Cosplay more than re-creation

Aimee Brooks, a security guard from Hammonds Plains, is the personification of a skyscraper, dressed in samurai-looking combat gear.

The leather armour – black and silver – is hand-tooled with art deco motifs, which represents an architectural style dating to the 1920s and 1930s.

The overcoat is made of a top layer of black linen with red silk lining; iron-on metal spikes adorn the edges. Her hair is draped in a headscarf beneath a high-rise-inspired crown.

The 36-year-old isn’t daydreaming and, of course, she’s not a skyscraper. She’s engaging in cosplay – a kind of costuming popular at sci-fi and fantasy conventions like Hal-Con.

“I really, really started getting into (cosplay) when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith came out” in 2005, Brooks said. “I wanted something to wear to the movie.”

She cosplayed as characters from the Star Wars franchise for a few years, before deciding to do original costume design.

“I’m a skyscraper fan, and I like to take them and turn them into these beautiful personified characters,” Brooks said.

Brooks writes stories about personified skyscrapers, and has created a culture and backstory for them.

These personifications, called avatars, do not have families but rather trace their lineage through their architects. Their duty is to protect the city, and they study martial arts from childhood.

Brooks and fellow cosplayers invented a skyscraper language (Photos: Grace Kennedy) 

One of Brooks’ characters is One Penn Plaza, a 57-floor skyscraper in Manhattan.

“It really has never gotten a lot of mainstream love from the architectural establishment,” Brooks said of the Plaza. “It’s even been called one of the ugliest buildings in New York, which I disagree with.”

Brooks has been to One Penn Plaza dressed as the its personification, and has taken pictures with the building’s management staff.

“I think the staff are just blown away that somebody else loves the building as much as they do, that somebody else sees something good in it.”

Brooks’ original skyscraper costumes stand out in a community that tends to be seen as only recreating character from movies, video games, television or anime.

Andrew Aulenback, a front desk staff at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and public school librarian, said there are many definitions of cosplay.

Some cosplayers say the term only applies to people who are attempting to recreate something that can be seen – characters from a show or video game for example.

Others are broader in their distinctions, he said, saying cosplay is a visual representation of something – whether the original can be seen or not.

Some definitions include reenactors as part of the cosplay community, while most don’t; some say cosplay has to be something fictional.

For Aulenback, the definition is simple: “using clothing and costume to show off stories that you love.”

Aulenback has been cosplaying for about 15 years and focuses largely on steampunk and 19th century science-fiction characters. His wife and eight-year-old daughter also cosplay.

His costumes do not fall under the first definition of cosplaying (recreating visual characters), but definitely fall under his more inclusive definition.

“Everyone, to be honest, is costuming to some degree or another,” Aulenback said.

“Just the other day I actually saw somebody on my walk home wearing a Habs jacket and cap, and I’m quite certain he is not a professional hockey player,” he said.

“He’s showing off his love of that story by essentially cosplaying as a hockey player off the ice.”

Not everyone is as generous in their definitions.

Many young cosplayers who got into the hobby through anime are fairly rigid about what constitutes cosplay, Brooks said.

“I get some people in the cosplay community giving me a hard time,” she said about her skyscraper avatar. “I get it worse online than in person.”

Brooks said, a website where cosplayers can interact on forums and post photos of their costumes, seems to be the worst for those kind of attacks.

Brooks said commentors look down on original characters.

“People don’t care about originals, no one’s going to look at you,” Brooks said was a common criticism.

The Internet traditionally blows opinions out of proportion, but Aulenback says what it really comes down to is cosplayers trying to define their own hobby.

“Cosplayers are basically trying to brag about stories they love and know you should also love,” he said, “and they want to point out why you should really love them.”

For Brooks, dressed in her One Penn Plaza combat gear, this rings true.

“I’m a skyscraper enthusiast and my artwork is one way of celebrating that,” said Brooks.

The history of cosplay

Cosplay began in the late 1930s. Forrest Ackerman is credited with wearing the first cosplay costume to the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention. His costume was not based on a particular character, but rather embodied the futuristic fashion of the 25th century.

This kind of costuming became popular at Worldcons, but it wasn’t until 1984 that it was named “cosplay.”

Japanese reporter Nobuyuki Takahashi combined the words costume and play to create the term in an attempt to describe the costuming taking place at the 1984 Los Angeles Worldcon.

Cosplay took off in Japan as people began recreating characters from anime shows (a Japanese-style cartoon). In the mid-90s, when anime and manga (Japanese-style comic books) took off in North America, cosplay was reintroduced.