On the art of cosplay

I met up with Alan McDougall in downtown Edmonton, at Commerce Place on Jasper Avenue. He was on his way to Naginata practice – a martial art that teaches the use and techniques of the polearm favoured by the Samurai. We stopped for coffee and a quick chat about another of his intriguing hobbies: cosplay.

Alan has been a regular at Animethon for roughly the past fifteen years, since the convention’s fifth or sixth year. He never considered himself to be a serious cosplayer, just someone who liked to dress up as various characters from anime series that he enjoyed and for which he wanted to show his support. His first attempt at a serious costumed character representation was as Seishirō Sakurazuka from the animated series “X,” which did not turn out as expected.

“[Seishirō Sakurazuka] is an assassin with a glass eye,” Alan explained, “So, I used a white-out contact lens for that effect. There was a problem with the lens, and that’s how I damaged my left eye.”

He added, “I still participated in Animethon, but I started looking for alternate costumes or ways to incorporate the eyepatch.”

To that end, we discussed how cosplay isn’t just limited to the anime fandom, but is now a staple of other fandoms as well. He mentioned the possibility of dressing as “The Governor” from the AMC television series “The Walking Dead” for a future convention. The conversation drifted into the controversial discussion of cosplay and body type.

Alan explained that there are two prevailing opinions among cosplayers; one group that says people should only dress for body type, and another that doesn’t seem to care about body type and character selection. Alan identifies with the latter mindset.

“I try to be realistic about the characters I choose,” he said, “but it really shouldn’t matter as long as you’re having fun doing it.”

We discussed the nature of this criticism, and reached a common conclusion: the critics will always be there.

“When you perform any kind of art, when you put yourself out there, you’re always going to be open to critics. The trick is to not take them personally and keep doing what you love to do.”

Part of that fun and love of the art comes from the creation process. “Photography, makeup, props, costumes…there’s lots of dedication to the art. There have been times [someone] has been up until 2am working on their costume…”

One of these dedicated people is Ven Tsun, a cosplayer gaining popularity in the fandom. In late March, Alan will be heading to Vancouver to model with Ven in an “Attack on Titan” themed photoshoot designed to focus on the character Levi from the series. Alan explained that he and Ven have been friends for years, and that the shoot was inspired by suggestions from Ven’s 1200 (approx.) Facebook fans.

Alan expects this to be a lot of fun, “I’ve never done a serious photoshoot before…this will be my first pro shoot. I know the cosplay won’t be exact, but that’s the awesome thing about fiction: it’s not real. You can change it to meet your needs.”

He also expected the photos to be released gradually via Ven’s Tumblr page,

I asked if he had any other future characters that he would really want to play.

“Cobra Commander. The tough part will be the helmet and getting the faceplate chromed.”

Half-jokingly, I asked if he could also do the iconic voice of Cobra Commander from the 1980’s G.I. Joe cartoon series. Alan belted out a surprisingly accurate battle cry of “Cobraaa!” to prove it.

Photo Credit: Steve Munro

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