Ever feel like you’d like to be someone else? Maybe even a character from a comic book or television series or movie?
Well, that’s the motivation behind cosplay – a contracted combination of the words costume and play.
Folks who participate in cosplay usually wear costumes and other sorts of accessories that identify with a character. And, more often than not, this is done in the company of others, in gatherings, often conventions, where the participants try to re-create the characters’ fictional worlds with like-minded people.
New York City is the epicenter for cosplay in the U.S.
The annual New York Comic Con, which got its start in 2006, attracted 180,000 people in 2016 in the sprawling Javits Center.
Running for three days in October, this year’s lineup of spotlight guests includes Erica Henderson, Squirrel Girl artist; Alley Scott Snyder, Batman artist; and Alley Ananth Hirsch, Lucky Penny artist.
Large-scale conventions such as this can bring in tens of millions of tourist dollars to an area.
Cosplay has its roots in the Far East, specifically Japan, where anime (think Pokemon) was a major catalyst.
Other popular culture genres highlighted in cosplay include comic books, cartoons, action movies, television series and video games.
The word cosplay dates to 1984 in Japan. Some believe its roots date to the first science fiction convention, held at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.
ARTISTS, WRITERS IN SPOTLIGHT
In cosplay, it’s not just characters that take convention spotlights, it’s also graphic artists and writers, said Reading-based Cristiane Collazo, founder of Continental Cosplay.
The 2004 Reading High School alumnus who graduated from the University of California-Berkeley with a degree in graphic design, got hooked on cosplay in 2011 when he visited the San Diego Comic Con and met Jessica Nigri, a Pikachu cosplayer. He snapped a photo of her in a sexy pose and it went viral.
Collazo has quite a resume, having worked in graphic design for Nickelodeon, Disney, Paramount, Screen Gems DVDs, ads, posters campaigns and television commercials.
He went on to be a manager producer for two episodes of the Heroes of Cosplay series on the Syfy channel.
Collazo’s work experience, and subsequent time spent with a cosplayer in Canada in spring 2013, inspired him to develop Continental Cosplay, a nonprofit that would give cosplayers a Hollywood-like experience without the attendant costs.
It handles modeling, photography, media and events domestically as well as consulting in the United Kingdom.
In addition, Collazo notes the goal of sponsoring and bringing one cosplayer a year to the U.S. to the New York Comic Con to advance his or her career.
It is a challenging business, Collazo, admits. Many similar cosplay-oriented firms have failed but he feels proud to be celebrating his sixth year in a business of fantasy.
“Your inner child should always exist,” he said.
Locally, he has helped arrange the appearance of the cast of the durable and popular Power Rangers to the Great Allentown Comic Con.
COMING TO THE REGION
Samantha Chitswara, director of sales at the Holiday Inn Conference Center, Fogelsville, knows a bit about the cosplay trend.
“Our hotel had the pleasure of hosting four of these cosplays,” she said.
The convention hosted was SaikouCon, a three-day anime and cosplay gathering which attracted hundreds of Japanese anime and manga aficionados.
The event grew and moved to a bigger space, which has since closed. Its 2018 convention is July 27-29 at the Econo Lodge Conference Center in South Whitehall Township.
Chitswara said hosting SaikouCon was an eye-opening experience.
Organizers handled the vendors’ payments, speakers and marketing. The Holiday Inn Conference Center did complementary marketing, especially for overnight stays for the three-day event, and, of course, benefited from the rental of ballroom space and the sales of food and drinks to attendees and vendors.
“It was very family friendly,” she said. “It was a perfect fit for us.”
She was especially impressed with the enthusiasm of cosplayers in full character regalia, as well as the writers, illustrators, photographers and other professionals in attendance.
After SaikouCon moved on, PartyCon moved in to the facility for New Year’s Eves 2015 and 2016. It was organized by a Schuylkill County couple who were SaikouCon vendors.
Billed as event for the geek culture, it was geared to fans of all cosplay genres, “from anime to Star Wars.”
Running through most of Dec. 31 and Jan 1, it combined panel discussions, vendors, tabletop gaming (board and video), speakers on creating/writing/illustrating comic books, novels, games, costume contests, anime screenings and Nerf battles.
There were live music and dancing in the evening.
Chitswara said the 2015 and 2016 events attracted hundreds, from children to seniors. There was no PartyCon in 2017, she said, because the couple had just become parents.
She hopes there will be a 2018 version that again fills the ballroom and other ancillary rooms.
She noted that many hotel/conference centers strive to attract cosplay conventions during the slow months of the year.
“We really look to sell the low-demand weekends,” she said.
COMPETITION FROM MAJOR METROS
Chitswara said the biggest of the cosplay conventions tend to be in major cities and are East Coast, Midwest, Southern, Western or even national gatherings.
“I think we are challenged with these in the Lehigh Valley,” she said.
“The national conventions are in Philly or New York. They’re only an hour or so away, and that’s hard to compete with.”
MARKET IS THERE
Eric J. Brown, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Reading Hotel, said the hotel would love to attract a ComicCon and has worked with Collazo on cosplay photo opportunities.
“I think these events give folks the opportunity to get some good attention,” he said. “Think about lawyers or doctors, anyone really, who spends their days not getting much attention. Put on a Spiderman or Superman costume and you’re something special to everyone.
“I believe there is an affinity market out there that enjoys it.”
POTENTIAL COMBO VENUE
Brown hopes to attract that market and see a cosplay grow in Reading.
While even the DoubleTree’s spacious ballroom might prove too small, the hotel has a secret weapon – its neighbor, the enormous Santander Arena.
“A startup would be great,” he said. “With the right promotion, we could go across the street.”