|Kamui Cosplay (Photographer Darshelle Stevens)|
If you follow a few UK cosplayers, you have probably seen the term 'professional cosplayer' being thrown around; I'm not going to stir the drama pot, feel free to Google if you want to know more! What I want to talk about is common ideologies about what constitutes as a professional cosplayer and why people may take offense to it.
Controversially, a lot of a cosplayers worth comes with what can be placed with metrics - facebook followers, retweets, YouTube watch time engagement and more. Understandably, one of the main reasons a company may hire you or ask you come along to an event is because they want their event to be shared to the widest, most relevant audience. Many cosplayers are highly engaged with social media; it is an easy, and often cheap, method of PR and marketing to get cosplayers involved in events. At the end of the day however, cosplay will still be a predominately hobbyist activity and that is not a bad thing. The words 'amateur' and 'hobbyist' have become sadly tarnished in the current climate where being a professional in everything that we do is the aim for many. I am not just talking about cosplay here - photography, animation, baking, selling on eBay. Many are using tried and tested management techniques to sell ourselves and our products. Rightly so, we are proud of ourselves and what we do, with the old adage that if we can do something well, don't do it for free - the title of 'Professional Cosplayer' is being thrown around more than a pokèball!
So is there such a thing as a 'Professional Cosplayer'? Speaking purely for myself, I certainly believe so. I roll my eyes when I see people criticise YouTubers and Twitch streamers, telling them to get a 'real job'. Gloating that when the content creator bubble bursts, they will be sorry. Yet that could happen with any job, anyone can be made redundant at anytime and for any reason. I like to compare the content creator sector with that of the film industry when it was in its infancy. For those actors, actresses, lighting riggers and producers - they were brand new roles in the job market. However they were getting paid and more importantly, they were living their lives from the profits of working those roles. It is a similar tale for cosplay, if you are able to create a sustained living simply through making costumes, attending conventions, related events and publications then, in my eyes at least, you could say you were 'professional'. As a population, often we are scared of something new and different when older systems - mortgages, bringing up a family, nutrition etc are reliant on them.
Few can ever make a sustainable living through making costumes alone - yet what cosplay offers are opportunities to make a little extra money as a side project. A practice that dates back far into history, with mainly women, using what skills they had to bump up the family savings. We can have stores on Etsy and Storenvy that help to pay for new equipment or run YouTube channels that show tutorials and vlogs. The heart of these need to be for the love of the hobby, they often don't pay much, can take a chunk of your time and may feel like a second job. Cosplay can also offer up opportunities to work with influential companies - as an example, due to my Lara costumes, I was part of the Square Enix PR launch for 'Lara Croft GO' in London. While I needed to act professional, I am nowhere near what could be considered a 'professional cosplayer' even though I earn money through selling cosplay items on Etsy.
There is nothing wrong with taking a professional approach to what you do or pushing yourself, and it may help further down the line - but remember why you started to cosplay in the first place. If you want to aim to be a professional, think about what you would like to do once you have that notoriety rather than to be famous for famous sake. For Yaya Han it is her fabric lines and patterns, Kamui has her book publications, Leon Chiro has worked it to increase his traditional modelling portfolio and Bill Doran has worked the other way - taking his prop building business into the world of cosplay. At the end of the day however if you are enjoying what you are doing and being polite, honest and kind while doing it, that is all that matters.
So what do you think about 'professional cosplayers'? Comment below or tweet me @Lady_Scion and remember to take pride and enjoy your hobby whatever that may be.