The reasons for this are manifold, but when I spoke with people embedded deep in the community, two things stood out. Firstly, when considering cosplay, one must always remember the second part of the name: play. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to live by the hard-and-fast rule that cosplay is not about winning or having the best costume. Judging or rating the execution, detail or accuracy of someone else’s costume is, in fact, widely frowned upon. This is a community based on mutual exploration and self-expression; mistakes are welcomed. This commitment to play forms a key part of the resistive shell protecting the cosplay community from cultural death by corporation.
In drag, a community that one might argue parallels cosplay (both involve altering your appearance and creating or mimicking beloved characters), we have seen the Withnail and I quote take distressing effect. A community once based so dedicatedly on liberation and expression has been pushed through the meat mincer of capitalism; queens are now judged, people are excluded and there’s always money at stake. This isn’t the fault of the drag artist – I am a drag artist myself and have been for over a decade – so I’m not here to bemoan people getting paid to complete a highly skilled task. But here is where cosplay is different, the second reason it resists the crushing force of capitalism: cosplay – as I was told multiple times – is a hobby. It’s about the love of, and dedication to, craft and character.
All the people I spoke to were adamant that they would never monetize their cosplay. Because monetizing cosplay would mean losing its status as hobby – and so a sense of play would be lost. This was a revelation. In a culture based on selling your image and your brand, these cosplayers – some of the most image-focused and brand-aware people – rejected the notion that to feel good, to have success, one must sell. In fact, the people I spoke to felt that they were most successful when they were able to create a seamless polyfoam piece of armour, which might take eleven hours. Or when they spent three hundred hours crafting a dress, simply for the feeling of wearing it, for the feeling of becoming someone else for a day – maximum. So, is it fair to say that the prerequisite for being a cosplayer is also being a nerd?
‘I love that word,’ says cosplayer Georgia, who appears as Satan from Devilman in Kids of Cosplay. ‘And I do think that a prerequisite to being a cosplayer is being a nerd of some description. I don’t want to push the word “nerd” into just one little bottle because there are all kinds of different nerds. We are a diverse consciousness, and everybody has their different reasons for engaging in cosplay. But there’s always a mutual respect for the passion behind cosplay. Is that what nerd means? Someone with passion?’