Darth Vader sharing a beer with the TARDIS. The Ghostbusters chatting to Chewbacca. These were just some of the sights on display at last weekend’s London Film and Comic Con 2014 – where cosplay (costume play) is a major theme.
From obscure animes with cult followings to the cultural colossus of Star Wars. From the glamour and gore of Game of Thrones to the teatime nostalgia of the Vicar of Dibley. If it exists, somebody loves it enough to honour it in costume.
Some cosplayers go to incredible lengths, checking every detail, buying authentic materials and using a range of skills (sewing, dyeing, leatherwork) to recreate a character exactly.
Others improvise and keep things casual, while others still play around with their character and put their own spin on things, reinterpreting them in a different gender or situation.
This rich tapestry was on display at Comic Con, where thousands of fans of cult media gathered for talks, games, screenings and celebrity guests.
Cosplay events peppered the schedule, and plenty of people were getting into the spirit and keen to talk about their experiences.
Some had always enjoyed dressing up or making things, and cosplay felt like a natural progression. Others were complete novices to all this until a love of Doctor Who or Game of Thrones sparked their interest. Almost all said they were now part of a community they love.
The internet helps make all this possible. Through social media and forums, beginners can learn the skills to make costumes or find out where to buy them, a shared love of a fictional universe can be expressed and strong friendships can develop, problems and issues can be discussed and tips can be shared.
However, as the popularity and prominence of cosplay grows, so do its problems.
Many female cosplayers, and some men too, have experienced harassment and groping at conventions, leading to the online campaign #CosplayIsNotConsent”, to speak up for the importance of respect and boundaries.
There have also been campaigns to combat online bullying of cosplayers who have received abusive comments about their appearance, whether over the authenticity of their costume, or how they look.
These issues were discussed at Comic Con, with events on cosplay etiquette and publicity for these campaigns drawing a large crowd alongside tutorials on crafting and a competition for the best costume.
That the wider cosplay world seems keen to address these issues says a lot for it remaining an accepting and exciting community where people can experiment, learn new things, make friends and have fun.
Dale Reid, 35, an IT consultant and Rosie Ripley, 41, a nanny, as Loki and Thor.
They have made at least 100 friends in their two years of cosplaying together, and regularly attend events around the country.
Rosie said: “I like the creative side of it. I’m into art; making the costumes is the main part for me.”
She has started a plus-size cosplay Facebook group, for larger people who may not feel confident cosplaying because they have made to feel like they don’t fit a particular ideal of beauty. Group members encourage and support each other, posting pictures and helping out with costumes.
Kisa, 16, as evil Lord of the Rings overlord Sauron
Kisa is a cosplay beginner and handmade her entire costume using foam, cardboard and paint, with guidance from YouTube tutorials.
Students Milly Ferguson, 21 and Jessica Dean, 22, as Battlestar Galactica crew members.
Milly said: “It’s a conversation starter, and we get to recreate the shows we love.”
Vanessa, 53, as an Orion slave girl from Star Trek.
A lawyer in everyday life, Vanessa cosplays in a Star Trek group in her spare time.
She said: “I work hard, I play hard, and it’s fun!”
She says that as a transgender woman she has received more discrimination from her own family than in public life, whether in court or in costume, and particularly loves her cosplay group for how diverse and accepting it is.
She said: “There does not seem to be the same prejudice as there would be in the real world.”
Elijah Akiboye, 31, a project administrator, as Jedi knight Mace Windu – reimagined as having fallen to the dark side.
“Cons are a lot more fun when you dress up – you can share the joy with people and create fun scenarios, like what would happen if Mace Windu got into a fight with Blade the vampire?”
He buys his costumes, but said: “I am more of an illustrator than a crafts man, but even when you buy your costume you can put your own spin on it.”
Ellice Page, 15, as Disney’s Ariel, and mum Julie Page, 44, as a female Wookie.
Julie made both costumes from scratch without a pattern.
She said: “Male Wookies are represented but the girls aren’t so I thought, why not be one?!”
Cosplay friends Minxie, 28, Fran Sparklypants, 22, and Dez Wong, 36, as Donna Noble and the Tenth Doctor from Doctor Who, and Superman.
The three are part of a close group of friends who meet up at conventions, and love the social aspects of cosplay.
Minxie said: “As cosplay gets more and more mainstream, more and more people from all sorts of backgrounds join in, and it’s marvellous.”
Stacey-Ann Proctor, 23, a catering assistant, as the TARDIS.
An experienced cosplayer, Stacey-Ann makes her own costumes, but could not sew a single stitch when she started. She has since learned hand-stitching, dyeing and crafting skills.
So that was the weird and wonderful world of cosplay at this year London Film and Comic Con, and it’s clearly a broad church. Except, it isn’t that weird. Friendship, community, creativity, performance… these are things we all enjoy in some form or another. Some of us just do it with lightsabers.
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