It really does go back to ancient days of AOL – usenet boards (rec.arts.anime) anime chatrooms where you might accidentally stumble upon a fellow nerd who had the latest Sailor Moon fansub tape they were willing to trade (for either a blank tape or in one absolutely true case, some recently aired X-Files episodes)
From those early tape trades is how found out about other anime – a trade for some Sailor Moon fansubs, and as a bonus the person would toss in couple extra episodes onto the tape such as Card Captor Sakura, Rayearth, Fushigi Yuugi, Utena….
Once the online connections got a bit more stable (you know, past the 14.4 dial-up), and WebCrawler and Internet Explorer could be used outside the confines of AOL – an entire world of nerdyness online opened up! This is how I discovered a bunch of Japanese sites (somehow stemming from Hitoshi Doi’s site – the internet was very small back then) with cool looking stuff. Scans of trading cards, ‘weird’ art (turned out to be manga pages), silly merch and even a ridiculous looking collection of photos (later learned it was SeraMyu, aka Sailor Moon musicals. Their early costumes are very extra with the colors soooo saturated! I was also being very much into Utena at the time…. suddenly finding out there’s a movie coming out??!?!?! (in Japan, obviously) and she gets a neat new uniform?? I want that!! Was all set to do the TV version but the movie having no frilly ‘skirt’ thing under her jacket to worry about and no spandex shorts…. def a big selling point! My mind was made up then and there.
I printed out a couple least scandalous images (have you seen the movie promotional art? Utena is placed in some very risque poses) and would go to grandmas house with them. We would make a few fabric store trips and grandma (bless her) would invent patterns on the fly to make the outfits. I still remember that silly excitement at finding big round clip-on earrings that were juuuuust the right size to be the collar clip-on thing (the bit at her collar from which the ropes start?) and then found this really lovely sterling silver ring shaped like a rose! Not a flat-signet ring like the anime, but it was a rose, which was very cool
I did try to hairspray my hair pink, it didn’t work. Braved going to a costume shop to look at colorful wigs . The final step – my camera still had some film left over, so had mom take photos of me in the finished costume! Once had those was like nooooo the shorts are too long (grandma always would hem things longer, didn’t want her little girl flashing her ass obviously). I spent an entire day with a needle and thread obsessively hemming the shorts to be shorter. I was too worried that if took scissors to them might mess up, so I would measure and fold up and veeeeeeeeery carefully do the tiniest stitches so it wouldn’t show.
Ruriko was a cute school uniform, that got repurposed for various cat-girl outfits later. and have this absolutely ridiculous memory of Pioneer doing candy bars as promotions (the wrappers were featuring a few series they were about to drop on DVD). I may have literally been the only East Coast GateKeepers cosplayer for months at this point (the game was never released in English, and the anime only released 1 disk so far), so at the con they see me, and go “Finally! Ruriko cosplay!” followed by person with me saying, “its been done before” and me after thinking for a minute, “..yeah.. by me..” … and then they gave me candy. With my character featured on it. Yaaay free stranger candy
Yes, building those early online friendships is how learned of anime conventions, and Anime Weekend Atlanta 1999 happening and was very excited to go! I was still in high school back then, so my parents came with me (the convention was states away! No way my mom was letting me go solo from MA to GA) My mom spent half the weekend literally hanging out in the hotel lobby just watching all these crazy dressed-up kids having a blast, she thought the giant Pokemon card was hilarious & wanted to know where all the Pikachu plushies were bought
I have so many memories of that first convention!
The booklet/badges were themed for Leiji Matsumoto styled art, and the con had a shuttle from airport dubbed the Galaxy Express. I was so hyped up for a nerd-event overall, I forgot to even check who the guests were…… (didn’t really know/pay attention to Japanese voice guests …. definitely kicking myself today for it)
I was supposed to meet up with an online friend in the lobby on Thursday night (1999… pre-cellphones, no email access once leave house), and while waiting I saw a girl with amazing hair. It was very long and dyed pink-red. She was walking thru the lobby, saw someone, suddenly yelled out their name, FLEW across the rest of the distance and pounced onto that person. It was like seeing a literal anime scene happening in real life. Still lives in my brain to this day (spoiler alert, the person she pounced on was my online friend)
During the con people would actually ask for my photo?!?!?! and would get compliments on my outfit!! And saw so many cool cosplays from series did know, and many that didn’t know yet. A girl was wearing an actual real japanese school uniform as cosplay and would tell anyone who asked about buying it in a department store and Tiffany Grant!!! The Asuka voice actress was herself cosplaying as Asuka??? SO COOL!! The video rooms were showing stuff have only seen in blurry RealVideo rips (still fansubs) and who can forget the exposure to the greatest anime music video: Kenny Death and More Death (an END OF EVA parody) and OMG dealers room so full of merch to get! (back in days of bootlegs still being sold, such as SonMay CDs freakin everywhere!)
The Masquerade was a bit of a mess (according to quite a few people, apparently that year’s is one of worst AWA Masquerades in their history?) but it was my first which was very exciting.
We went to Waffle House at some ridiculous hour (still half in cosplay) because the excitement of the day has finally wore off that we remembered food is a thing.
When was going to AWA only had 2-3 online friends (two of which were going to be at the con) and once there made a lot of new cosplay friends!! (one was cosplaying as Anthy … it blew me away,I had to talk to her! Another person was cosplaying Touga and absolutely had to take a photo with him and my wig got tangled on a piece of his jacket decor so we ended up talking for a minute while was tryin to detangle it…. etc etc)
From these early friendships someone told me of COSP ML forming (it was a mailing list, then for a while was on Yahoo? then quietly ceased to exist) and this was a fantastic mailing list. People would be sharing sewing tips & new lil hacks they’ve just discovered, offer advice on projects, recommend the few commercial sewing patterns that could be used for cosplay (so many ice-skating dresses for Sailor Moon uniforms), plan at-con meet ups. Attempt to organize a cosplay group for next con! Maybe try to plan out a masquerade skit while at it.
If remember correctly even the idea of early ACParadise stemmed from somewhere in that mailing list (Japan had cosplayer sites, all we had was Geocities and ourselves….. someone decided it was time for US-side to get a cosplay page of our own!)
The community seemed a bit more separated (East Coast vs West Coast) but overall was … friendlier? more welcoming? like, am sure a bunch of other oldtaku would bring this up as well – but like 50% of that welcoming positive energy came from Kevin Lillard. running around with his camera, taking photos of everything, having a kind word to say to everyone….
Before all the endless online, digital everything, before FB and Insta, the “don’t u know how many followers…” & influencers nonsense, there was this man!
Kevin would take your photo, make small-talk & drop encouraging comments and make you feel a star! A former cosplay partner still fondly remembers how he would always know what she was cosplaying as! No matter how obscure! If he didn’t know the cosplay – he would ask about it! The interest always genuine. He seemed to remember everyone from con to con, and in later years when instead of running around he would set up a corner with a backdrop and do photos this way – he would jot down file numbers & email me full-size images after the event if asked.
So just a quick scene setting up. It ss very easy to forget, but back then (1999 to maybe 2002~ish) there was waaaaay less conventions. There wasn’t an event happening every weekend, much less multiple events at same time! Digital cameras were not a thing. Well, obviously they existed, but your average otaku heading to an anime con might bring a cheap 35mm disposable camera (or maybe 3, if CVS had a multi-pack sale!).
Kevin’s FansView website was THE cosplay/cons site. He updated multiple times throughout the event, 2 or 3 times each day! There weren’t just photos of “hot people”, he tirelessly took photos of regular attendees, cosplayers of various ages and skill levels, guest & panel highlights…. If you weren’t lucky enough to be at the convention itself, seeing all his photos was the next best thing! In a few years we’d have con report galleries on Cosplay.com, Geocities and LinusLam …. but all these were _after the fact_, not during. Not quite the same, ya know?)
Even my mom knew his website, and during cons I’d call home during the weekend and she would excitedly tell me she was just on Kevin’s site and saw my photo!
Like, seriously…. we’d joke a con wasn’t a con until you either a) saw House of Anime truck in the parking lot, or b) ran into Mr Lillard.
He made all us awkward weebs feel welcome from the get~go! Nobody had internet once left the house. No cellphones. Especially not a phone that could double as a hi-res camera. You came to the convention with a cheap disposable film camera, or none at all – hoping your friends brought one. Conventions didn’t have photo suites, no staff photogs… it was not a thing yet.
The other joke used to be “oh you’re at so-and-so con? Did you run into Kevin yet??” or “no no no, don’t change yet! We need to find Kevin!! You must be documented” (and if you had insane luck, you may even see that photo as convention cosplay coverage in an issue of Animerica months later!) For some of us, the only photos of those early costumes only exist because Kevin was there to take it
Over the years there’s been all sorts of amazing run-ins with him. He would always make some jokes, and go above and beyond helping a fellow nerd – like the time my brand~new digital camera (in 2000! quite the expense!) suddenly died (6 AA batteries the monster ate) and he kindly tried to help me with both fresh batteries and advice, and when it looked like the camera wasn’t coming back he straight up took out his FILM CAMERA (again, this man was a pro! He always had a backup) and took photos of my cosplay and friends’, and handed me the finished roll
OR that other time my memory card was already full within literally first few hours of the convention (circa 2000, CompactFlash. Gigs? ha! Your PC might have 2 gigs hard drive and be a luxury. Memory cards ran in the Megabites) and this SAINT of a man helped by using HIS LAPTOP to let me clear out the card, email the zip file to myself then and there, and thus have memory space to take another 30~40 photos
or this Other OTHER time we were talking about shitty hotel hallway lights… And asked if he would mind popping with us outside real quick? He took the time to go! Outdoors into the sunshine! On the lawns by the hotel for a good 30 minutes! Thus giving us our first ‘proper’ cosplay photoshoot no less!! (freakin 2001, people!! pro~photoshoots or sheduling time-slots with an online-famous photog was not a thing. Not yet, not for another few years)
The urge to be grouchy old lady shaking her walker at today’s “fast fashion” cosplay kids with their TikToks, and going “remember the PLAY in cosplay! It is for fun!! Are you having fun or is this just an algorithm gig now???”
kidding kidding. Everyone is free to enjoy the hobby however they like. Some are in it for the joy of becoming the character, others thrive on the construction challenges