Dressing up as your favorite comic book or movie character may seem like a tradition reserved for Halloween, but for cosplayers, it’s a year-round tradition.
Fans of everything from video games to anime make own costumes, and enter competitions. The hobby has become so popular that VCU has its own cosplay club, which entered this year’s Katsucon Masquerade competition.
Most members of the club make costumes and cosplay specifically for anime or comic conventions. Conventions are a great opportunity for cosplayers to get together and take photos of their cosplays, said Max Lincoln, vice president of cosplay club at VCU. Lincoln said that the average cosplayer attends two to three conventions a year.
The Cosplay Club at VCU attended Katsucon 2015 earlier this month. Katsucon is an annual convention held in the National Harbor in Maryland Feb. 13-15. The group was able to meet other cosplayers and compete in a cosplay contest referred to as a “Masquerade.”
Founding member and club president Hannah Huddle said Masquerades are cosplay competition talent shows with multiple awards and areas to enter. They range from judging the craftsmanship of a costume, to full-on skits or choreographed dance performances in costume. Huddle said Masquerades can typically last two to three hours.
This year, members of Cosplay Club at VCU won the Judge’s Choice award and Best Novice Performance. Huddle said the group performed a comedy sketch about various characters from the anime “Gurren Lagen” on Valentines Day. The performers were Huddle, Cosplay Club members Mikaela Rice, Millie Shah and VCU alumni Ryan Lee.
“My group was in the novice category since it was our first time competing as a group,” Shah said. “It took us around five months to complete our costumes and write, record, rehearse the skit.”
There are strict cosplay rules to enter the Masquerade. Huddle said that 80 percent of a cosplay has to be made by the cosplayer, which only leaves room for an individual to buy shoes, contacts and a wig. Cosplayers planning to attend the masquerade often must apply months in advance to enter.
While there are cosplay competitions, they are a lot less extreme than what would be seen on the show “Heroes of Cosplay.” Lincoln said the show gives a slanted view that everyone makes cosplay on a competitive level.
“‘Heroes of Cosplay’ is a very interesting show,” Lincoln said. “I don’t appreciate the outlook it has placed upon cosplayers through this particular medium, but it’s a good way to see other people cosplay on a wider medium as long as you take it with a grain of salt.”
The show also seems to promote “cosplay fame,” the idea that by doing cosplay one can gain wide recognition or respect within the cosplay community. Lincoln said that cosplay fame does happen, but it’s not the most common occurrence.
Huddle said the only truly famous success story she can think of is Yaya Han, a cosplayer who is often invited as a guest to many conventions and even has her own cosplay accessory store. Most people who cosplay do it for fun, Huddle said.
“I feel like a lot of people identify with it (cosplay) for the same reason I do it,” Lincoln said. “You either really like a character or a character’s costume and you want to make it and cosplay it.”
There isn’t the same fierce competition in the cosplay community as seen on “Heroes of Cosplay,” but there is still a level of judgment. Lincoln says that there is a huge online backlash for doing anything that isn’t “the norm” when it comes to making cosplay. Huddle also mentioned that cosplay is a great “nerd space” for females.
“Cosplay is a really nice place for girls who like nerdy stuff,” Huddle said. “It’s a really female-heavy community even though there is a lot of representation of all genders.”
Huddle added that this is positive because in a lot of other “nerd spaces” or events she’s found herself one of maybe two girls, which made her uncomfortable.
Huddle, one of the founding members of Cosplay Club at VCU, said the club started because she went to her first convention in cosplay and loved it. Huddle and her friends Mikaela Rice and Millie Shah knew that other people at VCU were into cosplaying and decided to create an official VCU club.
“I actually got into it because of my brother,” Shah said. “He was a big fan of Naruto and he cosplayed as Naruto on Halloween. It looked really fun so I wanted to as well. Then I met my roommate Mikaela who talked about making cosplays and that’s how I got roped into making my first cosplay.”
The club meetings are part instructional demos or discussions, and part open workshop. Demos include having someone who knows how to use a material the rest of the club doesn’t and leading a short lesson, or how to design costumes while on a college student budget. In the workshops, everyone works on their own costumes.
There are many chances to join the cosplay club for events. Lincoln said they are currently in the process of planning an event where local photographers in the area can come to the club and practice photography by taking pictures of the club members in their cosplay.
Cosplay Club at VCU meets every first Tuesday of the month in the Depot, and other events can be found on their Facebook page. Anyone is welcome to come to a meeting and join the club, not just art or theatre majors. Huddle said they have members who are everything from creative advertising to biomedical engineering.