CINCINNATI — Cosplayers — people who don costumes of their favorite characters from books, TV shows, movies and games — will turn heads this weekend at CinCityCon at the Sharonville Convention Center.
CinCityCon, a gaming convention that includes cosplay, serves as an example of a boom in cosplay. Local cosplayers said they are enjoying the increased attention and participation, and they anticipate it will keep getting bigger.
Dan McNamara, 33, a cosplayer from Mount Airy and business owner sponsoring the CinCityCon cosplay contest, said cosplay’s time has arrived.
The Marvel effect
“You’ve got shows like ‘Big Bang Theory,’ which is really bringing this stuff into the mainstream, and now one of the biggest events in the world is San Diego’s Comic-Con,” said McNamara.
However, much like early Dungeons and Dragons players, cosplayers didn’t initially find acceptance for their passion.
“When I was in school, I would never have told anyone how into costumes I was or how I made things because I would have been made fun of,” said Megan Carriger, 33, of Sayler Park.
Jessica Scott, 30, of Fairfield, agreed.
“I’ve lived through the transition where it was super weird back when I started and people made fun of you for being a cosplayer,” said Scott.
Regardless of others’ reaction, all three enjoyed cosplay; for McNamara and Scott, it helped them overcome social anxiety.
“Before I got into this, I was lucky if I left my house,” said McNamara. “Now I can go out and just have fun. I can dress up as a character and just act out and have some fun without worrying about what other people think.”
Scott, a mother of three, suggested the lifestyle is an important release from day-to-day pressures.
“There’s something about getting to dress up as your favorite characters and getting to be those people and kind of act like them. It’s just so much fun; it’s an escape from everyday life,” said Scott.
Many cosplayers agree that the wildly popular Marvel superhero movies coupled with San Diego Comic-Con shifted public perception of cosplay.
“Everyone wants to be Spider-Man. Everyone wants to be Deadpool,” said Scott. “There are hundreds of thousands of people going to these big conventions. Everybody talks about cosplay on Twitter and Facebook.”
Carriger echoed that sentiment, adding, “Let’s face it, society is driven by what’s in our media and, if you see somebody dressed as your favorite character on the screen, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, they’re dressed like him.’ That’s cool now.”
The new popularity has helped McNamara, Scott and Carriger earn money making props and costumes for other people.
“I had friends that started asking me to do things and it just kind of snowballed from there,” said Scott. “People just message you and say, ‘Hey, make this thing for me.'”
In some cases the money is big. God Save the Queen Fashions, a top costume designer, has been featured in Forbes magazine. And top cosplayers can earn more than six figures per year. Convention organizers often pay top performers to attend their events, and cosplayers can earn additional revenue from YouTube. Jessica Nigri, an American cosplayer, has 1.2 million YouTube subscribers.
The challenges of cosplay
In cosplay real-world issues surface within the fantasy. Many cosplay costumes, for example, are designed to be sexy, employing about as much fabric as a bikini or tunics that reveal a ripped physique.
“By and large the only really negative thing I’ve experienced at a convention was sexual harassment,” said Scott.
In response, the cosplay community came up with the hashtag #cosplayisnotconsent. The message is now posted prominently on signs at many conventions, advising attendees that sexual harassment or assault will not be tolerated.
Cosplay also has wrestled with issues of diversity. Chris George, a mechanical engineer from Westwood, said that although more people of color are enjoying cosplay, it still has a long way to go to reach a proper balance.
“There’s still issues of racism, sexism, things like that,” he said. “You have some people who feel like in order to cosplay or in order to enjoy a certain medium you have to enjoy it in its purist form, and anything outside of that is seen as sacrilege.”
‘If you want to do it, just jump in’
Some cosplayers make their own costumes as a less expensive alternative than buying them. McNamara said anyone interested should dive right in.
“The biggest hurdle I see people go over is that they don’t think they’re good enough,” he said. “You don’t have to have a lot of money. You don’t have to have a lot of skill. Skill comes with time. If you want to do it, just jump in.”
Making costumes can provide hours of fun, and cosplayers said they often find that all of the work they put into costumes is repaid in the joy they bring to others.
Some of his most memorable cosplay moments came when he dressed as the superhero Static, George said.
“It seemed like every 10 or 20 feet somebody would stop me and ask to take a picture, or they would say they loved my costume and they would actually have a full on conversation about how much they liked the character and how much it meant to them as a kid,” said George.
George said that’s part of why he loves it so much.
“It’s just great to make people happy when you bring up the atmosphere of everybody around you. It really is one of the big reasons why I keep going,” he said.
CinCityCon Table Top Gaming Convention
Noon Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday
Sharonville Convention Center, 11355 Chester Road