By Nicole Keating
For Chicago geeks, the countdown to C2E2 (Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo) has already begun, and for many of us, that means it’s cosplay time!! As I brainstormed pieces for the convention, I found myself thinking about the creative process behind cosplay and what makes a successful cosplay. It all begins with choosing the perfect character and concept for you.
Some people will say that any character is the right character as long as you just mimic the costume down to the most minute design detail. (Your dress has gold filigree detailing? But in the show it’s so obviously silver!!) A strict viewpoint is not a bad one. If you want to compete in cosplay competitions, accuracy factors into scoring, so being rigorous and detail-oriented is paramount.
However, this strictness sometimes seeps from the judges’ panel to the convention floor, and attendees judge cosplayers uninvited. Yes, even among the stereotypically bullied, there are those who pick on others. Like really rude unicorns, they’re rare, but they do exist, ranging from the snide comment to your friend about the less-than-perfectly-sculpted-abs on that Superman to the inevitable disparaging remark on almost any comment feed about crossplay to the trollish ones who yell insults across the convention floor. Uninvited judgment takes the play out of cosplay.
Comic via Alexandra Dal
When there is a spirit of play, cosplayers delight in the art and joy in the craft. This is your chance to be whatever you want!
So, that begs the obvious question. What do you want to be? If you answered immediately, good for you! Please move to Step Two. If you don’t have a ready answer, that’s an overwhelming question! Never fear! A good, ol’-fashioned, no-holds-barred, dream-as-big-as-you-can brainstorm always helps.
Start with the broadest of questions. What do I love? What books? Movies? Shows? Comics? Games? What do I love about them? Which of their characters do I love? Why do I love them? This generates a very long list of possibilities. Many of these are possibilities that would generate a good cosplay, but not a great one. Truly eye-catching cosplay relies on confidence: How would I feel as that character? How do I want to feel? When the answer to those two questions is the same, add them to the short list.
The fat has been trimmed, now all potential characters match you. Once you know yourself, you have to know your limits. The three major limitations are budget, skills, and time. Budget is self-explanatory. How much money can you spend on this project? Time is not only how much time between now and the costume’s unveiling, but also how much time you can spend on the costume in between now and then. Are you willing to spend a day not actually attending the convention to finish costuming details a la Heroes of Cosplay? Lastly, what skills are you bringing to the table? Many costumes require pattern making, sewing, makeup, fabrication, vacuforming, mask making, millinery… While step one was indeed dream big, your big dream needs to be achievable in order to be a polished cosplay.
More importantly, ignoring your limits is a sure-fire recipe for stress, and cosplay is about joy! You love a character, a story, an artist, a genre. You want to express that through cosplay. When you stop enjoying yourself, you stop expressing your admiration, respect, and love.
So don’t let limits create stress! After all, creativity thrives on limits. Like a pie chart of costuming, the less money you have, the fewer skills you have, as time dwindles, the more creative you have to be, and your creativity will guide you to the perfect concept.
Concept can be nebulous, but the most striking cosplays have a strong point of view expressing why the cosplayer loves the chosen character. Many deeply admire the original character design, so the convention floor sees many accurate replicas. But beyond exact recreation, beyond getting attention, the best cosplays guide attention. So you love the original design? Go deeper than exact recreation. What does the design reveal about that character? Go more specific. What details contribute to those character traits? Go more personal. How do those details draw you to the character?
The answers to those questions tell you what is important to your cosplay. If you want to do an exact recreation, focus most heavily on the details that are important to you. Then, even if you run out of time or money, the elements you feel are most vital will be present, and you’ll love your costume. If you want to do something different—say, a gender-swapped character, a reimagined character like Steampunk Guardians of the Galaxy, or a casual interpretation like Disneybounding—those same answers will tell you what carries through from original design to finished cosplay. Those answers will be what people see, recognize, and enjoy. Those answers will be uniquely you, so your costume will be, too. Your cosplay will show off what you love and share it with others, bringing people closer together, united in fandom.