Cosplay is the performance art of costume play – wearing costumes and accessories to capture the image of particular characters from books, movies, comics and TV shows.
Gaining momentum since the 1990s, cosplay is now a huge part of popular culture. Comic expos, costume expos and competitions have pushed the hobby into the public eye.
“I actually got into it before I knew this was a thing. I made a pink power ranger costume that I wore for I think three years in a row. As for bigger stuff, I started doing special effects makeup. I did a lot of zombies and wounds and things like that,” said Brittany Hurst, creator and owner of Banshee Cosplay.
Hurst said she looked into new ideas for zombie costumes and saw people creating elaborate character costumes and thought that she could do that, too. She said she enjoys the challenge of creating a costume and working towards the end result.
Cosplay has evolved from a select few fans dressing up in costumes to tens of thousands of people gathering to express their ‘fandom’ through costumes, accessories and mastering the mannerisms and attitudes of the characters they are representing.
“I think I started realizing that this was a big thing when Heroes of Cosplay started on TV. It’s got different artists making the costumes, competing and winning titles and money. As soon as that hit TV, I knew this was getting really big.”
Careers can now be made out of cosplay, thanks mostly in part to Internet videos.
YouTube tutorials and displays of costuming have also blown up with cosplay superstars such as Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri, and Jessica Merizan.
Conventions such as ComicCons and Comic Expos are the primary spots to meet other cosplayers and share your creations off the Internet. Canada used to host precious few expos but with the spike in popularity over the last eight to 10 years, expos and conventions are popping up more and more frequently in major cities.
Hurst attended the 2012 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo (commonly known as Calgary ComicCon) with a group of friends, all dressed up in zombie digs. This was her first experience where she actually had people come forward to take her photo, because of the costumes that she and her friends had made.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it because it’s something I really enjoy. Even if two people know who I am and they know what I do, that’d be cool,” said Hurst.
“I think one of the biggest things that people have to understand about the community is that if you do try to get into it, you have to do it and have to have fun with it. The moment that it stops being fun is when you should consider what you’re in it for.”
Hurst is not the only cosplayer in Red Deer. A friend of hers, Felicia McComb, has also started her own cosplay business, Stealthy Cosplay. Together, the two take on orders and help others by creating accessories or pieces for costuming.
For McComb, cosplay plays a large role in her sense of community. She has many friends who gather together, support each other and are constantly comparing and sharing ideas.
“I always made my Halloween costumes growing up, and was involved in theatre since I was nine. It’s always been kind of a big part of my life to dress up and get into character,” said McComb.
“My friend took me to the Calgary Comic Expo one year and I saw all the other cosplayers and I just knew I had to go bigger and keep doing this.”
McComb’s first major creation was the costume for the character of Lady Sif from the Thor comics.
She put nearly two months of effort into making the costume, and after posting photos online she was able to meet other people whose interests aligned with hers.
“I was walking around a convention floor and it was the first time somebody stopped me and asked for a photo. It was unreal – it was way more than I’d ever expected,” said McComb.
This summer, she was given the opportunity by the Dawe Library to host a workshop where she taught kids about cosplay and how to make their own costumes.
Cosplay is most definitely in pop culture, and is a hobby that will likely be around for quite awhile. A generation is growing up and expressing their love for comics, books, TV shows, movies and games in a fun, artistic manner, she said.
McComb has advice to anyone who wants to express him or herself in this manner, which is essentially to just have fun with it.
“People don’t have to be super talented, and don’t have to spend a lot of money. They just have to put on a costume – buy it, make it, throw it together – but just put it on and go out there and have fun,” she said.
“I find that a lot of cosplayers think you have to dress for your body type and you can only play certain characters based on how you look. And in my opinion, people should just go out there and have fun and dress up as whoever they want to.”