Conventions Should Invite (And Value) Cosplay Guests

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.


    Wasn't the SantaFe person's main beef that cosplayers were not just asking to come along, but cold-calling and asking for their flights/accom/per diems to be paid?

    Asking for that unsolicited is a bit rude IMO, whether you're xXCosPlayGirl2016Xx or Robert Downey Jr.

    It's a bit different if the convention operators have reached out to you, or maybe put out an ad/tender for guests to appear. But IMHO going in cold, expecting those things reeks of hubris.

      The thing is that there's no central agency or database for cosplayers, they don't have agents at all. Sometimes putting yourself out there is the only way convention organisers can find out about even quite popular cosplayers. I've sent off plenty of polite "my skills and experience are relevant to your event, let me know if you're looking for a cosplay guest" emails myself.

      Also the worst thing about that was that in the comments he later said that local cosplayers should get in touch, exactly as he had just called out another cosplayer for doing.

      I mean it was obviously paraphrased so it's hard to know what tone the original email was in, and whether it really justified that public (and very unprofessional) calling out.

        So because they decided to professionally pursue a undeveloped industry we all have to fast track its growth?

        Cosplay is a lot like E-Sports it's a lot bigger than ten years ago, let it find its place in the market, let it establish its value and its importance. Rome wasn't built in a day.

          Yes I am forcing all conventions to have at least five (5) cosplay guests as of July.

            wait...forcing? Major stakeholder or something in every convention? Just curious as to how you'll force every convention around the world to do this, especially the small ones in no name towns.

          I think the point here is that with the way the industry is at the moment the way you approach it is to make an unsolicided request to the organsier as that is the only way cosplay guest get invited.
          So somebody has followed standard industry procedure and been called out for it. I don't think there was anything necessarily wrong with the communication, but it was private communication that was then publicly broadcast as far as I'm aware.

            It's also standard industry procedure to expect them to do it for free, so who is in the wrong? @hayleywilliams made a very compelling case as to their unseen value but unless we bully convention holders it's unlikely to change anytime soon.

              And should we bully convention holders? It's their choice. Yeah, a handful of cosplayers are famous enough to attract some people, but not as much as an actor who wasn't a guest star on a buffy episode 10 years ago. I'm sure anyone who is famous enough to pull such a big crowd DOES actually have an agent, or should consider one.

              The only thing I can think of that is really stopping them from becoming an industry is the fact that a lot of people do it amazingly, and for fun, without the expectation of getting paid. Pretty hard to try to get a cut of some money when a lot of others are doing it for free. Also cosplay events are usually not just listed as an event for people going there who are not cosplaying, but also to reward the cosplayers and let them show off.

              The tone of the email was a bit ridiculous in asking for plane tickets and etc (if it wasn't paraphrased), maybe cosplayers, or the more famous ones, should look into avenues on how to actually get paid gigs and the correct kind of attitude to have/way to approach organisers and share it with the others. Maybe Kotaku should for them?

              Last edited 19/05/16 7:45 pm

                I find that often there's as much (or more) unprofessionalism on the convention's side as the cosplayers'. I mean, at least in my experience, I'm not privy to other cosplayers' private emails. I invoice properly, have all the relevant documents at the ready and all that.

                But I often get emails from conventions essentially asking me to attend their interstate convention with "if you get yourself here and organise accommodation for yourself we'll give you a free ticket and put your name on the poster."

                Sure someone will do it for free (in this case not only for free but putting themselves out of pocket for the travel expenses) but usually only because either they don't realise how much work it's going to be, or because they didn't know they could have asked for remuneration.

                  Of course, the issue is that a lot of cosplayers do it for free (and primarily for fun), including some amazing ones that don't get "invited" in any sense. So I think it's going to be hard to market yourself/cosplay in general, as something that deserves more than free tickets (not saying it doesn't - a lot of hobbies require a ton of work and effort and usually don't end up paying except for the top of the top).

                  I kind of believe, it may get to the point of being a more substantial job for some (like how there are some very famous youtubers, but its hard to break into that market), but I don't really see it getting as big as that (as in youtube celebrities, unless the cosplayers somehow attract a lot of people via youtube as well), or being a huge paid industry in general - as in, for more than a few handfuls of cosplayers (but I am rather pessimistic, feel free to prove me wrong world).

                  Last edited 19/05/16 8:48 pm

        "my skills and experience are relevant to your event, let me know if you're looking for a cosplay guest" is a far more appropriate first-thing-to-say. Jumping in with "will you pay my airfares?" is a bit shitty IMO.

        But yeah, their conduct was woeful. No argument.

        I agree that the whole Santa Fe thing was unprofessional and badly handled, hell, even they agree with that. I think you are being a touch unfair for a few reasons though.

        > He was clearly jack of the amount of people asking him the same thing, and quite jaded with the fact that he perceived the majority of them to be professional models who spend the week being red bull girls, then chuck on a cat costume and lycra for the convention. He thought that was cynical and detracted from committed cosplayers.

        > I believe it wasn't a public calling out as such, since he didn't name the person.

        > He handled it terribly, but I really think his heart was in the right place. Making it public was dumb and being so rude was obviously unnecessary and plainly mean, but it really seemed (to me at least) there was a lot that had happened before this to put him in a negative frame of mind towards this sort of thing. It's no excuse, but it is context.

        I don't think anything is served by bludgeoning him over the head with this any more. There's already been an apology, and he was not wrong on some of the things. IDK about you, but I don't really want cosplayers to just become the geek grid girls, and it seems he was against the same thing.

        That said, more power to your arm. Cosplay is definitely becoming mainstream and professional enough that people will start paying to see it in some form or another. GL to you.

      IIRC it wasn't the asking that offended the guy, it was the cosplayer complaining when he said no. I would have seen red too, but then again, I'm not an entitled millennial who thinks that the world owes me a living. No offence to the polite, hard-working millennials out there.

        The reason he got hammered on this wasn't that he had issue with somebody asking for money it was that he aired it in public.

          I think it was a bit of both, but mostly the way he tried to defend himself came across as quite rude.

      That's how pretty much all entertainment industries work though, developed or not. Music, acting, YouTube, it's the same thing. If you're not an A list name, you put yourself out there, sell yourself, you go to them, not the other way around. As Jesse Cox says in relation to building his YouTube career, 'advertise like shameless whores'. Unsolicited offers aren't rude, they're normal, and if you're running a convention you have to expect to be approached about it.

        I'm not saying unsolicited offers are rude, I'm saying that unsolicited offers using presumptive language, expecting a free ride in the first instance are rude.

        Last edited 20/05/16 8:54 am

    If we start looking at Cosplaying from a job and market perspective, then it brings in to play a whole dynamic of market value and free market.

    If a cosplayer is in fact worth enough that they can demand to be paid for their attendance and accommodation then they will get paid that. But to many conventions they aren't worth that financially. One part because conventions have limited money and another part because cosplayers are in fact replacable.

    Look, cosplayers are valuable. As people and as entertainment. But those cosplay shows and parades? They've traditionally been filled by unpaid people because there's enough people who do it for a hobby that if a major name cosplayer isn't there, there will be someone local to fill their space.

    That's where the argument for conventions paying for cosplayers and companies paying for cosplayers diverges in my opinion. Conventions typically showcase cosplayers, not as a main product that has to be perfect, but rather as a way to put people's hobbies front-and-center. People came, had fun dressing up and it's a fun contest. Companies often use it as a form of promotion and require cosplayers to look perfect and spot on for their image. They require a different level of skill in outfits and people.

    I'm all for cosplayers asking to be paid. But then they're going to be paid according to how the market values them. And there are always more people to fill that spot when it comes to conventions. If conventions decide that it's not worth it financially, then we shouldn't be surprised when they say No, because we're asking for them to consider it as a business investment. Something where they then have to start thinking about ROI.

    But I think, to me, it's hard to say that people should treat cosplay as a proper profession, but then ask them to value cosplayers as more than just a profession. It's either professional or it's not

    Last edited 19/05/16 6:04 pm

      I totally agree.

      Where Hayley makes an interesting distinction though is when cosplayers are used as hosts/convention workers.

      I've known some incredibly hard working, consistently engaged convention workers. Not the "talent" or the "management" - but those guys and girls who work the floor, attend the needs of guests, organize lines, organise competition entries, organise cosplay contest entrants backstage, ticketing - you name it. Should cosplayers be paid if most of the workers , beyond some small compensation - promos and the like, a meal or two , convention entry fee - for a long days work - are also "doing it for the love"?

      Conventions are generally built on the backs of hundreds of hard working "volunteers". Obviously a star guest who's expected to fulfill a large role onstage and off - be they cosplayer, creator or actor - should be receiving some kind of payment - but where is the line? There's hundreds of guests, dozens of volunteers - and I'm sure conditions vary from convention to convention/promoter.

      Have cosplayers simply exposed the "murky underbelly" of convention organization - if indeed it exists. Are there any other convention workers - from the aforementioned "star talent" down to those hard working men and women on the floor who'll speak up now? This could get a whole lot more interesting.

    Pay peanuts, get monkeys.

    That said, I'm certain there'd be a market for monkeys engaging in cosplay somewhere.

    I used to follow Jessica Nigri on Instagram. I don't anymore.

    I got sick of seeing her trying to hock her lingerie polaroids to suckers and pics like saying "I did a thing" with gratuitous cleavage shots. It's less about cosplaying anymore for her and more marketing herself as a sex symbol instead. Her patreon page is a great example of that.

    So what percentage of their payment will cosplayers return to the artist/creators and IP holders of the characters they are using to make money?

    It's a serious question - and not difficult logic. If you use the IP of someone else without permission in order to make money, then there are legal restrictions on how that can work.

    This is actually the most important question here, and it is simple to grasp.

    If you start monetising cosplay to the point where it becomes a worthwhile income, the people whose talents enable it in the first place will most definitely want a cut.

    There is no way around this, and the more people avoid the question, the more likely it is that the final result will not be a happy compromise.

    I understand and sympathise that people want to have their cake and eat it, but that is not going to happen here.

    Last edited 20/05/16 1:33 pm

      Let's not forget, though, that right now, guest artists are allowed to profit from making fan art of existing IPs.

      It's not legal, but it still happens, and most events are still permitting it (though the wind may be shifting - stay tuned).

      Maybe until that's addressed, it should be a case of what's good for the goose...?

        Unfortunately this is higher profile - and it strays across a number of boundaries.

        It's not just IP holders who have an interest in this - the promotional companies who supply attractive young women to all kinds of conventions are slowly working out that the nerd sector is growing exponentially in financial terms and it's within their interests to ensure they are the ones supplying 'talent' and getting their percentage.

        I'd not be surprised if that's where you see a fair bit of pressure coming from, with the creation of 'cosplay talent agencies'. There's more than just naked skimming of profits here though - these agencies can act to help people get into the sector, book gigs etc.

        But don't expect the current state of play to last long and don't expect a situation where individuals are able to make a long term profit as proposed in this article.

        Capitalism doesn't work that way :(

    Oh my god little Darth Vader with a pokeball is the best thing ever!!!

    Seriously though, I get where you're coming from Hayley, and I can see you come from a "the way the world could be" rather than a "the way the world currently is" kind of thinking - and I'm totally with you. Ultimately, it's smart to make use of these incredible (and talented!) people for your event, which in turn is likely to create more revenue in the way of paying customers for the event. Like you say, cosplayers have a celebrity status that is relevant now in a way that someone in A TV show from 10 years ago just isn't.

    I went to comic con in Adelaide recently for the first time and was almost shocked at the kinds of prices that were set just for an autograph or photo from actors who were characters in Stargate Atlantis - and they were the Mai attractions of the event. No way I was paying that! Flip the script and invite a cosplayer I follow who is doing stuff now, and I wouldn't have even thought about spending the money.

    In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the amount of conventions for fans of pretty much anything geeky. Ultimately, it'll be the ones who make smarter decisions that will be the ones who keep coming back.

    Hmm, I think you might've given me a business idea... ;P

    I'm not against cosplayers receiving payment in principle. They add a lot of colour and energy to events, and those days are better with them around.

    However, I am wondering if there are copyright/IP concerns to consider.

    Just as the big events are starting to come down on the proliferation of fan art for sale, I'm wondering whether cosplayers would fall victim (or perhaps were pre-emptive victims) of the same stroke. The vast majority of cosplay is based upon IPs and trademarks that (if my understanding of the law is correct) cosplayers themselves have no legal right to exploit for money.

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