While there were many armored and costumed warriors and Western martial artists at Combat Con in Las Vegas, some of the attendees were dressed up purely for their own enjoyment and not for practical reasons such as absorbing longsword blows. Indeed one of the target audiences for Combat Con besides WMA traditionalists and gamers are cosplayers, with a healthy number of vendors catering to steampunk and fantasy costume play. There were also several panels offered involving costume play at the convention; I attended “Weapons of Cosplay” and “Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper”. Whether used to improve one’s garb for LARPing or battle gaming or even to enhance a regular tabletop RPG session, the cosplay community has a lot of knowledge to offer the gaming community.
Weapons of Cosplay
Both of the cosplay panels I attended had mostly the same panelists and were somewhat sparsely attended. The “Weapons of Cosplay” panel ended up spilling out past the topic of weapons exclusively to encompass all cosplay costume considerations with prop master David Baker from Deadliest Warrior and the Hollywood Combat Center lending his considerable cinematic experience and expertise, joined by cosplayers Sara Warner, Sami Miller, and cosplay newcomer Jillian Saint who comprised the cosplay group The Connettes.
A self-proclaimed “lover of metal”, David Baker makes real working weapons, but also a number of props or fakes. “Harbor Freight is your friend,” he advised, citing an investment at the store of $600 as a good, strong start into making your own weapons and props, including getting a scroll saw. For Baker copper and brass are easy to work with and dedicated cosplayers should learn how to solder. The bottoms can be cut out of 5 gallon plastic buckets and an $8 heat gun from Harbor Freight can be used to shape the plastic to the desired effect for armor or plastic components. Baker is fond of Bondo, an all-purpose bonding adhesive and proclaimed that, “God made Bondo. It’s proof that there is a god.”
Baker also pointed out how useful styrofoam, paper mache, foamcore, and PVC pipe can be in making prop weapons and that cosplayers shouldn’t look down their noses at these more pedestrian materials. Besides the expense of getting glue or Bondo which can end up being more expensive than the materials they are adhering to, for Baker the real expense is time. He explained that if he sells a weapon that it took him 20 hours to make for $200 that he would be back to making $10 an hour. His steampunk pistol, seen below, was entirely hand-crafted out of common, everyday parts, the crystal included.
The question of copyrights and copyright infringement came up with members of the audience contributing examples of cases they had heard prosecuted. David Baker expressed that he doesn’t make exact duplicates for clients, but instead makes weapons in the style or fashion of an existing weapon, such as Loki’s staff in the The Avengers and Thor. Though it’s not a cosplay weapon, the example of a modeler selling kits of the Doombuggies from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride was brought up; in short order Disney had sent letters and lawyers were calling the man, ending his venture.
Practical and Safety Considerations
Someone pointed out that an important consideration for conventions is lightweight weaponry, because the cosplayer will have to cart the weapon around, in which case real steel or iron would be a detriment. Cosplayers must also be prepared to stop for pictures. Smart costumes, especially for women, will have pockets or another means of storage. Utility belts are excellent if the costume allows one. More importantly, cosplayers should ask themselves “Can I take a poop in it?” J.P. Dostal from Duel at Dusk Productions brought up the recent Labyrinth of Jareth and the need to consider the footprint for any outfit (or weapon). Apparently many women in elaborate ball gowns with hoops have the annoying habit of eating up doorways, if they can even squeeze through. Many costumes, such as Duel at Dusk’s four-legged Egress which resembles a landstrider from Dark Crystal, aren’t suitable for some convention floors (such as Comic-Con’s) and crowded vendor halls.
The talk then moved to the more important topic of safety for weapons. Cosplayers should consider how they will secure their weapons because not every convention or gathering will have a weapons check. Combat Con did; for a nominal fee of $1 or $2, Combat Con attendees could leave their weapons at the weapons check in the Vendors’ Hall, much as one might check a coat at a museum or theater. For those with an Airsoft without an orange or red tip, there could still be municipal laws resulting in fines (if not being actually mistakenly shot by law enforcement). Overall cosplayers should know their own gear and ensure that they have no ammunition for missile weapons to avoid any problems. For those with melee weapons, a great suggestion was to simply use a sheath with a handle since there is typically no reason to draw a blade.
There were further admonitions on safety, particularly pointing guns in faces or even putting one’s finger on the trigger of a fake gun is a big faux pas in the world of cosplay. Safety considerations even extend to corsetry, which can deprive the wearer of oxygen and blood flow. More humorously, they can lead to heavy flatulence once removed, we were informed. Keeping on the topic of gasses, especially when gluing together a respirator or gas mask for a costume, cosplayers should allow 72 hours for any glues to set, so they aren’t breathing in dangerous fumes.
Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper
I caught the tail end of “Cosplay: Crack is Cheaper” on Sunday, finding out that Sara Warner had spent $3500 on her Jack Sparrow costume including $700 for the deerskin coat alone. However the effects of her costume and her transformation into the Pirates of the Carribean character were so convincing that Sara was repeatedly mistaken for a man when in costume. One day during a grueling convention she kicked her boots off to give her feet a break, eliciting a comment from another convention attendee, “Wow, you have beautiful toes. If you weren’t a dude, I would totally suck those toes.” While this anecdote had us all laughing, the subject of costume authorship came up. Not surprisingly taking credit for a costume that others made for you is a big no-no in the world of cosplay. At the very least the tailor or seamstress is unlikely to work with you in the future. Warner is always quick to attribute her costume to its actual maker and suggests it as a rule of ettiquette.
Another surprising way cosplayers can shell out the big bucks is by politely approaching Hollywood professionals for bleeding edge makeup and prosthetics. While Halloween is a busy season for professional makeup artists, many will take on commissions during their off-seasons in between movie shoots for those willing to pay for the ultimate in costuming. For those without the money, Zappos.com was pointed to as a good source for inexpensive footwear and Hollywood Wig Outfitters for those in Southern California is “always a hit” according to Sami Miller. David Baker also suggested the Rose Bowl Swap Meet, for those in Southern California. William Wilson who runs the Tattershall School of Self Defense and is a steampunk aficionado pointed out another penny saver: skimping on the brocade for waistcoats by having false backs and even false bottoms. Not only is the practice historically accurate, but according to Wilson, “a true gentleman never removes his jacket” and therefore will never expose the cost-saving deception.
The Connettes Themselves
The Connettes were led by Sara Warner. When not dressing up in her velour Star Trek uniform, Warner is an LA-based actor, works on her next costumes, and does the occasional bit of gaming. Though she’s never done a Vampire LARP, she did play some Vampire: The Masquerade in her teenage years as well as D&D. The Connettes do not have their own website or Facebook page yet, but are looking for new female members serious about costuming. Anyone interested in joining up to cosplay with the Connettes can email Sara at sara.a.warner at gmail.com. For Warner, cosplay comes naturally as she likes “to slip into the garb of someone else, assume the role, and play the part”. Hence her vocational interest in acting as well. While she does enjoy the costume-making, Warner is all about the performance as an entertainer and performer. Warner cited the relatively low cost of Combat Con as one of its main draws: “Anyone who is interested in historical Western Martial Arts, weapons training, re-enacting, Renaissance festivals, LARPing, costuming with weapons (for poses and other things of course!) and acting in any kind of action productions would be out of their mind to miss such a comparatively cheap way to kickstart and/or hone skills at this fantastic event.”
With Warner was Sami Miller who was also a veteran cosplayer and a former Dagorhir player. Along with them they had brought Jillian Saint, pointing out that “she’s very new to it.” Saint had gamely joined in the cosplaying for Combat Con with a when in Rome attitude preferring barbarian garb to jeans and a T-shirt for the convention. Saint wears many hats in everyday life working 9-5 as an accountant/administrator for a law firm and doing freelance marketing in her off time. Though Saint’s not into role-playing games or LARPing, she does enjoy a game of League of Legends from time to time. Cosplay, on the other hand, she finds addictive, but so far she has tended to wear the designs of other costumers. Saint would like to play Chell from Portal 2 if she could. She enjoyed the demonstrations and performances, panels, and social events at Combat Con the most, acknowledging that she did like the workshops, but that she was unprepared for them, as many were geared towards trained combatants.
Like the members of Duel at Dusk Productions (and myself), Sara Warner and Sami Miller are already at work on their costumes for Wasteland Weekend in the California desert in September. Warner is currently working on all-leather gladiatrix outfit for the Mad Max-themed postapocalpyptic event.