The wallet-munching & time consuming hobby that has thousands upon thousands of geeks & nerds around the world enthralled in a creative world of comic cons, sci-fi conventions, photos of crazy fandom mash ups and general geekiness and nerd-fever.
To the uninitiated it is a bizarre strange world full of people. To the initiated, well it’s the same thing actually, just that you speak the language, walk the walk & accept cosplay for what it is and scratch your head unsure regarding the identity of 50% of the characters you see wandering around at comic cons.
So what is cosplay? What’s a cosplayer?
The word ‘cosplay’ is a contraction of the words ‘costume role-play’, therefore a cosplayer is a costume role-player. Cosplay is the practise of dressing up as fictional characters from the likes of television series, movies, video games, anime & manga (Japanese cartoons and comics) and other mediums, thus becoming said characters.
Like all things, cosplay has a starting point and ground zero starts with the first lady of cosplay Myrtle R. Douglas, better know as Morojo, who was a fanzine editor from Los Angeles, California. In 1939 she and her partner Forrest J Ackerman attended Worldcon, the world’s first ever science fiction convention which took place at Caravan Hall in New York, wearing self-made futuristic costumes from the H.G.Wells movie Things To Come. From there cosplay spawned and evolved into the worldwide culture that is known and recognised today.
So how is it different from fancy dress?
Fancy dress is generic in nature whereas cosplay is more serious. With a fancy dress costume it doesn’t really matter if it gets damaged. Shrug of the shoulders, so what? You’re wearing it for a laugh and a joke. With a cosplay it’s a disaster. A tear in a sleeve, a badge falling off, make up getting damaged by rain; these require emergency repairs ASAP. Hence why at larger comic cons like the MCM events you can find repair stations that supply a variety of must have cosplay first kit items including various kinds of tape, scissors, safety pins and threads. Many cosplayers also carry their own kits, myself included, tailored to the cosplay being worn. For example when I cosplay Penelope Pitstop I pack pink threads and reserve gloves whereas for Marina I pack blue & green threads and a healthy supply of back up hair and dress pearls along with the usual array of pins, invisible threads and double-sided tape I keep in the kit as standard.
So what’s the point of spending x-amount of money, time and resources on cosplaying?
The primary point of cosplay is to have fun. It’s a hobby and as many cosplayers will agree, an expensive one when you get hooked! It is your golden ticket to showing your love for your favourite fandoms and characters, to meet other fans, challenge yourself with exciting builds, learn about and fall in love with other fandoms, goof around being your character, spend time with old friends, make new friends, build up confidence and learn new skills and just have a blast with other geeks and nerds. It doesn’t really matter as long as you’re enjoying yourself. If you are; you’re doing it right!
At the time of writing this article, I’ve been a cosplayer for eight months. Eight amazing and incredible months during which I’ve cosplayed five different characters from four different fandoms, attended numerous events in cosplay, made many new friends, joined The International Charity Cosplayers whom raise money for Baby LifeLine, learnt new skills & made numerous mistakes whilst learning said new skills. I even had a cosplay birthday party to celebrate my 25th birthday this year.
In general cosplay has changed my whole perspective on life and this all started with a certain mute mermaid princess from a 1964 television series called Stingray.
I’ve been a life long fan of Gerry & Sylvia’s work. Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet were my childhood staples and I was blessed to have grown up in the 1990s when those shows returned to our television screens and as teenager enjoyed New Captain Scarlet when that aired. My childhood was spent building Tracy Island, pretending I was Scott Tracy when I played ‘Anderson World’ with my friends and that my family’s Rover P6B was actually Thunderbird 2. I idolised International Rescue just like Bob and Tony do in ‘Cry Wolf’.
I might not run around the house pretending I’m Rhapsody Angel anymore (okay maybe I do on a rare rainy day) but my love for this incredible British fandom is stronger than ever, so much so that when I was inspired to become a cosplayer after attending my first sci-fi convention (BritSciFi in April 2015) an Anderson character was the logical starting place and my mind quickly decided on my favourite female character of all time; Aqua Marina.
So I began planning on the train home, amidst the rabble and cheers of celebrating football fans, how on earth was I going to bring Marina to life? Where was my ground zero? What was I going to about Marina’s hair? I was going to need a wig! I’d never worn a wig before!
I started out printing off a photo of Marina then annotated it so I could see what I would need to source and had a near panic attack when I realised just how much work would be involved. I’d picked an obscure character and that meant I had my work cut out for me. Stingray’s fan base I doubt is even a tenth the size of the Star Wars fanbase and as consequence I couldn’t just pick up a costume from off the shelf or order one off Amazon; I was going to build up my cosplay from scratch the old fashioned way.
During one of my earliest searches I discovered two others whom had cosplayed Marina and paid closed attention to what details they’d picked up on, how they’d done things, what fabrics they’d used. This early research and hunt for good quality of photos of Marina proved to be vital to building my cosplay in the later stages.
I ruled out making everything from scratch completely as I’d accepted my sewing skills were non-existent. I didn’t own a sewing machine and I had no idea where to start so instead I took a little inspiration from Jeff Tracy.
In ‘Terror In New York City’ as Jeff and Scott stand looking over a wounded Thunderbird Two, Scott worries about maintaining secrecy and Jeff drops this classic line;
“Look, Scott. We order each component from different aircraft corporations. None of them know what they’re making. It’s only when they arrive here does the jigsaw fit together.”
It was this line that inspired me to take the modified garments route instead and so I began looking for a wig, a dress to modify, long blue skirt, a teddy to become Oink the seal pup, practical footwear as walking bare foot at comic con was bound to be painful, flower, necklace, pearls, tassels for the dress, make up and leggings & also seamless underwear because unsightly underwear lines can ruin a fantastic cosplay. I don’t recall Marina or Captain Tempest ever having to worry about that one though!
Then I did the most stupid thing I have ever done; I set myself a cost budget. To date I’ve sunk around £300 into my Marina cosplay as I’ve worked on improving and evolving it over the course of eight months. My original budget was £115.
Now I needed a comic con and that came in the form of Walsall Comic Con on October 30th 2015, so with a deadline set I went to work.
Google became my best friend. Stingray became my televised Bible. Screen grabs of Marina were up on my walls, on my desk, all over my room and most my family and friends turned a blind eye thinking nothing of it, pretending that I hadn’t gone crazy over a puppet. Those who hadn’t turned a blind eye found themselves being pestered at random intervals with questions of ‘what do you think of this?’ or ‘do you think I could use this if I modified it?’ followed by a photo or link then a long winded conversation and/or several photos or links later until I’d made up my mind.
Slowly I began chipping away at my research turning it into shopping orders, the first of such orders were the wig, dress and the skirt.
Finding a wig for Marina was a nightmare as her hair colour depended on the lighting in any given episode and in the end I took a calculated guess and ordered a long brown & green wig that resulted in one very long day with my hairdresser as we went about figuring how to style it from scratch with no prior experience between us; boy that was a learning curve! We did everything to that wig short of not setting fire to it (though the thought was certainly there on several occasions). We pinned it, braided it, straightened it, twisted it. At one point we were sat on the couch with the wig between us as I sew up the back of it to tighten it up! It took around 28 hair pins plus double-sided tape to secure the wig to my head and an additional 40 to hold the wig’s style on top of copious amounts of hairspray and hair glue. Note to all; trying to get a long wig to go into a high ponytail is virtually impossible! Only attempt if you have a daredevil streak or you’re a fellow cosplayer.
The dress I selected was a very lucky internet find; a multicoloured sequinned party dress that cost just shy of £14. The metallic green tassels I ordered were also lucky find after many weeks spent trying to find something and coincided with me approaching a talented seamstress at Sew Many Things in Penkridge who modified the dress to include a mermaid tail and the tassels. The skirt was a shot in the dark. I’d found a long blue skirt on Amazon but the photo used was a graining JPEG image. However as I was quickly discovering cosplay development is 75% luck & experimentation and 25% prayer and my luck was in, the skirt was a perfect fit and identical in style to Marina’s so win win there.
Other items came from the internet, charity shops & local markets. Sometimes I would purchase something then discover I’d made a wrong turn. The dress pearls I found just three weeks before my planned début and stitching those onto the modified dress became my first attempt at modifying a garment after struggling to find some of a decent size.
Six months and eleven days after attending BritSciFi; Marina was ready for comic con.
It’s funny looking back now at that first event. Six months of planning and preparation for one day of fun, and travelling to comic con made me realise what I was about to do.
These days I can wander around in full cosplay in the real world without batting an eyelid. Being Penelope Pitstop on a crowded early morning commuter train full of people in business suits? Piece of cake. Being Marina late at night on my way back from the NEC? It’s a comfy cosplay and I’ll happily wear it all day and night so why should I be concerned about what others think? I’m outside the norm; I know that and I’m cool with that. My take on normal is the normal version of crazy if that makes sense.
But for my début, stepping out in cosplay for the first time was a very daunting experience. There I was in my Dad’s car, in full Marina cosplay and I was a bigger freak than I’d ever been. I was dressed up as a puppet from a fifty year old show for crying out loud! For the first time in piecing together Marina I felt very alone even though I was meeting up with friends at the event.
It took spotting a Black Widow cosplayer to convince me to step out and from there I’ve never looked back. I found myself welcomed into a warm community of like-minded individuals who loved to dress up and talked my languages. Granted not many of them were Anderson fans but cosplayers are all for one and one for all. Marina was recognised on a few occasions to my delight, directly and other times with a gentle nudge to jog people’s memory. UFO actress Ayshea was present at the event and meeting her was such a thrill! She was so kind and warm. Likewise was Red Dwarf actress Hattie Hayridge whom I ended up chatting to. Walsall Comic Con might have been only a small con, but what I gained from attending was priceless and it certainly jogged a few memories regarding Stingray so mission accomplished in my eyes.
Further outings for Marina came a month later with a cameo at The Classic Motor Show then a weekend spent at MCM Birmingham and it was here I learnt the pitfalls of fussing too much with your cosplay and also Marina’s limitations. I managed to damage my wig & flower trying to get the dammed wig looking right after a cosplay malfunction at the end of the first day and quickly discovered that trying to stand up after sitting on the floor or kneeling down to take a photo wasn’t very elegant. The skirt also doesn’t like stairs very much. Also I discovered just how easy it was to dehydrate at comic con; especially when you have a heavy wig on your head which prohibits the escape of excess heat from your head.
Comic cons have a tendency to be really warm, hence why you’ll see cosplayers milling around outside the venue. It’s a chance to cool off and escape the hustle and bustle of comic con, have a good natter with friends and get some nice photos and it usually results in you getting approached by other cosplayers and visitors wanting to take photos.
Marina does mostly regulate herself pretty well (unlike a certain Penelope Pitstop who seems to have it in for me with her wig, multiple layers and pink leather helmet) and a combination of stepping outside and having sips of water at regular intervals throughout the day deals with the hydration problem. Cosplay uses up a great deal of energy (seeing a theme here? Resources? Money? Time? Sanity?) from being in full get up to all the walking about you do in a warm environment that is packed full of people. To say you have to be a certain level of crazy to be a cosplayer is an understatement!
And yet here I am eight months later and five cosplays later with seven other projects in the works (four of those other Anderson characters). Cosplay has become the sun of my galaxy. During this time I’ve continued to work and evolve Marina. My blue pool shoes have made way for sandals that give the illusion of being barefoot, black cotton thread swapped for invisible nylon & the number of pearls I own has tripled! The first wig bowed out at the end of 2015, giving way to a longer all green wig. That wig was succeeded by my current wig at Easter this year. My current wig is a sea green two parter consisting of a short base wig and clip on ponytail which has reduced my con day styling and fixing from ninety minutes down to twenty and enables me to take 80% of the wig weight off immediately without fuss should the need arise.
I even created an evening look for Marina for The Birmingham Comics Festival after party (clip on ponytail, you saved me there!) and with the The International Charity Cosplayers, Marina has had a couple of amazing outings at The Birmingham Comics Festival and The UK Games Expo. The group raises money for Baby Lifeline, a fantastic cause that supports the care of pregnant women and newborn babies in the UK and worldwide. In the ICC I’ve also found a like-minded and wacky family and many great friends whom I chat to on a regular basis and sometimes meet up with away from comic cons for a general get together or to go on cosplay supply hunting trips. We might cosplay characters from different fandoms but we’re all in this crazy realm together.
The ultimate plan is to make my own Marina dress and skirt from scratch but for now she’s good as she is. I’ve never once had bad feedback from anyone regarding Marina. I’ve had a rare glare off of jealous types on occasion but if they think they’re stopping me from expressing my love for Stingray they are sorely mistaken.
If anything I’ve discovered she’s one of those characters whom people adore and they love my portrayal of her with many citing reasons because of how different she is and how rarely she and other Anderson characters are cosplayed. It’s refreshing amongst the sea of stormtroopers, Deadpools, Disney princesses, Doctor Whos, Marvel & DC characters. Admittedly whenever I see another Anderson cosplayer I always approach them for a photo and a natter. Us Anderson cosplayers know we’re in a minority but hey, we love Anderson World and we’re not afraid to show it in the face of bigger fandoms and franchises. That’s what I love about comic con. You get to see cosplays of smaller and lesser known or less cosplayed characters, fandoms and series. The same applies with Anderson actors. If I find out an Anderson actor is at an event I’m going to I’ll go out of my way to approach them like I did with Ayshea at Walsall and again at the spring MCM Birmingham earlier this year where I also met Shane Rimmer and his wife Shelia for a second time (first time being BritSciFi the previous year) and over the two days I spent more time with them than I did my friends whom I barely saw! Granted it is easy to lose people at the larger cons, you can easily end up speaking to people for at most three minutes over the course of a long weekend.
Going back to people’s reactions to Marina, after cosplaying her for eight months I have noticed a trend in direct interactions. Typically she invokes one of three different responses;
1# Immediate Recognition
Often by Anderson fans, big time sci-fi fans or by people who grew up with Stingray and/or had a crush on Marina and can recall the series immediately from memory.
2# Partially Remember So Given A Hint
Cosplaying Marina means I get a kick and giggle out of this as the expression on people’s faces when the penny drops is priceless. Usually the conversation starts along the lines “I know the character from somewhere”. The person/persons don’t recognise Marina immediately but a mention of Stingray/Thunderbirds/Gerry Anderson quickly jogs their memories.
Marina is a nostalgic character and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard Aqua Marina and the Stingray theme sung back to me, heard Anderson related memories and seen people’s faces light up like beacons upon remembering what is clearly a set of cherished childhood memories brought back by seeing a classic icon.
3# Don’t Recognise The Character But Love The Cosplay
Iridescent sequin dress, long blue skirt, green hairstyle with a pink flower and a seal pup sidekick who says hello back (Oink has a sound box which activates when I touch his right flipper) when addressed? Marina is a beautiful character and for some odd reason those sequins people love. That and even though they don’t know who she is they recognise my hard work & effort into putting the character together. So it makes it all the more of a buzz informing them who the character is and I’ve had it a few times now that people have gone out of their way to watch Stingray after meeting me, thus my cosplay becomes their introduction to world of the Andersons.
And that’s one of the reasons why I cosplay Marina, why I’m bringing to life cosplays of Lady Penelope & Tin Tin and other Anderson characters further on down the line. Whilst it is true I cosplay to have fun & raise money for charity I also cosplay to honour the life long works of Sylvia & Gerry Anderson and continue to support the work of their son Jamie Anderson and other works related both fan based and official.
Cosplay is one the most extrovert forms of expressing a love for a series or franchise. It shows a true passion to step out Stars In Their Eyes Style. Tonight I’m going to be Marina/ Lady Penelope/ Tin Tin. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I accept and acknowledge that, but for those of us who love it/question ourselves over it/despise it/ resume loving it/spend more money on it/wonder why we do it then remember why when we’re there on the day of comic con and we cease to be our normal selves to become these amazing characters.
Anyone can be a cosplayer, regardless of your skill level, which characters you pick, how old you are; none of that matters. What matters if that you first and foremost have fun, yes it can be a daunting hobby to get into initially but speaking to other cosplayers the general consensus is that cosplay is a fantastic confidence booster and a great social scene to a part of.
I certainly hadn’t expected to be at this level so quickly with my efforts, running a cosplay page and trying to decide when to do which character when. To think this point last year I was neck deep trying to figure out the dammed first wig. That said to celebrate my first anniversary as a cosplayer later in the year, I’ll be donning a wig & waking up Oink to cosplay Marina all over again at Walsall Comic Con on 5th November 2016, back at the event where it all started. It only seems apt to cosplay Marina at that one given she’s taking a back seat as I début other characters in August, September and October including Lady Penelope & Tin Tin (both a casual look and her IR uniform).
Hopefully by the time the event comes around I’ll have mastered keeping my mouth shut finally after getting off to a promising start.
But please, someone remind me. Why did I pick a mute character to cosplay when I’m a chatterbox in reality? Oh wait, she speaks in her comics. Problem solved!
And final note:
Yes, I have been heard my fair share of strings jokes & gags and no I have never once done the puppet walk – at least not intentionally. After comic con drinks can make the memory go a little hazy and for the life of me I’m trying to figure out what Oink did to warrant this happening to him!
About the Author
Maria Gray is a cosplayer based in the West Midlands. Growing up on a diet of Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet in the nineties and later New Captain Scarlet in 2005, Maria has been an Anderson fan her entire life. Cosplaying under the alias The Wacky Cosplayer, she focuses on bringing to life Anderson & other vintage and retro characters using a combination of brought, modified and self-made garments & props. In addition to her cosplaying, in her spare time Maria focuses on her artwork and is currently working on getting her historically set children’s short stories published.