Home » Essays » Breaking All The Rules: Cosplay and the Art of Self Expression (website, 2013)

Breaking All The Rules: Cosplay and the Art of Self Expression (website, 2013)

By Ger Tysk

Breaking All The Rules: Cosplay and the Art of Self-Expression is a photobook project documenting the culture of fan costuming, known in most circles as “cosplay,” across the United States. Cosplayers take their favorite characters from media such as TV shows, cartoons, movies, and video games and recreate the outfits in order to become a “live” version of the character. Although the term “cosplay” was first coined in Japan from the words “costume” and “play”, fan costuming has been a part of pop culture since the boom of science-fiction conventions in the mid-20th century. Recently, however, cosplay has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity that has seen the growth of international cosplay contests and the rise of professional cosplayers who have taken it from a hobby to a full-time career.

The project was started in the summer of 2012 and will conclude in autumn of 2013. The book will be published in October 2013. It will be a full-color, ~250 page matte softcover volume printed on thick uncoated stock. The book will include photographs and interviews from approximately 100 cosplayers from all across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska


I was introduced to cosplay in 2000 by some beautiful photos I saw on the internet, but it took me until 2007 to try it out. I didn’t know how to sew, so I bought ready-made clothes from thrift shops and discount stores and modified them. The costumes were pretty awful, but it didn’t stop me from dressing up and attending my first convention: Anime Boston in 2008.

Cosplay and cosplay photography has been my passion and also my full-time career since 2009. (I’ve since taught myself how to sew!) Besides making all my own costumes and costumes for my husband, I’m also a prop commissioner and have shipped commissions to cosplayers worldwide. Currently I’m also a staff photographer for Cosplay Photographers.

At Otakon 2010 I happened to stop by a table selling the book Cosplay in America. I leafed through it and saw a great photographer who was also passionate about cosplay and wanted to share it with the world. Ever since then, I’ve waited for more cosplay photobooks to hit the shelves, but it hasn’t really happened.

So I’m doing it myself!

Breaking All the Rules is a photobook about American cosplayers and their motivations, their triumphs, their fears, and their thoughts about having discovered a community that encourages overwhelming creativity. Over the next year I’ll be visiting at least one convention in every major region of the United States, taking photos and interviewing cosplayers.These photographs and interviews will then be gathered into a self-published photobook.


This is a book for cosplayers, people who love cosplayers, and also those asking what cosplay is. Cosplay isn’t just about the character, the medium, the clothes and the props. Cosplay is about freedom, creativity, and self-expression – and while it may seem strange to express oneself through a costume designed for a fictional character, those characters are the most important part of the equation. People’s lives are changed by stories, factual or fictional, every day. Those characters in those stories – the characters who they cosplay – have helped people discover new, different parts of themselves. Cosplay is the ultimate tribute, to say that yes, my outlook, my friendships, and my life have forever changed because of this story.

In this book, I’m sharing the new stories that have come about because of these tributes. The cosplayers I’m photographing and interviewing are everyday, ordinary people. They’re students, waitresses, software engineers, musicians, chemists, retail assistants, and managers who, several times a year, put on a costume and become outlaws, fallen villains, ingenues, femme fatales, knights, and heroes starting out on their journeys. They are all extraordinary.

Cosplay is a worldwide phenomenon, and even in the United States there are many hundreds of thousands of cosplayers, more than I could ever fit into a single book. But I hope this book is a beginning. I hope it can promote understanding and start dialogues between people, no matter how diverse their backgrounds. When asked, “why do you cosplay?” I hope someone can flip through the pages of this book and point to the cosplayers describing in their own words how cosplay has profoundly changed them and made their world a better place.

The Journey

When I first started this project, I imagined this project as a year-long affair, where I’d attend a one major anime, comic, or pop culture convention in every part of the country and meet a few people. I’d ask them about their personal experiences with cosplay, snap a quick photo, and then compile everything into a book! Boom, done.

And then I started actually getting down into the weeds of it, planning out my trips, trying to contact cosplayers, attempting to find out when I could even get in to meet all of these people I wanted to meet, and suddenly it wasn’t so simple. Who knew that the big “regional” conventions of the East and West Coasts simple didn’t exist in the heartland of America? I certainly didn’t. On the East Coast, I could attend one convention and fit in cosplayers from six or seven states in one weekend. But in the middle of the country, conventions are self-contained, and most cosplayers only attend conventions within their state. Add that to trying to mesh my busy schedule with cosplayers’ busy schedules, trying to interview people within the noisy confines of convention centers, and attempting to get the best pictures possible in dim hotel lighting with crazy carpet and minimal equipment…

I also needed to keep an eye on finances. I ran a fundraiser on IndieGoGo in 2012, where I raised a little over $3,000 to cover travel and convention costs. In spring of 2013 I ran a second one to cover a few more conventions in the western states. However, money goes quickly when you’re buying plane tickets and staying in city hotels. So far I’ve remained under budget, but it’s definitely a challenge.

I quickly realized that if I was going to include cosplayers from as many places as possible, complete with meaningful interview and great photography, I would have to attend far more conventions than I had originally planned. I would have to photograph some cosplayers outside of conventions. I would have to perhaps give up my goal of including at least one cosplayer from each state.

Right now the journey is ongoing. I will likely not be able to include every state in the USA but, at the very least I have cosplayers from all regions of the country represented. It’s been an amazing experience so far meeting so many people from all over the country and listening to their stories.

I’ll be traveling for the book until September 2013.


Here’s the list of conventions/events I’ve attended or will be attending for the book:

Otakon 2012: Baltimore, MD
Kumoricon 2012: Vancouver, WA
Nan Desu Kan 2012: Denver, CO
Anime USA 2012: Washington, D.C.

Arisia 2013: Boston, MA
Katsucon 2013: National Harbor, MD
PAX East 2013: Boston, MA
Anime Matsuri 2013: Houston, TX
Anime Detour 2013: Bloomington, MN
Anime Central 2013: Rosemont, IL
Anime Boston 2013: Boston, MA
AniMegaCon 2013: Las Vegas, NV
SoDak Con 2013: Rapid City, SD
Anime Expo 2013: Los Angeles, CA
Anime Iowa 2013: Coralville, IA
Metrocon 2013: Tampa, FL
Dragon*Con 2013: Atlanta, GA


I’ve done the interviews in a variety of ways: in person, through webchat, or through email. Each cosplayer was asked roughly 20 questions about their cosplay experience, what made it unique, some of their challenges, and where they saw themselves in the future. Below is a sample of some of the questions:

(Text from BreakingAllTheRules.net)

Breaking All The Rules (Amazon)
Breaking All The Rules (Ebay)

Conversation with Ger Tysk 10 years later

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