A Cosplay “Con”-parison: Cosplay Culture at Comic and Anime Conventions
In the next installment in our summer cosplay series, Paige takes a look at how cosplay compares at comic cons versus anime cons.
With millions of fans around the world adopting the practice of cosplay—a portmanteau of “costume play,” though the roleplaying aspect isn’t always as prominent as the costuming—fan conventions of all types have seen an influx of costumed attendees over the past few decades. For some, cosplay is as simple as reusing a Halloween costume or finding a fun prop that makes a simple outfit recognizable as a particular character; for others, cosplay can take hundreds of dollars and hours of construction creating Hollywood-level attire. It’s a labor of love, but comic book readers, gamers, and anime fans who indulge will always say it’s worth it.
The cosplay experience varies from con to con. July marks two of the biggest fan conventions in North America: San Diego Comic-Con and Anime Expo. Having two major California-based conventions timed so closely may baffle some, but the atmosphere of comic conventions and anime conventions can be quite different. At their cores, they share the most important function of being a gathering place for fans to come together, geek out over what they love, and have a good time. Size, cost, and of course cosplay, on the other hand, may be completely different experiences.
Though Comic-Con is, true to its name, primarily a comic book convention, fandoms across media are represented as well. With hundreds of thousands of attendees at comic conventions every year, it’s no surprise that movie buffs, gamers, and anime fans also have panels and events to attend. San Diego Comic-Con 2015 clocked in at over 130,000 attendees, the personal record to beat. With so many fans filling up the San Diego Convention Center, not everyone is in wigs and stage makeup, but fans dress the part in different ways. Stealth cosplay—such as wearing fandom-inspired jewelry, apparel, and even makeup—and official merch like shirts and hats, are just as, if not more, common than full-blown cosplay at comic conventions. Some attendees choose attire in-between regular wear and cosplay, such as dresses modeled after superhero uniforms or the TARDIS, while others create original steampunk or fantasy costuming.
The short-lived Syfy program Heroes of Cosplay followed comic con-goers and often focused on the cosplayers who felt that people who didn’t look like the characters they were cosplaying or who didn’t have a high skill level in sewing or prop construction shouldn’t cosplay at all. In actuality, conventions are a wealth of diversity, and fans of all backgrounds, interests, and cosplay skill levels can be found walking the hallways. Cosplay snobbery exists, but in much smaller circles than cosplay newbies may fear. Particularly in large-scale cons like Comic-Con, fans needn’t fear living up to impossible standards. Andrew Garfield’s gag Spiderman cosplay at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 was well-received even before he took off his mask. If you’re excited about your costume, chances are the con will be excited with you.
Anime conventions are also more welcoming to cosplayers of all skill levels than newbies may fear, though cosplay culture is different here. Though North American anime conventions are considerably smaller than comic conventions and specialized for anime and Japanese video game programming, they tend to be dominated by cosplayers. Wild wigs, props, and improbable footwear are everywhere, while a much smaller portion of attendees will go the stealth cosplay route or wear official merchandise like tees and hoodies. Perhaps the reason for anime cons’ acceptance of cosplay skill level comes from the fact that outrageous hair and costumes are the norm in this medium and anime cosplayers understand that even an easy character involves significant technical difficulties. Another reason may be that anime cons are attended mostly by young adults. Considering that anime wasn’t frequently aired on television until the early nineties, it makes sense that teens and twenty-somethings, the age bracket to have grown up with anime, are the driving force of North American anime cons today.
At anime conventions, anime and manga cosplay are naturally most common, with video games and internet memes following, and a smattering of comic and other cosplay to round it out. Programming is also primarily anime- and manga-based. Because cosplay is so ingrained in anime convention culture, most cons have a number of events revolving around it, ranging from hall contests on costume construction to human chess and skits. Anime con-goers are also apparently more used to being asked for high fives and hugs than comic con-goers, and there’s very much an atmosphere of “I’m dressed up, you’re dressed up, let’s have a Pokemon battle and be besties.”
Both comic and anime conventions largely have positive cosplay communities, but they also share challenges moving forward. For both types of conventions, though more frequently anime, cosplayers and attendees who create original costumes must navigate cultural appropriation. In recent years internet communities have made information about cultural appropriation easier to access, and cons are increasingly adding panels about culture and history to their programming, both of which have allowed behavior that was often due to lack of knowledge to decrease. Rules regarding approaching other attendees are often laid out more strictly as well, ranging from registration programs that note permission is necessary to take pictures of or hug cosplayers, to fan rules on social media that cover more pet peeve territory, like being asked for a picture in the middle of eating lunch. Both comic and anime conventions have made strides in the past few years regarding respect for cosplayers and enforcement of anti-harassment policy as well.
Cosplay is no longer limited to conventions. Fan-organized meetups, local festivals or events, and even concerts may be an occasion to get into character. As the primary location of cosplay events, however, fan conventions of all kinds have the responsibility to ensure that cosplay is safe, accessible, and fun for all who wish to partake.