The cosplay phenomenon has spread around the globe and from gone from being fancy dress done by a few at private parties to a performance art practiced by millions around the world.
Today players dress up as characters from popular fiction, including from comic books, TV serials, computer games and movies. They have created a hugely successful sub-culture at comic book conventions, parties, gatherings, social networking sites and special events. Such is the appeal of cosplayers that movie and TV producers will reveal the first look of their productions at conventions attended by them.
One of those taken by the global cosplayer phenomenon is Dubai-based Pakistani Ujala Ali Khan. The communications professional, who also moonlights as a writer, blogger, hair/make-up artist, wardrobe stylist and costume designer, regularly dresses up as popular characters. Ujala is so good at recreating the looks that she is getting a fan base of her own and regularly has people lining up to be photographed with her.
Eastern Eye spoke to Ujala about the cosplayer craze, why it isn’t just for geeks and the art of dressing up.
Tell us what a cosplayer is?
A cosplayer is anybody crazy enough about a character, comic, game, movie or the art in general to use that to bring a fictional character to life.
How big is the whole scene globally?
It’s become so huge now that I don’t even know how to quantify it. Let’s just say the scene is so big that there are cons all over the world from Bangkok to Los Angeles, and some cities even have multiple events. The scene is so big that the best cosplayers are celebrities in their own right.
What first got you interested in dressing up?
I’ve always loved costumes and dressing up. Halloween was my favourite holiday as a child (and still is), and any other time I got a chance to dress up, my life was basically made. (Laughs) I lived for Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving and theme parties.
My first introduction to cosplay was through my uber geek husband, one of the founders of the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC). I was already interested in hair, make-up and costume from an early age, but meeting him got me interested in comic book culture and cosplay was a natural progression, since it brought the two together.
I thought this scene was just for geeky guys?
(Laughs) Oh, no way, it’s for all geeks, regardless of gender, and for non-geeks too. There are a lot of cosplayers who aren’t really big-time geeks (such as myself), but still love to cosplay. The comic book culture is so mainstream now thanks to movies that everybody knows about super heroes like Batman, Spiderman and the X-Men.
There are pluses and minuses to that, of course, but overall, it just means that non-geeks can also be part of and appreciate cosplay and the scene in general.
Which characters have you enjoyed dressing up as the most?
That’s like asking a mother to pick her favourite child. I have done many cosplays until now and enjoyed all of them so much that I really can’t pick one.
But if you asked me which one of my costumes I have gotten the most mileage out of, that has to be Queen Padmé Amidala which I made for Star Wars day in 2012. I must have cosplayed in it about five or six times by now. That is quite a feat considering I tend not to repeat my cosplays. That costume is really amazing and wows people every time I wear it.
What has been your most memorable moment in costume?
I think any time I am in costume and witness awe in somebody’s eyes, that moment makes it all worth it. The look of joy on someone’s face when they see a real-life incarnation of their favourite characters is priceless.
(Laughs) One time I wore my Queen Amidala cosplay and took the Dubai Metro from one end of the line to the other, stopping in between at stations for photographs. That was a fun couple of hours. Dubai commuters didn’t quite expect to run into Her Majesty like that.
Recently I cosplayed Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad (me and all the other girls). It was such fun to run into another Harleys in the halls and be like, ‘Oh, hello me!’
Which is the most memorable event you have attended so far?
Any edition of the MEFCC is always great to attend. There are so many cosplayers and cosplay lovers, and so many things to do and see.
Which is the most epic costume you have seen?
There is a cosplayer in Dubai who has made a General Grievous costume from Star Wars. You really should Google that right now. That is one epic costume. The mechanical detail is just exquisite.
What is the secret to creating an eye-catching look?
Attention to detail, and being comfortable carrying the costume. If you are looking for attention, it also helps if the character you choose is flashy and unique. A Lara Croft cosplay is quite basic and a lot of girls do it, so that won’t make for a very eye-catching costume. But if you do Poison Ivy, that’s unusual and automatically eye-catching.
Which is an easy look or character to create at home?
There are so many. For girls the easiest has to be Lara Croft – just put on shorts, a tight t-shirt, braid your hair and holster some guns. Done.
For guys, Castiel from Supernatural is pretty easy. (Laughs) Get a trench coat. That’s it.
You must love going to fancy dress parties?
I am guilty of turning everything into a theme party, and sometimes my friends don’t appreciate that. I really don’t need an excuse to dress up.
Do you secretly want to be a movie star?
Who doesn’t? Honestly though, as much as I love posing for pictures, I am not good in front of a video camera. I think I’m okay with just pictures.
Which movie have you seen many times over?
All the Star Wars movies, of course, and the X-Men ones. In fact I’ve seen Rogue One three times in the theatre already and once in my Queen Amidala cosplay. I can’t wait to go again.
If you could play a superhero in a film, who would it be?
Oh dear, the list is long. Alice in the Resident Evil series, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, any of the characters in the X-Men movies and last, but not least, Batman.
What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?
To be a full-time professional cosplayer and get paid to go to cons and cosplay.
What inspires you?
Just people doing good work and enjoying themselves. A good costume that the cosplayer is enjoying really inspires me.
Finally, why do you love being a cosplayer?
It gives me a chance to practice some of my favourite things – hair, make-up, costume design, working with my hands and creating stuff.
And then when I am in cosplay, it’s a great chance to meet a lot of people and have really fun encounters and conversations. And one of the best parts is lots of lots of pictures. I love posing for photographs, and when you’re in cosplay, there is a lot of that happening.