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Liz’s Rules of Cosplay

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  1. Liz’s Rules of Cosplay
  2. By Elizabeth Reesman   
  3.  
  4. This is a repost and mild refinement of my Rules of Cosplay. Yes, it’s bitchy and judgmental. I’m not apologizing for it: cosplay is, at its heart, an art form. I don’t consider trash to be art, and if you don’t treat the format with the respect it deserves (and YOU deserve), you’re going to get mocked horribly. Frankly, you’ll deserve it.
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  6. If you follow Liz’s simple rules for cosplay, you’ll be just fine. EVERYONE WHO COSPLAYS… READ THIS.
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  8.     Know thy character. This should go without saying, but don’t cosplay a character you don’t KNOW. Don’t just cosplay a character because you think s/he is cute or because your best friend/significant other is playing the counterpart. When you’re cosplaying, you ARE that character… not just dressed in the same clothing.
  9.     Know thy body. If you’re 5’3″ and 300 lbs., you’re never going to pull off a Sailor Moon costume, no matter how fucking awesome the costume itself is. Stay within your body type and range. Every time a fat girl wears a fuku, God kills a kitten. Please. Do it for the kittens.
  10.     Know thy material. Cheap costume satin is shiny, but does Kagome REALLY wear a satin school uniform? No. So, try and at least pretend you’re going for accuracy. Otherwise, your costume just looks lame. (*rimshot, for those who sew and know their fabric.*)
  11.     Know thy series. Whether you’re cosplaying an anime character, a video game star, or a book hero/ine, besides knowing the CHARACTER you are portraying, know the world that they are in. It’s really annoying to be, for example, cosplaying as Asuka from Evangelion, and running into someone cosplaying Rei who has NO CLUE WHO YOU ARE. (Yes, this has happened to me.) Group shots at conventions are awesome, and other cosplayers are fans just like you, so be respectful enough to the series you’re playing in to recognize your “co-stars” on sight.
  12.     Know thyself. If you can’t emotionally or mentally pull off a character, don’t. If you’re too bitter to play a happy character, or too happy to play a bitter one… in short, if your ACTING SKILLS are not up to par, please play a character that won’t take so much work out of you.
  13.     Know thy props. If you are supposed to carry a giant boomerang made of bone, then do your damnedest to make it look like it’s made of bone. Making a cheap subsitute with duct-tape looks cheap, and detracts from your costuming. You can do things lightweight, legal, and good-looking, it’s just going to take time and patience.
  14.     Know thy timeline. Putting together fantastic cosplay takes time, heart, and dedication. If you don’t have all of those, then it’s best for you to step aside and just enjoy the show.
  15.     Know thy fandom. Be aware of the ebb and flows of fandom. If everyone and their brother is doing Fullmetal Alchemist cosplay, try Urusei Yatsura cosplay instead. Everyone in the same costumes gets old after the third or fourth Edward Elric you see.
  16.     Know thy gender. Don’t crossplay. I don’t care if you really like a certain character. If you’re a male, cosplay a male character. If you’re a female, cosplay a female one. (Certain limited exceptions can be made for very, very bishounen male characters being portrayed by females… but a good rule of thumb is just don’t do it.) Trust me, no one is impressed, more people are disgusted than anything else.
  17.     Know thy make-up. Even if you’re not in full-body paint, you need to wear at least a touch of MATTE make-up, if for nothing else than keeping your face from shining with sweat and oil in all those pictures… which leads me to:
  18.     Understand that you will have pictures taken of you. I can’t stress this one enough. Before you did cosplay, you were likely the one on the other side of the camera. Be courteous and kind and nice to your fans… just like other cosplayers were to you when you stopped them for a shot. Don’t count on getting anywhere fast, and be gracious, even if it takes you 40 minutes to get 15 feet down a hallway. I’ve been there, I do it every convention.
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  20. Snobby? Elitist? Perhaps.
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  22. I don’t go up to people and tell them “oh, your costume sucks”. I think that’s a level of bitchy even I, Queen of the Snark and Bitter, refuse to attain.  But am I smiling and nice when someone in a shitty costume who has made it obvious that they haven’t put any effort into what they are wearing comes up to me and starts being an idiot? No. I’m going to call them on it… in character, because I just don’t break character… honestly, I have more respect for the art.
  23.  
  24. Take Gencon a few years back. I’m cosplaying as a drow (surprise, surprise, but it is Gencon), and a cute little Asian girl toddles up to me. She’s wearing a metallic silver wig, a spider-print bodysuit (same material as tights), and a black bikini over the bodysuit. She then engages me in conversation about how it’s great that we’re the “only drow in the building”. Maybe you think it’s snobby or elitist, but I quirked a brow and said, “You? Drow? Surface dwellers have such an interesting sense of humour.”
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  26. She hadn’t put on makeup, so her skin was the tannish colour Asian skin tends to be, not the obsidian black of a drow elf. She had no elf ears. Her hair was METALLIC, and made of Christmas Tree tinsle, for Lolth’s sake. Is that supposed to be acceptable? She then further went on to say that she, too, was dressed up “like a drow” and that she wanted to walk around with me so she could get her picture taken with me, “you know, as just us two drow”.
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  28. At that point, I broke character and explained to her exactly why that wasn’t going to happen, and how she needed to FIX HER COSTUMING before continuing cosplaying as the character she was attempting to do poorly. Bitchy? Maybe. Constructive? Definitely.
  29.  
  30. But it’s like this: Cosplay is an art form, and just like any other art form, it has standards. If you like to draw or paint, and someone else is on deviantart posting pictures of poorly drawn stick figures and genuinely expecting praise for them, it’s annoying because they aren’t even trying. There are several drawing and painting how-tos out there, consider this a cosplay how-to. People who are good at what they do don’t mind newbies picking up and trying their hands at it… but they do expect you to be willing to take some constructive criticism.
  31.  
  32. Today’s world has gotten too wrapped up in peoples’ self-esteem that the edges on life have been blunted for everyone. I’m not going to be all sweet and nice-nice and say “oh, it’s OKAY that you’re 200 pounds overweight and wearing a costume that’s less fabric than my string bikini!” when it’s NOT okay. If nothing else, they should know that as they are walking down the hallway, people are LAUGHING AT THEM. People are snapping pictures to stick up on the internet when they get home with captions these girls are not going to like, and these girls will see them a month after the convention and then start crying to whomever about how the world is out to get them. I’VE SEEN IT.
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  34. I’m sick of the flame-baiting, I’m sick of the trolling, and I’m beyond fucking sick of the “there, there, it’s okay because that mean boy/girl is just jealous”. It’s not okay. It’s not fair that these girls put themselves through this because their entire lives they’ve been told that they are BEAUTIFUL CREATURES when they are really, at best, plain, and normally fat and ugly. They need a healthy dose of reality force-fed to them, and if I have to do it when they walk up to me, as a long-time cosplayer, and expect me to give them the same bullshit “you’re awesome, your costume is awesome, omg you’re hot” lies they’ve apparently heard their whole lives, then so be it. It’s counterproductive and unfair to them not to hear the truth… and hopefully, before they embarrass themselves in a public setting.
  35.  
  36. I’m all for helping people do excellent cosplay. No, it’s not expensive… trust me on this. I don’t have that much money to throw away on costumes, though I wish I did. It’s not hard to do, it just takes EFFORT. If you’re down to duct tape and bubblegum and are trying to cosplay Lina Inverse, you’ve got problems that not even a long-time cosplayer will be able to help you with, though.
  37.  
  38. Ask any of the people who’ve come to me seeking help with cosplay: I’m a great resource. I’m like your favorite art teacher from high school: I can show you how the basics are done, and give you pointers, but I’m not doing it for you, nor will I lie to you when your stuff isn’t WORKING.
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  40. Why do people think it’s okay to throw something together the week before the convention, and that’s considered a “best effort”? And why do people insist on slamming people like me because we have standards?
  41.  
  42. The “it’s all for fun, why are you so mean?” bullshit is completely missing the point. As my friend Sheldon once pointed out: “[Cosplay] is really a form of attention-seeking and an art form. Therefore, you shouldn’t make it a half-assed effort. You’re trying to demonstrate your love and devotion to another art form by emulation. As such, it deserves your respect.”
  43.  
  44. This isn’t about being mean, it’s about honesty. And whether it’s “nice” or “okay” or “polite” or not, face facts: if you do sub-par cosplay at a convention, you will get mocked and derided, and no one but your sycophantic friends (who are honestly more concerned about you going emo and slitting your wrists for attention) is going to say anything against the mockery. Even those of us, like myself, who don’t actively join in, will look away in tacit agreement… because you deserve what you get.
  45.  
  46. If you insist on making a fool of yourself in public, don’t fucking complain when someone’s Flickr stream has a picture of you with a caption of “look at the whale trying to play Faye Valentine LOL”. And don’t get your feelings hurt when a hundred other people add their own comments that are equally hurtful.
  47.  
  48. And don’t demand that they take the photo off the internets, that’ll just make the trolling worse. Besides, when you got your convention ticket, you signed away your rights to any photos taken of you at the con. [Editor's note: I've had my picture taken down from a website before, but that was due to the person who found my picture using it to claim I and other cosplayers were racists. Not the same thing; they are being slanderous.] If you weren’t aware of that, then you never read the fine print on every single convention agreement form.
  49.  
  50. Yes, people go to conventions to have fun.
  51.  
  52. I go to Renaissance Faires, SCA events, LARPs, game days, and conventions to have fun, too, and have for a very, very long time.
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  54. It annoys me to NO END when I’ve worked my ass off to research a costume and put it together so that it looks good—both as a costume and on my body, because just because something looks good in a drawing or on a mannequin does NOT mean you have the body to pull it off—and someone stomps by wearing a polyester nightmare of a so-called “medieval” or “gothic” gown that shows too much chest and generally implies that someone didn’t love them enough to tell them that they look like shit.  Yes, I look at people like that and assume that they have no friends, because a real friend would tell you that you look like a bad Halloween costume after a night on Bourbon Street.
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  56. When I see people like that, I generally avoid them, unless it’s obvious that they really are trying and just failing. That’s the point I’m generally willing to step in with polite and constructive criticism and show the the ropes. But if it is—as it usually is—painfully obvious that they don’t care about authenticity, then they are pissing on my fandom.
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  58. It is not okay to piss on someone’s fandom for any reason. Just because you “want to have fun” falls into the category of “any reason”. If you want to have fun at a convention (or faire, or SCA event, whatever), then HAVE FUN. But don’t dress up like “someone else” to do it.
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  60. If you really want to get into cosplay as a hobby, or even just as a one-shot thing, then ASK. Research. There are literally hundreds of people in this hobby that actually KNOW what they are doing. I’ve never met a costumer yet who wouldn’t talk my ear off about construction and references and materials if I asked for more info. Not one. Ever. And their experience—these are the people who can tell you what brands and colors of makeup to avoid if you need to be able to pass for normal the week after the con, for example—is invaluable. But to be honest, I am absolutely not willing to share my knowledge with someone who isn’t trying to get it right. If you insult people by half-assing something, they really aren’t willing to help as much later on when the light bulb comes on.
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  62. I will ignore you, at best. And if you are making a fool of yourself in public, and you try to drag me into it in any shape, form, or fashion, I will tell you so. I’m not all that gentle about it, though I will try not to do so in front of a bunch of people if it is possible. I don’t CARE if I hurt your feelings, really—I don’t get off on it or anything, but it’s a necessity when everyone else is looking away and letting you go about your oblivious way until your back is turned and their camera phone is ready.  And really, is that what you want to put yourself through?
  63.  
  64. So follow my Rules of Cosplay. If you do, you will be able to avoid the worst of the humiliation. And if you can’t… or won’t? Maybe it’s just best for you to sit back and enjoy the work other people put into their costuming.
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  72. About Elizabeth Reesman
  73. A long-time gamer, cosplayer, dungeon master, comic book nerd, and otherwise geek of all trades, Elizabeth has been involved with fandom in one form or six others for as long as she can remember. View all posts by Elizabeth Reesman
  74. This entry was posted on Sunday, January 23rd, 2011 at 3:58 pm and tagged with advice, cosplay, how-to guide and posted in Cosplay, Costuming and Makeup. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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