Should cosplayers be paid to cosplay? It's a question we've tackled before, and one that just keeps coming up, most recently thanks to the massive PR meltdown experienced by Santa Fe Comic Con after ridiculing an unnamed cosplayer for asking to be brought on as a guest.
Photo via Overwatch / Blizzard Entertainment
The fact is that times are changing — and more so in the geek world than anywhere else. We live in a world where professional fans, as much of an oxymoron as that term may be, are doing quite well for themselves. YouTubers who create most of their content playing other creators' games are earning millions from their videos, while fan artists are branching out into creating successful webcomics or even print comics. Jessica Nigri's Facebook page will tick over to a massive four million likes sometime between writing this story and its publication, while her Patreon collects nearly $25,000 a month.
In this brave new world of fandom, it's likely that a popular cosplayer will be able to attract more guests to a convention than that actor who had a guest spot on Buffy ten years ago — so why are so many people against seeing cosplayers as convention guests?
The relationship between cosplayers and conventions is an interesting one. Cosplayers are pretty much a given at any pop culture gathering, from the smallest comic-book store event to large events like PAX Australia that sell out every year. In fact, if you take a look at any website for any convention, chances are that cosplay is listed as an attraction — something shiny and fun that convention marketers use to add colour and flavour to their events.
Image via Kamui Cosplay
It's likely that the schedule will list at least one (but probably more) panel, workshop or event hosted by cosplayers. There'll probably even be a cosplay competition or parade that's usually held smack-bang on the main stage. If cosplayers universally decided to boycott conventions, they would be almost unrecognisable. Cosplay has long been something that adds value to conventions, something that has a facet that appeals to almost any convention-goer, no matter what they're a fan of. So why are people so adamant that this value should not be officially acknowledged?
Kamui Cosplay has published a blog post in the wake of the drama over Santa Fe Comic Con's Facebook post, detailing her own journey from hobbyist cosplayer to professional cosplay guest. She, like many other cosplayers, first started appearing as a 'guest' at pop culture conventions when she offered to host cosplay panels and workshops in exchange for nothing more than the convention ticket she couldn't afford.
Image via Kamui Cosplay
Over the years she continued — but noticed something odd happening. Her events were popular. So popular, in fact, that people would be buying tickets to the convention just to see her panels. As they grew in popularity and scope, however, they also took more time to put together. She would be organising slideshows and images for days leading up to the convention, packing her car full of piles of props and armour pieces to show off.
Suddenly it just wasn't worth the free tickets.
Kamui is one cosplayer who, these days, gets invitations to conventions around the world on, she says, almost a daily basis. But not all convention organisers see the value of these guests, whether this manifests as cosplay 'guests' being expected to fulfil all the duties of a regular guest for free, or being asked to pay for their own airfares — or as more outwardly hostile behaviour such as Santa Fe Comic Con's public ridiculing of a cosplayer who put themselves forward as a guest. Kamui said:
As a convention organizer who never had cosplay guests you might wonder why you should invite them at all. In the end, they don’t seem to be much different from any other attendees who come dressed up, right? Cosplayers though are not only some of the most passionate fans at comic conventions, they are also incredibly skilled, widely talented and enjoy to entertain attendees.
As I've pointed out before, cosplaying can be much harder work than it looks, and being a cosplay guest at a convention even more so. A good cosplay guest will well and truly earn their pay — they'll probably host a panel or four, either host or judge multiple cosplay competitions, turn up in a new costume every day and spend every other minute at their table signing prints and meeting guests. After the convention, they may even have to put in an appearance at VIP after parties.
Even before the convention, cosplayers will be marketing for the event by announcing to their (often numerous) followers that they'll be attending, drawing attendees in both locally and from interstate. They'll probably also be busy in the lead up making costumes to wear and organising prints to make available at their table space.
They do just as much (if not more) work as any other guest brought in by the convention, which leads me to one of Kamui's most important points:
Cosplayers should be treated just like any other invited guest.
Cosplay guests shouldn't be made to feel inferior because they're 'just' a cosplayer. This includes everything from organising accommodation and travel, making sure their needs are met and expectations are clearly communicated, as well as simply treating them with respect.
Here in Australia, Oz Comic Con is one convention that does this really well. It recently established a practice of inviting local cosplay guests to each of its events in different states, as well as international guests such as Stella Chuu and Yaya Han. "Cosplay is a huge part of the pop culture convention, and what's awesome is that it's popularity has grown organically out of the wonderful communities that surround these events," said Oz Comic Con's Content Manager, Guy 'Yug' Blomberg.
"Bringing cosplay guests to Oz Comic-Con is as natural as bringing any other celebrity that has a fandom of followers. Cosplay guests bring with them a passion for the craft and the culture, and that reflects back in the way they interact with the community."
While the wider community is starting to accept this shift towards fan creators being recognised in their own right, incidents like the one with SFCC do show that we've still got a way to go.