This week, you’ll probably see Wonder Woman sippin’ a beer at one of downtown Durango’s bars. Or, you may spy Pikachu as they belt out a drunken version of Radiohead’s “Creep” at karaoke night. Or maybe a dinosaur will beat you in beer trivia.
No, it’s not Halloween – it’s Durango’s biggest party of the year: Snowdown. And the theme this year, cosplay, has got Durangatangs going all out.
“I ordered my costume but I’m adding a bunch of custom stuff to it so it’s a little more authentic,” said Annessa Comfort of Durango. “I got my base costume on Amazon. I was looking at bunch of cosplay websites and I didn’t realize you have to give them two months for all your measurements and everything. … Then I’ve just been finding little things (around town) – I found a chain at Walmart.”
Comfort, her mother, and her friend, Brin DeVore, are dropping the mic on Snowdown by going as characters from “Game of Thrones.” Comfort is attending as the noble and ambitious Daenerys Targaryen, DeVore as the feisty and sharp-tongued Ygritte, and Comfort’s mother is going as the mysterious Red Priestess, Melisandre.
Comfort – who’s cosplayed as Han Solo and an Ewok in the past – has been scouring the Internet for items to mix and match for her queenly costume. She’s even gone as far as to get purple contacts and was eyeballing a curtain from Bed Bath & Beyond to use as a cape. Because her character is more obscure, DeVore hasn’t been able to utilize online shopping and had to tear through thrift stores to find the pieces for her costume. Both have had to get creative and work around the fact that many of the costumes available for their characters online come in lingerie form – options not feasible for February in Colorado, and not how the cosplayers want to portray these powerful women, either.
“I’m really excited that we chose ‘Game of Thrones’ because they are strong female characters,” said DeVore. “Not every action movie needs to have a damsel in distress. I really hate that, and so I’m pumped about being Daenerys and Ygritte.”
Cindy Charley of Durango is going to Snowdown as Poison Ivy to her daughter’s Harley Quinn, and then going out with her best friend the Joker and Cat Woman.
“(I like) just the creativity of it,” said Charley. “You can go as one of your favorite characters or something that looks cool. … When it comes to me and my daughter, it’s simple (choosing costumes). I did the Harley Quinn one year and she did Poison Ivy. So I just figured we could switch.”
For those of you who still don’t know what cosplay is, let us help you out from underneath that rock you’ve been living under. Cosplay is more than just throwing on a costume – it’s dressing up and inhabiting the spirit of the character you portray.
“For me, the difference is the ‘play’ part. Anyone can dress up in a costume, and most people do for Halloween,” said Jennifer Losty – aka Suvi – of Lone Tree, one of the founders of the Colorado Academy of Cosplay. “But it’s hard to get into a costume and actually play the character you are dressed as. That is the difference between donning a costume and becoming a cosplayer.”
“Cosplay is a term that combines the words ‘costume’ and ‘play,’” said Chris Clarke – aka Clarke Cosplay – of Denver, another founder of the Colorado Academy of Cosplay. “If you’ve ever dressed up in a costume and then acted as though you are that character, that is exactly cosplay. Costumes can be store-bought, commissioned from other cosplayers – in other words, have a custom costume made just for you – and a majority of people make their own costumes. And you don’t have to be a kid to cosplay. People of all ages cosplay, even 80 (and older) – and I have seen it.”
We interviewed Suvi and Clarke Cosplay on the art and culture of cosplay in Colorado, what cosplay means to them, and how those without much disposable cash can still participate.
What inspired your interest in cosplay?
Suvi: I started in historical costuming so that I could fit in better at the Renaissance Faire. My first full costume was a period-accurate Tudor-inspired dress. The title of the dress is “Elizabeth Báthory” and some of the pieces of the costume aren’t entirely historically accurate – the neck ruff was black instead of white and has red crystal (fake) blood drops all over it. From there I felt like I needed bigger and better costumes that were more challenging or used unconventional materials.
Clarke Cosplay: I went to Denver Comic Con in 2016 as an afterthought. I decided to go the morning of because some friends had a spare badge and I had nothing else to do. Having never been to a con, I had a blast. I was also amazed by all the costumes, but it wasn’t until I saw someone in full armor that I decided I wanted to do it too.
What does cosplay mean to you? Why this medium of expressing yourself?
Suvi: Cosplay to me is a way for me to create wearable art. When I was a kid in high school (over fifteen years ago for reference) they just didn’t sell the styles I wanted to wear, so I ended up making my own clothing. If they did sell it, it was severely overpriced for low quality stuff. It was often times cheaper for me to go to the fabric store and pick up a bit of fabric and make what I needed rather than buy it. This bled into cosplay because as I got older, I wanted more and more of a challenge, and my own clothing and historical pieces wasn’t going to bring that challenge. Using different materials, materials that weren’t meant to be worn, or materials re-purposed for a different use is what brought the challenge for me, and now I bring that to cosplay.
Clarke Cosplay: I appreciate how close of a community we are. There are many conventions across the state throughout the year, most being along the front range, so there’s plenty of opportunity to see each other. Cons in Colorado are like family reunions. Sure, we may not know a part of the family very well, but we’re still family, and in general are treated as such. Outside of cons, there is a strong online presence in several groups, primarily through Facebook. The Colorado Cosplay Facebook community is 3,200 members strong, for example, and has been running as a vital part of our community for the last eight and a half years.
How and why was Colorado Academy of Cosplay formed?
Both: The Colorado Academy of Cosplay was founded by three cosplayers: Jennifer Losty (AKA Suvi Couture), Elena Mathys (AKA Silver-Lined Cosplay) and Chris Clarke (AKA Clarke Cosplay). We founded it in June of 2018 and already have almost 500 members. Various factors were present that we felt made the founding of the Academy necessary. Although cosplay is a tight and supportive community in general, we noticed a growing prevalence of elitism, body shaming, inequality, and even modeling that became something you’d find covered in foil at the bookstore. Cosplay is for everyone, no matter the age, sex, size, appearance, skill level or experience, ability or disability, etc., and we saw an increasing discrimination against such attributes. We seek to keep the cosplay community inclusive for all people to share and enjoy. The Academy was also created in part because of recent changes and growing trends in some local cosplay competitions at conventions. Contests at cons typically have a panel of select judges, usually three or four, who grade your cosplay on a number of factors, and then you go on stage and show it off to an audience. However, some cons have made it difficult for some cosplayers to enter a contest or their entry is more based on luck rather than first-come-first-serve. Some contests’ selection of winners may be biased toward or against a certain skill/material or even physical attribute. We address that by holding an annual cosplay contest online that any member of the Academy can enter and instead of a panel of judges choosing the winners, every member of the Academy can vote on the winners. We call it the “Best of Colorado” cosplay contest because the winners are chosen by cosplayers across the state. Last year’s contest was very successful and we expect even more this year. Lastly, we noticed there wasn’t a good place for cosplayers to share and seek educational resources for cosplay, so the Academy focuses in part on just that. Anybody can ask anything relating to cosplay, like where to get materials, how to do a certain technique, input on work, you name it, and any member can answer. We also have a growing online cache of tutorials and resources. We even hold educational panels at local conventions.
Everything the Academy does is guided by our mission statement: ‘To enrich Colorado’s cosplay community by showcasing and recognizing its members’ hard work, providing and sharing educational content, and fostering an inclusive environment to share our passion for cosplay.’
I remember when I was in high school (about ten years ago for reference) it was considered super nerdy to like things like anime and cosplay; since then, however, it seems like those interests have become so much more socially acceptable. Would you say that’s accurate? If so, why do you think there’s been such an explosion of interest and social acceptance with cosplay?
Suvi: A decade ago, it was way “not cool” to do nerdy things. I still did them, mind you, because I like nerdy things and people who don’t can go pound salt for all I care. There has been a lot of things over the past decade that has become more socially acceptable, and it’s not just cosplay. Being who you are without conforming to some societal standard has become increasingly more socially acceptable. Pop culture in general has become less nerdy and more trendy, in my opinion. It’s almost as if the pendulum has swung the other way. If you AREN’T a nerd, you’re almost looked down on, and that’s a real shame.
Clarke Cosplay: A decade ago, cosplay wasn’t well known in the U.S. If anything, cosplay was still in its infancy as a concept. Most people just dressed up for Halloween and that was it. However, with a growing change of social views and acceptance of self-expression, along with pop culture influences like comic book-based movies (namely the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Harry Potter series, and even Star Wars, cosplay has become a more recognized and accepted concept and practice. By this time, cosplay was already widespread and popular in Japan and Eastern Asia, particularly with its manifestations from anime. It was only a matter of time before it caught on in the Western world.
Cosplay produces some beautiful and realistic costumes but it can be incredibly expensive. How might those who are interested in cosplay but can’t afford some of the pieces get creative and still create awesome cosplay?
Suvi: Oh my goodness… I REALLY fall into the category of super incredibly expensive. This year’s costume I have spent $600 on just the rings for the chain mail alone. This is not including the other parts of the costume. Last year’s costume cost around $500 to make total. However, you can get REALLY creative with the finding of your materials. Go to thrift stores, re-purpose old clothes, sometimes thrift stores have by the yard fabric for incredibly low cost, raid your mom’s closet for things she doesn’t want, raid your grandma’s closet. Shoot – raid your dad or your grandpa’s too. Channel your inner MacGyver and you can make anything with anything.
Clarke Cosplay: Cosplay is only as expensive as you want it to be. Cosplayers are very resourceful because we use many things that are designed for something totally different. A lot of people will even re-purpose or modify things. Thrift stores have a lot of great items that can be put together or modified to a great cosplay. We know of some great cosplayers who will re-purpose items from home so they end up spending nothing on a cosplay. There are many different materials you can use to make a cosplay: EVA foam (craft foam and floor mats), thermoplastics, specialized plastics, 3D printing, fabric and needlework, molding and casting, makeup/special effects, metal, etc. Each has its own set of skills that can be learned but each also has its so-called price tag. Most require some initial investment like basic tools, a sewing machine, or software, and some materials are more expensive than others. EVA Foam and fabric tend to be the cheapest and easiest to start with.
What are some of the best cosplay you’ve ever seen? What makes truly great cosplay?
Suvi: Snowsong Cosplay makes some of the best costumes I’ve seen, and she’s local (Denver). If you are ever having a question, ask her and she’ll probably know how to do it and explain it in a way you can understand. What makes a great cosplay I think is a two-fold answer. Its attention to detail, no matter how small, and taking the time and effort to make sure it’s right before moving on to the next detail. The second part is a bit harder. It’s knowing the mannerisms of your character and knowing how to move and engage with an audience.
Clarke Cosplay: A truly great cosplay isn’t something that wins awards or international notoriety, nor is it something that requires you to spend a lot of money making. A truly great cosplay is one that makes people smile, even if just one person. Just the other day I saw a couple of window cleaners hanging outside a hospital dressed as Superman and Spider-Man. They were very simple costumes. But they made me smile at a time when I needed it, and those were truly great cosplays because of it. Now if we’re talking about technically incredible cosplays, the kind that you’d expect to see directly out of a movie or Broadway, the most skilled I’ve seen come from all over the world. The attention to detail, materials used, and extreme amount of skill or even engineering that some cosplayers put into their work is something beyond my ability to describe. Many would make a best in show winner at Denver Comic Con look like an amateur.
What’s the hardest you’ve worked/the farthest you’ve gone to create detailed and accurate cosplay? Is there an average amount of time it takes you to create
omething or does it vary piece to piece?
Suvi: I typically start the few days after the previous con. On average, it takes me almost a full year to make my competition piece, but also during this time I make several other costumes for other events. This year I’ve sourced some aluminum rings from Canada just to get started on the chain mail for Eowyn. I have watched many hours of the behind the scenes ‘Lord of the Rings’ cuts and watched the battle scene over and over to get all my reference shots. I’ve even taken my costumes with me to work to work on while I’m at lunch. It’s not uncommon for my coworkers to see me sitting in the cafeteria with chain mail or bits of leather sewing them together by hand.
Clarke Cosplay: I’m a bit of an outlier on this one. My Monster Hunter Altera armor took five and a half months to make, but the one I’m currently building, ZGMF-X10A Gundam Freedom, I’ve been working on for two years and over 700 hours. I plan to complete it this summer. The reason it takes me so long, apart from work schedule and home life (which play a major role in limiting my building time), is I build everything from scratch and by hand and to the highest detail I can possibly achieve. Some cosplayers will use computer software or existing sources to get their templates. I make my own. And where some will use power tools or even go so far as use a laser cutter to cut pieces, I don’t.
What do you appreciate about the cosplay community in Colorado?
Suvi: I appreciate the camaraderie in the community. For the most part, people help each other out, stand up for one another, and give tips and advice to people who are just starting out.
Clarke Cosplay: I appreciate how close of a community we are. There are many conventions across the state throughout the year, most being along the front range, so there’s plenty of opportunity to see each other. Cons in Colorado are like family reunions. Sure, we may not know a part of the family very well, but we’re still family. Outside of cons, there is a strong online presence, primarily through Facebook. The “Colorado Cosplay” Facebook community is 3,200 members strong, and has been running as a vital part of our community for the last eight and a half years.