Recently I’ve had the opportunity to be brought into a world where fictional characters come to life in the form of Cosplay. My guide was a bubbly Canadian girl with vivid bright green hair, echoing her interesting and vibrant personality, even when she is not in character. Within the Cosplay community she is known by the name of Eskx, and she now lives and creates in Ireland. Eskx discusses cosplay as a hobby, a lifestyle and a form of artistic expression.
Millions of people around the globe share her passion and therefore this phenomenon has grown rapidly since the 1990s. Social media has brought far more attention to it over the last few years, and has become the largest platform for the community. Members follow each other for inspiration, encouragement, admiration and to build long distance friendships.
“Cosplay absolutely helped me find my people when I came to Ireland,” claims Eskx. “It’s such a welcoming community, and I’ve made many friends from it!”.
However, Eskx explains that the only time she meets most of her friends is during conventions, such as Dublin Comic Con, which was held annually before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We follow each other on social media sites and encourage each other through the process of building new costumes. When I go to a convention, I see someone I’d been following for a while and we stop for a chat or take pictures together.” she says.
Eskx explains that the Covid-19 Pandemic has mostly affected conventions, but the online community continues to thrive. Unfortunately, it has become more difficult for creators to get supplies, as she has switched to ordering online herself. She claims it has also affected people’s motivation to create.
Sometimes it can take weeks to complete a costume set and encouragement and incentive from peers helps to see it through. Inspiration comes from video games, films, comic books, cartoons or TV series, with the most popular genres including Manga and Anime. Creating costumes to bring her favourite fictional characters to life has been a part of Esk’s life ever since she was a child, and Anime has prevailed as one of the biggest influences in her art.
“The first costume I ever made I was 11 years old, and my mum had taught me how to sow” says Eskx. “It was a dress – specifically for an Anime I used to watch when I was younger. I just loved the characters so much that I wanted to look like them”.
As a type of performance art, Cosplay is brought to life through photography, conventions and various competitions. However, participants sometimes come across gender, sexual or ethnicity harassment. Representation of characters of another gender is often met with inadequate responses from onlookers. It is quite hard to portray the female characters and maintain their sexualised femininity. Males often find it harder than females when portraying other genders. Whereas, Eskx often changes between male and female characters, and has been doing so ever since she first got into cosplay.
“I remember how some people would be mimicking their barbies, I would be trying to mimic a transformer,” she says. “It is a bizarre thing to do, especially as a kid. You’re just wearing boxes at that point that you’ve painted colours on”.
One of Eskx’s most recent cosplays was inspired by a large monster called Zinogre from the Monster Hunter video game franchise. There is the aspect of body confidence that comes into play when wearing and showing off the costumes. Eskx explains that she is into fitness and health, wanting to look her best in costumes during conventions.
“There is a bit of pressure, especially if you’re portraying a superhero, to have an immaculate physique. But then every now and again you see a chubby Spiderman or Batman and they’re just happy and confident and it’s the best thing ever” she says.
Unfortunately, the provocative costumes sometimes invoke unwanted responses. In 2013 a movement: “Cosplay Is Not Consent”, was started by Rochelle Keyhan, Erin Filson, and Anna Kegler. It highlighted the issue of sexual harassment in the copslay community. It comes in various forms and includes photography without permission, verbal abuse, touching, and groping, and is encountered by both genders.
However, Ethnicity has become one of the most controversial points. Cos players with different coloured skin than the characters they are trying to portray are put down for being inaccurate. Whereas, any attempt to change their skin colour would be deemed offensive.
Nevertheless, Cosplay has developed and established itself as one of the most popular forms of modern art and representation. Its global community continues to thrive despite some issues and controversies.