With Melbourne Oz Comic-Con just around the corner, cosplay is going to be something you might see in the evening news or in your socials. You might have even taken a photo with a cosplayer at a convention or a charitable event before. However, how much do you know about the world of cosplay? We interviewed Rashcal from RascalCosplay who was kind enough to take us on a deep-dive.
1. JOURNEY: Tell us who you are and how your cosplay journey began. How did it all start and how did you get here?
My name’s Sarah, but I go by Rahscal online and in the cosplay community (@RascalCosplay) I started cosplaying around eleven years ago, before I knew what it was called. In high-school I was always looking for any excuse to dress up, from out of uniform days to parties.
My first costume that I worked hard at to get accurate was Columbia from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not long after that, a friend at school went to a convention in Sydney and came back with photos, one of which was a person in Stormtrooper armour, and my world *exploded*. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and it was like I saw a glimpse of home.
2. PLANS: What character are you going as for Oz Comic-Con Melbourne? Why did you choose this character?
Plans and realities can sometimes be a little different! I’m currently working on a Guardians of the Galaxy 2 version Baby Groot for my 7 year old daughter. Groot is her favourite, and she has plans to join the cosplay competition so she can dance on stage.
For myself, I have Aloy from the video game Horizon Zero Dawn and I’m also working on a cross-over costume. I’m making a custom skin for Maya from Borderlands 2 in the style of a Vault Suit from Fallout 3. I cosplay a lot of video game characters, because.. well, I play a lot of video games. H:ZD had me hooked. It’s a fantastically beautiful game, with a fierce female lead, and excellent gameplay. It’s only natural for me to want to cosplay something that I played obsessively for months.
3. GENDER: Before transgender issues reached the wider public, there was already a lot of cross dressing going on in the cosplay world. There is also a lot of gender-bending. Can you tell us more about these cosplay styles and what impact it has on gender identity, if any, for people who do it?
Cosplay is an incredibly freeing experience. It’s one part of our life where we don’t have to *be* anything. There are no guidelines, no requirements, and no barriers. Being able to experiment with how you identify with yourself and the world around you can be a real eye opening experience.
Cross-play is when you create and embody a character that is gender aligned differently to yourself (such as, female cosplayer in a male cosplay). This usually requires padding out your body to resemble the opposite gender, and makeup wizardry to transform your features.
Gender-bending is when you take a character and recreate them as the opposite gender. For example the villain Two-Face from Batman reimagined as female, or Elsa from Frozen as a male. I think many people find cosplay is a safe space to experiment with gender identity and the social structure around gendered expectations.
A dear friend of mine, who happens to be trans, finds it incredibly liberating for them to be able to present themselves in the way that feels most comfortable and real for who they are, without pressures from ‘real world’ issues like their job.
Most people in a convention setting wouldn’t bat an eyelid if they saw a 6ft4 burly person in a dress, or someone with Elfin features with a prosthetic beard.
4. RACE: For Halloween, I don’t have to be Scandinavian to dress up like a Viking and I don’t have to be Japanese to dress up like a ninja. Does the same apply to cosplay or are there certain unspoken restrictions that should be observed regarding race-bending? Should it be done?
There are *absolutely* restrictions when it comes to race and cosplay. You barely have to scratch the surface of any online forum to find debates on blackface vs character accuracy. This is an essay-worthy question, which I will try to keep as short as possible.
Race is not a character trait. Skin colour isn’t an outfit. Nobody should ever alter the colour of their skin to cosplay a character that has origins of a real-world culture.
Racism and racial discrimination are sadly not a thing of the past, and there is no respectful way to darken your skin, no matter how skilfully, when only a couple of short decades ago our ancestors were painting their faces black in mockery.
The loudest objection I’ve seen is, if it’s okay to paint yourself green why isn’t it okay to paint yourself brown. Because Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy was not representing a real-world race, while Uhura in Star Trek is. Zoe Saldana’s skin isn’t part of her costume.
I also think it’s incredibly important for these to not be unspoken restrictions. We need to educate, and be socially aware. Ignorance and a blind eye do not make us better humans.
5. BULLYING: Many cosplayers share their creations with the world via social media. By having such an active online presence, it’s likely you’ll encounter all types of nasty people. How have you dealt with online bullying? Any words you want to share with upcoming cosplayers or streamers?
The internet is dark and full of terrors.. Okay. Maybe not completely. But, unfortunately the anonymity of the internet has given people free rein to be whatever version of themselves. There are some truly vile trolls online, who I’m sure could not possibly be that horrible in the real world, or they wouldn’t be able to function in society.
A big pointer is to be very aware that everything you say or post on the internet is out there forever, and you might be surprised how easy it is to link things back to you no matter how careful you are keeping things separated.
Do your best to keep your personal accounts and life separate from your public social media presence, unless you’re really prepared for people to be able to seek you out.
Another, of course, is don’t feed the trolls. Try not to get into arguments, or engage with people who are heckling. It makes things worse and you won’t *ever* convince them that they’re doing the wrong thing.
Try to surround yourself with positive voices, people who support and encourage you.
Don’t just block people who bully you. Report them in as many ways as you’re able to. And do the same for your friends and anyone who you follow. Stand up against bullying, support your friends, and report the trolls.
6. CONSENT: The cosplay community is tight knit and respectful of each other. However, at times there will be those creeps that turn up and take sneaky photos, invade your personal space or harass you in some way. What etiquette should be observed when interacting with cosplayers at conventions?
One hundred percent, respect.
Smile and ask to take photos. Ask if you can chat to them for a moment. And if you are going to have ANY physical contact: Ask. Ask if you can put your arm around their waist. Ask it from a respectful distance where it is easy for you to read their body language and they have time to react before you are in their personal space.
Candid photography might be cool sometimes, but consent is so much cooler. Most cosplayers will be happy to recreate candid photos where they can be more mindful of their facial expression for example.
One of my favourite cosplay photos came from me slouching against a pole and a photographer came up and said “I don’t want you to move at all, but can I take your photo just like this? Ignore me completely.” And I wound up with a photo that is unlike anything else I would have posed for.
And please, be just as mindful of their costume. Don’t even think of touching their costume without asking. If you’re even going to lean in close to look at a detail, ask them if it’s okay and reassure them that you don’t intend to touch. Imagine spending dozens of hours crafting something just to have it broken by someone who decided to “see what it was made of”.
7. CHARITY: In recent years, there’s been inspiring stories about comic book hero cosplayers cheering up kids in hospitals and at charity events. Can you tell us more about “causeplay”, or cosplay for a cause, and the impact it has on society? Will it be the thing that brings cosplay into the mainstream?
Causeplay is something that has been around for just about as long as cosplay, and there are so many different avenues it takes.
I’m a member of the international Star Wars costume group the 501st Legion, and we have a massive focus on charity work, from hospital visits to fund raising. I’m also friends with a couple of separate causeplay groups who regularly attend events.
There is not much more pure in the world than putting on a costume that you’ve slaved over, and seeing a kid light up when Stormtrooper or Captain America walks into their hospital room. I’ve had parents pull me aside to tell me that it’s the first time their kid has laughed in the two months since their cancer treatment started. To lift a child’s loneliness for a few minutes and make them forget the stark room they’re confined to.
Outside of that, costumes are just so much fun to wear, and always draw a crowd. Being able to use our presence to raise money or attract attention to an event is really rewarding. It’s definitely a fun and unique way to give back to your community.
8. NEWBIES: Although cosplay is often seen as a hobby, there’s an increasing demand for professional cosplay. Where do you think Australian cosplay will be in the coming years?
On the global scale, Australia is pretty fresh on the scene but we’re definitely making noise! The Championships of Cosplay have seen some amazing Aussie cosplayers competing on an international level and coming away with trophies. That in itself is so exciting.
We have a really diverse range of cosplayers and fabricators and prop builders, and as we keep growing I think we’re going to see more team-ups and business ventures between cosplayers and prop builders. Our community is a melting pot with people of many talents willing to share their knowledge.