Much like Obi-Wan, you may have sensed a disturbance in the cosplay world this week as a hundred thousand voices cried out and continued to cry out over a certain convention's social media fiasco.
As entertaining as the whole blowout has been from a spectator standpoint (I've been likening it to watching a slow-motion train crash develop into a mag-lev pileup), I'm not here to talk about the specifics of the Sante Fe Comic-Con debacle or the many, many cosplayers it antagonized. My opinions on the matter are fairly irrelevant, seeing as I'm an east coast cosplayer and I hadn't even heard of SFCC before last weekend.
However, it has spurred interesting discussions both on the page and across the Web on the topic of the validity of cosplayers as convention guests. It has been enlightening (and sometimes infuriating) to see the smorgasbord of opinions from across the world on the comments of the initial post and the conversations that followed.
So I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
Like it or not, cosplayers are now an integral part of the nerd community. The number of cosplayers grows constantly as nerd culture continues to grow in the public eye. Convention attendance has never been higher, and new events crop up every day. If I had the time and energy, I could go to a convention within a 5-hour drive from me every single weekend.
Cosplay is now a staple at all of these conventions, regardless of genre; anime, gaming, comic, sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy... we are another attraction along with the celebrity guests, talented artists, and product exclusives. But cosplayers are also fans; we want to meet cosplayers we admire, learn more about the hobby, and test our mettle against other costumers.
With such a large, growing part of the community, it makes sense to enlist the help of experienced cosplayers (particularly costume creators, actors, and models) who can contribute to the cosplay environment at the convention by running cosplay-oriented panels, judging costume contests, and manning a table for meet-and-greets and cosplay Q&As. Good cosplay guests do much more for a convention than a cosplaying attendee; they actively contribute to the convention environment by nurturing the passion of both new and experienced cosplayers. A safe, positive cosplay environment at a con will continue to attract cosplayers of all skill levels (see: ReedPOP and the "Cosplay is Not Consent" movement), while a threatening or hostile environment can easily drive them away (see: SFCC debacle). Therefore, if a convention wants to grow its cosplay community, choosing the right cosplay guests is crucial.
It's not easy to be a good cosplay guest. It starts with preparing panels and new costume(s) weeks in advance. Once at the con, guesting requires being upbeat and friendly at a booth for the majority of the event, with small breaks for food and slightly larger breaks for speaking publicly in front of a bunch of strangers, all while wearing a costume with varying degrees of comfort because, after all, the attendees will likely be disappointed by a cosplay guest wearing a closet cosplay with minimal makeup. In addition to the convention, appearances at afterparties and other events can make the weekend into one long work day. It's fun work, of course, but exhausting nonetheless.
It's completely reasonable to expect some sort of compensation in exchange for social media promotion and a weekend of helping the convention cater to its cosplay fans (which as we covered earlier, make up a non-negligible percentage of attendees nowadays). If the cosplayer has multiple panels to run, a costume contest to judge, and other responsibilities to the convention, the guest at the very least shouldn't have to pay for a badge. The compensation beyond that should include how much engagement they bring to the convention (e.g. potential badge sales), the amount and quality of programming provided (panels, costume contests, etc), and any additional engagements past convention hours. This can range anywhere from travel and booth compensation to a per diem, depending on how highly the convention values the time of the cosplayer.
And while we're on the subject, why do all cosplay guests have to be costume creators? I'd love to see some guests who are also good in-character actors and fantastic models who help bring a character they're passionate about to life. Costume creators, though talented, don't tell the entire story of cosplay. Give me panels that teach me how to get in character, panels that show me how to tell a story with nothing but my pose and expression. The cosplay community is always touting "cosplay how you want", but when we limit cosplay guests to arbitrarily defined "real" construction cosplayers, aren't we dismissing an entire section of the cosplay world?
That being said, no cosplayer is entitled to a guest position -- those decisions are made by the convention organizers based on the needs of the convention and the amount of funds available. There shouldn't be any shame in a cosplayer submitting an inquiry about guesting (and highlighting their qualifications to do so), but at the end of the day the organizers will do what they think is best for the event. Besides, there are other ways to get involved without becoming an official guest, such as submitting programming ideas or volunteering time.
However, if the cosplayer just wants to sell prints, galavant about with friends, and shoot with photographers rather than engage with the congoers, there's no reason the cosplayer can't pay for a booth as they are offering little help to the convention boost its appeal beyond social media engagement. Asking to be a cosplay guest while bringing nothing to the table is a good way to ensure not becoming one.
"So I can get behind talented cosplayers being compensated for making a con better," says Joe McShamerFace. " But what about those #cosfamous models like [insert literally any cosplayer with a half-decent following here] that swing their tits around for attention from thirsty guys?! Everyone knows they're only famous because they bought all their likes and whored their way to fame!! Why should I have to be exposed to such filth in MY convention safe space?!"
(Oh my Tesla that hurt to write... I still can't believe how many people said something to this effect over the past few days!)
Okay. Let's get something straight here. Cool cosplays and sexy content are not mutually exclusive. Wait, let me say that again for those in the back.
A cosplayer can create awesomely detailed, impressive cosplays, and also enjoy creating boudoir, pinup, or burlesque content. Most 'sexy' cosplayers are also incredibly talented craftsmen and women who work hard for their fans and their nerdy passions. Just because they show some skin doesn't mean they're trying to exploit conventions for tickets and free trips, and it definitely doesn't mean they don't have insight and expertise to share as a guest.
Cute girls are a dime a dozen in the cosplay community. Those who have climbed to the top have talent in cosplay construction, modeling, charisma, and most of all, a good business sense. Those skills, along with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, is what got them to where they are today. Saying that someone is only famous because of their bust-waist-hip ratio is insulting to all the time and dedication they put into building their following and the continual effort to produce new content and stay involved with the community, all while dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous hatred.
I will not deny that being an attractive girl helps the process -- but to say that their fame stems only from sexual appeal is asinine. If a cosplayer's style personally offends you, don't follow them. However, your distaste for their cosplays does not nullify their ability to guest at a convention beyond their "celebrity" status, and just because they are comfortable in their own skin doesn't mean they deserve any less compensation.
Everyone in the cosplay community has their strengths and weaknesses. Every cosplayer has the potential to be a guest if they're passionate about sharing their expertise, whether it be in costume construction, modeling, or character acting. And every cosplay guest who is chosen to lend their expertise to a convention should not have to pay out of pocket to do so.
Are there some cosplay divas who make terrible guests? Sure. A convention can have a bad experience with a cosplayer who is under the impression that the position of a cosplay guest is the same as a paying attendee, except with more freebies. They offer little or nothing to the convention in terms of programming or compensation beyond their Facebook following and are there solely to promote themselves and hang out with their friends on the convention's dime.
But then again, there are convention organization divas that publicly shame cosplayers who ask for fair compensation for their work.
There's a few bad apples in every bunch.
A weird mash-up of physics, math, education, sewing, and stanning Hordrapta