosplaying: acting, modeling, costuming, etc.
To be frank, the market here in Barbados is almost nonexistent so your imagination and creativity needs to compensate that. For example, doing costume or prop commissions not only for conventions/festivals but even outside your social geek network. The thing is, all those skills you learn crafting are strong assets for you to master and gain a small following and most importantly a brand. In doing so you have multiple sources of income at your finger tips without having to sacrifice what you love.
There is nothing better than doing what you love and getting paid for it but one must remember to be professional. Just like any other business venture, to become a professional cosplayer one must also embrace the first word of that title – “professional”.
The biggest thing one can do is network, network, network. Start with people who are cosplaying on a regular basis, get to know their work, collaborate with them. For instance, you maybe better at stitching and them at prop making. In doing collaborative works, this causes you to intermingle with their fan base and your outreach becomes bigger. Always give credit where credit is due. That can be a downfall that most, always never recover from. In addition, always look for new trends in crafting and promoting your work. The trick is, is to find your signature with what you do. For example, Kamui Cosplay from Germany is a phenomenal props mistress and she has created volumes and tutorials which cover almost every area related to prop making on her website for purchase. Now if you just want to attack it from the model perspective, partner with photographers who have an eye for costume photography. If there is a big enough niche market for it, you can sell your prints, or even make calendars.
Lastly, there is also makeup artistry and special effects makeup to master! From the simple foundation and concealer to the more complex latex skin and air brushing. If you do some research you can see that the sky is not the limit when merging cosplay business and pleasure.
In spite of those setbacks Barbados has very high potential for the cosplay community. There is an eagerness amongst nerds, such as myself to have fun performing in costume for yourself as well as friends. It has also brought a greater appreciation to spectacle and live performances and also by extension exposure for those who are approaching the professional market. The best advice I can give anyone at this point in my very young cosplay career is to do it first because you love it. Enjoy being creative, and watching work birth into the magic of performance!