A Costumed Cultural Phenomenon: ‘Cosplayers’ in the Steel City

| April 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Akasha Brandt
Point Park News Service

Casey Trojanowski morphed into a 902-year-old space and time traveler just by crossing the threshold of the Tekkoshocon convention.

Suddenly, he spoke in a British accent and referred to himself as “the Doctor,” a character from the BBC series “Doctor Who.”

Monica, Bryce, Ai, and Jeremy (left to right) sit outside in their costumes from various shows, books, and video games. Ai and Jeremy met at last year’s convention, and they both agree that meeting new people is one of their favorite things about cosplaying. Photo by Amber Doerr.

But don’t be fooled. Trojanowski doesn’t have multiple personality disorder. He’s simply a cosplayer – a term used to describe people who like to dress up as characters from alternative culture, through the use of costumes. Cosplayers have gathered a cult following across the United States.

Trojanowski described the act of walking through a doorway and into another “character” as a special moment.

“Whenever you … absorb yourself into the character … nothing can really hurt you,” he said. “(You) just get into it. Have fun with it. That’s what it’s about.”

Cosplaying, a mash up of the words costume and role-playing, is when a fan emulates the style of a certain character in an effort to evoke a response from other fans. The best costumes that are truest to the original character receive the best reactions of fans swarming to take pictures and ask questions about the outfit.

These ensembles are usually inspired by a favorite television show, comic book or movie, and are designed to be easily recognizable to other fans.

Good cosplayers copy costumers down to the extreme details such as at Tekkoshocon, where fans added props such as colored contact lenses, wings or faux weaponry made of foam and wood.

Although Trojanowski chooses to role-play, or act out his persona through mimicking personality traits, some cosplayers simply copy the style of a certain role without embodying it.

The ultimate goal of cosplaying is different from person to person, but typically cosplayers attend conventions where they can unite and show off their appreciation of geek culture. Conventions, such as Tekkoshocon, give them a chance to fraternize.

From men dressed up like horses from the children’s series “My Little Pony” to women emulating male characters from “Pokémon,” cosplayers replicate roles from any genre to garner the appreciation of fellow nerds and alternative culture fanatics.

There are no rules here.

“People at conventions, especially, aren’t very critical of you. We’re all a very laid back group. We love each other. We love the costumes. We love seeing the time and effort people put into them,” said Trojanowski. “And even if they aren’t very good it doesn’t matter because it’s the overall feeling you get out of cosplaying.”

Two main gathering points across the nation for these die-hards are two popular comic book conventions in the United States: Comic Con in California and Otakon in Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Otakon has had over 30,000 attendees, which pales in comparison to the estimated 100,000 people that the San Diego Union-Tribune reported have attended Comic Con.

Locally cosplayers flocked to Tekkoshocon, a spring convention celebrating Japanese animated movies, comic books and overall geek culture that attracted a healthy 4,000 attendees in 2011, according to the Post Gazette.

At the March convention, the geeks made Downtown home.

It wasn’t unusual to see a princess in a poufy pink gown lounging at the Point or a boy casually standing in line at the Wood Street Starbucks sporting ears and a tail.

Cosplayers congregate in the Wyndham Grand Hotel for Tekkoshocon, the Japanese Pop Culture convention. Attendees can participate in crafts, movies, role playing, and various other activities or just socialize and meet new people. Photo by Amber Doerr.

Inside the Downtown Wyndham Grand hotel, where this year’s event was hosted, a buffet of obscure figures paraded around the lobby stopping to grab snapshots of one another.

Sights included an avant-garde Elmo, from the popular children’s show Sesame Street, wearing nothing but a speedo and a giant mask; a girl dressed head to toe in red who ran around with a chain saw cackling; and a beautiful geisha in full silk kimono costume and white makeup sitting quietly on a leather chair.

Gabby Burke, who framed her face in a purple wig, took her fandom for the Japanese video game franchise Pokémon seriously by dressing up with her best friend in  a couple costumes.

Dressed head to toe in white with a large red felt ‘R’ embroidered on her chest, Burke was one half of Team Rocket – two Pokémon thieves that are always up to no good in the television show.

Even before her best friend Caitlin Antel arrived as the second half of the devious duo, Jessie and James, Burke had her photograph taken by two Pokémon fans that recognized and appreciated her costume.

The 19-year-old from Dormont said she first got into cosplaying in the beginning of high school and has done multiple characters from video games and anime.

“I liked dressing up ever since I was a kid and I just like being other people. That’s so fun. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like it?” said Burke.

Burke repurposed or created all her costumes including the props she carried, including a Styrofoam “pokéball” – a device used to catch wild monsters called Pokémon in the video games and television show.

The key part to the authenticity of Antel’s costume, on the other hand, is the trademark long pointy hair that Jessie has in the television show. Her hair, which is precariously balanced on her head is a long red cornucopia-shaped mass of wig hair  was matted into place with glue to keep its shape.

Antel says it is incredibly heavy, but the effort is worthwhile to fans that approach her to fawn over the creation.

Both girls pose as Jessie and James and perform the couples trademark speeches in the lobby of the hotel.

“Prepare for trouble,” started Antel, as Jessie.

“And make it double,” added Burke, as James.

Susan, Brittany, and Elizabeth sit outside the Wyndham Grand Hotel eating lunch before returning to the convention. “We are cosplaying as the Gullwings; Yuna, Paine, and Rikku from Final Fantasy,” says Susan. Why? “It’s really just fun making something out of nothing,” Elizabeth commented. Photo by Amber Doerr.

The two then acted out the rest of the speech from memory to the delight of fans. They copied the Pokémon characters right down to Jessie’s evil cackle, which was copied perfectly by Antel.

While Antel and Burke didn’t break the bank for their cosplays, Trojanowski said he dedicated his wallet to becoming the Doctor; a character from the longstanding BBC hit series Doctor Who.

He said he spent his entire tax refund on recreating the distinct look, from the Doctor’s black-rimmed glasses to converse sneakers that peeked out from under his suit pants.

Trojanowski said he paid $550 for the pinstripe suit custom made in Italy; $350 for a custom made “sonic screwdriver,” a science fiction multi-tool used by the Doctor on the television series; and $60 on his tie.

“I may as well,” hje said. “I’m that big of a fan.”

However, not every cosplayer goes over the top with his or her outfit.

Dressed in a red velvet suit with a frilly collar tucked into it, Brent Liberati, a 19-year-old University of Pittsburgh Bradford student had a much simpler “look” that he concocted for the fun of it.

Liberati debuted his first cosplay proudly.

He said he chose an easy-to-execute role, Keima Katsuragi, from the anime “The World God Only Knows.” The fictional Katsuragi is a high school student in Japan and a loner. He’s quiet and is most often seen alone playing his PFP a handheld video game that is similar to the real life Playstation Portable, or PSP.

Liberati opens his coat to pull out a PSP that he borrowed from a friend at school as a finishing touch for his cosplay.

Even though his costume was basic, a girl gravitated to him within his first few minutes at the convention to speak with him about his costume and grab a photograph.

“There’s no crazy other-worldy things. It’s just kind of a real life character. I got everything for under 25 bucks. I know people spend over $100 on cosplays. I’m not going to do that,” said Liberati who stuck out of the crowd of technicolor wigs and foam weapons with the simplicity of his costume.

Joe Miner, dressed as Darth Vader without his helmet, talks with two friends before returning to Tekkoshocon. “I drove up, bought the costume, and spent five hours painting my head,” says Vader-lookalike Miner. Photo by Amber Doerr.

While Liberati and Trojanowski compiled their costumes through commission and thrift shopping, other cosplayers at Tekkoshocon displayed their tailoring skills with unique handmade costumes.

CCAC student Patrick Geraci created a complete costume for his friend to wear at the convention. Geraci sewed together his friend’s blue and orange outfit and even created a rucksack and ears to transform his friend into a spiky haired cat person, complete with a tail. The two hoped to win the cosplay contest sponsored by the convention.

According to Geraci, the most annoying part about cosplaying is having to constantly fix the costume. Over the weekend, Geraci said he helped primp his friend, retying sashes and tweaking folds to get the best out of his creation.

“The number one most important thing is it has to be comfortable. If it’s not comfortable it’s a pain in the ass,” said the 19-year-old.

Geraci said he was fortunate to have a simpler outfit to create. He found patterns online and sewed along with them to create most of the major pieces of the costume out of material from JoAnne’s Fabric.

“A lot of the costumes don’t make sense. They’re physically impossible. They don’t draw them so you can cosplay them. They draw them so they look pretty,” said Geraci.

It took Geraci five months of casual work to complete it in its entirety.

“It’s a pretty involving process. You need to have time to dedicate to it. Especially if it’s an elaborate cosplay and not just a simple hoodie with tape,” said Geraci.

Despite the annoyance and cost of creating cosplays, Geraci still finds the hobby worthwhile.

“It’s different. People like to take on the challenge. Japanese costumes, like, make no sense, and that’s what is fun about it. People go ‘Wow look at that costume you made, it makes no sense but you made it work.’ So I mean it’s really appealing that way,” said Geraci.

For Trojanowski, his enthusiasm for cosplay ended in romance. When dressed as “the Doctor” for a Renaissance festival, he met his now girlfriend, who was dressed as a pirate.

The couple has been dating for six months.

“I never would have met her if it wasn’t for Doctor Who,” said Trojanowski.

In keeping with his character he added, in a British accent: “I think it was the strands of time intersecting. It was meant to be.”

Category: Entertainment, Spring 2012

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