Denver is a great place to be a cosplayer. Nearly a dozen geeky conventions come through the Mile High City every year, from last weekend's Nan Desu Kan to the brony-themed Running of the Leaves, so fans have plenty of chances to dress up as their favorite characters. Even the Denver County Fair got in on the action this year, hosting its own cosplay contest..
But while many Denverites have seen cosplayers in action, few have actually tried it themselves. To give them a crash course in the activity, we spoke to Kaai Santerelli, a professional cosplayer based in Denver. Kaai, who goes by his first name in the community, makes his living modeling, designing and creating costumes; at Nan Desu Kan, he hosted a panel titled "Surviving the Norms" on cosplay safety and etiquette. Here's what he had to say.
6) Cosplayers can be a little shy
Cosplayers often get stereotyped as socially-awkward nerds; the reality is that they're too diverse a group to capture in a lazy generalization. But that doesn't mean it's easy to make a connection with someone who doesn't get why you're dressed as a character from a Japanese cartoon. "We don't always know how to explain ourselves," says Kaai. "But if you give us a chance and give us a little bit of leeway, we'll get there."
5) Those costumes are usually handmade
In true geek fashion, cosplayers strive to make their costumes faithful to the smallest details. They can spend hundreds of dollars and hours constructing their outfits and props; Kaai, who came to Nan Desu Kan dressed as Link from the game Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, was wearing a metal scale-mail shirt that he made by hand. "If you think something looks great, you can go ahead and ask them how they made it and turn that into a conversation," says Kaai.
4) Cosplayers like talking about their costumes
Curious about what inspired that giant robot costume with the laser eyes? Wondering why that guy is wearing a track suit and a TV on his head? Finding out is as easy as asking them. "We'll tell you the whole story if we have to," says Kaai. "I can tell you the entire plotline of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess if you really care to know. "
3) Cosplayers take their inspiration from all over
Nan Desu Kan is the biggest anime convention in the Rocky Mountain region, and many cosplayers there based their looks on shows like Sailor Moon and One Piece. But as Kaai points out, "it isn't just Japanese cartoons." Cosplayers dress as everything from superheroes to Doctor Who characters, sometimes even creating completely original designs.
2) Cosplayers are people
It's easy to otherize groups who look different than us, and with their outlandish getups, wigs and makeup, cosplayers certainly fit that bill. But beneath all that, they're just people, sometimes coworkers and neighbors.
"We're more awkward than some people because that's just part of our culture, being a little more reserved and less good at being super-friendly and outgoing," says Kaai. "But we are people, and we talk like people, and we eat food like people. We're not super-weird, and we're not inhuman creatures"
1) Cosplay is not consent
Cosplay is a chance for fans to inhabit their favorite characters. Unfortunately, there are creeps out there who take cosplayers' sometimes skimpy or skin-tight outfits as a license to touch or say inappropriate things to them.
Every major convention has had its share of horror stories; both attendees and passerby, as well as occasionally journalists, have been aggressors. And while most victims are women, men aren't immune, either: Kaai says he's been verbally harassed and had his skirts flipped up while in costume on the 16th Street Mall. So hands off: As in the rest of life, a person's choice of clothing doesn't imply his or her consent.
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Follow Adam Roy on Twitter at @adnroy.