My first con was in Baltimore for Otakon 2001. Pre 9/11! I originally wanted to attend a con either out in Colorado or Texas, but I was the only one in my circle of friends in New Mexico who had a part time job, so there was no one I could travel with.
I cosplayed as Milly from Trigun and you can actually find photos of me from old internet archive pages because Trigun was at the high of popularity. I originally made Milly for a Halloween costume, so when I showed it to my online friend in the Trigun mIRC chat a photo of me in cosplay, she insisted I come to Otakon the following year and join her Trigun group.
In hindsight, it’s crazy I did that. I was 17 and just flew to another state to hang out with a bunch of strangers I’d never met.. The Ringleader of our Trigun mIRC chat was a 22 year old college student and she and my dad talked on the phone to verify she was who she said she was. I remember taking a bunch of cash out of my bank account, driving to the airport and just purchasing a ticket to Baltimore. It’s kind of wild how much more limited the internet was back then. I’d traveled alone before to see my grandparents, but this was such a different experience.
Unlike a lot of early 90’s/00’s cosplayers, I didn’t have anyone who’d taught me how to sew. So Milly was entirely bought from a trip to the Goodwill. I bought brown pants, a duster, a red tie and yellow suspenders. I remember feeling so proud to find yellow suspenders because in the anime her suspenders are yellow. I was like “wow! I’m so canon compliant. I’m a cosplay pro!”. She has a little green cap and I went to Joanns, bought some fabric and just cut it out and hand stitched it and safety pinned it to the duster. Current me would have been shocked at a lack of surging or a mockup or putting snaps in to make sure the cape stayed on, but it was the wild west back then for when it came to cosplaying.
At Otakon I had my half-assed Goodwill costume, but everyone loved it, I got so many photos and so many hugs. It was a rush of validation I’d never felt, I was this weird 17 year old living in New Mexico where I had very few friends who liked anime, so going to a con with so many people who knew Trigun and loved my costume was incredible. It made me want to keep cosplaying,
The Trigun fandom at the time was pretty big. There wasn’t social media the way there is now, but there was a decent community. I think the anime sensibilities mixed with a very western setting was a huge draw to the western ‘otaku’ culture at the time. Vash also had such an iconic look.
A lot of what I remember from fandom at the time was the memes (A lot of cosplayers at Otakon brought donuts to give to Vash cosplayers) and of course the shipping. It’s been wild to see people who were not even born when the first Trigun was out, fall so hard for the really wonderful dynamic of Vash and Wolfwood.
A lot of Otakon 2001 was just people being excited to see other members of the Trigun community and get to connect and talk about the show, it’s one of the things I really enjoyed about cosplay back then. It felt easy to strike up a conversation with someone about the character you or they were dressed as and make a new friend. I’m actually still friends with a Wolfwood cosplayer from back then!
You probably hear this a lot when you talk to older cosplayers, but while I’m happy cosplay has become more popular, it makes me sad there’s less of a focus on learning to sew and learn skills and more of a focus on buying a costume online and posting a photo of it on social media for as many clicks possible. I made Milly from pieces at The Goodwill with so few photos remaining of her and she was probably the most attention I’ve gotten from a cosplay. For young people reading this, don’t be afraid to learn to sew. Don’t be afraid to not have a perfect costume, there’s skills even I’m still learning and I find the building of the costume just as rewarding as wearing it or any attention I get on it.
Over 20 years later I’m still cosplaying. I literally have half of a Genshin impact cosplay in my lap I’m working on as I type this. I’m actually waiting for the next season of Trigun Stampede because I’d love to come full circle and make Milly again with my now 20 years of skills as a cosplayer.