I used to look down on cosplay before I met my friend Kim. Cosplay was this otherworldly pursuit that I couldn’t identify with. Something about my meatspace creativity being woefully lacking. I’d watch in awe, or snort in derision. Mostly, I’d marvel at their confidence. It’s one thing to act. It’s another thing to assume a character for the span of a convention.
I’ve attended my fair share of conventions over the years, both as a regular attendee and as media. A lot of the time is spent blending in with crowds or asking them to get out of the way because I am once again late for an appointment. I’m rarely stopped by anyone other than friends. Sometimes, someone will recognize me from Twitter, but it’s rare.
Attending a convention as a cosplayer, on the other hand, was a completely different experience.
On an average day at a convention, getting ready takes me about thirty minutes, including makeup. Even if I’m attending as media, my professional clothes are fairly laid back. Getting into Lulu’s costume, including makeup, took me about two hours. Between having to wear contacts for the first time and putting a Very Heavy Wig on, it was an Ordeal.
My friend and I are savvy metropolitan people. We prefer transit whenever we travel into the city. However, navigating a busy train on a soggy Saturday morning in Vancouver while in costume proved to be a little tricky. It’s not smart to get lace wet, I’m told. It’s especially not smart when that lace is hand-painted with one-of-a-kind designs. When we arrived at the convention, it was unbearably busy. Many people were in full cosplay regalia, lingering against the edges and walls while people took photos. I figured that we’d weave in and out of them. No one would pay us much attention.
It was… surreal. The act of cosplay is surreal.
It’s a temporary external locus of identity that’s turned up to 11. My Lulu cosplay, though my friend had made it for me, was public consumption. I now understand why cosplay invites conflicted feelings. As I bent forward for yet another photo in signature Lulu fashion, with my purple lips parted and a haughty look in my violet-tinted eyes, I came to the conclusion that cosplay is more than costuming: it’s performance art.
The act of cosplay is about selling the costume as a fully realized character. When you pose, and you pose quite a bit as it turns out, you pose as the character. Sure, we walked around, admired artwork, bought gifts for our families, all in our regular guises. But when the camera was focused on us, on Lulu and Aerith, we slipped into those characters and assumed their mannerisms for a shutter-click or three. My friend was used to it. For me, I experienced a bizarre kind of emotional whiplash that I hadn’t felt since my days as an actor.
Cosplay is an art, there’s no doubt of that in my mind. It’s theatricality, performance, makeup, costuming, and subtlety. To be recognized as someone’s favourite character, even for a few hours, was the greatest joy of all. We posed with a little girl who loved Final Fantasy. Aerith spread her skirts on the floor and smiled sweetly. Lulu looked a little annoyed, but cheekily so. After we took the photo, we both grinned at her. She waved sheepishly, shy as she was, as we walked away a little lighter.