Calgarian cosplayers say the expense of their craft is worth the experience
With green and yellow spandex clinging to her body and a leather jacket from Value Village draped around her shoulders, Brittany Dorozio adjusts a single streak of white in her long auburn hair. She pulls up her yellow boots and snaps back the rubber gloves meant to shield the masses from her immense power. As she storms across the convention floor at the 2014 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, Dorozio leaves the realm of reality behind her. She is no longer Brittany Dorozio – she is Rogue, mutant hero of Marvel's popular comic series, The X-Men.
This year, with convention season fast approaching once again, Dorozio, like many other cosplayers, is busier than ever, working hard to prepare her latest creations in time. Cosplay – a portmanteau of the term "costume play" – describes an activity where fans of media franchises transform themselves into characters from those works via outfits, accessories, and even through role-play. The intricacies of the costumes often give off an inherently expensive vibe but, despite how elaborate those costumes may appear, cosplay can also be done on the cheap. Even when it isn't, most cosplayers say they are willing to put the experience before the expense.
This performative art has become increasingly popular in recent years, with multiple panels, vendor booths, and activities at our own Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo catering specifically to cosplayers. Despite this, what too many attendees forget is that, behind all of that activity and convention weekend chaos, innumerable hours of preparatory effort are put in on the part of the fans behind the curtain.
For instance, this year Dorozio, who has been cosplaying for nearly 10 years, has already spent several months stitching together an amalgamation of purple spandex, hunting for the perfect wig, and finding exactly the right pair of impossibly high heels. The resulting outfit will be her most ambitious one yet – a cosplay based on the DC 52 classic comic book character Starfire. And it is not the only costume on this year's to-do list.
"I need to have multiple characters or else I could never choose!" she reasons, detailing a character lineup that, this spring, will include the likes of Dr. Drakken from the animated series Kim Possible, Mikan from the videogame Dangan Ronpa 2, and time permitting, Chie Satonaka from the videogame Persona 4. Of course, once the Edmonton Expo (a spinoff of the Calgary con) rolls around in the fall, she'll have an entirely new cast of characters to portray.
In past years, her cosplays of characters Chrome Dokuro and Poison Ivy have run her anywhere between $90-$130 to create.
"Cosplay can be expensive. It depends what you're creating, or what you may already own. I always set aside some money for materials, and gather anything I know I might need for a future cosplay as I can. However, you don't need to spend a lot to have fun!" she says.
In fact, Derek DeBoer, local cosplayer and ACAD student, was set back a mere $50 by his first cosplay, an homage to Booker DeWitt, a character from the video game Bioshock Infinite.
"Due to my character being human and having a similar physical appearance to me, it didn't cost much. The price seemed fine for the nature of the costume."
However, that price can quickly start to climb, "in the same way clothing, makeup, and hair products do," says Dorozio. "You pay to enhance and change your appearance, regardless!"
What determines the true cost of cosplay is the level to which cosplayers are looking to take that enhancement.
"If you want things to look authentic in any costume, unfortunately in most cases that means they have to be truly authentic, and authenticity comes at a price," says DeBoer. "A particular prop for my Booker costume called the 'skyhook' cost me more than the rest of my cosplay put together."
Although Deboer's costume only cost $50, increasing the authenticity with the skyhook added $90 because it could only be ordered online.
Props like the skyhook are among the most difficult items for cosplayers to recreate on their own for a cosplay. Although some of these items can be found in speciality shops, online, or on the convention floor in vendor booths, cosplayers pay through the nose for the professional product designs. The unbelievable aesthetics and detailing of these pieces, as well as most costumes, is part of what makes this pastime so challenging for those who partake.
"When developers and artists create these fantastical fictional characters, they are not constrained by money, so the sheer look and design and feel of these characters are not bound by the physical limitations of the real world," says DeBoer of the restrictions placed on cosplay, "Unfortunately this means that recreating said characters takes a lot of money and time to even start to break down the boundaries between fiction and reality."
Yet cosplayers keep finding new ways to break those boundaries. That's because, according to Nicolle Lamerichs, a Dutch scholar with a PhD in fan studies, those costumes "allow fans to interact with a character and story more closely," making cosplay absolutely essential to the fullest of fan experiences.
"Immersion and identification is key here. Costumes allow fans to embody a character, and to also represent that character to other fans. Cosplay is a hobby that is intimate. Through outfits, fans can show their passions visually and also become that character for a moment. It is highly immersive," she says of the craft.
"I wanted to use the similarities between myself and these fictional characters to break that barrier," says DeBoer, "I feel a connection with them because they've either helped me through a hard time, or they just generally appeal to me through their aesthetic appearances or the messages they send."
Beyond the impact on individual fans, Lamerichs adds that cosplay has also played an important role in making fan gatherings and conventions more visible to outsiders, even drawing in potential fans. "Think of the opening parade of Dragoncon, for instance, during which fans parade through the town in their costumes to ceremoniously open the convention."
The Calgary Expo's own opening day ceremonies and cosplay parade, which began in 2013 and blazes a trail from Eau Claire to Olympic Plaza, recorded around 690 participants last year.
According to Lamerichs, few of those cosplayers likely would have cared about the cost of their outfits.
"I don't think that there is a very intimate relationship between cost and attachment to an outfit," says Lamerichs on the subject, "I do think, however, that there is a relationship between the time that you invest in an outfit – browsing for the right materials, sewing the dress and trying it on several times, and finally wearing it to the fan convention and getting in character – and the relationship that you have with it. Like with all forms of craft, if you have dedicated yourself to it for a long time, it means something to you."
Similarly, for DeBoer, the cost of cosplay has little correlation to the enjoyment of the convention as a whole.
"I think if people love what they are doing, and love the games and genres they are representing, they are not going to care how little or how much they spend as long as everyone gets to portray their favourite characters as they wish," says DeBoer. "Whether it's a cardboard box Ironman, or an actual, fully working mechanical suit, each party still has the capacity to have just as much fun."
"The joy of cosplay is not found in the cost, and you don't need to spend a lot to have fun!" says Dorozio. Over the years, cosplay has become a much more inclusive art, with fans re-evaluating, and often dismissing entirely, characteristics like age, species, race, gender, height, and weight to portray anyone or anything that means something powerful to them. In the end, it's all about using their similarities to embrace the characters, putting their differences aside if only for a single day.
Surely, if cosplayers can accomplish that, "buying expensive materials or premade costumes shouldn't be any different than something a little lighter on the wallet," says Dorozio. "Just don't forget to put some money aside for your con entry ticket!"
The 2015 Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo runs from April 16-19 in Stampede Park.
- By MICHAELA RITCHIE