[Ed’s note: Welcome to our very first Unplugged feature! Every day there will be something bordering on the periphery of video games, from cosplay to merchandise, anime, movies, Lego, board games, figurines and more. It also has its own slot, so we aren’t skipping news and reviews on video games, because we know that this is why most of you are here.]
In about a month’s time, South Africa will be experiencing its first ever Comic-Con. By now, or for all you know tomorrow, you or someone close to you has thought about dressing up for the occasion. I decided that since I’m new here, before anything else, I need to show you the basics of cosplay. This is for all you would-be cosplayers and general attendees because the more you know the better everyone’s experience will be!
Now, cosplay has been around for quite some time. Some would say a couple of decades, others centuries, but only in the last decade or so has it reached this new level of popularity. Nowadays, you can’t attend a convention without running into at least one cosplayer on your journey. Social media sites are brimming with photos, videos, and livestreams of cosplayers working on, or in their finished costume. But the question is: how do you get into to this hobby?
Though it might seem like you need some secret “in”, a special invite or password, it’s a lot simpler than most of you think. And I’m here to help! I’ve made a simple list of things you should do or consider when it comes to cosplay, so here we go:
The very first step, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do, is to get your idea for a cosplay. The reason this tends to be tough is that there are just too many characters you’d want to personify. Even well-known cosplayers still struggle with finding their next character, so don’t feel discouraged if you struggle.
The easiest thing to do, for me, is to go to a site that allows art posts; this can be Pinterest, Tumblr, ArtStation, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, even Google Images. Whatever it is, use it for inspiration. But know this: Credit the artist whose work you used to create your costume. Same goes for photographers and anyone else that was involved in creating the final product. Don’t be a butthead, give credit where credit is due.
Once you have an idea of what you want to make, whether it’s extremely elaborate or as simple as closet cosplay, you’re ready to take the next step.
Unfortunately, once you have the idea you can’t just jump in and start crafting. I mean, you can but it might not end well for you or your emotional/financial/some-other-ial well-being. This is where planning comes in.
Take all the images, videos, and whatever else you found that you want to use as reference images for your project, and start planning out the materials you will need; this usually runs along the lines of wigs, glue, foam, thermoplastic, fabric, equipment, etc. Even a person should be planned beforehand if you need a helper/handler for a convention.
Most of the time it’s easier to just look online for help on what to do, and how to get started with that character. Perhaps someone else already made this cosplay and posted a whole “How To” thing about it. Maybe all the patterns you need are in someone’s Etsy shop. Go look for guides, and tips, but most importantly do research on the processes you want to involve. Especially if you’re planning on doing a technique that is potentially dangerous (like using a heat gun).
#3 Get your materials
So now that you have that crazy good 360-degree reference picture of Illidan Stormrage, your guides, and videos, now what? Well, you can’t make anything until you get what you need for your cosplay. Go to your nearest fabric, hardware, craft, and hobby stores and go looking for the bits you’ll need.
If you’re using an overseas cosplayer’s guide, you’ll notice that there are some things we in SA can’t easily get, which is unfortunate and annoying. Luckily, the community has grown so much that we have found places that provide what’s generally needed or alternatives that work just as well.
For wigs, contact lenses, thermoplastic and foam, head over to Koncept Kitty, Coscraft and Glamour Hair. If your project needs a lot of foam, Sondor will have you covered. Plastidip can now be found on either Takealot, or on Awarehousefull (among other similar products). But if you have any other questions on how to do what, simply head over to the Cosplay SA, or Cosplay for Noobies group on Facebook where most of your questions have been answered if you just dare to read.
If you need a helpful hand, head over to Punished Props’ website, people have been hounding them for advice for so long they just decided to put it all online. Lucky us!
#4 Start making stuff
You can’t wear stuff if the stuff doesn’t exist, so you have to change that. Use the hard sought for materials that you’ve now gathered to make your idea come to life! It’s not going to be easy, or at least don’t expect it to be, but never fret! Practice truly does make perfect. Take Svetlana Quindt, a.k.a Kamui Cosplay, who has been doing this thing for about 15 years and is now unofficially regarded as the Queen of Cosplay. So it will take time to get the results you so long for, but whatever you do will look great!
Following people like Kamui on Instagram, and YouTube will help you slowly build up your skills. You’re never done learning, even in cosplay. Just keep at it!
#5 Wear the stuff
Great! You’ve worked hard to make your cosplay, and now you’re ready to show it off to the world. And that’s exactly what you should do. Wear it for cons, for photoshoots, picnics, anywhere. Just make sure that wherever you wear your cosplay to that you adhere to the venue’s rules. It’s a “don’t go wearing a demon character to a church” kind of thing, you know? Most places don’t allow real weapons, so don’t try and sneak in your very real, very sharp katana or something.
Again, if you do wear your cosplay, please give credit where credit is due. Even if your best friend was the one that took a photo of you while you were farting in the corner of a convention hall. If you post it, you give credit. Same goes for artists, people who made parts or your whole cosplay, etc etc. You get my point.
#6 Do it all over again
This one’s self-explanatory, really.
Once you’ve tasted the sweet nectar of cosplay, you’d be hard pressed to not find yourself looking at another character and thinking how you’d like to cosplay them. It’s a really fun and rewarding hobby, so I do recommend that everyone try it at least once.
Bonus Round: Cosplay Etiquette
NB: Cosplay is not consent.
While it’s unbelievably fun to be a cosplayer, there are some things people do at conventions and the like that makes it a lot less fun for us all. And it tends to be behaviour that would be inexcusable in any other non-cosplay related situation, which really confuses me as to why people do it. There has been a campaign running for years now that tries to carry across the message that cosplay is not consent, but that doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Like, at all.
The rule of thumb when it comes to cosplayers is to always ask for permission. No ifs, buts, or maybes about it. If you want to take a photo, put your hand on their back during the said photo, give them a hug, touch their props, or quite literally anything to do with their bodies, just ask. Sometimes your request will be declined, but that’s the cosplayer’s choice to do so.
If a stranger walked up to you in a public setting (sometimes it also happens in a public bathroom) and just grabs your phone or bag out of your hand you wouldn’t be very happy, now would you? What if some stranger walks past your normally-dressed significant other, and just grabs their ass? Or their breasts? Or their crotch? Both you and your SO wouldn’t be very happy, huh? So why is it that con-goers do this to cosplayers?
Basically what I’m getting at is that if you wouldn’t want your sister or brother to be treated like this, then don’t do it. We cosplayers live to share joy while walking around as our favourite characters, but cosplay is not consent.
A twofer: Anyone can cosplay, and buying cosplays still count
I didn’t think these two needed their own sections (
read: I was getting tired) so I combined them. They are straightforward and easy to remember: Anyone can cosplay anything, no matter your race/size/gender, if anyone says otherwise send them to me and I’ll set them straight, and buying a cosplay (commissioned or from an online store) is still cosplaying. You don’t have to make everything yourself for it to count as a cosplay. Heck, don’t make any part of it and it’ll still count. What counts is that you’re wearing it and that you’re having fun.
I bought my first costume off of AliExpress, and wore it to this year’s ICON, and it was such a wonderful experience. My character was a very petite, small Japanese girl, while I am so far removed from any of those things, you’d laugh. But that doesn’t matter! What mattered was the fun I was having, and that I felt comfortable. And ultimately, that’s all I want for you whenever you decide to join our community.
I really hope this list helped! I tried to simplify everything so that you wouldn’t feel overwhelmed but the work that goes into cosplay. If you have any questions, I’ll try my best to answer them, and assist in any way I can. Or maybe you have a tip for new cosplayers, as well? Drop them in the comments for all to see!
PS. I made a video a while back about all the things I learned from my last armour build if you’re interested.