Beneath the Layers – Urban Sidhe

School’s in session again, and cosplayers like my June/July interviewee Lauren are busy juggling classes and cons.  This time around I’m talking to another costumer in college, Jeanelle.  On-line folks may know her as Urban Sidhe or Rio B. In addition to being a cosplayer and an animation student, she’s an active member of the Dallas steampunk and lolita communities. She spend her free time having fun with her dog and cat, playing Star Wars the Old Republic, and setting up movie nights.

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. How many years have you been cosplaying? What is your favorite cosplay?

My first cosplay I did when I was 14 so almost half my life. My favorite cosplay to date was my Queen Chrysalis from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.

2. What is the best part of cosplaying? The worst part?

Best part is getting to “not be you” so to speak. Everyone really wishes they had that trait or this trait, but with cosplay, for a limited time you can have that semblance of being someone you’re not. I have to say the worse part is the misconceptions people get about cosplayers. Television doesn’t help and let’s be honest, a lot of cosplayers don’t help. But general society tends to view us as weird and so when I tell people that I cosplay, I get the strangest looks.

3. Has cosplay ever interfered with your working at a convention?

I normally work for the VG Corps Battle Pods. They’ve always been awesome giving me time off to run around in costume.

4. Have you been sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay? If so, please describe a couple incidents. 

Temari (Naruto)

I remember this one kid who had a fascination with my ass. A few years ago I did a cosplay of Rapid 99 from Jet Set Radio Future. She wears very small shorts. He spent a good 5 hours following me around taking pictures of my ass. He even told me that I have the most perfect ass. Kind of creepy.

One time on the DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit], a little kid kept screaming if I was dressed up for Halloween. I was on the DART to go to A-kon which is in early summer. It’s a little kid; what else could I do? I ignored him. If his mom had been there, I would have said something about no matter what people look like that’s no excuse to be rude.

5. How do you feel about the idea that cosplayers should dress up as characters of their race, size, and overall appearance?

Let’s be real. No normal human can get even close to really looking like an anime character. Accuracy is nice but some things have to be forgiven. A lot of cons have the side discussions of the “Fat Hinatas”. But many heavy girls tend to identify with shy soft spoken Hinata. If race is a factor in cosplay, then Blacks and most Hispanics shouldn’t even attempt it. There isn’t a huge diversity of skin colors in anime or even in America cartoons. I say if you want to do a specific character because you like them, then do it.

6. What makes a cosplay stand out above others?

Personally, attention to detail, the accuracy of the outfit. In my Chrysalis costume, my proudest moment was when I was walking around with only the dress on and people still knew who I was. I actually turned people down to take my picture because I didn’t want a half-assed image floating around on the internet.

Queen Chrysalis (My Little Pony). By Arielle Fragassi

7. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

Oh that’s a hard one. Age appropriate comes to mind. My all-time favorite con story was a girl who couldn’t have been older that 14 running around in a Bible Black [a hentai series] school girl uniform. On one side her dad, the other her mom. The people who recognized the costume were staring in disbelief. The 40-year-old overweight Li Shaoran from Card Captors also comes to mind.

I don’t like to show a lot of skin—Rapid 99 was by far my most risqué cosplay—but lots of comic and anime characters have very little clothing. There are plenty of costumes I don’t like on certain body types, but who am I to stop them? I think if you are going to a family-friendly event, don’t show up looking like you’re ready for a Fetish Ball. Be aware of who the audience is.

8. Does the response to your cosplays differ when you’re in at a sci-fi convention versus an anime convention?

Not really, but I dress for the occasion.

9. How about when you’re in steampunk or lolita versus cosplay?

By Camille Tessa Thomas

I get a lot of curiosity when I’m in any cosplay. Little girls tend to get really excited when I’m dressed in lolita. Men do too but for different reasons. On two occasions I was asked (very politely) if I was a dance/entertainer, a.k.a. a stripper.

10. How did you respond to that?

Well, how would any woman respond to that? Especially one who’s nearly completely covered? I took a breath and calmly explained that this is fashion, not for anything more than that. I made sure to also say it pointedly so that they knew I was offended by their assumptions. Both of them got embarrassed and apologized and told me I looked great, but how is that suppose to make you feel when they already made a comment like that?

11. A hot topic in the steampunk community is the disagreement over whether an outfit is steampunk or not. Lolitas are no stranger to this either. What is your opinion on the need for fashion rules and the critiques that happen a community?

I had a friend, who has never dressed in steampunk, tell me my outfit wasn’t steampunk. Steampunk is an imagination fairy tale. So how can something “not” be steampunk when it really doesn’t have a real world basis? Women are freer in steampunk than they were in the actual Victorian age so how do you know they wouldn’t have worn pants or shorts? One of my favorite critiques is “glue some watch parts on it to make it steampunk”. Now this is just silly. It has more to do than just “clock parts”.

Lolita is a little different. Ever since its conception, there have been rules upon rules. However, the rules of the original conception have changed. There are all sorts of sub-genres now: fairy, gore, sweet, country, ero. Ero especially denounces the rules of gothic lolita by being “sexy”, not “pretty”.

There have to be a few rules in a creative genre or else it would lose itself. But they should be fairly loose to allow all sorts of people to get involved. If you can’t grow, then your genre would never get very far. I don’t like a lot of Victorian wear, and if I had been forced into it, I wouldn’t have gotten involved. Same thing for lolita had I been forced to buy brand. Having a little creative leeway makes me happy.

12. What can people who dress up do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?

I would say to extract yourself from the situation as soon as possible. Remember that you have your reasons for dressing up and its not their business.

SFE2012 - steampunk1

13. What are your tips for those interested in dressing up on managing time and money?

The thrift store and eBay are your best friend. Stalk and stalk. All of my wigs were bought off eBay. The corset dealer I found was from eBay. Most of my steampunk stuff came from Good Will. As for lolita, I don’t believe in buying brand for something I’ll wear maybe once a month if I’m lucky.

14. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

I have a lot more friends and confidence. Something about being introverted but being a subdued center of attention is really exciting.

15. Any last words to fellow cosplayers and con-goers?

Thanks for showering! It’s been a while since I’ve come across a particularly nasty bit of con funk. Don’t let bullies and naysayers get you down. Live life the way that makes you happiest.

Many thanks to Urban Sidhe for her responses and cosplay and lolita photos.   More of Arielle Fragassi’s work can be found at Silvertree Photographic.

Beneath the Layers – Lauren

A bimonthly format seems to be working better for this interview series, as we all end up being busy with conventions and projects.  In case you missed my last Beneath the Layers post, you can read it here.

This month’s interviewee is a fellow Hibari cosplayer.  Lauren is a full-time college student from St. Augustine, Florida.  Between  studying theatre and psychology and working two jobs in the summer, she finds time to attend six in-state cons and two out-of-state conventions.  When she’s not working on cosplays, she spends her free time sleeping and hanging out with friends.  I am very happy glad that Lauren contacted me after seeing one of my Beneath the Layers posts (and I encourage anyone else who wishes to share their story to do the same).

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?

I’ve been cosplaying for roughly seven years now.  It’s always so hard for me to pick a favorite cosplay of mine mostly because I have some that I do often due to my dedication to the fandom (such as Katekyo Hitman Reborn!) but they’re not ones I’d favor over another.  I love cosplaying Stocking from Panty and Stocking because I feel like it’s really easy for me to come up with poses for her character and I always am pleased with how I look as her.  The wigs for her sort of take away from it, being hard to manage especially at cons, but I suppose she’s the closest to being my favorite.

2. What is the best part of cosplaying?  The worst part?

For me, the best part of cosplay is the people.  I’ve met so many amazing people and grown closer to those I already knew.  I’ve got friends all over the U.S., as well as in Europe and even parts of Asia.  My current girlfriend and I have been dating for almost six months now, and we met through a love of cosplay on forums almost two years ago.  I believe being able to meet and connect with people who share the same love and passion as you really makes the amount of time and money spent on this hobby really worth it in the end (though, yes, seeing yourself look awesome in costume also is a really great reward).

However, I feel like the worst part also is the people.  While you have the people mentioned above, you have the people who really just ruin it: the people who think you should only cosplay characters that are your natural skin tone, hairstyle, eye colour, etc.  The same people who think everyone who isn’t a size zero should not cosplay certain characters or girls should stick to cosplaying just girls and males cosplaying males.  My best friend got negative feedback on an amazing cosplay once solely because her skirt was not pleated while the characters skirt was—something that I really feel like was not a reason to view her cosplaying skills as poor.

Stocking (Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt)

3. Expanding on what you said earlier, what are your thoughts on race and cosplay debate?

I think the whole issue really should not be as big of a deal as it is.  A dark Sailor Moon is as acceptable as a light Nick Fury.  At the same time though, I see nothing wrong if a darker person wants to use make-up to appear a lighter color or if a lighter person wants to use make-up to look darker, as long as the reasons behind both are for accuracy.  It’s no different that painting yourself red for a Kneesocks cosplay or grey for a Homestuck cosplay.

4. What is your response to the stereotype of cosplayers being attention-whores?

Honestly, my response is that not all of them are though that’s not saying some are not.  There are some people who cosplay certain characters because they love the character, series, and/or outfit… and there are some who do it solely because of the popularity of a series/character or how little the character is wearing. (Not saying you shouldn’t cosplay something popular.

5. Please describe one or two incidents where you were sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay.

I actually never used to think about stuff like this because up until last year I never cosplayed female character.  However, this last December, I cosplayed Shura Kirigakure from Ao no Exorcist at a small con near home.  I was so nervous about it because I had never in my dreams seen myself cosplay a character in short shorts and a bikini.  After having some friends talk me through a panic attack about it the night before, I set out with my group (which included a Yoko [Littner] and Jessica Rabbit).  My enjoyment of the day did not last very long: we’d just walked into the Starbucks in the convention center when a guy, who I clearly remembered taking a picture of our group, approached us and started making conversation.  Everyone was seemingly okay with it, except me.

I only really spoke when I was being spoken to due to the fact that I was already out of my comfort zone and was dealing with pre-existing social anxiety problems.  The guy was trying to get into my head, commenting how the others were party girls and I was the one who stayed back and was aware of everything.  None of my friends picked up on how uncomfortable it was making me.  The final straw was when the conversation turned to who had the best boobs—a conversation I’m perfectly fine having with my friends, but not with some guy who just approached us.  I quickly left, claiming to be cold, and spent the rest of the day walking around with one other friend.

The rest of the day was filled with people asking me how I felt about cosplaying that [character] and if I had any idea what people were thinking when they see me walking around in just shorts and a bikini—something that I feel like people who do cosplays like that already know.  If they don’t, it’s not a random stranger’s job to tell them.  It made me extremely self-conscious and even more uncomfortable.

Shura Kirigakure (Ao no Exorcist)

Since then, I have not had any more issues like that.  I’ve worn a similar costume to a different con and had nothing even close to that happen, and I had so much fun the next time I cosplayed her.  Most recently, my best friend and I wore just bikinis to a con (as characters’ bathing suit variant) and no one at the con did or said anything that made me regret doing that costume.

6. How does the experience differ when you’re dressed as a male character versus a female?

I feel like when I cosplay a male character I have a harder time remembering not to stand like a girl.  I naturally stand with a hip out and hands on my hips whereas cosplaying a male, I have to not jut my hip out and be careful not to accidentally stick my chest out too much.  Past that, I can’t really say that I’ve had any super different experiences between the two.  A few times people have been surprised I was a female when cosplaying a male, but that’s just about all.

7. What makes a cosplay stand out in your eyes?

The amount of fun the person is having in it.  I know people who will cosplay whatever character in their group wants them to cosplay, regardless of if the person actually wants to do it or not.  For me, cosplaying becomes significantly less fun (and I know I’m less motivated to put my all into it) if it’s something I don’t want to do.

I know a lot of people are thinking, “What about putting actual effort into it?”  There are times when you can’t afford a wig or aren’t comfortable using contacts or makeup.  More than anything, I believe effort directly ties into the idea that you are still having fun.  It’s more satisfying to look back at a cosplay and think, “Yeah, I didn’t look as good as I could have, but I had so much fun that I really don’t care how bad I looked” than it is to go, “Well… At least I looked good. Can’t really say I had a lot of fun.”  Cosplay is literally the shorthand for “costume play”.  You lose the fun, or the “play”, and you’ve lost more or less half of the whole concept of cosplay.

8. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

When people decide to cosplay certain things just to be rude about it.  I’ve read stories about people cosplaying series like Homestuck just to be rude to others cosplaying it.  It all has to do with attitude: you can look like you just walked out of the video game or anime, but then you turn around and put down other people cosplaying from it? That’s a big no-no for me—same with the people who get mad or upset when they see someone else cosplaying the same character.  It happens so instead of being angry about it, you should go and swap ideas with the person.

Also, people who strive to be in-character, especially when you are cosplaying a nasty character.  Know your limits, and be mature (e.g. don’t pass a bucket around the table at a restaurant and spit into it) because what you do is reflecting onto the fandom and it makes other people want to avoid cosplayers from that fandom.

Kyoya Hibari (Katekyo Hitman Reborn!)

9. Some of my interviewees mentioned that anime con-goers seem to be less receptive and even hostile to non-anime cosplays.  Have you encountered any of that?

Personally, I have not. Having a lot of friends who are into cosplaying from comics and music artists, I hear their stories about getting hassled about it. The whole thing is a little ridiculous; cosplay who you want to cosplay from what you want to cosplay.

10. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?

Honestly, I feel like you’re always going to have someone who just doesn’t like how you cosplay.  The best way to handle it is to try to just laugh it off, especially seeing as nowadays, the harassment and bullying comes from anonymous users on-line.  They don’t even have the courage to show who they are.  As for harassment and bullying at a con, I’d still say try and shrug it off.  If it persists, let con staff or really anyone know that you are having a hard time and are suffering because of someone else there.

11. What should cons do to help prevent harassment and damage to costumes?

I feel like especially at big cons there really is not a way to completely stop all harassment.  Most cons have the “bikini rule” (you have to have a minimum of a bikini on) for girls and a similar one for guys.  A lot of cons have also forbidden signs that are not props to your cosplay, as well as the infamous yaoi paddles.

For the most part, the cosplayer needs to be mindful of their cosplay and have a means of preventing damage to it as best as possible, such as picking up and carrying your six-foot train or not going into the dealers room with your long sword or huge wings with you.  It is also fellow con-goers job to try and avoid causing damage to others’ costumes. We all just have to work together to have fun and not destroy anyone’s stuff, even on accident.

12. How can the relationship between cosplayer and photographer be improved?

For the cosplayer, don’t try and tell the photographer how to take pictures, just as the photographer should not try and tell the cosplayer how to cosplay.  I feel like the most important thing for a photographer is to have a little knowledge of the series and character so you know what poses and angles are the best for that character.  Again, know your limits and be mature.  If you (the cosplayer or photographer) are uncomfortable with what the other is asking you to do, let him/her know and either agree to not do it and continue shooting things you are both comfortable with or end the shoot right there and agree to not shoot together again.

N (Pokemon Black and White)

13. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

My bank account says no, but I always remember having such great fun in just a single weekend.  I feel like I’ve become really open-minded to things; you can really learn a lot from talking to cosplayers. Putting on wigs, make-up, and fake lashes for cosplay really helped me soar through the stage make-up class I had to take this past year.  More than anything, cosplay has become a means in which I can express myself and just really let loose and be myself with my friends and others.

14. What tips do you have for on managing time and money?

Thrift stores and your own closet.  I get a lot of feedback asking how I made things, only tell them that it’s a jacket or something I got at the thrift store and just added what was needed to it. The same goes with wigs: a lot of sellers on sites like eBay have stores elsewhere online that are cheaper. Even searching for “long red wig” as opposed to “Kuroshitsuji Grell wig” will find you wigs that work just as well and cost half the price.

Managing time is something I will have issues with.  A lot of times it still comes down to packing the glue gun and finishing it at the con. I definitely try and get a head start, but it quickly turns into “Oh I have three months before I need this!” Then next thing I know, it’s become “I need this tomorrow; why didn’t I finish this three months ago?!” My best recommendation would be to pace yourself and try your best not to wait until the night before.

15. Anything else you would like to say to fellow cosplayers and con-goers?

Never forget to have fun.  Try your best not to let a few negative comments stop you from doing what you love to do. For me, the most important things for cosplaying are to have fun, be respectful to everyone else at the con, and don’t let things ruin the con for you.

A big thank you to Lauren for doing the interview and supplying the photographs.

Beneath the Layers – Rebecca

A devoted Whovian, Rebecca can’t resist making a Doctor reference.

Beneath the Layers is back, and if you haven’t had the chance to catch up on past interviews, check them out here. This month’s cosplayer, Rebecca, originally hails from New Zealand. The 30-year-old artist and “confirmed internet junkie” now lives in Texas, where she spends her free time reading and making plushies. Despite having faced on-line bullies, she has never let that discouraged her from dressing up as her favorite characters.

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?

Other than being a cast member in a Renaissance faire in 2004, I have been cosplaying since spring 2010. I love to cosplay as Amy Pond (I have a soft spot for my “Vincent and the Doctor” cosplay), and though my Vampire of Venice costume is comfortable, I would say my current favorite is Anastasia. It makes me feel beautiful and elegant.

2. How does the experience of being a Ren faire cast member differ from cosplaying?

When I did Ren faire, I had a position in the court.  At the official events during the day I had to sit near the queen as a lady-in-waiting; the rest of the time, I was more atmosphere character and wandered around with another lady-in-waiting, semi-in character.  With cosplay, you are not as obligated to maintain a character or station like a cast member so it has a lot more freedom for interpretation and activities.

Vampire of Venice (Doctor Who). Photo by Kelly Rybarczyk.

3. What are the best and worst parts of being a cosplayer?

The best parts are that moment when someone gets excited to see that character and you get a big smile and when people recognize the work that you put into the costume.

The worst parts are when you feel overlooked either by people looking for more popular characters or because —especially with Doctor Who cosplay—the characters often wear street clothes that are not easily recognized by non-hardcore fans.

4. Please describe one or two incidents where you have been harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay.

A facebook page decided they could display images found on a Google search without permission (they claimed it was public domain, which I would like to stress to readers that it is not public domain and not okay). They posted on the page saying it was weird, which brought some nasty comments. After my friends stood up for me, they did take it down and apologized. I would like to ask people reading this to remember there are people on the end of that internet ISP and words can really hurt.

Another incident was very recently when I posted a picture on Tumblr of a cosplay I was very proud of. Someone decided to message me and reblog saying my weight disgusted them and they found it insulting. This I will admit had me in tears also.

5. How do you feel about the idea that people should dress up as characters of their race, size, and age?

Being an older cosplayer, I do feel a bit self-conscious about playing young characters, and as mentioned above, I have been discriminated for my size. However, I think if the person is confident and appropriately covered, size should not matter. As for race, I do not think it should matter in the least.


6. In my last interview, Cam talked about the negative reactions to non-anime cosplayers at anime cons. Do you experience that?

I think for me it has not been so much negative as just disinterest or ignorance towards what I am dressed as. Even so, that can be disheartening. I figure as long as we are having fun, the non-anime characters should be as welcomed as any cosplayer, especially with the lack of large sci-fi cons in the area. I will admit the disinterest/lack of recognition has been a factor in me branching out from sci-fi cosplays.

7. How can the relationship between photographers and cosplayers be improved?

Due to an incident that recently happened, I would say that if you don’t want to take a picture of two people cosplaying the same character, or in my case a different outfit of the character, it is not necessary to explain their outfit looks “too normal”. As I have said earlier, we do have feelings. It is important to remember that even though we are dressed as the character and may be acting like them, underneath we are real people.

8. What are your personal boundaries that will make you stop acting like a character for a photo?

I am a bit conservative, so probably no actual kissing or overtly sexual gestures.

9. What makes a cosplay stand out in your eyes?

Someone who has put effort into their cosplay. I am not saying people who can’t afford/make the fancy ones are bad, just to me one that has a lot of attention to detail about the character’s clothes (even if the outfit is simple elegance) stands out. Also a prop that pertains to the episode/character adds to the wow factor.

“The Beast Below” Amy Pond (Doctor Who)

10. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

When it involves a very sensitive subject matter, caution and maybe just not doing the cosplay is in order. At one convention, I saw people with swastikas on their uniforms and was rather repulsed at the insensitivity. Also I believe people need to be appropriately covered. I know some characters’ outfits are skimpy, but I would rather not see peoples butts hanging out from under their outfits in a public place.

11. Coming from a conservative background myself, I was so shocked at some of the things I saw at my first con that I almost didn’t return. How do you deal with seeing things you find morally objectionable?

I have found that the best way is usually to ignore it or hang out in a different area. Usually there are places you can go to avoid the more risque activities.

The Rani (Doctor Who)

12. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying and to stop perpetuating such behaviors?

I would say just be aware of your surroundings. If you are going to drink or do something that will impair your ability to watch out for yourself, make sure you are hanging out with people you trust.

As for not perpetuating the behavior, we need to be aware and watch out for each other at conventions. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Just because we may think something looks stupid/wrong/inaccurate does not mean it is okay for us to voice it.

13. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

I believe it has helped my confidence increase. It has given me an outlet for something I enjoy: creating and wearing costumes.

14. Any last words to fellow and aspiring cosplayers?

The whole point of this is to have fun, just because someone says you are too tall, short, big, small, does not mean you can’t enjoy dressing as and celebrating your fandoms.

Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing her thoughts and supplying all the cosplay photos.

Beneath the Layers – Cam

After a brief hiatus, Beneath the Layers is back and ready to deliver more cosplayer interviews (I’m always looking for more candidates so contact me if you’re interested).  This month, I talk to 23-year-old Dallas cosplayer, Cam.  Some of you may know him as a cellist who covers video game themes.  He considers himself as “Jack of All Arts” and also enjoys painting, writing, photography, modeling, and building computers.  Cam gives us the scoop on what it’s like being a male cosplayer and a Trekkie at an anime convention.

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?

My first cosplay event was A-kon 20 (June 2009). I had been planning for nearly a year by that point but didn’t know of any other opportunities, excepting Halloween.

My primary cosplay is a Starfleet captain from the Star Trek: Voyager era. After that first convention, I accidentally started a fan fleet, and as our numbers and story grew, we became a rogue fleet, making odd modifications to our uniforms. Mine was eventually decked out with all manner of strange tactical gear.

2. What are the best and worst parts of being a cosplayer?

The best part of being a cosplayer is that singular moment when I recognize the look of respect in someone’s eyes for the amount of work that has gone into making the costume I’m wearing. That, or walking around town and seeing the looks of confusion from the general populace.

The worst part? When those looks of confusion become words of hate fed by fear of the unknown, or in a simpler case, when the costume is mistakenly recognized as something completely unrelated.  For a lot of people, there are also worries that the costume might not survive the day, thanks to glomping or gross misuse of others’ props.

3. It sounds like you have had a bad experience with that.

I once had a costume ripped in the crotch because a disrespectful woman decided to swing a prop gun around that area. She never apologized or even acknowledged fault, and I had to retire the costume immediately.

Starfleet captain (Star Trek Voyager)

4. Can you describe an incident in which you’ve been harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay?

The vast majority of anime fans are unaware of the existence of Star Trek comics, manga, graphic novels, video games, or the animated series.  As a result, for every anime convention I attend in uniform, I am told several times that I do not belong, that I’m at the wrong con, or that I’m not welcome there.  In one instance, a trustworthy friend related to me the trash talk from several Fullmetal Alchemistcosplayers who had threatened to take a more physical action if they saw me in uniform again.

5. How does the treatment of cosplayers differ between anime and sci-fi conventions?

I suppose I should have already said that I’m pretty much the worst Trekkie of all time. It wasn’t until I had a fleet to command that I began to really watch the shows to learn more about it, and I’ve only been to one dedicated sci-fi convention.  I did note a few differences from anime conventions.  Photographers and interviewers were much more concerned with how I felt about their work and how it portrayed me.  I received less random business cards and more actual conversation and genuine questions.  I also noticed a lot lower rate of thrown-together costumes.  There were people who had spent a great deal of time hammering out the finer details of their costumes (with the exception of a few cheap Star Trek uniform shirts).  I heard no conversations about Han and Greedo; I heard nothing about a weapons check; and the atmosphere was very lighthearted and fun throughout.

6. How do you feel about the idea that people should dress up as characters of their race, size, and age?

I personally try to hold to that idea in order to make my own cosplay that much more convincing, but then again, I’m a skinny white guy. I have that option. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me when I see people dressing as characters who are a different race, size, age, or even gender. Quite the contrary, if the costume is well-made and clean cut, I find it all the better for their dedication and determination.

Klingon (Star Trek)

7. How can the relationship between cosplayers and photographers be improved?

I’ve heard wondrous stories of the respect given by photographers to cosplayers in Japan.  Here, cosplay is apparently considered to be a much more casual hobby.  In my observation, cosplayers who are stopped for photos are generally grateful for the recognition while photographers just want to get a quick snap and move on.

Cosplayers should be allowed to see the photos that are being taken, but it’s a very difficult thing to do when there are several cameras going off at the same time.  With a few exceptions, I’ve seen very little rapport between cosplayers and photographers, despite the frequency of one person being both in the convention setting.

8. What makes a cosplay stand out in your eyes?

A good fit, a clean cut, and attention to the finer details.  Does your character wield a sword with identifying features? Wear a suit of armor? Carry a certain stuffed animal or pet?  I’m more likely to pay less attention to someone whose costume doesn’t fit, is the wrong color, or is missing a crucial piece.

9. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

Guidelines can be hard to set for this question, but in general, I agree with the rule that “No costume is no costume.”  If it’s painted on or the only thing you’re wearing is wedged up your backside, that’s not enough clothing.

I will not talk to someone wearing a costume that is clearly prejudiced or hateful background.  In fact, I almost completely disowned a close friend for wearing a Nazi Waffen SS uniform, but he removed it when I and others expressed our feelings.

10. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying and to stop perpetuating such behaviors?

The only way to be 100% sure you won’t be bullied for cosplaying is not to cosplay, but where’s the fun in that?  We could all stick to characters we already naturally look like, but there’s no fun in that either.  We can push for acceptance by waiting for society to recognize cosplay as more than an aberrant hobby, but that will take time.

Perhaps the best answer is to prepare witty banter for the talker, or to travel in numbers to lessen physical threat. There’s really no good answer to this problem, or bullying might have been solved on a more general level by now.

Star Trek meets Doctor Who

11. What kinds of stereotypes do male cosplayers face?

I’ve found there are two dichotomous stereotypes at play for men.  Like females, the “ideal” male cosplayers are expected to be in peak shape, but instead of having curves, they are expected to have defined muscle anywhere skin is showing.  On the other end of the spectrum, the “expected” male cosplayers would ogle the girls at every opportunity (or worse) and care nothing for their appearance or smell.

12. Do you think “How to Talk to Girls” panels are necessary?  What should guys (and girls) do if they wish to pursue a conversation with someone?

Yes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, those panels are necessary.  The only problem is that the guys who really need it wouldn’t go.

The only way to pursue a conversation is to start one.  Sadly, everything after this comes down to recognition of key words/phrases and body language, which the [stereotypical] “expected” male cosplayers would completely miss.  That in turn gives rise to the need for these panels.

13. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

I believe this is the easiest question you’ve asked. Most of my closest friends I’ve met through cosplay and conventions. I don’t really identify with most of my high school and college friends so it’s nice to know people who have interests similar to my own.

14. Any last words to fellow and aspiring cosplayers?

For pete’s sake, don’t make out with your Charizard plushy.  I saw that the other day, and it was disgusting.  To be a bit broader, have respect for yourself and your peers.  Respect is what it all boils down to in this game.

Many thanks to Cam for taking the time to answer all my questions and for supplying all the photos except the last one.

Beneath the Layers – Mika

We go all the way to across the Pacific to find this month’s Beneath the Layers cosplayer (to check out my previous interview, click here).  Mika is a fellow assistant English teacher from northern Japan.  Although some know her as “Mikachu” or “Mallet Girl”, she typically opts to use her real name.  When she’s not busy with high schoolers or costumes, she enjoys dressing in Lolita and going to concerts.  Mika has frequented conventions and cosplay events in both the U.S. and Japan, giving her insight on what both cosplay communities can learn from each other.

NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.

1. What is your favorite cosplay?

My MOST favorite cosplay may be Lady Asuka from Rayearth but that was worn ONCE and retired since it was heavy and long and had white fabric that I had to tell people not to step on.  Right now [the uniform from] Shuffle! may be my favorite since it is easier to wear.

2. What are the best and worst parts of being a cosplayer?

The best part about it is losing yourself in what you do: becoming that character for how many hours you are in said costume.

The worst part is making all the insane cosplay props. I am no good at them. I have super glued my fingers together before so not a fun part of making any prop or cosplay. I guess the cosplay-related injuries fall in the bad part.

3. What are some of the big differences between cosplaying in America and cosplaying in Japan

For me, I feel you get more respect in Japan at events than in America. People follow the rules for the most part and know when to back off. I tend to feel more comfortable in Japan since they do actually enforce the rules and regulations here whereas in America, it would have to be something big for it even got noticed.

Yuuka Kazami (Touhou Project)

4. What can cosplayers and photographers from each country learn from one another in terms of etiquette and attitude?

Oh a lot, but I will keep it short.  Ask permission to take a photo or anything else.  Do not touch the cosplay that someone is wearing and no jumping on people.  These all pertain to cosplay in the States.

One thing the Japanese cosplayers and photographers can take away is don’t be shy.  No one likes to be followed around waiting for another to ask for a photo. Just ask.  The worst that can happen is we say “no”.

5. Do you ever feel like you get treated differently as a foreigner at cosplay events?

Hell yes I do!  The fact that you stand out does not help.  Most of the time people are scared to talk to you because they don’t know if you will understand them.  I even had one guy pull out an iPhone and start talking through that until I spoke Japanese to him. I never think too much into it especially at tiny venues.  It’s not common for them to get many foreigners, let alone ones that really stand out.  Never been turned away or anything bad. I usually just get the deer in the headlights look and them looking mortified because they think I speak ZERO Japanese.

6. Why do you think there is this popular belief that Japanese cosplayers are better than others?

I guess it’s since most of them go all out when cosplaying. I have seen amazing Japanese cosplayers, but I have also seen really good foreign ones.  Also the fact anime comes from Japan could be why people assume that by default Japanese cosplayers will be the best.

7. Have you been sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay?  Please describe one or two incidents.

Bullied, no.  Sexually harassed, yes.  It’s sad that I push it off as a convention mentality. I tend to cosplay many things, but that does not make it a reason for anyone to touch you or even ask for sex.  I love many ero games and venture into the uniform realm, but dressing like a Bible Black character does NOT make it okay to touch me because I “should be in character”.  It NEVER makes it okay.

I guess that was the worst one in the States—being cornered by a fan after asking for a photo.  It’s fun to play around in character, but when you mistake me for that character and attempt to copy a scene from that show is when I draw the line.  Once my friends realized it was not a joke, I was more than happy to have them jump in and intervene and stop the unwanted roaming hands.

Japan is a bit better though depending on the photographer, harassment ends up being in the form of “Lean back this way or just move your skirt a centimeter or two higher”.  I would take that form of harassment any day compared to what I put up with in the States though I wish both could be eliminated.

Cirno (Touhou Project)

8. Do you have any stories of glomping gone wrong?

Yes. I had decided to break out a cosplay I have been working a year on, Lady Asuka from Rayearth—part hand-beaded monstrosity and massive amounts of fabric.  As fate would have it, another cosplayer from the series got a little too excited and pounced on me, causing me to lose a couple beads that took forever to find, and stepped on the white lower half, getting it dirty as well as ripping the back bow out.  I was so upset I only wore that costume once and retired it after that incident.

9. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?

Be aware of your surroundings. Stay with friends and in a group you can trust if possible. This is to help the harassment issue.  NEVER change yourself or what you like doing. If you stop wearing what you like because of harassment, they have won. If you are bring bullied, inform a close friend or family member.

10. How can the relationship between cosplayer and photographer be improved?

By having a mutual agreement.  Photographers need to be more open with cosplayers. I know most pictures will end up on facebook and am fine with that.  I just like to know where I will be and have approval power over it ‘cause not all of us like 4-chan or want anything there.

11. What should conventions do to help prevent harassment and damage to costumes?

I guess no matter how many guards there are, it’s hard to help. Most places have a “no glomp” rule to prevent damage, but cosplayers need to be firm with telling anyone whether it’s okay to touch a costume since some people ignore the rules.

Harassment should be taken seriously.  If someone complains, check it out don’t just ignore it. Make it a known issue. If people know it happens and look for signs, maybe we can help by policing each other, being a tight knit community.

12. How do you feel about the idea that cosplayers should dress up as characters of their race, size, and overall appearance?

When people say you should only cosplay who you can pull off, I then usually tell them that if that were the case, no one could properly do it, not even the Japanese. How many naturally blonde, overly busty, and big blue-eyed Japanese girls are there?  Hell, I have seen some pull off a great Himemiya [from Utena] cosplay and none of them were tanned skin.  No one told me that I could not be a Sailor Scout because I was not pale. If it does not matter to the country that made anime, it should not matter to cosplayers.

Sendai Comiket9

Multi (To Heart)

Cosplay is something done for fun and to make YOU happy. Don’t let your body type, race, age and everything else stop you from having fun. I plan to be doing this FOR YEARS and no one will rain on my parade!

13. In your eyes, when does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?

When there is too little clothing.  Kids will be at the cons; showing too much can be inappropriate. You can cosplay without showing all of your goodies.

14. What makes a cosplay stand out from others?

Being in character and presenting yourself right makes it stand out. I have seen many Yuki cosplayers from Haruhi Suzumiya.  When they are too bouncy and bubbly, I don’t remember them well, but when they are quiet and in character, I seem to remember them more. The costume helps, but the way someone carries themselves makes a big deal.

I say this because some cosplays are so simple say a simple white dress and a wig (Luka from the “Just Be Friends” PV).  Not many will know it, but if you borrow actions or personality, you will become much more memorable and maybe people will remember who you are cosplaying.

15. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?

Miharu Himenomiya (StepXSteady)

I have made many new and life-long friends from all over the world.  I may not be the best cosplayer and have seen so many amazing ones, but in the end, we all have this hobby in common.  It’s nice to know that other fun and crazy people like me exist and that once the con ends and you leave the Big Sight on the last day of Comiket, your phone will ring and you have a new friend who wants to get to know you as well as the cosplay you.

Even with all the bad that can and will happen, I would not change a thing. It’s hard to believe that a lot of my friends came out of small events or from a simple “Hey you’re cosplaying my sister! Let’s take a photo together” type of situation.  That’s what makes this hobby worth while!

16. Anything else you would like to tell the cosplay community or con-goers?

Have fun. Treat others how you would like to be treated.  Respect and a smile go a long way. We remember that, and the kinder you are, there is a high chance we will remember you.

どうも ありがとうございます Mika-sensei, for sharing your experiences and providing all the photographs (except the one of Multi).

Listening to: “Kimi no masshiro na hane” by exist†trace