Monday, May 12, 2014

My Life as a Cosplay Mom

Cosplay?! What's that?

When I tell people that my teenage daughter loves to cosplay, they often have no idea what I'm talking about.

About five years ago, my daughter created her first costume to attend a cosplay convention. What I quickly learned is that her love for "cosplay" (defined as costume play) would definitely involve her mom! Together, we have made countless trips to the fabric and craft store as I learned to sew, trace, and glue, create patterns from scratch, and apply stage make-up.

In the photo to the left, you can see my husband and I, with our daughter, in full Pokemon cosplay. Attending ACEN (Anime Central) at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, two mild-mannered parents were instantly transformed into Team Magma. Our daughter had full design control, helping me create our group costume. Apparently we did it right, because the moment we entered the conference center, we were stopped for photos. Milt and I had to fake it a bit because our Pokemon knowledge is extremely limited. At least we looked the part!

For the uninitiated, cosplay conventions are major events which are drawing tens of thousands of fans in most major cities to gather at convention centers. Participants are united by their love of anime/manga (Japanese animation - in my daughter's case) or their favorite comics (print and animated versions). In San Diego, Comic-Con International is exploding, drawing as many as 130,000 guests.

Most people who attend the "cons" as they are called, make a costume and dress like one of their favorite characters. Creativity and imagination is highly valued in this community, and if you dress in costume, it is expected that you've made most of it yourself. Store bought costumes are just not the same.

The conventions themselves involve video gaming rooms, discussion panels, costume pageants and competitions, autograph and photo sessions, concerts, shopping, and dances. Some activities are 18 and up, mainly late at night, but at the cons we have attended it is a family-friendly atmosphere with many parents and "kids" of all ages in costume. In fact, if you don't wear a costume, you will feel like the odd person out. Most people who attend are fully and elaborately dressed as a character.

If you have a teen who wants to cosplay, here's a few pointers from this mom's point of view:

1) Enter in and enjoy the bonding experience. You may think this new hobby is a bit odd - but reserve judgement. This is really an activity that my daughter and I have been able to enjoy together. It encourages individuality and creativity. I don't understand or appreciate all of the anime series, games, or movies, but I do enjoy the creativity of making a costume out of odd bits. We have shopped, sewn, crafted, sketched, and made some major goofs. But, I do think we have also created memories.

2) Be prepared to get it EXACTLY right. I am not a perfectionist. I like to do things quickly. However, I have learned that doing a costume part-way is just not an option for most cosplay participants. The precise details are highly valued by this community, so I've had to take a deep breath and allow do-overs. When searching for blue felt, it has to be precisely the right shade of blue.

3) Help select the costumes. Consider the difficulty, safety, and ease of wearing certain costumes. I discourage anything that is hard to see or walk in. One years she attached fake ears that covered her own ears. We did not think about the fact that she could not hear me when I called. Also, be prepared with supplies to take off make-up or glue. For one costume, I was smearing grey face paint everywhere. I learned to bring plenty of wipes and old washcloths with me along with a huge tub of Noxema for make-up removal.

4) Realize that some screening may be needed. Not all materials at conventions is appropriate for children or younger teens. Japanese manga, for example, has age ratings on the back. Some is perfectly appropriate for younger ages, others are clearly not. The same is true for video games. I don't think the convention atmosphere is any more dangerous than watching other media. But, as a parent, you will probably want to keep an eye on what your child is participating in.

5) Send your teen with snacks, a buddy, and a cell phone. When I am not with my daughter, I stay accessible to the convention site. She has a cell phone and stays with a friend. Even though I did not encounter problems and security is prevalent, it is not a good idea for younger children to attend alone. Most major convention centers are large and crowded. I also send small snacks with her as she gets too busy to stop and buy food. We talk ahead of time about times she should call and check in and where to meet when I pick her up.

Did you know?* 
  • 66 percent of cosplayers are women
  • Average age of beginning cosplayer is 21
  • Average cost of a costume $100 to $200
  • Hours spent prepping: 1 to 450

* Statistics taken from this interesting article on the trend. "Cosplaying is a genre-bending trend in San Diego"
- Another article on Comic-Con International: "San Diego Comic-Con International"

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