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The Ever Changing Cosplay Scene

Some may argue that I don’t have much of a say in this matter considering I’ve only been cosplaying since 2009, but I am going to speak from my own experiences anyways. These are my opinions and my observations.  

The cosplay scene is a constantly changing environment filled with a wide range of people and personalities. To give a little background for myself and where I’m coming from as far as many of my opinions are concerned, I was introduced into the cosplay scene in 2009 after my first convention experience at SDCC. I didn’t start seriously cosplaying until 2010, though, the same year I accidentally started a costuming business. Yes, accidentally. Maybe I’ll write about that whole deal in another post with more detail, but for now let’s stay focused, Courtney! 🙂 Since then I’ve become a full-time costumer/business owner that caters to the cosplay scene 90% of the time. Aside from interacting with dozens of clients and potential clients monthly for the past 6-7 years who are seeking costumes, I also have a lot of experience vending at conventions and shows. I have also been guested at a few shows and judged a few contests, so I have tasted a lot of different sides of the scene and these are the things I’ve observed over the years.

When I first started out, I was so excited to start cosplaying. My first costume was Ada Wong from Resident Evil 4, one of my favorite games of all time. It made the costume from an old, over-sized prom dress that was given to me by someone who knew I could re-purpose it. It was a piece of crap, to be honest. Yes, I am a graduate of a fashion school and yes I knew how to sew, but I was short on funds and figuring out how to make an already made gown into something completely different was a challenge so it was very amateur, but I loved it nonetheless. This was in 2011, my first year vending at Phoenix Comicon. This was my first vendor experience at a convention. Before that it was small festivals and art shows, so it was a big change, but I was welcomed into the community with open arms. People LOVED my crappy dress and RE fans called out to me from across the hall to take photos and I met tons of other fans in costume and it was a BLAST. I was addicted after that and like many cosplayers, my costumes got more complicated and the projects more challenging in the years to come. 

As I immersed myself deeper into the scene, I started to find idols. People I looked up to. It’s no surprise that one of my first idols was Yaya Han. I admired her craftsmanship and her work was beautiful and her business sense was inspiring. By 2013 I was a full fledged business and my costuming work was a full time job, so I was attending more conventions for business purposes and networking heavily and finding booth space wherever I could to promote and sell product. I still enjoyed conventions so much that it took up most of my time, both as a hobby and a source of income. I had a fan page that I’d started years prior when my business was just for fantasy artwork, but I’d transformed it to suit my costuming business. I had NO idea how to be interesting…I still don’t, but back then it was embarrassing! At this time, there were a lot of other cosplayers with fan pages. It was a rising trend that I feel became incredibly popular after obvious, well known cosplayers started building large fan bases off of them. A select few BLEW UP on facebook and became “cos-famous,” earning a living off of selling prints, booking appearances, and branding themselves. Of course I am not saying the exact dates when these things started to really happen. This is just when I started noticing the trends more because I myself was trying to build an audience. 

Before 2013 the cosplay scene was one of the MOST welcoming scenes I’d ever been a part of. I finally felt like I was around people who loved the same things and didn’t think I was strange for being so passionate about the things I loved. In my younger years I was a loner by choice. I didn’t feel like I fit in and I separated myself from a social life because it felt comfortable to me. I am still like that. I love my alone time a lot because I am a creative and I can create best when I am on my own, listening to music, and watching K-dramas. However, the cosplay community allowed me to have something in common with others and I have found some of the best people through it and a lot of really amazing, life-long friends. Even when it came to my online work where I receive 90% of my costuming work, people messaged me with so much excitement and eagerness to get a hand-made costume and when they received it they were overjoyed to experience a convention in a new costume. It was thrilling and it made me so happy to know that I could make things for people that brought them so much joy. Wait times didn’t matter. Cost didn’t matter. There was a level of respect between cosplayers and costume makers because we all understood the art.

And then the shift started. AGAIN, these are my personal observations. The experience may be different for everyone. 

I know that there are a lot of people who will disagree, but in my personal opinion, the most noticeable changes started after the premier of “Heroes of Cosplay,” a reality show that emphasized the competitive side of cosplay and conventions. It also put a lot of light on the big, expensive, professional level costumes that very few cosplayers have the money or skill to do. Keep in mind that a large percentage of the cosplay community is filled with people who dress up just to have fun and mingle, not to compete or get judged. There is a fraction of the community committed to continuously competing in contests and masquerades, but in comparison to the community as a whole, that fraction is small. However, when the show was aired, it shined a light on that portion of the cosplay scene and showed it to a much larger crowd of people, many of which had never heard of cosplay nor had an interest in it. To those people, THAT was cosplay. Something requiring a lot of time and money and competition with others.

People saw an opportunity to gain popularity from cosplay once it became “mainstream” and the community quickly became over-saturated with people looking to turn heads rather than engage in a friendly hobby with others. And let’s be honest. Everyone in cosplay wants to turn heads. Whether it be for their craftsmanship or just because people love the character as much as you do, but the definition of cosplay changed when it was introduced to such a large audience. The show focused heavily on the competitive side, like I said, so the feel of the scene changed and the standards rose to some unreasonable levels. Outsiders coming in began to think that anything less than what was shown was not cosplay. 

And of course no one should care about standards when it comes to an activity that is so deeply personal to each individual, but what these standards do is create an elite. I watched cosplay groups become segregated over the course of a couple years and as a few, randomly selected individuals rose to popularity, the aggression started to rise. Almost EVERYONE entering the cosplay scene was looking for popularity after a while because it became the new “norm.” The more “likes” you have, the more “important” you are in the community. People started fighting over guest appearances at their local cons. Paying to promote their pages to get as many likes as possible. Acting friendly toward others only to utilize their connections. I know because I’ve been on almost every end of this over the past few years. I went for a few months trying my hardest to book appearances and got shot down many times. Only 1 in 5 requests got a response and even then the amount of people requesting to be guested at cons was so large that being a guest started to feel pointless and stressful and often times didn’t help my business at all. So many of these cosplayers that I spoke to thought they would make it on selling prints because “so-and-so” did and that’s not the case. Maybe for a few people it can work, but the concept of making a living strictly off of cosplay is a misconception that took over the community in the blink of an eye. Cosplay became a highly competitive business venture for a lot of inexperienced, short sighted individuals. I apologize, to an extent, if that might offend anyone.

For those looking to make money off of cosplay and cosplay alone, things got ugly. I recall many people who acted friendly toward me only for me to find out that friendship wasn’t their main agenda. There was an abundance of people trying to “make it” in the cosplay scene and acting nasty toward others to climb the cosplay ladder to…let’s face it…nowhere. But it progressed nonetheless. The cosplay scene began to consist of obvious groups, many of which were not very welcoming toward those in other groups. A large number of people began to look down on those with less than perfect costumes. Others look down on those who don’t make their own costumes. Then there are those who look down on others strictly based on the number of “followers” they have on social media. The list goes on and on, but the point is, the “community” became divided. There is a reason I no longer call it the “cosplay community.” I call it the “cosplay scene.” The sense of community became lost over the past few years and a growing number of people cosplay strictly for the popularity. Hell, I remember when cosplaying a character from a movie the week after it premiered was amazing. Now people compete to be the very first to cosplay something that won’t be out for another year! The earlier you do it, the more attention you’ll get because now the week later is old news. 

These changes weren’t only centered on the con scene either. I was noticing changes in the customer base I had. I do a majority of my business online. I work off measurements and I can create custom costumes off of almost any specifications given to me by clients. A couple years ago that was huge. People loved what I did and respected the work that went into it and respected my prices because ultimately I am offering a service with a skill someone else might not have. Recently the number of impolite messages I get has been increasing from people who want “quality” work at “affordable” prices. In other words, the number of people wanting a cheap costumes is increasing. And this, in my opinion, is due to the increase in people getting into cosplay for something other than the art or the mingling. They don’t want quality. They want fast cosplays that require little money because it is not about the art for them. It is about something else. The tone of their messages changes from “I’m so excited” to “you work for me. I’m more important than you.” I have even had people ask for free costumes claiming that it would be seen by a lot of people and they would give me credit. In that case, I usually say I have a full line of commissions and cannot take anymore…Or simply that I don’t work for free….

So, to sum it up, the cosplay community now is over-saturated, competitive, aggressive, and elitist. NOT all of it is that way. Over the past 6 months or so I literally said “fuck it” and I decided to separate myself a bit. I was becoming too stressed over who was my real friend and who wanted something from or from people I knew. It blew my mind how much I had to be wary of that. I left LA in 2008 because I felt the fashion industry there was too cutthroat and I was beginning to see the same thing in Arizona’s cosplay scene. I was too stressed trying to keep up with trends and popular costumes. I felt stupid for getting caught up in the hype and decided to step away.

I am a lucky person to have a business that is operated primarily online, so conventions were just an extra way to network for me, but did not make a significant portion of my income. So, getting rid of my booth at PCC this past month was a big step for me, especially considering I’ve had one since 2011 and since then it has become near impossible to get a space at that con after its growth exploded. The con scene in general has also been experiencing some major shifts, a subject I’ll address in another post. But in all, it wasn’t beneficial to my business anymore and the stress of it was getting to me and preventing me from having fun doing something that saved my life almost 7 years ago. Again, a subject for another post, but cosplay is extremely important to me and the community is as well. I am deeply saddened by the growing number of negative stories I hear from conventions about people being body shamed, costume shamed, or treated poorly by cosplayers who are more “popular” or think they’re more “popular.” Cosplay is not a competition (unless you actually compete). It should never be viewed as a competition because what are we competing for? What’s your end goal? What, if you are trying to climb the invisible ladder, is at the top? Showers of money and fame? 

Since I’ve separated myself a bit, I have started cosplaying things I love again. Not popular things, just things I enjoy. I’ve separated myself from people who contribute to the negativity and found myself a really amazing group of nerds that I call my con family. A group that builds each other up instead of knocks each other down. I’m not saying the cosplay scene is horrible, but I am saying that horrible aspects have become more prominent. And of course we can choose to pay attention to them or not. We can choose to give toxic people power, but it would only destroy the hobby for others.

Once more, this is my experience and what I’ve seen in my time as a cosplayer. I’m not in it for the money or fame. My business, while related to the cosplay scene, doesn’t require me to associate with people who are making cosplay less enjoyable and I am immensely thankful for that. I do it for fun and for a challenge and I do it with the people I love and my closest friends. Cosplay has not changed. The cosplay scene has, but once you step back and rethink what cosplay is to you, you’ll become indifferent to the negativity <3 Stick together. Do what you love. 

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Celia Bowen: The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

Welcome to Le Cirque des RĂŞves.

Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.

But when Celia discovers that Marco is her adversary, they begin to think of the game not as a competition but as a wonderful collaboration. With no knowledge of how the game must end, they innocently tumble headfirst into love. A deep, passionate, and magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

Their masters still pull the strings, however, and this unforeseen occurrence forces them to intervene with dangerous consequences, leaving the lives of everyone from the performers to the patrons hanging in the balance.

Both playful and seductive, The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s spell-casting debut, is a mesmerizing love story for the ages.

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The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern, is perhaps one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. While I’m usually one for none stop excitement and action, this book grabbed me in a completely different way by fully immersing me in a world that, for lack of a better term, was like a dream from beginning to end. I fell deeply in love with each and every character in a different way and could see each detail of every scene with such vividness that it was hard to put the book down…both times. For that very reason I chose to create something I’ve never done before. Continue reading Celia Bowen: The Night Circus

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Mirror Mirror’s Snow White: Costume Breakdown

Mirror Mirror is an whimsical adaptation of the fairy tale, Snow White. The film that was released in 2012 and featured cheesy acting, humor, fresh takes on an old story, and a wardrobe that screamed fun and fantasy. The costumes throughout the film were outrageous, filled with bold, bright colors, unusual shapes, and exaggerated embellishments that, to me, made them the focal point of the movie. 

As a person who relies strongly on visual stimuli, costumes and makeup are a big part of my movie-going experience. Naturally, when I discovered the designs in Mirror Mirror I was intrigued. And not only that, but Eiko Ishioka is by far one of my favorite costume designers in cinema. Her originality and her fearlessness drove her to create some of the most memorable costumes to date, in my opinion. She has proven to be versatile in her designs from her hauntingly beautiful red armor seen on Count Dracula in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” to the inspired, demonic and yet pure creations seen in the mind of a twisted serial killer in “The Cell.” Two of my all time favorite movies for very similar reasons. The costumes were like chocolate for my soul and the taste lingered long after I saw them. 

When it came to “Mirror Mirror,” at first I was hesitant since it was the second film adaptation coming out around the same month. When I finally watched it, however, I was consumed by the beauty and, like so many other times, was taken away by the costume work. It wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to challenge myself and make something I wouldn’t have dreamed of creating just one year ago. 

I’m not someone who makes many princess gowns, nor have I been known to favor pastels, floral patterns, or the color pink, but upon revisiting “Mirror Mirror” I decided to push myself toward something different. I chose Snow White’s floral dress for a few reasons. It was my favorite in the film. I loved the colors, the innocence, and the business of it and because of the detail I decided it would be a good starter without being too difficult or costly for my budgeted lifestyle. 

At the local fabric store I found a beautiful, heavy, yellow material with faint flower patterns on it that I decided to use as a base for the skirt. I wanted it to hang nicely and have an underlying texture as well. Four yards later I had my skirt. Now, in the show the skirt looked to be both printed and embroidered with the floral pattern and a few faint, metallic details, but again I had a tight budget so I decided to utilize something I was more comfortable with and that was painting. 

I chose to paint the entirety of the skirt using skills I used to practice as a kid. It was time consuming, but saved me a couple hundred bucks! But of course it was an adventure in itself. Imagine painting all these perfect flowers and then being a dumbass and knocking the painty waster all over the skirt. You don’t even know how hard I raged, though thankfully I managed to wash out the stains before they dried.

Once that was done painting I bought myself a bouquet of fake flowers…and tore it apart. Hand sewing petals and leaves on various spots gave the gown a 3D effect, which is one thing I loved about the original costume. When it came to the top, I did something else I rarely practice and that was this particular style bodice or corset. The design is roughly from the lat 18th century when women needed more mobility for activities such as horseback riding. Slits were created at the waistline of women’s corsets and even men’s tops, to allow more range of motion. I liked the inspiration and was excited to apply some of these design qualities, including the flat-chested design that this piece was meant to acquire. Also a characteristic of 18th century women’s fashion is the flattening of the breasts. The top lacked contour or style lines, which I was excited to utilize since these days women are accustomed to trying to accentuate their boobs! (One reason I am ok with having an extremely average cup size is that I can push them up and just as easily push them down :P) 

With a thick lining and a top layer of salmon pink, matte satin (wrong side up), I was well on my way to a tiny, 18th century bodice. Because the space was smaller and the design even more 3D on the original, I got myself some mismatched appliques including butterflies, flowers, and birds to decorate the front of the bodice. Now on to my favorite part. THOSE SLEEVES! The sleeves are made of triple-layered organza in a muted green tone. Around the bicep are two layers of pleated material, which I was very proud of once I finished it. It gave that extra touch of princessy innocence that, in the end, pulled everything together. I tried it on for the first time during my snowy photoshoot with CourteX Studios (where I froze my ass off) and, despite the crinoline being bought and not made exactly how I wanted it, I felt like I needed to prance and sing all day! It was a fun project that pushed me to do some things I typically don’t like to do and to me it was a homage to one of my favorite costume designers. Now, it’s nowhere NEAR as perfect as the film’s, but it was fun and fulfilling all the same <3

RIP, Eiko!  Your costumes will always be an inspiration to me.

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Darth Moros: General Profile

Photo by Tony Julius Photography

Race: Togruta

Gender: Female

Skin Color: Red/orange

Birth Place: Shili

Current Allegiance: Sith

Rank: Inquisitor

Fighting Style: Form VI

Master: Ayla Demigar

Apprentice: Rizzix Demigar

Lightsaber: Moros wields a saber staff, which she named Kurakul. The name is derived from her father, Kurak, and the Akul, a vicious enemy of the Togruta from her home world of Shili. The two together represent her taste for revenge, which was a strong drive for her after her father’s murder and after her enslavement following, and overcoming stronger opponents and situations, like the Akul who killed many of her people in her youth. Kurakul’s hilt is longer than the average saber and made of native metals and trinkets from her home world, as well as pieces of her father’s hunting spear, which she recovered when she returned home after many years. It’s heavy in weight and decorated with various trophies from her most meaningful kills such as teeth, bones, beads, and furs. The weapon is long and sturdy, providing a far reach in combat as well as weighted blows to her opponents. Being imbued with two separate saber crystals allows Moros to separate and used it as dual weapons.

Strengths: Moros is strong in the force and relies strongly on it in combat. When Moros fully discovered her force sensitivity it was during her escape from slavery. She has a strong sense of her surroundings and can read situations quickly and efficiently, which aids her in battle. Though she has strong combat skills, her true strength is in her use of the force, as made evident when she demolished a slave ship during her escape. She is fond of force push/pull, force choke, and other strategies that can throw off or defeat her enemies. She also uses the force to deliver stronger blows on her opponents, but even so, she uses her saber more for show and distraction and prefers force strategy and physical combat if the option is open.

Darth Moros. She’s my OC Star Wars character and something I’ve been working on for almost two years now. Wow…it really doesn’t feel like that long, but yes! Moros is almost two years old! I first debuted her at Wondercon ’15 with a horribly patchy makeup job because I was unable to airbrush myself at the time and chose to be super smart and sport a bare midriff! My headpiece was crap. It was stiff and painful and I slapped on perhaps the most simple paint job of all time and called it good. I also kind of just threw on some scraps of fabric and VOILA! I had a Sith Togruta. 

So I chose to do a Togruta for a few reasons. I first did an OC named Sinya, a Twi’lek smuggler that I actually thoroughly enjoyed, however the headpiece was uncomfortable and to be honest, the Twi’lek crowd was getting a little too thick and I wanted something new. So I challenged myself and asked “what HAVEN’T I thought of?” That’s when I decided to do a Torgruta and not only that, but I REALLY wanted to do a Sith, so I combined the two and created Darth Moros. Who knew I’d grow obsessed with her…

After a lot of sifting through menacing names and phrases in other languages from the German word for chaos (I can’t remember what these things are…come on) to the Russian word for death, etc. Nothing quite stuck, so I narrowed it down to three names, posted them on my social media, and begged for help. In the end, Moros was fated to be my Sith’s name. Moros is the name of a Greek spirit/being of impending doom and once I put the name alongside “Darth” I was done. It was perfect.

Once I had a name and a species, I began to create the backstory:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>To Be Continued <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<