Saturday, June 1, 2013

Nerd Butter: Cosplay

Nerd Butter: For everything, there is a qualifying level and then there is another, superlative, exemplary level. There are many Olympic athletes, but only a few medalists. You might be a sports fan, or you can be the guy in the stadium with baseball stitching painted in his beer belly. And so it is with being a nerd. There are nerd requisites--what I call Nerd Bread--and then there are nerd specialities--Nerd Butter. While just about every nerd should be into Nerd Bread, Nerd Butter is what sets you apart as a nerd of a special caliber. And in the end, it's the specialties that make being a nerd so much fun.

Starting off a new month, and I can also say that the Facebook page companion to this blog is now up and running. If you want to, head on over to FB and lookup Ben's Nerdery. I'll be putting up photos there--some from the blog, and some from the cutting room floor as I add more and more coverage of conventions and other events. In particular, I've got about 30 pictures under my coverage of C2E2's cosplayers that I didn't get to share in the C2E2 2013 Roundup. Check it out, and feel free to share the pics around your Facebook (or Google Plus) circles to help spread the love.

Today's topic is cosplay. That stands for "costume play" for those of you scrunching up your faces in confusion right now. Cosplay allegedly comes from Japan, because they formalized the portmanteau and made a sub-culture of it. But portmanteaus and sub-cultures are what the Japanese do best, so I don't give them much credit for that. No, costume play has been an informal part of a lot of non-Japanese societies long before they made it sexy and called it cosplay. I'm thinking of the 60s and 70s fans of The Lord of the Rings doing dramatic readings of Tolkien's works in costume. Heck, even Tolkien himself was known to occasionally burst into lecture hall in chainmail and shouting "Hwaet!" to start class*. And this sets aside the western halloween tradition of costume parties and masquerades in general, which are similar but aren't quite cosplay. Cosplay is about appreciating and exploring the characters you dress up as, in addition to being a social dialog between fans. Characters from books, comics, shows, movies, and games are all fair material for cosplay, but comics and games are probably the more common expression at a general event these days. Although I must have seen about 100 Jayne Cobb beanies at C2E2--I even caught a few staff wearing some. Cosplay is fundamentally about exhibiting the fandom that went into the costume's planning, creation, and display, and that makes it different from Halloween parties where the costume is still the secondary identity. That's why it's customary to identify a cosplayer more like an actor playing a role, and it's not unusual to address cosplayers as their characters at cons and events.

Cosplayers approach the hobby from all different angles. Most of the time cosplay begins in relation to conventions. As I'm sure you guessed from my cursory coverage of the cosplay at C2E2, you could go to a convention like that and do nothing but cosplay-related events. Heck, I could very easily have sat outside the event itself and done nothing but take pictures of the fabulous cosplays as they arrived. I'm pretty sure some people did, and I've heard stories of people doing that quite deliberately (sometimes because they've been kicked out, but whatever). At C2E2, I was absolutely blown away by the Ms. Marvel cosplay you see in the gif here, and I kick myself that I didn't get any decent still pictures of her or her sister, who was a perfect Kasumi. I remember seeing them just outside the venue on Friday, and only the rugged lure of Ron Perlman and his autograph kept me going. Which is good, because later I was pretty certain that if I talked to them I'd have made a bigger boob of myself than when I met Ron. I'm pretty sure I made the right call, because Imma stoopid.

Other cosplayers get into it from a performance angle, and since they're dressing up in costumes for photoshoots for modeling or acting anyways, they adapt to the cosplay sub-culture. I find it hard to respect this angle, as some people seem to use cosplayers as a way to milk the nerd community for support and enthusiasm without actually enjoying the nerdiness itself. They also make it more difficult to distinguish regular cosplay from the fetishist elements of it--because a lot of the cosplay that gets noticed these days only gets recognized for being sexy, and many of the other fun aspects of the hobby get pushed aside for...mammalian enthusiasm. Don't get me wrong, I'm a mammal. I'm a huge mammal. I could probably talk mammals all day. But when exhibitionist types insist on reducing cosplay to that level, they also make it harder for people to get into it for just the cosplay and not the sensuality of it.

(You do know what I mean by mammalian enthusiasm, right?)

And then there are those who get into cosplay from a production side--they might get asked to help someone make an element for a costume and in the process get wrapped into the excitement. (Note: you have to be kind of weird to get excited about most of the process of cosplay; most people find the work of it incredibly tedious.) I mean, if you're going to enjoy sewing, prop or wig-making as a hobby in itself, you might as well turn into a service for your fandom too, right? 

In a big way, this last option is my story. I've always loved cosplay and had a vague idea of wanting to get into it somehow and someday, but I never really felt comfortable enough with it to commit myself to it. Then Star Citizen came along (don't worry, that post is coming before the blog sprint ends) and it got a crazy notion into my head. Several crazy notions, but one of which could be helped by getting advice from cosplayers. And so at C2E2 I began talking to the awesome Cosplay4UsAll about their process and ideas, and mentioned my own, and I soon realized that I might be able to not only do the crazy idea I had, but also help them with their own costume. And if I'm going to help someone else make a costume for cosplay, I'd be gorrammed if I wasn't going to cosplay as well.

The very best cosplay, in my opinion, is about dedication, attention to detail, and ingenuity. You take a costume and analyze it. Then you research construction methods, sometimes learning entirely new skills. You pull out all the small elements and make them into something really specific and accurate to the inspiration. And, most of the time, you have to cheat to do so, because the character you're cosplaying is made up and sometimes their appearances are just BS. So unlike a reenactor, who is specifically recreating something that has been made and probably could have its construction eventually nailed down, there's no manual for making an Optimus Prime costume. You just pull something out of thin air and shoot for awesome.

This kid shot for awesome and ended up making me have an absolute guano-insane fit of hoarse-throated screaming. It didn't matter that the contest was driven by audience participation--I would've screamed myself silly out of excitable nerd sensitivity. He may not have been the best cosplayer of the weekend, but he was the most impressive and definitely got the biggest reaction from me and the rest of the audience. And yes, the camera is shaking at the end because my cheese is starting to slide off my cracker.

The other thing that really appeals to me about cosplay is...wait for it...wait for it...the role-playing aspect of the hobby. Yes, it's not an essential aspect of cosplay. A lot of people never step fully into character, and if they do it's only for momentary photo ops. But I love seeing people become their characters when they step into their costumes, and as I start plotting my own cosplay, that sort of stuff is really enticing--romantic**, really--to me.

I'm still in the early stages of cosplay--that is, the entirely fictitious planning and pipe-dream stage. But now that I am announcing it here on the blog, where possibly up to a dozen people I don't know can read it, I am at least somewhat committed to this course of action. Plus, here's a little teaser of what I'm thinking of for my first costume. That's right, I'm going to cosplay as the Ren Faire albino Geralt of Rivia, from the series The Witcher. It's a fantasy series I've been more and more interested in since I bought The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings for Xbox 360, and one of the first things that really struck me about the game was the gritty and layered costume design. Where many fantasy games make outlandish and out-proportioned outfits for their settings, The Witcher costume design was largely reasonable and inspired by historical outfits. The main hero of the series, Geralt, sported some of the neatest costumes--worn and utilitarian, and not afraid to be somewhat shabby. Which fits the character so well, as Geralt is a raggedy, beaten, and brutalized hero that is so abused that he's virtually inured to it.

*"Hwaet" is the Old English precursor to our word "what", and it also is the first line of many Old English poems, including Beowulf.

** Alright, wisenheimer. I mean romantic in the traditional, emotionally affected and disconcerted sense. Not in the lusty sense. Settle down.

No comments:

Post a Comment