Cosplay is an Art Form

By Hsing Tseng on August 2, 2013

A Juliet cosplayer from Romeo x Juliet poses with her sword prop. Photo by Flickr user crisphotos.

Cosplay is much more than your average Halloween costume – it’s the act of doing your best to become a character for a day. Or three. It’s the ultimate expression of nerd love for characters from anime, comics, or video games, and it should be regarded as an art form.

Cosplay is picking a character, drafting and planning their costume, finding the perfect materials, constructing them just-so, recreating armor out of foam and whatever that was from your basement, making jewelry, styling wigs, working with wood, metal, PVC pipe, and who knows what to make that fantasy prop come alive.

Cosplay is seam ripping a skirt five times in a row, promising to exercise to get that unreal body type but succumbing to ice cream and anime instead. Cosplay is cutting your hair because you’re too broke to get a wig, despairing over how perfect another cosplayer did your character and over how very many others seem to be cosplaying your character too but deciding – to hell with it! – you’re going to make that costume anyway and wear it well regardless of everyone else.

Cosplay is grinning idiotically as you post progress pictures and show everyone, including yourself, how far you’ve come, not because you want attention but because you want to and desrve to feel proud of the work you’ve done so far.

Outside of fandom, cosplay can be misinterpreted as fan service or showing body parts for attention, but it’s much more than that. Cosplay is more than modelling, more than acting or posing for a photo.

As a cosplayer, you pour your heart and soul into an outfit and put that outfit and your heart out into the world for everyone to see. You put yourself on display and say, “THIS is who I really am. I made this myself and I am AWESOME,” despite what you are saying to yourself all the while.

Dark Phoenix cosplayer poses at Long Beach Comic Con 2012. Photo by Flickr user richcz3

As cosplayers, we are artists who use our faces as our open canvas, who fall asleep at stupid o’clock over our sewing machines and wake up covered in thread and desperation because the Con is in four hours. We dive into our own world, created with foam and acrylic paint and dreams come true, and paint that world for others, if even for a few hours.

It’s time that cosplay was allotted the same respect that any other artist gets instead of constant criticism of “you shouldn’t cosplay because you’re ____.” I guarantee you’d be less willing to tell an artist they shouldn’t sculpt or paint or write because they’re too skinny or too fat for your ignorant eyes, but for some reason, it’s acceptable to insult a cosplayer, who’s put their core being out for the world to see, for not looking similar enough to an unrealistic anime character.

And that includes those cosplays that show more skin. Defying gravity is no easy task, but cosplayers make it work – and yet, those cosplayers are the subject of derision because they showed a bit more thigh than socially acceptable in their quest for accuracy. After all, accurately replicating a video game character with DD size boobs and short shorts reflects a cosplayer’s promiscuous personal life in the eyes of many. Judging an artist based on the nature of their art is in poor taste – just because an artist might draw naked people one day for practice shouldn’t reflect at all on their personal life decisions and the same is true for cosplayers.

As one photographer sets out to prove, cosplay is the art of self-expression. We are artwork. It’s time we were treated as such.


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