There are countless hobbies out in the world – from the mundane to the exotic. A new type of hobby that is sweeping the nation and becoming bigger in South Africa is Cosplay. Trust me, if you have never heard the term, you are not alone!
RNEWS recently got a chance to discover what this craze is all about – thanks to two avid Port Elizabeth-based ‘cosplayers’, Kayleigh Moss and Alex Karantzis (you probably have seen him in the local press as Port Elizabeth’s spiderman).
I learnt that Kayleigh has actually been seriously “cosplaying” for six years now and has been involved in most of the Cosplay events that have taken place in Port Elizabeth, such as Con.ect; Port Elizabeth’s own geek themed convention, and is one of the admins in charge of the PE Cosplay group where they organise gatherings of cosplayers in the area for picnics.
Alex tells me he has been doing cosplay since he was a child and has been doing it professionally for almost three years now. He makes sure to involve himself in as many cosplay-based activities as possible to help spread cosplay as an art and get more people interested in it. He is one of the admins in charge of Con.ect and plays a large role in the promotion of it through cosplay.
Ok, what is Cosplay?
“In Japanese terms, they call it ‘costume play’, where you basically become the character. You can start off with just wearing a wig or the make-up and slowly progress towards being that character,” explains Kayleigh.
The term Cosplay comes from the contraction of the words costume and play, the term is of Japanese origin, but the hobby itself came from America where it was first known as costuming.
Amazingly, cosplay itself has become a form of a performance art, where a person would wear costumes, accessories, wigs, and such to dress like a specific character.
These costumes can be ordered from various shops and online, but the hallmark of the dedicated is cosplayers, who actually make their own costumes by hand.
From my subjects, I learnt that cosplay actually goes beyond simply creating an outfit or costume, cosplayers completely immerse themselves into the characters they ‘play’ as, they will speak in the same tone as the character, act the same as their character and simply be the character for as long as they are in cosplay.
“You may first start off with party store wigs and using things inside your cupboard and then slowly as the years go by you will find better things to improve it. Besides being a different person it’s all about improving your crafting,” Kayleigh describes.
If this article awakens the cosplayer in you, you may start off by simply throwing together what you have in your cupboard. But you may find that once you have started, it is practically impossible to stop!
“I remember when I was quite a small lad, my family was very much into pop culture, so I used to dress up when I was a kid and go to outings and festivals in cosplay when I lived in Australia. From there it just kind of picked up my love of cosplay,” says Alex.
“It’s an expression of one’s artistic self through a character from a film or a series or anything like that, and basically trying your very best to be that character through the costume, because its costume play.”
What goes into Cosplay?
Cosplay can be very simple and very complicated, depending on the costume and its simplicity and the cosplayer. There are those, who may not have time to create their own cosplays and decide to order their costume and accessories online, then there are those, who put their own blood, sweat and tears into creating a cosplay that they want and that is just perfect for them.
“It goes from sowing with machines to hand stitching to crocheting to gluing to cutting and spray-painting, there is no end,” Kayleigh describes.
Learning how to sow and create patterns is a skill that most cosplayers have to possess in order to create their costumes. Apparently, some cosplayers will spend months on end working to create their own costumes until they are completely satisfied with it.
Things like armour and weapons to accessorise their costumes are made from craft foam, so-mo plastics and sometimes 3-D printing is utilised.
It definitely takes a creative and explorative mind to become a cosplayer.
Who can Cosplay?
I discovered that cosplay is not just for one type of person, or people, who only fall under a specific type, it’s not even gender dependant. While some might be led to believe that only ‘nerds’ and ‘loners’ can participate in Cosplay, this is a severely misrepresented concept.
“Cosplay is meant to be for everyone, it doesn’t matter if you look like a stick or you have curves. It’s supposed to be about building body confidence for yourself, so if someone tells you that you can’t Cosplay because of the way you look then they are dead wrong,” Kayleigh exclaims.
“Most Cosplayers start as teenagers, I also know some in their 30’s who Cosplay, either because they are still doing it from when they were younger or because they only discovered it later in life.”
Alex also says; “There are a lot of debates about this kind of thing, I don’t see a problem with anyone doing cosplay. You can cosplay anything you want as long as you like to do it and have fun doing it. There is a lot of negativity around the thought that if you don’t look like the character you shouldn’t try looking like the character, but honestly they shouldn’t care as long as it is something they like to do.”
From concept to construct-The process of making a Cosplay
“I have to research and save a lot of reference images, and stare at them for about a week to burn them into my brain. Then I make notes saying how much of what material I need to make a certain part of the outfit. Then there’s looking for additional patterns that you can modify. Then finally it comes to the part where you figure out what to do with all the materials,” says Kayleigh.
She adds that finding the materials for a Cosplay can be easy or complicated depending on what character you decide to Cosplay. So, the time it can take to accumulate the necessary materials can be either really short or take quite a while.
“Sometimes you can get everything you need within a week, and sometimes it takes over a few months, depending on how much you need to buy. There are some things you can make within two days.” Kayleigh explains.
Alex adds; “There are other ways to do cosplay, you don’t have to make your outfit from scratch, you can work at it another way. You could even buy your costume, that’s also cosplay. There is no rule that says you can’t buy a costume and wear it as cosplay.
“It is quite a big process though, it can sometimes take up to half a year to plan, even a year or two.”
Like any other hobby, Cosplay costs
The costs involved in different Cosplays, again depend on the complication involved in the character one wants to Cosplay.
“It can go anywhere from R100 to R1 000 to R1 500, depending on the pieces. The more material it takes and the price of a specific wig will affect your total price for your Cosplay,” describes Kayleigh.
Alex says he spends more.
“I am very OCD when it comes to my cosplay, so I always make sure I rise to the occasion for cosplay. I would end up spending over R5 000 on a cosplay outfit. I know it sounds crazy but that’s what I love to do,” he explains.
Important accessories for Cosplay
When it comes to Cosplay, the costume is not the only aspect involved. For instance, you might be interested in Cosplaying a character that has blue hair and red eyes, and their hair may be done in a design that is not easily accomplished with real hair.
A perfect example would be Goku from the popular anime Dragon Ball Z, or Sasuke from Naruto.
Some cosplayers decide to buy specialised wigs and contact lenses in order to make their Cosplay more authentic. These items can sometimes be the most expensive ones in an entire Cosplay, in fact some specialised wigs cost over R800.
“Nowadays, wigs are about the same price, but obviously the short hair ones would be cheaper, about R180 depending on their style.
“Wigs involve a lot of maintenance, they require the occasional brushing, and for specialised wigs a lot of hairspray is used to keep them in place and some types of hair gel,” Kayleigh describes.
“I used to opt for contact lenses, but now I would rather go with normal eyes because you can only wear them once or twice for an event and by the time you want to wear them again they would have expired. They only last for about a year and cost around R200 and R300.”
Cosplayers mostly get contact lenses for photos done at Cosplay events and commissioned photoshoots to show off their Cosplays, but it is possible to edit photos online instead of acquiring expensive lenses that you can only use a handful of times.
“I actually quite enjoy wearing coloured contact lenses, especially for Star Wars cosplays. Like if a specific character has an eye colour, I would definitely recommend getting that eye colour because visually, it will look fantastic,” explains Alex.
“I would recommend thinking about it before buying them because if you cosplay something regularly then you should definitely go for it. If you don’t cosplay often then maybe think twice about getting them.”
Can I make a living Cosplaying?
“I wouldn’t say this is an option in Port Elizabeth just yet, unless you do commissions for people, who don’t know how to make any Cosplays. It’s more of an international thing, the Americans can make Cosplay books with tutorials and sell prints that you need top notch photographers and editors for,” explains Kayleigh.
“It could be done in a few years, but not right now. We’re not ready for it yet.”
Alex agrees; “I would say it varies, there are a lot of people I see online, especially on social media, where people can make cosplays for others through commissions and providing the outfit for cosplayers.”
The Cosplay scale of Port Elizabeth
“Port Elizabeth is definitely growing in the Cosplay community when you compare it to Johannesburg and Cape Town. When you compare how many people came to Con.ect in its first and second year, you can definitely see a massive spike in the amount of cosplayers.
“The skills have improved as well, there were a lot more armoured Cosplayers this year, I would definitely say that they are on par with Cape Town and Johannesburg,” says Kayleigh.
Alex adds; “In the last two years, Port Elizabeth has definitely doubled with its cosplays, and its actually amazing to see. I was actually mind-blown by it. We started off so small, but now we are suddenly this massive community, and I think it will continue to grow.”
Cape Town and Johannesburg are the main cities that host Cosplay events and gatherings, and right now Port Elizabeth is throwing its name into the hat of contenders as a Cosplay hot spot.
“Their Cosplay community is very big; they would host events every month or two months. Port Elizabeth is definitely getting up there though, because now more people know what Cosplay is; which is something we struggled with for a while. But the community is growing, the Cosplays are getting better, all we need now is to host more events,” says Kayleigh.
Alex also says; “For South Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town’s cosplay scale is very professional and quite large. There are a lot of cosplayers that go to the Rage expo and FanCon in Cape Town and Johannesburg.”
The Cosplay Scale of South Africa
South Africa is certainly not the first country to get involved in Cosplay, America and European countries have been involved in the art for a long time now, even before the very first San Diego Comic Con.
But when it comes to creativity and utilising what you have, South Africans have plenty of that to go around.
“Honestly I think in about three to five years South Africa may be on the same level as America and the rest of them, with what I’ve seen people making and how they are doing their outfits lately,” says Kayleigh.
Alex adds; “South Africa still doesn’t really know about the culture of cosplay itself, and the things that are needed to do cosplays are not yet large enough here, like suppliers. The vibe for cosplay is here, but it’s not as big as it is overseas.
“South Africa definitely needs a boost if we want to catch up to the San Diego and New York Comic Cons.”
Where I can get Cosplay materials
There are a few stores in Port Elizabeth that sell materials, but for some items you may need to look at places out of town when it comes to craft foam, specialised wigs and contact lenses.
BakaSakura supplies some Cosplay outfits and wigs, Koncept Kitty as well. SinBin specialises in Steampunk accessories and custom made animal ears. And Roxanne Cosplay Distributions supplies craft foam.
Reaching the Cosplay Community
There are plenty of groups online where one can get in touch with local Cosplayers, see what Cosplay events are going on in their area, and even get some help from the more experienced Cosplayers if they are confused or don’t know where to get certain materials.
There is the Cosplay PE page and the Cosplay for Noobs page for those just getting into Cosplay. On a larger scale there is also the Cosplay SA group for those interested in doing Cosplays out of town.