Cosplay relies on conventions, fellow fans and publicity to thrive. All that seems so far away in a pandemic, when events are canceled and most of us are either sheltering in place, or trying to avoid close contact with other human beings as much as possible.
What can cosplayers do in corona times? I’ve collected tips and resources for content creation, community action and self-care. I hope this blog post will help you. Together we can live through this!
Support your favorite cons and artists
The pandemic is a nightmare for event organizers and for the whole creative industry. Conventions are canceled, theaters are closed, movie and book premieres postponed. Many artists and pro cosplayers whom you admire are self-employed and make their money with convention gigs, or selling art and signed photos at conventions. For them, no conventions means that they are suddenly left with no income at all.
The good news is the internet: many artists now have their online stores open, or they have set up a fundraiser so you can support their work. Conventions move online, and you can enjoy their programming for free. They rely on sponsors, ad money and future ticket sales to fund their organization. To support them: tune in to their live stream, visit the virtual artist’s alley, buy a ticket and – if you can afford it – don’t insist on a refund if the con gets canceled. That’s a very practical thing you can do if you still want there to be conventions when this thing is over!
For an overview of conventions in the U.S. and worldwide that have been canceled or postponed, check out this regularly updated list at PopCult HQ. Many cons host an online event instead. Check out each event’s website for announcements.
Steampunk Explorer has a list of online steampunk, ren faire and sci-fi/ fantasy-themed events.
I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive list of online-only conventions for other genres. If you’ve seen such a list, or compiled one yourself, please drop a link in the comments!
Do online panels
If you’re the type of cosplayer who loves to talk about their work-in-progress or educate people with tutorials and panels, think about hosting a livestream, paneling at an online convention or going on a podcast!
When we’re not at conventions, we all miss talking to other cosplayers about our mutual obsession. A crafting livestream or an online panel discussion can be a great outlet, and it feels super rewarding.
The technical equipment you need is of course a hurdle at first. But you don’t need much to get started: if you do not have a webcam and a headset, use your phone. If you do not have LED video lights or a well-lit room that is suitable for streaming your crafting sessions, do a stream that is only talk. Discussion panels are perfect for this! I did my first via Skype and the online convention broadcast our conversation to Twitch, all I had to do was dial in. (Thank you Animexx for the opportunity!)
Looking for streams and podcasts to listen to, and maybe participate in? Here’s just two that I want to point out! The SheProp podcast by Downen Creative Studios features interviews with female and LGBTQIA+ cosplayers and prop makers. The host Beverly told me they are specifically looking for Black and PoC artists to participate.
Sew face masks
The urgent need for protective equipment has shone a light on everyone with a sewing machine and crafting skills. I found myself making masks for family and friends, since face masks are mandatory in many places in my state, and it was hard to source masks early in the pandemic. In some countries, the demand is still so high that people donate homemade masks to nursing homes and hospitals. Rely on your local networks to find out how you can help!
Making masks is a great way to use not only your sewing skills, but also your problem-solving and MacGuyvering skills to find the materials that are hard to come by. For my first masks, I used cotton fabric leftovers that I’d been hoarding for years.
It is important to note that you have absolutely no obligation to give your work away for free! For me, making masks was simply a thing I did to feel agency in a dire situation. If you need the money, however, then by all means sell the masks to people who can’t or don’t want to make their own!
Use up your stash
Cosplayers are hoarders. Period. I’m sure every cosplayer with a few years’ worth of costumes under their belt can easily whip up a new outfit from scratch – simply by raiding their fabric stash, finding a wig that they bought for a future cosplay they don’t even remember, re-using old costume parts and patterns, MacGuyver’ing household items and sacrificing that pretty trim they’ve kept for something special. That time has now come!
I know trips to the fabric store feel “essential” to cosplayers, but they really aren’t in times of a pandemic. Besides, many stores are closed anyway, and ordering online can take weeks. Try to limit yourself for once and work with materials that you can get without leaving the house. As a little treat, you’re doing something good for the environment by recycling your fabric and foam scraps instead of buying more.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the #ScrapEpic2020 challenge by Kirilee Cosplay and Alana Owlet! Here’s their announcement that explains what it’s all about.
Re-use old content
What’s true for cosplay materials applies to your social media content as well. When you don’t have new photoshoots to post and conventions to talk about, there are still plenty of ways that you can re-use, repost, revamp and rethink old content in a way that makes it interesting.
- Post a side-by-side of a cosplay and the character reference
- Take photos or video in and out of cosplay
- Post a glow-up:
- first cosplay vs. latest cosplay
- old photo vs. new photo of the same costume
- Share a funny outtake or an unpublished photo from an old shoot. Many photographers have been using the downtime to work on their backlog, so you may see new content popping up in your inbox!
- Try a new edit of an old photo. It can give you a boost of confidence to see how your editing game has evolved, and it gives you the opportunity to play around with a new style
- Take detail shots of a costume that you love. A great costumes doesn’t get old, and clean photos on a dress form really show off your craftsmanship!
- If you’ve saved old work-in-progress photos, share a before/after side-by-side, or step-by-step photos of your crafting process (from raw material to finished cosplay)
By the way, these are all great content ideas for non-pandemic times, too! There are so many ways you can provide a new angle on old content. Analyze which costumes and photos have been especially popular in the past, and re-post those or post new variations of that theme.
Use this moment to be authentic
If you’re not feeling the creative vibe, if you’re having a hard time coping with the news, or if you want to help but aren’t sure how – don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel! Be open about not having cool new content to post, or holding it back because you don’t want to take the attention away from more important things like public health and #BlackLivesMatter.
When you re-post an old photo, be candid about it. Explain to your audience what you feel when you see this photo, and why it matters to you right now. If you post a throwback to your early fandom days, tell people what this costume means to you, how you started out as a baby cosplayer, what kind of person you were at the time and what you miss the most about those times – or what you’re happy to have left behind.
People love sharing in the nostalgia and cringey moments, and it gives them a rare opportunity to get to know you as a person – without meeting you live at a con!
Cosplayers are great at networking, and we pretty much live on the internet when we’re not sewing or sleeping (wait, I’m sure I forgot something here…?) So by now we’ve come up with creative ways to produce content together even when we’re not meeting up in person.
I’m sure you’ve seen people do the #passthebrush challenge where cosplayers film their transformation into a character, then pass the brush to the next cosplayer off screen. This is a fun way to connect with other cosplayers despite the quarantine! You can do themed videos, like all from the same series – watch the Sailor Moon video I was a part of.
Or just wear your favorite costumes and empower each other – check out this cool video featuring Black cosplayers!
Here’s more ways to engage with your cosplaying friends:
- Support them by sharing their work, even if it’s old content
- Share new and underrepresented artists, like cosplayers of color
- Do a regular Feature Friday if that helps you get in the mood!
- Give away stuff that you no longer need, or sell it for charity
- Call your friends and have online crafting sessions together
- Share resources if either of you can’t find the materials they’re looking for
- Make cosplay, streaming, or panel plans together
- Reach out to your friends not only for collaborations, but to check in on each other!
For me, a positive outcome of this crisis is how our communication feels more compassionate. People begin and end their messages with well wishes – “hope you’re doing good”, “stay healthy”, “stay safe” – and just generally mind their language more to reflect that they care.
Do a social distancing photoshoot
While it’s best to avoid public gatherings or meeting people indoors unless it’s absolutely necessary, outdoor photoshoots offer a way out. I highly recommend doing this only with people you already know, and whom you trust to take the health risks seriously. A lot of photographers and models are desperate for photoshoots, but now is not the time to meet up with random people and do group shoots!
Please check the regulations in your state and city about social distancing, and use your common sense to avoid risky situations.
When you contact the photographer or the friend you want to shoot with, talk about your expectations and the rules you want to set for yourselves. That helps you not to get carried away in the moment.
Meet up on location, keep your distance at all times, and wear a mask whenever possible (before and right after the shoot). Find a simple outfit to shoot – photographers shouldn’t have to touch the model and assistants should be kept to a bare minimum. Don’t touch the photographer’s camera when looking at photos.
Do not let the situation tempt you to do anything stupid that you wouldn’t normally do, like breaking and entering an abandoned building, walking on train tracks, or shooting in a location that normally requires a permission from the owner. What was illegal and dangerous outside of corona times, still is.
Be mindful in your cosplay choices
It should go without saying, but please do not cosplay as “Corona-chan” or any other depiction of a virus or the disease it causes. This is in poor taste and highly disrespectful of the victims and their families.
If you want to express your feelings about the pandemic through cosplay, find a character you love who is a health worker, or design your own doctor / nurse version of an existing character! Cosplay from a source that has a positive, educational approach to health topics, like Cells at Work. It’s OK to have fun, but keep it respectful.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a truly global crisis, so everyone is going through a hard time right now. However, it is important to recognize that we are not all affected in the same way.
As each country battles the virus in its own way, the situation differs vastly from country to country, and even from city to city. Poor households and minorities are hit especially hard. The Black Lives Matter protests across America and around the world have shed a light on this systemic inequality that is only worsened by the pandemic.
What feels like a very long stay-at-home vacation to some, is an existential threat to others who lost someone to the disease, or who have lost their job and their livelihood. Some people are better equipped to deal with the crisis – financially, socially, emotionally – than others. So if you feel you are hanging in just fine, recognize your privilege and do not judge others who struggle.
You don’t know why someone is productive or why they stopped posting at all. You don’t know if they broke social distancing rules to take that new photo, or how often they wash their hands. You don’t know how bad someone’s feeling of depression really is, or what underlying health conditions they have. In a time when so many people are forced to self-isolate, or to live and work under excruciating conditions on the front lines, positive thoughts are floating and fragile. A mindless act or an accusing comment can be extremely hurtful in that situation.
No one has the right to judge you on how you live through the crisis, and you should not judge others – especially if you only know them through the internet.
Learn to unwind
The stream of bad news can be overwhelming, and even the safe space of the cosplay community may feel toxic if you are in an unhappy, unproductive place yourself. It is important to recognize when you need a break and just turn off social media for a while.
Some ways to go offline: uninstall the app from your phone or log off, so it takes a conscious decision to start it up again. Put the phone in another room for the rest of the day. Use an app like Offtime or AppDetox that lets you limit your time spent on the phone or on certain apps. Google (Digital Wellbeing) and Apple (Screentime) both have built-in apps to track your phone usage, too.
You can also schedule your social media posts if you feel the obligation to post something, but don’t have the energy to be online constantly.
Do something else to take your mind off things. Craft or sew if you can muster the energy. Play a game, read a book. Work out or clean the house. Go outside and catch some fresh air (if allowed and safe where you live). Call a friend and just chat.
For those who often suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), the lack of conventions and other social gatherings might actually come as a relief. Realize that it is not in your power to change the current situation, and roll with it. Use the opportunity to reflect on your own needs.
Don’t feel guilty
Far too often, cosplay and social media can feel like a competition.
If you don’t have the strength right now to entertain and to be creative, then that it is perfectly fine. Focus on self-care, and reach out to your loved ones or to friends in the cosplay community who are also struggling. They need you more than your social media accounts.
Do not beat yourself up about having to be productive. If all you can do is stay alive and sane, then that is enough!
Be ready for post-pandemic life
I know we all can’t wait to “get back to normal”. However, we need to realize that the world will be a different place when we emerge from home quarantine. The threat will linger until an effective cure or a vaccine has been found and administered worldwide, which may take years. Rather than life after corona, we are talking about life with corona.
Conventions will happen, but they will be different. Maybe smaller, or with more space built into the venue design. There will need to be more security and stricter hygiene measures. Maybe you will need to register for side events to reserve a seat. Expect to see everyone wearing masks in a crowd or when talking to the artists. When I imagine conventions in the year 2021, they look less spontaneous, more restrained, but also more respectful.
When you’re at an event, overwhelmed by new impressions and new people, you should find a way to express your excitement while also respecting personal space. What was a matter of courtesy before corona is now a life-saver: do not touch people without their consent, keep your distance when you talk to them, do not run into people on the con floor or breathe down their neck when you stand in line.
Now is a good time to practice your hygienic routine for life after quarantine: with frequent hand-washing, awareness of who and what you touch, equipped with a bottle of hand sanitizer and a spare face mask in your handbag at all times. Even if your local regulations are more lax, get used to wearing a mask in public – it’s the responsible thing to do, and it’ll come in handy when you attend an event that makes masks mandatory. Make the mask a part of your outfit, like coordinated shoes or eyeshadow. A fun way to deal with this is to sew a matching mask to go with each costume!
I hope you found something in this list that inspires you. If you have more ideas and helpful resources for cosplayers, share them in the comments!
Please take care and stay safe. I’d love to see you at a convention again soon.