Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen Costumes

As I mentioned in my last post, Mike and I cosplayed as Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane on Friday of Katsucon. We wanted to do costumes, but we did not have time to make anything elaborate, and we did not want to wear something that would be cumbersome while photographing people. These costumes fit the bill nicely. Plus, we thought it would be cute to cosplay as reporters covering the Met Gala that Friday.

Mike based his costume on the design by Steve Lieber in the current Jimmy Olsen series.
Jimmy Olsen Issue 1

I decided to use art by Jim Lee from Hush as my reference for Lois.
Lois Lane in Hush by Jim Lee

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Katsucon 2020 Cosplay Met Gala

Believe it or not, Mike and I had never been to Katsucon until this year. It is held only about half an hour away from where we live, but somehow the timing never worked out for us to attend. However, when we heard that Cowbutt Cruchies Cosplay and Jedimanda were hosting an event called the Cosplay Met Gala at Katsucon 2020, focused on showcasing designer takes on pop culture characters, we knew we had to see that.

The event was organized as a meetup and runway walk on Friday afternoon. Mike and I were there primarily as photographers (though we did a casual cosplay as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen–reporters covering the gala!). Before the con, cosplayers had the chance to submit their designs, some of which were then chosen to have featured runway walks. Others that were not chosen were still welcome to come pose in groups for photos before the walk.

A photo Mike took of me among the other photographers waiting for the runway walk
Katsucon

A photo I took of Mike (sitting on the ground in the green khaki jacket). Closest to me in the foreground are our photographer friends Angela, Lea and Dan.
Katsucon

Some of the cosplayers in the group photo portion of the event
Katsucon

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Thoughts

I have been thinking a lot about the state of our historical costuming and cosplay communities lately. Specifically, I have been pondering the extent of racism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination. These thoughts were brought forth in part by my friends Christine and Samantha writing, late last year and early this year, about the racism they have experienced as historical costumers of Asian descent. As an Asian American costumer and cosplayer myself, I could relate to a lot of what they were saying. Then the whole Asian American community was thrown into turmoil over racism and attacks stemming from the coronavirus. In addition to being worried about getting sick, I was (and still am) scared of being harassed in public as some sort of foreign disease carrier only because my family was, multiple generations ago, from China. And then came the horrific murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police brutality and against the systemic racism that Black Americans face every day.

Cosplay and historical costuming are meant to be hobbies that allow us to be someone other than who we are in our non-costuming lives. By their nature, they should be inclusive and have no prerequisites in terms of a person’s appearance or background. They allow us to express our love for a character or for a period of fashion. However, that ideal is not equally available to everyone. The US power structure and the media that reflects it is very white, and largely Christian and straight. That fact permeates everything, including our hobbies. If you were to form an image in your head of a canonical historical costumer, chances are it would be a white woman. And that default creates conscious or unconscious biases, even for well-meaning cosplayers and costumers.

People who do not fit the standard mold are made to feel lesser, or are singled out as exotic, or or are just plain ignored. Several times at historical costuming events, I have had someone come up and start talking to me as if they had met me before or knew who I was, when I had not met them before. At some point in these conversations, it became clear to me that I had been mistaken for another Asian costumer. And I would wonder, “do we really all look alike to you?” Many other cosplayers and historical costumers have reported similar things happening, if not much, much worse. As a result of experiences like these, many people are discouraged from participating in cosplay or historical costuming, which then perpetuates a lack of diversity going forward. And the cycle continues.

A photo of me with (from left to right) Vivien, Christine, Bunny, and AJ. We have all been confused for one another at some point.
Costume College

The question becomes, how can we stop this cycle? First, we must each consider whether we have biases that have caused us to act unwelcoming, or worse, bigoted. Some of these things may be unintentional, but still hurtful to others. Identifying these behaviors and making a conscious effort to change them is important. Second, we should increase the visibility of costumers and cosplayers that do not fit the standard mold. For people with large online followings, that means sharing other people’s work and collaborating with diverse creators. For cosplay photographers, that means working with models that are, to put it frankly, not only thin white women. Seeing a portfolio that only features that type of model is discouraging to cosplayers that look different from that, and makes them way less likely to hire or collaborate with you for shoots. I have definitely been turned off from some photographers when I see the lack of diversity on their Instagram feeds. For all members of the community, that means considering ways to foster diversity when doing things like organizing events, attending an event, or interacting online. Reach out and encourage new costumers who are different from you. You already share an interest in common, so that is a great place to start.

Remember, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. Every February, when 28 Days of Black Cosplay (or 29 Days of Black Cosplay for leap years) comes around, I have seen people worry that the shows of support are fleeting or just bandwagon participation for attention. To be blunt, when Black cosplayers see that others only post about them once a year, that behavior comes off as fake or crass. Other times POC costumers are disappointed when the only other people interacting with awareness campaigns are themselves POC. That does not widen the reach of the community. In February and May of this year, I did a series sharing Instagram accounts of Black historical costumers and Asian historical costumers, respectively. I was saddened to see that the vast majority of people engaging and sharing those posts at that time were other POC. It was not until this past couple weeks that I saw major support from white members of our community, sharing my posts and linking directly to POC and LGBTQ accounts. I fervently hope that current momentum will continue. Because if it does not, that is doubly discouraging to those who feel like they were taken advantage of for a fad.

When I first heard about 28 Days of Black Cosplay several years ago, it made me stop and consider what photos I was posting, particularly as a photographer. I saw that Mike and I were photographing some POC models besides me, but also that our work could still be more diverse. Since then, we have made a concerted effort to do better, both in terms of who we work with for pre-arranged photo shoots and who we photograph in hall shots. But we can still improve. Now, each year at the beginning of 28 Days of Black Cosplay, I use that time as an opportunity to take stock of whether we are maintaining our commitment to diversity, in terms of engaging with Black costumers, other POC, and other people from diverse backgrounds. It is a reminder to me that these issues are ones I need to think about year round.

Blue Valley Vineyard Shoot (Part 1)

Mike and I were excited to be able to attend the January D.C. Cosplay Photo Shoots meetup at Blue Valley Vineyard. It is a pretty winery in northern Virginia with a number of different places inside and outside to shoot.

It was a blustery, cold winter day, so Mike opted to stay inside and shoot with a speedlight. I went as a cosplayer. I will share his photos of other cosplayers in this post, and follow up with pictures of me in the next post. There were a lot of photographers relative to cosplayers that day, so Mike only ended up working with four people, including me.

Here is a group shot by Tony Kazmierski.
DC Cosplay Photo Shoots

The first person Mike worked with was Sierra in her Flapper Jasmine costume. She had some lovely details on her cosplay that worked well with grey and blue tones.
DC Cosplay Photo Shoots

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Photo Shoots at MAGFest 2020

We did six shoots over the three days of MAGFest that we attended. Each one was a little different, which presented some interesting challenges and learning experiences.

On Thursday we shot with Sara in her Mario Kart Princess Peach costume.

We started out with a setup using a pink background light, projected onto a cream wall next to some escalators. (I posted a photo of the tiny space we were working in two posts back.)
MAGFest

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My Costumes at MAGFest 2020

I decided to go with a theme for my MAGFest costumes this year: Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain. They are two characters from the Batman universe who were best friends in the pre-New 52 continuity. Right now I have two cosplays of Stephanie Brown’s costumes and one of Cassandra Cain’s. I am hoping to make a couple more at some point (namely, Stephanie’s version of Batgirl and Cassandra’s Black Bat).

On Thursday I debuted my new Spoiler costume, which I had finished in December. I think it is a really cool look, with the purple and black. However, with the full face mask it is a bit hard to wear at a con. The visibility is not great, and the mask gets warm. Nevertheless, I was still happy with the result, and I like the photos we got.

We started with some “standard” photos in front of a stone wall inside. This wall is very popular with photographers at MAGFest and Katsucon, but on a Thursday it was not that busy.
MAGFest

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MAGFest 2020

Our first con of 2020 was MAGFest, which kicked off the year on January 2nd. We went for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (saving Sunday for rest and recovery). We did not have a large group that we were attending with, but we ran into plenty of friends throughout the weekend. The days were full of photo shoots, playing board games, socializing, and shopping.

Thursday was a relatively quiet day. I wore my new Spoiler costume (more on that in my next post), we did one shoot with a friend (I will share photos from our formal shoots in a future post), and we played a couple games with our friend Dimitry.

A selfie with Sara right after we finished our shoot on Thursday. It was warm enough to do photos outside!
MAGFest 2020

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PAX Unplugged 2019

Last December, Mike and I went to the third annual PAX Unplugged convention in Philadelphia. It is a fun con focused entirely on tabletop games, such as board games or Dungeons & Dragons, as opposed to video or computer games. It is not a cosplay-focused con, although this past year there were more folks wearing costumes based on various RPG series, such as The Adventure Zone or Critical Role. But the overall number of cosplayers is pretty small.

I went with very simple costumes for Friday and Saturday (and opted for street clothes on Sunday). On Friday, I wore a casual Mulan-inspired outfit. Mike and I did just a few quick photos in the upstairs lobby of our hotel, rather than lug photography equipment into the convention center.
PAX Unplugged

PAX Unplugged

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Shoot with Rey Dot Ham Cosplay

Our friend Amelia of Rey Dot Ham cosplay moved out of the DC area recently (*cue sadness*). However, before she left, she reached out to us to ask if we would do a photo shoot with her, and we were super happy to oblige! She brought two costumes, Jean Grey/Phoenix and Starbucks Mermaid. We took the opportunity to experiment with gobos combined with colored lights, which created some cool effects.

Jean Grey

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