‘Cos we want to play

By Oli Pritchard October 3, 2016
cosplay Bogotá, SOFA 2016

Photo: Sofa.com

Ahead of the city’s annual fantasy fair SOFA, Oli Pritchard finds out more about the weird and wonderful world of cosplay.

October will see SOFA, the annual geek-fest, hit Corferias. Crammed to the gills with all kinds of fun and games, one of the most visually stunning sights is without doubt the parade of cosplayers.

Scene legend Giselle Nara (cosplay name Najhrá) invited us into her workshop to talk about all things cosplay. She’s been doing it for eight years, with six of those also spent designing costumes for others. Her workshop is piled with fabric from floor to ceiling and there are all kinds of swords and armour lying about willy-nilly.

She explains the basics first, “The word cosplay come from costume + play, so it’s about the visual costume, but also the play. You have to act as a character. You have to pose as a character. People are going to relate to you as a character. You have to be open to talk to strangers and to interact. For a lot of introverts, it’s good, because they have the safety of the costume, but they get to relate to people through the costume.”

Giselle continues, “Cosplaying is really fun firstly because you’re someone else – your problems, your issues get put behind in some way. Secondly, you’re representing your favourite character. It’s someone that has inspired you, that means something in your life, so you’re paying homage to that character.

“I’ve seen people who couldn’t look me in the eye or talk to me, super shy. Now one of them is an actor in big theatres. He started cosplaying, and he learnt how to relate to people, how to open up and how to approach a character, all through cosplay”.

For my part, I came across plenty of cosplayers in Japan, but not so many in Bogotá. Giselle puts the figures low, but growing, at around 200-300 people in the capital. “There are more people engaging with cosplay every year”, she explains. “I used to know everyone in the country a few years ago, but now I’m like, ‘what, who are you?’

“A lot of that is because […] people get to know the hobby through SOFA.”

SOFA is very male-dominated, and I wonder if that is true of cosplay too. Giselle disagrees. “No, there’s way more women into cosplay. Probably the main reason is that female cosplayers are very well supported. It can be bad, like Jessica Nigiri; everything she does is just boobs. Boobs everywhere, and she picks up two million followers.

“There’s the cosplay community, which is very supportive”, she explains, “but people from the outside, the regular douchebags, they follow cosplay just to look at a girl’s boobs or ass. I’ve had four guys trying to buy the same outfit for the same girl!

As we talk, I’m surrounded by some wonderful outfits, either made or being made. It looks absurdly complex in places. I wonder about the weapons…are they safe? “We usually recommend our customers to bring weapons in bags. Just take it in a bag until you get to the event and then you can unpack it. Especially things like handguns.

“The firearms, we try to make them not too realistic. There’s an international firearms code, with ends of weapons being coloured green, red, etc. With swords, we’ve not had issues, but some people have had problems with metal pieces. Even if you don’t mean to do anything, you can catch an eye or something. It’s a very crowded place, you know, so you have to be really careful”.

The most complicated thing is armour, apparently. “I’ve done World of Warcraft armour, that’s head to toe, arms, legs, chest plates, right up to the helmet. It’s not heavy, but it takes a lot of space. Some cosplayers with big costumes have fallen and had accidents. We try to use light materials, but I know guys that have worn 180lb armour. But these are the lengths that some people will go to for cosplay”.

Injuring yourself seems extreme, but what about your wallet, I wonder. “Something basic would be around COP$100,000 – 150,000. There’s a lot of suits around COP$500,000, and then two million for full Batman Vs Superman armour. We ship all over Colombia and all over the world. We’ve sent costumes to the US, the UK, Australia and so on.”

“Every year there’s another new character”, explains Giselle. “It was Naruto five years ago, now it’s Miraculous Ladybug. There’s always lots of old school favourites, Storm, Batman, that sort of thing. And this year, dozens of Harley Quinns”. All the popular ones. I tell her I would be too hipster for those and she laughs, “You know what? There are some characters that are so popular that people are scared of playing them, that they might be bullied, they need the perfect body, perfect shape. They love the character so much they don’t want to let them down.”

The workshop is a hive of activity all around us. “Right now I’m working on about 20 costumes. Three Spidermen, some League of Legends, a Harley Quinn and Joker pair. I hope I will finish all 20 outfits for October, and then we’ll start working on our own line, because we have a booth at SOFA.”

By now, dear reader, you must be chomping at the bit to know how to get involved. It seems easy. “Yeah, well, we only take orders for SOFA until July, 50 or so, but after, you can come to us and we can organise anything, wigs, swords, armour. Any picture you give us, a reference, we can design it. We can make it work.”

And the designer’s favourites? “I love making gowns. Right now I’m making a replica of the gown from Hunger Games, like Katniss wore. That’s just for fun, not for me. I want to see how it will look, then I guess I will sell it, but for me it’s fun.”

So head down to SOFA on October 27-30 and check out Tienda Distrito X. How will you recognise Giselle? “I’m trying to do Candela from Pokemon Go. And Storm on another day, because she’s my cosplay animal.”

Photos: Giselle Nara