Costume culture is on full display this month at two local conventions – Central PA Comic Con and Zenkaikon.
It’s mid-spring of last year, and I’m walking through downtown Lancaster in the evening when I encounter a sight that stirs me out of my post-work brain haze.
I’m surrounded by groups of grown men and women dressed as video game and anime characters, all wearing brightly colored spandex, wigs and makeup. There are Disney-esque princesses in long flowing dresses. There’s even someone posing as Silent Bob from the movie Clerks, and (even more impressive) a person wearing a life-size Optimus Prime robot outfit from Transformers.
To my amazement, I’ve stumbled upon opening night of Zenkaikon 2014 – an annual anime and science fiction convention that’s taken root at the Lancaster County Convention Center. And while I come to find the weekend convention is filled with everything from gaming to art and music, it’s the attendees’ costumes that truly steal the show.
Better known as cosplay, this subculture originated in the United States, combining the words “costume” and “role play”, and features participants taking their love of fantasy to new levels. Cosplay has garnered a huge following in Japan since the ‘80s, and its popularity is steadily growing at comic conventions around the world.
<< GO: Click here for more information on the Central PA ComicCon on March 14 & 15 and Zenkaikon on March 27-29. >>
As a way to better understand the culture, I’ve decided to reach out to one of the most prominent stateside cosplayers – Philadelphia native Victoria Cosplay. Her blog, “Confessions of a Cosplay Girl,” is one of the most popular cosplay forums on the Internet – featuring everything from cosplay culture and convention reviews to instructions on how to make costumes and interviews with other enthusiasts. Her Facebook fan page is filled with literally thousands of pictures of herself wearing her favorite outfits, including Wonder Woman, Super Woman and Catwoman.
Victoria serves as the regional leader of the Heroes Alliance – a national nonprofit organization of cosplayers who dress up as their favorite characters and visit children’s hospitals and other charitable organizations.
And when she’s not attending some of the biggest comic conventions around the country, Victoria can be found doing professional modeling and also running her birthday party company where she comes to parties dressed as characters like Queen Elsa from the movie Frozen.
Victoria makes an appearance this month at another local convention – the Central PA ComicCon in York – where she will host cosplay panels, sell costumes and judge costume contests. We caught up with Victoria at her home outside of Philadelphia.
Michael Yoder: What initially led you to participate in cosplay?
Victoria Cosplay: My first experience with cosplay came because of my boyfriend, actually. One day in 2006, he showed me a picture of a girl dressed as Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2. I thought she looked awesome, and that made me want to try doing a costume of my own.
MY: What was your first cosplay costume?
VC: The first character I put together was Aerith from Final Fantasy VII. Regrettably, I’ve since had to retire that costume. Cosplay seems to be about an ever-rotating list of outfits; as some characters join your ranks, others leave them.
MY: Do you have a favorite costume you’ve worn over the years?
VC: I don’t really have one particular favorite. Each costume is a favorite for different reasons. When I wear my Wonder Woman, I’m reminded of the days when I used to watch Linda Carter on TV and wish I could be her. Selina Kyle is one of my favorite characters, so when I wear Catwoman, I seem to take on this somewhat dangerous quality that can be fun to play around with. And when I put on Belle… well, every girl loves to feel like a princess.
MY: Is there a character you haven’t done that you would like to wear for cosplay?
VC: For the most part, if there is a character that I want to do, I do it. There are versions I would like to do, but I still find a way to create that character. For instance, I would love a Wonder Woman costume that is made out of bronze and leather.
“There really is no first step in cosplay. You can buy a costume, make a costume, assemble a costume or just work on things one piece at a time. Wherever you want to start, just start somewhere. All roads lead to the same destination.”
MY: How much have you seen the cosplay community grow since you started, and where do you think it’s headed?
VC: I can’t say how much it’s grown since I started doing this because I really don’t know how big it was then or now. I do see it becoming more of a household word, though. On where it’s headed, who can say? It’s a hobby. This isn’t a multimillion dollar industry, nor is it a job where you make 40k per year with a 401k with health insurance. You can’t write down “cosplayer” on a resume. The only thing you can expect from a hobby is that more people may practice it.
MY: What’s the craziest cosplay costume you’ve ever seen at a convention?
VC: Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy at Dragon Con 2014.
MY: What are your experiences like attending and participating in conventions?
VC: Conventions vary from show to show and year to year. There are some shows that I won’t return to and others that I look forward to. Lately, I go to conventions to see friends that I don’t normally get to see. Conventions seem to be a rallying point for friends to meet who live multiple states away. Other than the friends, I tend to like to go to shows that have industry talent present. But for the most part, every show has a little bit of the same elements. Since my friends are all talented cosplayers, too, it often takes some time to navigate the showroom floor. Either my friends, myself or all of us together will get asked for a photo on a somewhat regular basis. I’m sure this is how it is for most cosplayers, too.
VC: I really don’t consider myself to be a prominent face of cosplay. Writing a blog and posting pictures on the Internet isn’t hard. And, naturally, if I am putting my face out there, I expect my face to be prominent – particularly on my own site. I just do what I like. I do have a group of loyal fans, it seems. I’ve actually made some really close friends through my blog and Facebook fan page. Naturally, you can’t please everyone all of the time. But for those people, I figure it’s easier to cut them loose than have that kind of negative energy weighing you down. No matter what you do, someone won’t agree with it, but it should never be a reason for you to stop doing what makes you happy.
MY: What have you seen as people’s motivation to get involved in cosplay?
VC: A lot of people get into it for a lot of different reasons. I can’t answer for them; I can’t judge everyone like that. That would be an inaccurate observation. I can assume they do it because they want to.
MY: What recommendations would you give to someone looking to get into cosplay for the first time?
VC: There really is no first step in cosplay. You can buy a costume, make a costume, assemble a costume or just work on things one piece at a time. Wherever you want to start, just start somewhere. All roads lead to the same destination. Just realize that there is a lot of trial and error involved.
MY: I’ll assume Halloween, but what’s your favorite holiday, and why?
VC: Lately, my favorite holiday has been Christmas. I am really missing it this year. I miss all the lights and that warm feeling that the season brings.