Diary of a Cosplayer

Picture this. It’s a beautiful sunny day. The sky is blue, and white clouds stretch off into the horizon. You’re sitting in your car, leisurely making your way to a destination unknown. Looking ahead, you notice various groups huddled together on the sidewalks, posing and making strange gestures in the air. Weapons and props stand out like sore thumbs, along with the fact that people are dressed in costumes in blistering Summer weather. Vibrant orange fabric drags on the ground behind a person, like a train on a wedding dress, as parts of tattered silk material float into the air when a gentle wind breezes by. Cars slow down, either to honk or to get a closer look. You hear random phrases yelled out to random people. Frantic calls and shrills of excitement can be heard from either sides of the road. “Look! It’s Sasuke-kun! Kawaaiiiii!” Immediately after, a poor soul is lost in the midst of glomping fans.

This, my friend, is the world of cosplay.

A blend — surprisingly enough — of “costume” and “play”, the word can be traced back to the Los Angeles WorldCon in 1984. Founder of the Japanese manga house Studio Hard, Nov Takahashi, coined the term after being impressed by the many costumes worn at the convention. Cosplaying has since become a common phenomenon that not only takes place in sci-fi venues, but is also increasingly to be seen at anime conventions. Conventions (or ‘Cons ’) occur several times a year, and provide an opportunity for a bunch of overexcited, sugar-filled, star-eyed cosplayers to get together, show off their often handmade creations, and, above all, have fun. Cosplayers and conventions go hand-in-hand and can be compared with Halloween — the main differences being that conventions don’t only take place on a chilly October night, and there is no age limit.

Which brings us to today.

Neon green lights flash 5:00 A.M. The sewing machine continues to plow its way through fabric and the hot glue gun is dripping onto the floor. Colorful bolts of cloth, elastic, scissors, pins and measuring tapes are spread over every available surface, consuming the family room and making its way into the kitchen. Threads stuck to clothing follow like trailing woodsprites in Avatar.
It hasn’t happened in a while, but we’re pulling an all-nighter. FanExpo — Canada’s biggest convention for gaming, anime, science fiction, horror and comic books — starts in less than four hours, after all. With our costumes slowly coming together, me down with a cold (after passing out for several hours from my mother’s insistence on the consumption of drugs) and my friends already struggling to stay awake from accumulated late nights, we are hard-pressed to finish.

This year’s FanExpo promises to be especially big, considering the guest list. Last names only: Lee. Glau. Shatner. Cronenburg. Amano. The first alone will make you drool and the additional guest list is not to be scoffed at either. Not something any geek will want to miss.

Our plan is to leave the house at 8:00 A.M., reach the Expo in an hour and take an hour (or so) to change. For once, the first since I began cosplaying in 2005, I contemplated not cosplaying to a convention. I blame the drugs.

Without a doubt, this summer was rushed. Between part-time jobs and volunteering, unexpected sickness and home renovations, trying to complete a costume is a hard task.

Each year my friends and I choose an anime or video game to complete that we feel fits us at that time. As we attend two big cons per year (not including the smaller cons: DTAC, MTAC, etc), we choose one for Anime North, and one for FanExpo.

Our first cosplay decision was Pokemon, because we can all agree they kick ass and dominated our adul–youth. Our second, for FanExpo, is the video game Soulcalibur IV.

Soulcalibur IV has horrifically detailed costumes and characters that are varied from psychotic to noble to somewhere in between. So much so that we had to play the game to sketch out every little bit of it. The process went something like this:

Me: Sweep-kick me.
Friend: (Presses button)
Me: Pause, okay, move right, right. A little more. Nope, too far — move back.
Friend: Damn it. (Moves back.)
Me: Great! Crap, my pencil broke.

One friend has completed her costume, another is almost there and mine, I’ve decided, was going on hiatus. As Talim, I had not finished the hat, properly assembled the intricate portions of my two bladed tonfas, nor was my small pouch done to my satisfaction. The hat and pouch, small but important details, complete the overall image of my character. My costume — while everything else is great — fails to meet my expectations after many years of cosplaying.

It’s 8:00 AM, and it’s time for hair and make-up.

Now, for those who know me, I’m a huge tomboy (insert: Then why the hell did you pick Talim?!?) and I struggle immensely with putting on make-up. For cosplay, I will do many, many things. Including, but not limited to, baring skin, wearing heels, and, worst of all, learning how to put crap on my face. It’s a difficult task, I assure you, but it has to be done.

Me being me, I have a horrible tendency of unknowingly rubbing it off then cursing at myself. Repeatedly. Many times.

It’s 10:00 AM and we’re ridiculously behind schedule.
As I drive into downtown Toronto (it’s 11:00), my friends and I stare at the long line. Wondering, pondering, questioning: “Why is it so long?” and “What is it for?” and “That can’t seriously be the entrance line?” Staring intently at the patiently waiting fans (more so than the road in front of me, I have to admit), I point out a very well done throw back to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ villainous Shredder and Bebop .

We see the typical Sailor Moon group, some Browncoats, a daring Catwoman, and, oops, red light. I stare some more. Held in the arms of Superwoman, a mini-Superman swishes his cloak around. I’ve never once said Superman was cute, but the little tyke had me.

Seeing a green, I follow signs to underground parking. Despite the expense, it was the right decision. The next was looking for a washroom to change. After being pointed (by staff and volunteers no less) up and down, left and right, we finally find signs pointing in the right direction.

It’s 12:43 P.M. and we’re dressed. Sort of. My friend with the “completed” costume realized she was missing the vital cross-strings in the back to hold it up. Yes, we struggled with safety pins the entire day.

After skimming the Exhibitor Area, because it’s sardines-in-a-can and that’s all you can do, spotting a few friends, playing cosplay bingo by spotting other dressed cosplayers and posing for pictures without whacking innocent bystanders with our weapons, we squeeze our way downstairs to explore panels and booths.

When choosing a costume and its coordinating weapon, you think that it will be legen–wait for it… wait for it–dary. Logistics don’t focus on how you’re going to carry it around or avoid hitting people (because that’s a given); rather it’s more about trying to make sure it won’t break before the con is over. The bigger the weapon is, the more the eye is drawn to it. Which means it can’t be two slabs of painted wood together. The intricate details and elaborate curves need to be in place. Something mine is sadly lacking.

For one reason or another, including a terribly empty stomach, no batteries, and the need for fresh air, we head outside. Confused, the already tired volunteers ask us: “Are you sure? You’re going outside, you know?”

To which we reply: “Yes, we know.”

They shake their heads. “Well, okay.” Holding the door open and letting us out, the volunteers fail to mention that there is a long wait to get back in.

Worst. Mistake. Ever.

If you weren’t there, perhaps you’ve read about the fiasco and ridiculously long line-up that went around the corner. After paying for a deluxe pass months prior, you would think they would give priority and stop selling tickets when the centre is already over its limit.

An hour and a half later, we’re back inside. The biggest upset?

Stan Lee at FanExpo.
(Photo: Karen Santaro.)


We weren’t the only ones. Friends who stayed inside gloated.

This year’s FanExpo, due to scheduling conflicts and other political stuff, was moved from the larger South building to the North. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was continuing to sell tickets to event goers then sending them to the end of a gargantuan line. Mistake number three? Well, let’s not dwell on all the problems that arose, because there were too many.

Once back in, we check and double check the schedule and make another round of the Exhibitor Area. Less packed now, it’s more salmon-going-upstream than sardines-in-a-can. The second floor is split into sections with sci-fi, horror, gaming, anime and comics.

But what really draws my eye, besides the deals and discounts of comics and manga, are the talented hands and creative minds in the Artist Alley. It’s an array of hand-drawn fan-art posters, bookmarks, buttons (you’ve got to love buttons), model-magicked creatures, sculptures, funky gadgets and more.

Plushies in the Exhibitor Area.

While the Exhibitor Area dealers run around and pull their hair out (I’ve seen it!) during the mad crush of buyers, the artists always welcome questions, comments and are happy to chat with you. Unless they are bogged down by commissions from eager fans.

A quick glance at my watch tells me it’s time to make our way to see the much beloved vampire, Spike. James Marsters is his charming self, answering questions with humor and self-depreciation. For those who missed Marsters’ late night concert the day before, he performs an acoustic melody that gives fangirls a reason to swoon once again.

It’s 4:30 P.M. and we rush downstairs. Summer Glau is about to make her appearance.

There’s a (relatively short) line-up outside the doors to the panel and I heave a sigh of relief knowing we haven’t missed it (not another one!). As the doors open, you can see the stars light up in the eyes of many male con-goers–though the same can be said for their female counterparts.

Summer Glau.

For those not aware of Glau’s psycho/emotionally scarred (yet somehow endearing) characters, she first made her debut in an episode of Joss Whedon’s Angel before he cast her in his series Firefly. She went on to play teen Terminator Cameron in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and a fractured computer genius in Dollhouse.

In person she is sweet, quirky and fresh. She retells humorous stories of times on set and her choices in choosing her roles. Throughout the panel, Glau is cursed with bad microphones, sending the audience into (not-so-) quiet snickers when the equipment would work flawlessly for the panel’s host. After exchanging one for another, someone in the audience yells out advice to hold the microphone in the centre. The audience shares a laugh as she quickly remarks about learning new things and appreciating her fans.

Summer Glau is as lovable in person as she is in character. Sigh.


It’s near 7:00 P.M. and things are wrapping up. Dealers are closing shop and buyers make a last ditch effort to purchase longed-for items. The remaining hours continue with smaller panels, a romp through the Exhibitor Area and Artist Alley, before concluding with the Masquerade. After picking up the ticket for entrance earlier that day, we make our way to the room. Lo and behold, another (very, very) very long line. Deep breath. What’s one more for the day?

The Masquerade is always an end of the day treat. Usually two hours, it is cut down this year to include a Steampunk Fashion Show. While everyone is entertained by cosplayers of different ranks shown by the quality and state of dress, the main attraction is the amusing host, Gord.

Gord. Oh, Gord. Comfortable in his role after many years, Gord, with his sarcasm and (not-so) slight perversion, fills the empty spaces and awkward moments easily. As a women sashays her way on stage in a skin-tight suit, like many before and after her, the crowd relentlessly calls out. Not in antagonism; rather, the expectation of ga-ga eyes and a chuckled, eye-brow wiggling statement from the host: “I love my job.” Because, mentioned multiple times, he does love his job.

Beginning with junior cosplayers under the age of 13, what follows does not go by rank (novice, journeyman, artisan, master) but by who signs up first. While entertaining as always, I find that the quality of this year’s cosplayers isn’t quite up to the standards of previous years. Don’t get me wrong, there are stunning costumes that made your jaw drop, but there certainly aren’t as many that meet the mark.


However, the inaugural year of the Steampunk Fashion Show is, to my estimation, a success. Corsets, puffed dresses, feathered hats, suspenders, gears, gadgets and gizmos, it is an amazing throwback into the past, a glimpse at the Victorian and 1960s-80s era brought back to life. There are hoots and hollers from Steampunk supporters and it’s a laugh all around.

It’s near midnight and I’m exhausted.

Time to go home and get some sleep. Time to get out of my costume and take off my make-up, relieved I won’t have to wear that gunk anymore.

Not until Anime North 2011, anyway.

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