2020 has halted the convention season, which is a big problem for cosplayers like Yaya Han who rely on those moments of fan engagement for their livelihood. Han hasn’t been able to strut her creative stuff on the convention floor, however, she did get to take her cosplay work in a different direction with the publication of Yaya Han’s World of Cosplay in August. This “Guide to Fandom Costume Culture” is Han’s big leap into the intimidating world of writing. Despite barriers such as language and simply learning the autobiography and how-to writing ropes, becoming an author was, perhaps, not nearly as overwhelming an experience as coming to the United States in 1998. Back then, she fortunately found that her creative talents were welcomed in a local anime club. She has since crafted her love of various fandoms and art into cosplay experience that spans two decades, making Yaya Han’s World of Cosplay as much about the history of cosplay culture as it is about the craft itself and her personal journey.
COVID-19 has put a significant damper on conventions this year, which means a significant hit to your livelihood. How have you coped throughout this experience? In what ways have you adapted your brand to meet the changed times?
I usually travel 200+ days out of a year so yes, 2020 has completely turned my life upside down. Of course, I am incredibly lucky as I still have a home and a job, but my family is in Germany and China and I don’t know when I can see them again.
The other thing that really saddened me was having to release this book without the ability to travel or gather. Instead of going on a book tour and speaking to people at cons about Yaya Han’s World of Cosplay, I have been at home in quarantine since March.
My small business relies on conventions and tradeshows for sales but every event has been canceled. Instead, we pivoted to making face masks in April and that has primarily occupied my time since. It was not easy to enter a new market with a new product, especially when materials were hard to source, employees had to be trained via zoom and all new protocols and schedules had to be implemented. We have donated over 350 masks to hospitals and the senior community and are selling masks to the public, which is helping to keep everyone on payroll and the rent/utilities for the warehouse paid. It is a lot of work but I’m glad we have the sewing skills to make a useful product during these difficult times.
View this post on Instagram
I restocked the limited face mask designs! Red Crane, Totoro and Blue Matsuri! Which one is your favorite? Check my Link in Profile to snag one! Also, I can’t believe how many face masks I have modeled recently. Swipe for a lil collage! Masks have truly become a fashion statement for me. I keep one of each mask design for every day use and those are what I’m wearing in the photos. It makes me feel good knowing that these pretty masks help keep me and others around me safe, and I can even pair outfits around them! Everyone who has purchased masks from me – THANK YOU so so so much. I (and my small team) make them with love and appreciate every order. #facemask #cottonmask
I’ve participated in several virtual conventions and live streams and really enjoy them, though I miss cons a lot. My branded cosplay products such as Cosplay by Yaya Han fabrics, trims, EVA foam, McCall’s patterns and Dremel rotary tools are still in stores (but shop online if you can) so I have hope that the creative community is still making and crafting!
How has your experience in writing this book compared to your work with/appearances in other media, such as Wonderous or Heroes of Cosplay?
Writing this book is unlike anything else I’ve ever done. Wondrous was a collaborative project, and while I had a lot of input, it was still Lion Forge’s call on how to present and distribute the comic series. Ultimately, they did not go into print and released it as an online comic only, which was very disappointing for me.
I covered my experience on Heroes of Cosplay extensively in the book and hope it will give people insight on what it was like to be on a reality show.
Writing Yaya Han’s World of Cosplay was primarily my responsibility, I did not have a ghost writer and English is my third language, so I had to overcome a lot of self-doubt and fear to put pen to paper. While certain things such as the title and cover was ultimately chosen by the publisher, the content was wholly mine and I poured more work into this project than any other. I locked myself in for the first 6 months of 2019 to write the manuscript (though in hindsight 2020 would have been the perfect time to write a book lol), and then spent the next 4 months collecting photos from my parents, friends, and peers, ensuring that each image was marked in the right spot and had image release permissions.
Though the book is not perfect and I still have more to say, I am very proud of it.
What kind of research did you put into detailing the history and evolution of cosplay? Did you learn anything new in your research?
I have been active in the cosplay community for 21 years so I practically witnessed the history and evolution of modern cosplay. This is the culture I grew up in, therefore, most of my research was conducted through first-hand experiences, being immersed at hundreds of conventions and having continuous contact with cosplayers from around the world year after year. I wrote the book in 2019 so I spent 2018 traveling to 25 fandom events in different countries and having conversations with cosplayers. It made me realize that I needed to open up more with my own story as well as include a whole section about negativity in the book, which at first was supposed to focus more on crafting how-tos. I felt it would be more important to write about the sociological aspects of cosplay so I pitched the changes and my editor accepted them.
Your book looks at the negatives of the cosplay community and the misogyny and gatekeeping you have experienced. How did it feel to revisit some of these negative experiences? Did writing about the positive experiences help balance the unfortunate memories?
I included my personal stories not as cautionary tales but to help the reader understand where I came from and why cosplay means so much to me. The positives have always outweighed the negatives so I can gush about the wonderful things cosplay has brought me all day long. But the truth is that I also went through some shitty situations and it would have been disingenuous to gloss over them.
To be honest, I did leave out many personal stories for fear of going too far and changing the tone of the book, but I shared what I thought was relevant and what could be tied to a lesson learned or advice given. My content editor, Collette Bennett, gave me so much confidence in writing about myself because she was so interested in reading my personal story. I’d gloss over a situation in a chapter draft for fear of making it into a pity party, and she would come back with notes like “Please elaborate. What actually happened?” and it made me realize that I had to open up more. As a first time book author, the whole process was uncomfortable, scary, yet deeply cathartic and I’m glad to have experienced it.
Has the balance of positive versus negative experiences changed with the evolution of the industry?
As a whole, the cosplay community has become much more welcoming and diverse, and while I wholeheartedly believe that we are moving in the right direction, issues such as racism, representation, and body-shaming still persist. The biggest change in recent years is the explosion of social media, which I see as a double-edged sword for cosplay. The community is globally huge and our socialization is no longer primarily limited to in-person interactions (with decorum) at cons. The biggest issue for cosplayers at cons for many years was sexual harassment, which is being successfully combated with awareness and “Cosplay =/= Consent” safety campaigns, which I talk about in the book, btw.
For the most part, cons are where we make wonderful memories of meeting friends and having fun cosplaying, but we don’t have cons right now due to the pandemic. We’re limited to interactions on social media, which can turn volatile quickly. Social media heavily favors the young and beautiful and algorithms have been known to even favor light skin tones. So there is a built in disadvantage for marginalized cosplayers as they face either being completely overlooked or harshly criticized for the content they put forth. So I’d say the balance of positive versus negative is different for each cosplayer, but we should all strive to make the experiences in our community as a whole more equally enjoyable.
What is the most important thing you want aspiring cosplayers to take away from reading your book?
I want aspiring cosplayers to close the book with a well-rounded, full understanding of the community they wish to join and feel prepared for every situation they might encounter. I want to take away their hesitation and self-doubt and get them fired up to dive into cosplaying. I want to show them that hard work and persistence pays off. If I could do it, so can they.
I’d like to add that I hope to give readers who have only heard of cosplay in passing a true understanding of the culture surrounding this lifestyle and WHY we go through all this effort to dress up as fictional characters.
Throughout your career, you have cosplayed as numerous characters. One of your most popular looks was based on fanart of Streetfighter’s Chun-Li, but what has been your personal favourite piece in your career? What makes it so meaningful to you?
feel quite attached to all the costumes I have created, and it’s hard to pick a favorite since the joy of cosplaying comes from having a variety of characters to transform into. My favorite type of character to cosplay is probably “Queen,” be it evil or dark royalty or regal empresses like my original design of Empyrean Empress. I love making lavish costumes like sweeping gowns dripping with details, and I’m challenged by interesting silhouettes like Carmilla’s design from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. These types of characters are really fun to pose in as well because you can inject nuanced emotion into the photos depending on their backstory, such as a scheming smile, a melancholy glance, a determined ruler’s gaze etc. Oh, and because I’m so short in everyday life, I can wear platform heels under these dresses and feel tall! For one of my “dark queen” type cosplays, Banshee Queen Enira from the video game Lineage 2, I even wore stilts and reached almost 8 feet in height. The world looked very different from that high up, lol.
Writing this book is a longtime dream for you. What are the pieces that fell into place to make now the perfect time to fulfill that dream? What’s next on your bucket list?
I tried a couple of times in the past to write this book, or at least chronicle my story, but it never felt right. Sterling approached me in 2017 and I wrote about 20,000 words and then had to pause because my schedule was full of appearances and trips and I simply wasn’t in the right mindset to write. It wasn’t until 2019, when I entered my 20th year of activity in the cosplay world that I felt ready to write this book, because my thoughts finally turned introspective. I naturally started reminiscing and looking back on the last 20 years of my life as if it was a full character arc, and that finally helped me see the story structure of the book. Once I decided to divide up the book into 5 parts with a theme of past, present, and future, everything clicked into place.
As for what’s next on my bucket list, I will definitely continue to make costumes, design cosplay products and generally advocate for the validity of cosplay. I’d love to write another book and be involved in more media surrounding fandom and creativity. I helped produce a documentary film called Cosplay Universe and really enjoyed being behind the scenes, so another project like that would be appealing to me.
For now, I believe in the cosplay community’s passion and resilience, and I look forward to a day when we can travel and gather again.