Shanghai Comic Con is set to take over the city this weekend, and as with all entertainment conventions you can expect the place to be overrun with all your favorite characters, from Batman to Daenerys and Naruto. But underneath the costumes are real people - and cosplay is their hobby.
Cosplay is the creative activity of becoming a fictional character, through costume creation, makeup, and acting. It has exploded in popularity over the last decade and is known for being a community that emphasises creativity, education and acceptance.
The world's most well-known cosplayer is Chinese-born Yaya Han. Han started making costumes in 1999 with only a used sewing machine and sewing book from a thrift store. Today, she's made nearly 300 costumes and owns her own business. When she's not creating from her home in Georgia, Han spends her time travelling as a guest at conventions all across the globe. She'll be in Shanghai this weekend as a cosplay contest judge at Shanghai Comic Con 2016, having previously attended a Beijing convention organized by the same company behind SHCC.
'I learned a lot about the Chinese cosplay and fandom community while visiting Beijing,' Han tells us. 'It seems to me as if there aren't many physical outlets for Chinese fans who are into western comics, movies, and TV shows. The enthusiasm and excitement I witnessed in Beijing was astonishing. Especially for the cosplayers, it was a breath of fresh air to have a craftsmanship-based costume contest. Many told me that they have never been able to partake in such contests before ReedPOP China's events.
'I also saw costumes from a huge variety of western fandom titles, mixed in with characters from Asian sources. The variety and vibrancy of the contest made me smile. The sincerity and genuine passion from the fans moved me. The freedom they felt and expressed to me reminded me of how I felt the first time I went to a big convention.
I really hope to see more Comic Cons in China, as well as more opportunities for Chinese cosplayers to show their craftsmanship skills.'
'The great thing about going to conventions these days is that you don't have to compete in a contest to enjoy cosplay,' Han says. 'From walking around the floor, to doing photoshoots, to filming videos, there are many ways for cosplayers to pass their time, and get into character. I absolutely recommend for new cosplayers to choose a character they connect with, and simply experience the feeling of walking around as that character. I also think they should watch the costume contest, and attend cosplay related programming, such as Q&A panels, or crafting workshops.
'Bring questions, be curious, and know that everyone is accepted. Cosplay, above all, is a form of fan expression, and therefore is accessible to everyone. You don't need advanced skills to cosplay. But if you want to learn, there are ways.'
When it comes to China, Han thinks there is plenty of opportunity for cosplay to continue to grow. 'China is a country famous for its arts and crafts, and it's where many raw materials are sourced,' she says. 'I believe that as long as you are willing and motivated, you can learn anything. Find people with common interests, form a community of cosplayers and crafters, learn from each other. I believe in the ingenuity and strength of will of Chinese people! I'm one of you, and learned everything about crafting by experimenting, making mistakes, and practice.
'The most important thing I want to contribute to the Chinese cosplay community is the value of craftsmanship. Cosplay is as much lavish performances and glamorous photos, as it is sitting alone in your room, making something from scratch. The journey of creating a costume is the best part about cosplaying. It is something to be cherished, and admired. I want to see more emphasis put on personal cosplay craftsmanship in China! Let's make cool stuff!'
Han has an original costume in the works that is based on Chinese mythology, which she hopes to complete this winter. 'Of course I am influenced by Chinese aesthetics!' she said. 'I grew up watching Chinese dramas, movies, and reading Chinese legends. I'm proud of my country's history and culture, and when a project is appropriate, I will go through great lengths to honor it.'
Feiying is a model living in Shanghai who will be attending SHCC. She learned about cosplay in 2014 when she met cosplayers in China's ACG (anime, comics, gaming) community. 'Frankly, I told my friends at the time that I hoped they could accept this hobby, which looks a bit strange.'
Luckily, her friends were receptive. 'What fascinated me is that cosplay is able to bring me a lot of fun. When I cosplay a character I think I have already become them, I am doing what they could do,' the Shanghai resident says.
Feiying makes her costumes with the help of her grandmother when she wants to cosplay less popular characters, and makes purchases of mass-produced costumes on Taobao as well. She stresses that cosplay is not just about putting on clothes, but the love of the characters and learning new skills. 'I think it's necessary to have both a love of the ACG subculture and a love of people,' she said.
Shanghai Comic Con is on November 5-6 at the Shanghai Convention & Exhibition Center of International Sourcing. Get your tickets below through Time Out Tickets.