Friday, March 17, 2017

Guide to Cosplayer Gatherings and Fan Meetups

I recently volunteered to organize a schedule for cosplay gatherings and fan meetings for a new convention coming up this summer, and after I wrote up the form and the spreadsheet, I decided to make a guide for people who are unfamiliar with gatherings and meetups as well as those who want to host one. The terminology used here is my own and may be different depending on the convention; this blog post is based on my own experience participating in and running gatherings, and contains some general information on how such events might work.

What's the difference between a Cosplay Gathering and a Fan Meetup?

A cosplay gathering is a get-together of cosplayers from a particular series or theme. A fan meetup is a general meeting of people who are interested in a series or theme, regardless of whether or not they cosplay. The theme can be as general or as specific as you want. Here are some examples:

  • Dragonball Z Cosplay Gathering
  • Fans of Fighting Games
  • Harley Quinn Cosplayers
  • Lolita Fashion Enthusiasts
  • Pokemon Go Players
  • Cosplayers of Anime Idols

I'm not a cosplayer, can I still attend a Cosplay Gathering to watch and take pictures?

Yes! You can take pictures or watch the cosplayers, but please be sure to not distract them, as their character may be called by the organizer for group photos. If you are looking to take photos of a particular cosplayer, it's best to wait until the organizer has wrapped up and/or the cosplayer is ready to break away for solo shots. If you happen to come across a group of cosplayers during a convention, make sure you find out whether it is a gathering or a private shoot. Cosplayers and their photographers may find it distracting and rude when a passerby stops to snap a picture during a private shoot. At a meetup, always ask first before taking photos. Some meetup attendees may feel self-conscious or may not want their picture taken for privacy reasons.

What is the role of the gathering/meetup organizer?

As organizer of a cosplay gathering, you are responsible for scheduling the event and deciding the location. You should also show up to the location early to welcome spectators; let attendees know in advance what you'll be wearing (or provide a photo) so they know who to look for and talk to. During the event you're in charge of calling out characters for group pictures (ex. "All Harley Quinns for a group photo!") and keeping track of how much time they have before they break for another group to come in. Taking photos typically lasts no longer than a minute or two--when it's time to wrap up, count down, "5! 4! 3! 2! 1!..." and be ready to call the next group.

For fan meetups, the activities are up to you--you can have a fun game planned, take selfies, or just let everyone chat. Don't feel alarmed or upset if people may not want to do what you have planned--the most important thing is that everyone attending is having a good time. But if you really want something to happen, make your plans known in advance so that people know what to expect.

If you are hosting a gathering or meetup for the first time, consider themes where 20 or less people are to be expected, or have someone be a co-organizer with you, as large groups can be overwhelming to manage. You should also be good at being a leader and projecting your voice so that the group knows that you are in charge. And most importantly, be polite! Don't be too controlling or bossy with directions and after the gathering/meetup has wrapped up, be sure to thank everyone for attending!

I've seen "unofficial" and "official" gatherings. What's the difference?

"Official" gatherings are usually those that are published in the convention schedule or sponsored by a company, while "unofficial" gatherings are not. Official gatherings take place in spaces designated by the convention and may or may not be managed by a staff member. If a staff member has been appointed for an official gathering space, all members (including the organizer) should listen to them for any directions. When submitting a gathering idea to a convention, always read their instructions carefully!

"Unofficial" gatherings are those organized privately and take place in locations other than convention-appointed spots. You usually won't see unofficial gatherings published in the convention's program guide, but may find them posted in the forums or on Facebook. While unofficial gatherings may not get the same attention, it does have its advantages, such as a longer amount of time in a location not claimed by other organizers, potentially smaller groups, and no having to contact staff if you need to relocate, change time, or cancel. It's highly discouraged that unofficial gatherings take place in official spots unless there is an opening in the schedule and permission is granted by staff. All gatherings taking place on convention grounds, official or unofficial, are subject to the same weapon policies, dress code, and other official con regulations.

How do I find people to attend my gathering/meetup?

Creating a Facebook event page and sharing across social media is a great way to get people to attend your gathering! You can track how many people plan to attend and how many people are interested, and it's also a good way to get new information out to everyone at once. Don't worry if the number of people who RSVP is low--sometimes people don't want to fully commit to attending but will still attend when the time comes, or may not want to imply that they are attending as a cosplayer but may want to take pictures.

What do I do if I have extra time left during the gathering/meetup?

Sometimes photography at cosplay gatherings wraps up early when all members have been photographed. If you're an organizer, ask your group if anyone has any other photo requests, such as for popular couples, certain poses, or retakes in case some cosplayers have arrived late and missed their turn the first time. (If you're an attendee, let the organizer know if you have a request.) Organizers can also wrap up activities early and allow people to mingle freely, but make sure everyone clears out before the next group comes in!

This guide will be updated to address other common concerns as I think of them. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

Cosplayer Profile: Gold Lion Armory

The first cosplayer in my Cosplay Profile series is Danny Chen, AKA Gold Lion Armory. When I introduced my project he stepped up right away ready to share, and I'm so glad he did because I got to learn more about him! He's been one of the strongest supporters of my cosplay journey and I'm honored to have the privilege of featuring his story here.

Photo by Cozpho Photography

Name: Danny Chen
Nationality: Chinese American
Age: 32
Gender: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Top 3 favorite Series: Metal Gear Solid, Lupin III, Street Fighter
Special Talent: Art. I like to draw, paint, sculpt and build!

When and how did you get into cosplay?

     I got into cosplay in 2010, after my friend decided he wanted to dress up as Captain America. I was always hesitant on doing it because I thought it was embarassing, until I saw how much positive reaction and attention he was getting, and then I wanted to do the same as well. I soon realized that cosplay was just an extension of talents I already was using for art. I design and sketch out cosplays on paper, hand sewn items from scratch, and use tools and materials to build props from.

What's the biggest distinction between yourself in costume and out of costume?

     I feel that in costume, I am more outgoing in costume than out. Cosplay for me is about having fun and it's easier to be more friendly and sociable when you're in costume and being a geek with everyone else. Growing up in NYC I tend to be more quiet, serious, and less amicable in person getting through the day. I also try and not draw attention to myself, which is the complete opposite when in costume. That's when I would love to be in pictures with other people and not be afraid to interact with other cosplayers.

Is there a recurring theme in your costume choices? If so, what is that theme?

     I feel like I always cosplay support characters who aren't pretty boys in general or very popular ones. Being in a group with younger cosplayers, I would take on the roles of older characters or father figure types: Masaoka from Psycho Pass and Hiruzen Sarutobi from Naruto, for example. I also tend to lean more towards support characters who are not main character status, often times this means the costumes are not as complex or visually appealing.

Have you ever been bullied by anyone for your cosplay?

     I've not been bullied for the most part, but I have been a target for racially insensitive and hateful comments for characters that I have cosplayed. Cosplaying as Western characters while being Asian and getting ignorant people making fun of that, essentially.

Are you open to your peers and family about being a cosplayer?

     I am pretty open about it, as I see it as an art form and hobby that shouldn't be hidden from people who are curious about it. I sometimes don't go out of my way to tell everyone I am a cosplayer, but most of my peers and family know I am involved in it because I spend a lot of time buying costume related items and building props, and they enjoy seeing my craft in person.

What would you like to tell others about cosplay in your own country?

     Basically, do not place stress on matters that are beyond your control; that will limit you from having fun and enjoying the hobby. Because the U.S. is so diverse, this means that cosplays will be too. You get to see the creativity in cosplaying beyond skin tone, ethnicity, gender, body shape, etc . This is a gift that many others in other countries may not get to experience, so we have to embrace this and celebrate it.☆

Danny is an AMAZING prop maker and I highly advise you check out his work! Follow Danny and his cosplay activities via:

Want to tell your story or know a cosplayer who might be interested in telling theirs? See my Cosplayer Profile Questionnaire here!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Being Good at Everything, but Great at Nothing

Photo: Jim O'Connor (@obsidiandreams)

I was hoping to have some good news to share in the coming weeks but sadly that's not the case. Some of you already know this, so before I'm asked again what I've been up to and whatnot, I'll just say it here: There was an interdisciplinary graduate school program in Japan that I had been longing to enroll in, and I wasn't accepted. It's not really a shock to me; I was already prepared for the possibility, but it unlocked a wave of depression and low confidence that I've been feeling for years. During the application process, I had a nagging feeling that maybe I wasn't cut out for graduate school, and at the same time, maybe grad school wasn't for me. The more I thought about paying thousands of dollars to possibly become overeducated and even poorer, the less it appealed to me.

Photo: Luis Zapata

So not being accepted into that particular program wasn't what hurt. Rejection hurt. I've been silently rejecting myself for years, because I am a realist. Most people consider my talents worthy of appreciation and a smile--but not money. That's why I would try to tell myself that I was "doing things for fun and for myself." I'm good enough for myself but unfortunately I can't pay myself a living wage. I tried translating for a community that's been begging for translations, yet not a single person offered me even a donation for what I produced. Someone offered me $5 to translate an entire comic, and when I told her what I would and wouldn't translate for free, she happily asked me to translate only what she wouldn't have to pay for. I could go on and on about this but I'd rather not because it's not going to change anything. Right now I am an (intentionally!) unemployed mess who is tempted to feel like she made tons of big mistakes these past two years. The truth is that, behind all of these cosplay and modeling photos and blog posts about a country I once lived in, is a lot of sadness and pain. I've cried myself into a headache and a panic attack over the weekend and I'm crying again as I write this now. While I haven't been diagnosed with depression, I've felt for a very long time that something in my brain wasn't working correctly. I have a tendency to try to do too much at once. My attention span is very low and I find myself with a plan the night before but doing something else as soon as I wake up. I'm a "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." I can give you a long list of things I know about: I can teach ESL; I'm terrible talking to a camera but I'm great at talking to an audience; I can make my own costumes and props (to my satisfaction); I have basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, a lot of which is self-taught; I can draw; I have years of experience with Photoshop; I know Japanese language and culture; I have experience modeling; I've been complimented frequently on how I do my own makeup even though I've never taken a lesson or watched a tutorial all the way through; I know more about computers and technology than the average user. But I have no true expertise in any of these things, and I have no idea which one of these things is the correct one to pursue. The only thing I'm really good at is being me.

I avoided anything competitive because I was afraid of losing and being seen as "not good enough," even if I felt on the inside that I WAS good enough. I shunned popularity but craved it at the same time--not because I wanted attention or for people to like me, but because I thought that popularity was a sign that I was on the right path as someone who is artistic at heart. Yet I don't feel like I've grown--in fact, I feel like I've become worse. I willingly gave up teaching and living in my dream country of Japan to take a chance for once, because I long felt like I was on the "safe" route in life. I convinced my amazing, loving parents to support me while I take a risky, unpopular path in life and I feel like I've failed them miserably. Everything up until now came naturally, and now that I'm on my own, I feel lost. I feel like someone took the training wheels off my bike and I found out that I CAN'T ride a bicycle after all (if you know anything about my teaching experience in Japan you'd know that I have quite a bit of experience riding one). It feels like I'm on the edge between "getting by" and "failure." I've been watching my friends working hard and having fun and accomplishing so many things, and I feel like I'm being left behind. I don't know exactly what to do--I have been working on figuring that out every day--but one thing I cannot allow myself to do is to give up.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cosplayer Profile Project

Sometime this year, I want to start featuring short cosplayer profiles/interviews on my blog. One of my passions is learning about cosplayers beyond their costumes and photos; their thought processes and their motivation to cosplay as well what they like to do outside of cosplay. I also seek to promote intercultural exchange and understanding through cosplay between Japan, the USA, and other countries. Whatever differences we may have, one thing that remains the same is that we are all fans of something, and cosplay helps us to express that love.

I know that not every cosplayer wants too much information about them to be known, and some people really don't think that their personal identity is relevant in cosplay. But for others, certain details are a very significant part of one's own projected identity and it DOES play a part in the costumes they choose, so the option to disclose the information is there. I'm also not looking for EVERY profile to be incredibly serious and deep; light-hearted and humorous profiles can be just as inspiring!

To see the the outline I've written up, see the Google Document that I've uploaded here. You can also see a sample profile that I've written for myself here.

My current goal is to have one cosplayer featured per month. I'd like to translate profiles written in English to Japanese, and vice versa, and if possible have someone provide other languages. While all cosplayers are welcome, I especially want to highlight cosplayers of darker complexions, plus-sized cosplayers, cosplayers of multiethnic backgrounds, transgender cosplayers, crossplayers, those with disabilities, cosplayers over 35, and any other demographic that isn't often highlighted. And of course any nationality is welcome. This project is very much in its baby steps, so there may some changes made! Keep a lookout for updates!