Welcome, one and all, to another OWLS post! Don’t remember what OWLS is? That’s simple. OWLS is a group of content creators who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Every month we discuss real-world topics through online tours, sharing personal experiences and analysing pop culture, literature, and other forms of media. Even though we come from all walks of life, each and every one of our amazing members are dedicated to our cause!
This month, we’re looking at an interesting little topic: happiness. The official prompt is as follows:
Happiness is subjective. We all have different definitions of what happiness means to us and we also feel happiness in varying degrees. This month we will be exploring several questions describing our happiness in our fandoms, communities, and hobbies. Why do we find enjoyment watching anime or reading manga? Why did we decide to join the anime or pop culture communities? Why do we blog about our hobbies or cosplay as our favorite characters? This topic is all about the passions we have for our interests and why they are important to us. Examples: Cosplaying Anime blogging community Massive otaku collections Fanfiction junkie
I signed up for this one as soon as I spotted it. It seems like such a fun little topic, right? And, the truth is, you can find happiness in so many different places. I’m glad for that. Anyone who read my 2018 Wrap-Up Post will know how tough a time I’ve been having for over a year now. Honestly, even now, new problems seem intent on popping up, so things aren’t really all that great. As such, I try to hang on to every little thing that brings me joy. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna spend this one going through the stuff going on right now. This is about happiness. So, that’s what I’m focusing on.
Lucky for me, even when I have down times, there are plenty of things that I can take pleasure in. I’m part of a lot of different fandoms for one. So, when trying to pick one subject to talk about here, I started there. I mean, this is a pop culture site, right? So, really, I should be talking about that. Narrowing it down was pretty hard, but in the end, I decided to go with cosplay.
The reason is simple: Cosplay doesn’t just make me happy, it also crosses over with a lot of the other stuff. So, let’s look at what cosplay means to me and why I enjoy it.
What is Cosplay?
A portmanteau of ‘costume play’, cosplay is defined as ‘the practice of dressing up as a character from a film, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga or anime.’ Of course, it also extends to characters from TV shows and comics, as well as original characters (or OCs). I personally find the best way to describe it is simply ‘playing dress-up’. I know, I know, there’s more to it than that, and I’ll get into that too, but for me, that’s the simplest way to think of it. At its core, cosplay is enjoying the world of make-believe like we did as kids. But with more elaborate costumes.
Cosplay as a form of creativity
I work on a lot of projects. Usually, all at once, as ludicrous a struggle as it can be at times. Right now, my list of projects includes: editing my next novel with my publisher, planning the novel after that, working on a few short stories for submission to anthologies, producing two or more posts per weekday for this very site, researching for a potential video game, and experimenting with materials for a new cosplay.
I think that, what it comes down to, is I feel like I’m a pretty creative person. What I make isn’t always the most original, but I feel happier when I have something to work on. When I look back on it, that’s always been the case for me. In school, I loved working on creative writing, art, and drama, even when I was finding some of it tough. In my old day job, it was building electronic tools from scratch that kept me most engrossed, even though it wasn’t technically part of my job. Now that I’m a stay-at-home parent, throwing myself into every project I can, makes me smile.
I do think part of it is that I don’t want to get bored. That happens easily with me. I need something to keep my interest. At the same time though, having an outlet (or twenty) for the urge to create something is a wonderful thing. Being able to channel that into a project, take the raw materials, and create something that wasn’t there before? Taking something from my mind and making it a tangible, physical thing? Whether it goes well or is an abject failure, just trying…that makes me happy.
Cosplay as a means to learn
There are many, many ways you can approach cosplay. Some people buy pre-made costumes, others commission people to make them for them. Some modify existing clothes, others build everything from scratch. The best thing with it is, there’s no wrong way to do it. If you’re acquiring the costume and having fun, that’s what matters.
For me though, I prefer to build from scratch in most cases. There are exceptions, of course. Celty’s catsuit was a very basic thing that is readily available, for example, so there was no need. Her helmet though, that required some modding of an existing helmet. Meanwhile, when I made Renamon, I built the entire thing from the ground up. Whenever I do a costume though, I like to try something new.
This comes down to curiosity to some extent. School was tough for me – I was bullied non-stop from ages ten to fourteen, and intermittently at other points – but I always loved to learn. Sure, having something I thought reaffirmed was great, but discovering things I didn’t know before was a blast. With cosplay, that takes on a new life. Let’s look at a few of my costumes and what I was learning:
- Medusa (Soul Eater): My first cosplay wasn’t particularly daring. This was basically working on modifying clothing by cutting and painting it more than anything. It opened the door for more things though.
- DJ-P0N3/Vinyl Scratch (My Little Pont: Friendship Is Magic): My first full build saw me make a jacket (complete with unicorn horn and hair on the hood), and a pair of trousers from scratch. I made a few mistakes with the measurements, so that was a learning experience. I did enjoy making my own patterns though. It was also my first time working with leatherette, so I had to learn how to stitch the stuff together while taking the material into account.
- Renamon (Digimon Tamers): My biggest project to date saw me learn how to build a fursuit using foam to build shapes, how to mask it and make a pattern of a 3-dimensional shape, and how to tidy my sewing. I also learned what it feels like to overheat.
- Celty (Durarara): One of my favourite projects saw me learn how to work with a motorcycle helmet to allow it to be modified without compromising the strength of it.
- Alopex (IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles): My first attempt at using different fursuiting techniques taught me how to sculpt a mask and make a mold, and how to slush cast. This one was kind of a failure, but it was fun experimenting.
- Rouge the Bat (Sonic the Hedgehog) and Foxy (FNAF): A mask for myself and one for my youngest. The two taught me how to work with large Styrofoam spheres as a head base.
- Inukai (Flying Witch): I bought a pre-made facial prosthetic for this one, kinda like you’d see as a practical effect in a movie. Here, I learned how to modify it so I could breathe, how to attach it, and what it’s like to sit through make-up application.
- Tangle the Lemur (IDW Sonic the Hedgehog): This one involved working towards perfecting my Styrofoam sphere skills and modifying older costume pieces that I’d left unfinished so as to fit them with a new costume.
There are other costumes too. Take my current one for example. I’m working on a patchwork kitsune costume. I started off by experimenting with liquid silicone, much like the masks you see in non-CG based horror films. I messed up, and I’m changing tact though. I’m still going to use the silicone for some things, but I’m gonna try finding a way to mix the techniques with other stuff I’ve learned before.
Now, you could argue that – with the exception of sewing – I’m not learning anything too practical here. It does mean that I’m learning something though, and that makes me smile. These are all very hands-on, enjoyable things to work with after all.
Cosplay as an expression of fandom
I never cosplay as a character that I don’t like. I mean, why would you? It can’t be much fun trying to make a costume of someone that you think is dull, for example. So, this all allows me to feel a connection with the different fandoms, complete with cross-overs. Take Renamon for example. She represents my love of the anime community, the Digimon franchise, and the furry fandom, all of which have been part of my life since the ’90s. In much the same way, both Rouge and Tangle give me a link to the Sonic fandom and the gaming community (as well as the furry fandom), which have also been mainstays in my life since the ’90s. Newer characters like Celty and Inukai let me connect with fans in the modern anime community.
These links are important. They also tie in with my next point.
Cosplay as a way to function
When I was a little kid, I was as social as every other child in my area. Once the bullying started though (along with some other stuff that happened at home), I slowly became more and more withdrawn. Truth be told, through much of my life, I’ve kept my list of close real-world friends pretty small. Fear plays a part here. Even on the (not really) faceless world of social media, the amount of messages I’ve typed out then deleted before sending, simply because I worry about what people will think, is ridiculous. I second guess myself and others all the time, and usually expect the worst. What really sucks is, when I look back on it, it usually results in me realizing that there was nothing wrong with said message. The same thing happens socially in general. I rarely go to social gatherings because, even if it’s full of people that I know well and get along with, I’ll still usually end up hiding in a corner trying to avoid talking to people. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I struggle with it. But hey, if there’s a food table, I at least get to enjoy the company of snacks, right? Tiny sandwiches don’t come with the same level of awkwardness as small talk.
Cosplay is a way to work around that. You see, I never had a problem while wrestling. Whether training or performing in front of hundreds of people, I wasn’t afraid. It took me a long time to realize why: it wasn’t me out there, it was the character. Playing a role like that gave me the separation I needed to not be nervous.
Cosplay works the same way. I can play the characters that I dress as, and just not worry about what people say or think. It gives me an outlet to connect with people in the same fandoms as me and socialize in a way that doesn’t scare me so much. There’s an instant ‘in’ for conversation when people instigate the conversation by asking me about the costume, which makes getting started easier. At the same time, it also allows me to express my genderfluidity in a safe environment where judgment is rare, at least in my experience. In fact, the only time I’ve ever had any cosplay related abuse was when I dressed as a male character. All the furries, and all the female ones? I get compliments, photo requests, and so on. Dress as Al from Dominion Tank Police? Someone took the time to pull their car up, roll down their window, and yell at me. It was exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.
It’s strange though. In a way, it’s more like a defense mechanism than a straight up separation. I say that because, as contradictory as it is, I can take the good things to heart a little more. When people compliment my costume or want a photo, I take it as a personal thing. I did something good, people like what I did. If I get abuse or I screw up, the character is a shield. I’m sure that there are valid arguments that could be made from both sides of the fence with regards to whether this is a healthy attitude or not, but honestly, having cosplay as an outlet like this makes me happy. I’m not built to be social, but I struggle when I’m isolated. This helps negate that.
Cosplay as a way to never lose happiness
I actually find it pretty funny, because in my lonelier days in my childhood, characters like Sonic or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were my friends to some degree. They were always there, keeping me smiling. Cartoons, comics, video games, action figures, books, drawing fan art…it all helped make days feel awesome. And now, the same characters still do. They give me a way to connect with people, or to just be someone else for a little while. They help me learn, though in a different way than they used to. They help me have fun. Cosplay helps keep that connection alive and makes sure that I never forget how to enjoy the simple pleasure of play. In that respect, I think cosplay has the ability to make any of us happy, in any number of ways.
Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you enjoyed that overly long ramble. Feel free to check out the previous posts in the tour, including Irina’s awesome post about Natsume yesterday and don’t forget to read Shokamoka’s post next.