Ahead of this weekend's Armageddon Expo in Auckland, Ethan Sills takes a look at the rise and rise of cosplay.
times a year, the Armageddon Expo takes place around New Zealand. A
celebration of all things pop culture, the recurring conventions are
perhaps best known for one thing: the costumes.
for 'costume play', is a hobby that sees people dress up in highly
realistic costumes based on their favourite fictional characters. With
the rise of the internet and social media, cosplay is becoming more
Every Armageddon Expo, there are always hundreds of
people milling about casually in costumes that look like they were
stolen from movie sets, easily disguising the fact these are, for the
most part, made by amateur designers.
To the uninitiated and the
dismissive, it is something that is forever linked with fan conventions -
an occasional hobby for 'weird' people with too much time on their
However, for people like Jess Woodward, cosplay is not simply a hobby. In many ways, it is her life.
first cosplayed in 2007 when she was just 14. She and her younger
brother went to the Armageddon expo in Auckland, thinking it would just
be a bit of fun.
Eight years on, she is now one of the
administrators of the Cosplay New Zealand Facebook group, a group that
boasts more than 3700 members, adding at least five new ones every 24
Woodward has come a long way from initially just planning to enter a contest with her brother.
says that the New Zealand cosplay community she discovered online is
one of the main reasons why she has stuck with the practice.
of my high school friends were into geeky stuff like I was, so I was
drawn online to find other people into the same stuff as I was. It
wasn't until I discovered the 'other countries' section of the
cosplay.com forums that I met other [New Zealanders] into this stuff.
"Several [of the] people I met online before that first Armageddon I went to are still among my best friends now."
going to 2014's Melbourne Armageddon, Woodward appreciates her
community even more after finding herself alone for the first time.
was wandering around in costume by myself for most of the first day and
it felt pretty isolated not knowing anyone in the community there."
local cosplayer, Katie Seto, went to her first Armageddon in costume in
2009. She was there to have fun with her friends, but since then Seto
has turned into a serious cosplayer.
A member of Cosplay New
Zealand, she attends various conventions around the country in costume,
sometimes spending up to six months at a time working on one outfit.
Like Woodward, the community aspect helped draw her into the hobby.
you start looking for a community for the hobby, a whole lot of things
start opening up and you realise how serious it can be."
Cosplay has allowed her to make friends throughout the country, giving her a network of cosplay-connections around New Zealand.
something really unique about meeting someone at a convention; there'll
be that moment where you see each other and realise you like the same
series. And then you find out that they aren't from that city or you're
from out of town, so that's just a really simple way for fans of the
same series to be brought together.
The feelings of community are
a strong part of cosplay's success, according to Dr Lorna
Piatti-Farnell, director of the Popular Culture Research Centre at AUT
University. Through research, she found there are different layers
regarding the people who take part.
"Not all fans are cosplayers. There is an abyss between 'I like that' and 'I want to dress up'.
are] people who like to dress up and doing it once a year, twice a year
at a convention as part of their fandom practices. And then there are
cosplays which are the more traditional cosplays, where people make
their own costumes from scratch and it becomes much more part of their
every day practices rather than the occasional ritual."
Piatti-Farnell says that for people who actively cosplay on a regular
basis, they have found "a sense of identification" with the hobby and
develop a "cultural circle" that allows their hobby to flourish.
"It's not about how much they like an idiom or a character but about what kind of cultural relevance it has for them."
cosplay becoming more mainstream, there are still a number of
misconceptions about what it is. Dr Piatti-Farnell has found that the
public can have inaccurate views about who cosplayers are and why they
"Sexualisation is one of the issues around cosplaying but not necessarily part of the community," she says.
who look upon cosplay they interpret the practice as a 'sexy practice',
because a lot of the characters, particularly the female ones, that
come from anime, or comic books, tend to be sexualised themselves."
Seto agrees, saying she has at times felt uncomfortable walking around in more exposed outfits.
"Female cosplayers especially feel a kind of pressure around that no matter what kind of costume they wear."
Cosplayers should be aware that they can face harassment, she says.
Both she and Woodward lament the fact people at conventions seem to view them as being there to entertain them.
bothers me that some people do seem to think they have some sort of
entitlement to us because we're in costume," Woodward says.
People will take photos without asking, and act upset if she turns them down.
spite of these difficulties, the future looks bright for cosplay. Due
to the rise in popularity of 'geek' culture, more people are taking part
than ever before.
"Shows like Game of Thrones have really helped bring cosplay into the mainstream," says Seto.
"It's opened a lot of people's eyes to the hobby; a lot more people know it exists now, and a lot more people take part."
is being taking seriously by the companies inspiring the costumes. Last
October, Marvel Comics featured cosplayers on the front pages of their
comics instead of their superheroes, an acknowledgement and celebration
of the fan practice.
The company will also be launching a new
series, The Unbelieveable Gwenpool in April, in response to the
character's positive reception by the cosplay community. Gwenpool had
only appeared on one variant cover before fans started copying her
distinctive white and pink outfit, and the response was enough to get
New technology has also helped expand the
world of the serious cosplayer. There has been a rise of cosplay
photography, which lets people like Ms' Seto and Woodward showcase their
Peter James has moved from cosplaying into photographing
his friends and colleagues. He says that he does it for fun and to
celebrate people's work, not for money.
financial to really profit from in the cosplay community. Being a
cosplayer myself I know what goes into them and they go through the same
amount of time and financial stress perfecting their arts."
With the accessibly of technology and its prominence in popular culture, Dr Piatti Farnell says cosplay is here to stay.
not just something that exists outside of the everyday. It is part of
our 21st century lives and not just something that occasionally pops
Both Woodward and Seto are excited for what the future may
bring. It seems that neither of these cosplayers will be hanging up
their costumes any time soon.