It was Sunday morning September 20, 2009 and it was the final day of Anime Weekend Atlanta. Rain had been falling steady the entire time I waas here and I understand that it had rain for a week before I even arrived. Some spots had reached over 12” of rain in a week’s time and rising that weekend, the governor of Georgia declared a state of emergency. This morning on the news I watch cars submerge under roaring water while flash flood alerts scrolled across the bottom of the television screen. Seriously, what am I doing here ?
If you told me back in the beginning of 2009 that I would be traveling the country photographing cosplayers for a book, I would laugh in your face but here I am in Atlanta at the last con of my book project.Covering my gear under some garbage bags, I wheeled my cart with photo equipment from the outside into the con hoping that nothing would get soaked. I set-up my usual grey backdrop and a strobe. It is where I stand for about 10 hours a day photographing people, usually roughly 250-300 people per con and when I pushed the last shutter on my camera, I managed to capture 1,651 cosplayers across America. *whew*
It seems like a lifetime since I first discovered anime. It was the late 70s and Battle of the Planets ran on syndication, an American dub of a Japanese anime called Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman. As a young boy, I was fascinated with the fight between good and evil and cool
gadgets so it was to no surprised that I later fell into Voltron and in mid 80s Robotoech : The Macross Saga cemented my love for anime.
By the time high school rolled around, I was driving half a hour to AD Vision, a storefront that rented anime VHS tapes to get my fix. Some of the titles I remember were Devil Hunter Yokho, Sol Bianca and Madox-01. I was deep into Appleseed, the American-version of Dirty
Pair, Area 88 and Lum on the manga front – reading English-translated comics. By college, I was using the internet to look for other folks who had anime which we could trade anime. Each person posted their list and what generation copy it was. A deal was struck and VHS tapes
were traded each with the episode we were seeking. The trick was to get as close to 1st gen copy as you could since the VHS copy degraded with copy. Many hours were wasted looking through newsgroup on usenet for people to trade with. In the 90s, I attended Project A-Kon, a Dallas anime convention. I recall meeting my hero at that time, Adam Warren, the penciler for the Americanized Dirty Pair and buying bootleg copies of Dirty Pair Flash. At that time, the convention numbered just over 1,000 people.
In 2009, I went back to A-kon to discover that now 17,000 people flow through the con and is consider the granddaddy of American cons as they reached their 20 years mark.
The people who have grown up with anime now have kids of their own and turning their little ones onto it in a way as our parents and grandparents had read Dr. Seuss to us and each generation brings Dr.Seuss to the next.
I’ve always been aware of cosplay and going back to cons on this project was more of a homecoming and exploration in how the culture has changed in 20 years and how far cosplay has progressed in the past decade.
Cosplay in the truest sense is dressing and role playing as your favorite characters from anime, manga or video games. It is no different from the yesteryears when kids played Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers. A cosplayers’ art is in translating what is essentially a two dimensional character into our world of three-dimensional space.
My aim here isn’t to judge and decide what is the best cosplay – I’m probably the least qualified to do so. I’ve never cosplayed and I’ve only photograph cosplay recently in the past 2 years. My time in the scene is small compared to other known cosplay photographers such as EBK, Lionel Lum or Sky Pirate who have covered cons for years.
My reasons are different than those. Yes, on one hand I wanted to document their fabulous outfits but another reason I have goes a bit deeper as I’m looking for America at these cons. It’s here that you see folks from different ages, different backgrounds, different races and even different states or even countries and all united under anime! I’ve met doctors and dentists, students and retirees, business owners to store clerks. In all, a fascinating scope of America can be found here.
My book is just a moment’s time of the six American cons in 2009. Although I made some mistakes – I really should have gone to Sakura-Con in Seattle and Anime Central near Chicago – I feel this is a good representation of what I see at cons. It is a chance for friends enjoying themselves – some traveling thousands of miles to hang out. A chance to compare notes and really, as one cosplayer told me “It’s called Cos”play”, meaning if you’re not having fun, then you aren’t doing it right.” She’s right. At the end of the day, it is just a chance to hang with your friends.
I felt a little sad as I broke down my gear on Sunday afternoon, the last day of AWA. I could see folks with luggage on their way out and the con was definitely winding down. I always get a bit sad when a con
ends but this one was a bit different – this was the last of the six cons I’m traveling to so there was definitely a moment there. I covered my equipment with garbage bags again and rolled the cart outside to the parking lot. Luckily the rain had stopped and looking at the sky above me, I could see the sunlight peeking out after weeks
of rain. To me, it felt like a Hollywood ending.
Blog post originally posted in 2009