From cosplay to live action role-play, dress-up is serious business!

What are you going to be for Halloween? Yes, I know it was two months ago, but any good costume starts with lots of pre-planning! Actually, Halloween costumes have become a lot more mainstream with the advent of one word: Cosplay!

Cosplay (short for costume play) dates back to the 15th century with masquerade balls, and by the 19th century had evolved into costume parties for the masses, no longer just for the upper crust. Fan-based costume play began with1939’s First World Science Fiction Convention in New York, where author Forest J. Ackerman and Myrtle Douglas dressed in futuristic costumes. There were various other cosplay highlights in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but it wasn’t until the TV show Star Trek went off the air and fans started doing conventions that the idea of dressing up as your favorite characters took hold. When Star Wars came out, there were suddenly fans interested in portraying Han Solo, Leia, and Luke Skywalker. Then, cosplay really started taking off in the 1980s with the popularity of anime and manga. And pointed ears can now be seen in an infinite variety of gloriously wonderful costumes proudly displayed at various conventions across the globe.

The first cosplay I remember doing was as Tarzan, and it consisted of a pair of my tighty-whities with leopard spots (furnished by my box of crayons)! When I was about ten years old, I received a handmade Batman costume for Christmas that my aunt had made. It was definitely one of the best gifts ever, and I even won a contest in my hometown parade one year. Sadly, the older I got, the smaller the costume became until I couldn’t wear it anymore. There have been many other costumes in my life since then though, mostly made for Halloween. However, every now and then, some event would come up that required ‘fancy dress’ (as my relatives in the U.K. call it). 

Today, cosplay is serious business, sometimes with really serious prize money being awarded at some of the major comic conventions. There are websites dedicated to supplying costumes, and if you are the kind of person that likes to make your own, then the internet is chock-full of maker sites. The advent of 3D printers has opened up a whole new world for talented designers and makers. It has gone way beyond being good with a needle and thread. Pop open Etsy or Amazon and type cosplay in the search bar, and you will be presented with a mind-boggling array of outfits, accessories, components, and more.

Cosplay is also extremely inclusive, across all aspects. Colleen, a disabled cosplay YouTuber from the Pacific Northwest, runs the Colleen Cosplay YouTube channel, where she teaches cosplay tutorials and talks about what it is like being a disabled cosplayer. “Cosplay is my hobby, and it brings me so much joy,” says Colleen. “I love creating my own costumes and challenging myself to make more difficult builds. I also love that moment when I finally have the whole costume on, and I can see myself in a character I admire.” 

Colleen Cosplay
Colleen Cosplay

Colleen’s disability has created unique challenges for her cosplay. “I have to make costumes a bit differently to accommodate my disability. This may be shortening skirts or capes so they don't get caught in my mobility aids, or even decorating my wheelchair wheels.” Not all events are disability-friendly and accessible, but she says there has been a lot of positive change in recent years with more conventions making their events accessible for disabled attendees. “We still got some work to do, but I truly love this hobby, and I can see myself cosplaying for many years to come!”

Colleen Cosplay

The world of gaming has benefitted from the popularity of cosplay. Live action role-play, better known as LARP, is where a group of people enact a fictional scenario, like a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy adventure in real time, in costume. LARP has seen an uptick in popularity and support from merchandisers like GoblinSmith in Kennewick. According to Stone Entreri, a local LARPer, GoblinSmith can supply not only stock costumes, armor, and safe weaponry, but can also connect you with custom items and makers. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessary,” Stone says, “but for our group, it’s kind of our focus, being that we’re costumers. So we like to try and help all of our people who participate [in LARP] with their costumes, too.” If you are interested in getting involved in live action role-play, Entrerie says there are several groups local to the Tri-Cities that are always open to new players. Reach out to Misty Gibson at GoblinSmith for details.

Misty Gibson, DragonFire/GoblinSmith
Stone Entreri

As for this old cosplay guy, I kind of credit cosplay with a major life change that has most definitely made a huge impact on the quality of my life. We lost our adult son a few years back, and as you might imagine, it completely devastated us. I basically gave up on most things, took an early retirement, ate way too much, and just generally let myself go. I’ve long been a fan of The Green Hornet (which is a whole other article) from the 1966 TV series starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee. The idea of portraying the Hornet just appealed to me, but at 240 pounds, I didn’t feel that I would be doing the character justice. So, I began taking my health seriously again, exercising and reconnecting with the world. It gave me something to care about and focus on. Don’t get me wrong; cosplay is about acceptance and self-expression, and I would have been just fine as a 240 pound Green Hornet, but it was a driver for me to make a change.

Batman and Green Hornet

It has taken me a couple of years and numerous iterations to get my Green Hornet cosplay where I’m happy with it. One thing about cosplay is that there are levels of satisfaction. One person is happy with drawing the outline of a bat on a white T-shirt with an inexpensive mask and cape, while on the other end is the obsessive cosplayer who has to have every detail down. I tend towards the obsessive side! Now that I’m happy with my Green Hornet outfit, I’ve refocused my creative energies to creating a Ghostbusters outfit as a tribute to our son, who was a big fan of the show and built his own proton pack and outfit from scratch.

Ian in his handmade Ghostbusters costume

If you are interested in being a part of this creative world, there is a local Facebook group, Tri-Cities Super Friends, and the beginnings of a local Ghostbusters group, Southeast Washington Ghostbusters. These groups make appearances at local events to help support businesses and charities. I’ll leave you with what Colleen Cosplay says (and something I feel, as well): “I truly love this hobby and I can see myself cosplaying for many years to come!”

Colleen Cosplay

Greg is a writer, musician, cosplayer, VO artist, and more!

Colleen Cosplay photos by Mr. Colleen Cosplay; all other photos by Greg Martin.