There’s a definite uptick* in elaborately clad cosplayers assigning a price tag for fans who just want to snap a photo and I’m really not into it.
Now, I’m not talking about the full-time, sponsored Cosplayers that have their own booths complete with signed prints and photo-op sessions that yield a professional quality photo. Most of the time, those amazingly talented folk are happy to snap a selfie with fans for no charge. I’m talking about the cosplayers who are regular con attendees and decide to charge for people to snap photos with (or of) them with their own personal cameras. HM.
Until recently, this is something I’d only ever expect to find in long-term tourist heavy spots–amidst the bustling Times Square or the stretch of Hollywood and Highland, where costumed super heroes and Hollywood icons charge tourists money for the novelty of snapping a shot with them. In Hollywood, it’s a business. It’s an extra source of cash or even someone’s main job.
Never once have I considered cosplay in the same realm. Conventions are a place for fans of all walks of life to come together in celebration of what they do. Cosplayers work extremely hard to craft beautiful, accurate, and functioning outfits that allow them to fully immerse themselves in a particular world. Cosplayers use cosplay to break through walls that might otherwise make social interactions extremely difficult, to play a role that provides an immediate boost of confidence and an easy conversation starter. It allows people to openly identify with fandom and begin interacting with others who share that fandom.
And people love to take photos of cosplayers. It can get chaotic and difficult to maneuver when dressed in an easily recognized or extremely detailed cosplay. It’s exciting but can definitely begin to feel exhausting. Last year, when Frozen was at the height of its popularity and we couldn’t walk two feet without being stopped for photos–photos of us in a classic pose, photos of us playing the role of Anna and Kristoff for a wide-eyed child, acting the part of a Disney character without the 40 minute lines–I can not imagine even considering charging people for photos. Yes, even the parents at Wondercon who were clearly pushing their kids towards us to avoid waiting in aforementioned lines at Disneyland.
I can see the appeal–I guess. Making back a few bucks back from the hobby you’ve poured hundreds of dollars and an ungodly amount of time into by charging for photo ops might sound appealing–in theory. Making a buck off the people who won’t let you move more than two feet at a time, despite quickly approaching heat-stroke and dehydration? I can see how that takes the edge off a little. But it’s also a bit of a squicky thought. It’s admitting that you don’t actually cosplay for the personal joy and satisfaction of it.
No one on Hollywood Blvd is pretending that they’re dressing up as iconic characters for the sheer love of it.
So maybe I’m a little bit worried. Cosplay has exploded over the past few years, and most of its growth has been tremendously positive. Cosplay has created community, friendships, motivation–a direct way to engage within the fandom you love and bring your own personal flair to it. Cosplay challenges the conventions of costuming and allows for normal fans to push their limits and learn amazing new skills.
Do we really want to see Cosplayers walking around conventions and demanding monetary compensation for photos from other convention-goers? I say no!
It’s not a hobby anymore. It’s a job. And I know, sometimes working on a cosplay feels like the most tedious and frustrating job you could ever have, but at the end of the day cosplay is a product of love, dedication, and engagement.
Now, I’m not saying that cosplayers shouldn’t be advertising themselves while out on the show floor. Cosplay is a great way to exhibit your skills and provide a hands-on sample of what you’re capable of creating. Cosplaying is an amazing lead-in for aspiring crafters and creators, especially when the first questions most people hurry to ask is “Did you make that yourself?”
The costume allows a demo as you then explain how you run a shop dedicated to replicating cosplay accessories or crafting functioning yet con-safe weapons or entire outfits or any custom commissions someone has been dreaming about. Hell, it’s even great for slipping a parent your card and letting them know that you’re available on weekends for birthday parties. Incredible networking opportunities abound for those hitting the show floor in costume.
So, yes, I absolutely think cosplay can help promote a person’s skills in a more business sense. Cosplay is an excellent and popular way of advertising skills that can bring enjoyment to all. But trying to make a quick buck on someone’s enjoyment and desire to document their Con experiences? Now that doesn’t quite mesh with me.
We do it for the fun. For the love. Do it because the people who approach you for photos share the same passion for the character and franchise you’re dressed up as. Cosplay because it’s about experiencing that sense of community and fan camaraderie, together.
Do it for cash and you isolate yourself from the fandom. Do it for cash and you’re just wearing a costume.
*By uptick, I mean I personally witnessed three occasions of cosplayers charging during this year’s Comic Con (for the first time ever), and have heard reports of a handful more. Personally, I think even one example would be too many.