[Please enjoy a guest post by Ryan Consell on a subject about which I know little ‑james davis nicoll-]
Ryan Consell is a costumer, author, blogger, and educator. He is best known for his metalwork, genderbend cosplays, and opinions on armour. He can be found posing on Instagram as @studentofwhim, hitting things with hammers on YouTube, and writing at madartlab.com
I’m a cosplayer and have been my whole adult life. I make costumes and dress up at comic, gaming, sci-fi conventions. A lot of people who share my hobby do so in relative isolation. I had the good fortune, though, to land in a region that is rife with people like me.
Kitchener-Waterloo and our surrounding area breeds cosplayers. It contains an unusual confluence of materials, money, and nerds that forms a perfect incubator for creative geekery. From this wellspring flows countless artists girded in spandex, foam, plastic, and paint, a parade of anime impossibilities and nostalgia brought to life. While we produce a steady stream of costumers, we are not a particularly stable or coherent community.
The region was once a major manufacturing centre, producing textiles, cars, electronics, and furniture. While many of those industries are fading, their legacy is visible. There are specialty supply stores and weird surplus shops all over, which are gold mines for costumers scavenging for parts. There are also the legendary Len’s Mill Stores, which are the strangest fabric shops you will ever encounter, filled to bursting with an ever shifting stock of unpredictable textiles and steak spice. The preponderance of materials available lowers the barrier to entry for costumers considerably. You can go out to get groceries and accidentally come home with thirty yards of fabric and a power drill.
Currently, the region’s primary export is nerds. We have an abundance of post-secondary institutions churning out geeks at an astonishing rate. We’re also a major technology hub: birthplace of BlackBerry, home to Google, and progenitor of roughly 2.5 start-ups per capita. You can’t throw a poké ball without hitting someone with a Zelda tattoo, and a TARDIS ringtone will have half of a restaurant’s diners checking their phones.
We also have a host of little conventions: Genrecon, Emiko Con, Kitchener Comic Con, Gryphcon, Tri-Con, and the much missed Con G. They’re quiet little ponds for people new to the game to play in and meet some more experienced costumers and proud nerds. They don’t have the crowds and celebrities of any of the bigger conventions, instead providing a friendly place to get your feet wet and a less intimidating venue in which to learn.
The combined result is a lot of youth growing up in an environment that fosters creative expressions of fandom where more conventional towns might still shun it. I have seen a constant flow of enthusiastic cosplayers from the area building their first costumes, honing their skills, becoming brilliant, and then moving away.
That is a major challenge for the KW cosplay community: people leave. Much of the culture that encourages cosplay also pushes people to emigrate. Many of the most ardent enthusiasts are only in town for a few years during university. The teenagers that could make the community so vibrant don’t stick around into adulthood. There is something ingrained in the university and tech mindset that says you don’t make your career in the place you grew up.
This has always meant, at least for the decade that I’ve been costuming here, that the community struggles to get established. There are lots of cosplayers, but not a lot of cohesion. I’ve seen local conventions struggle to find consistent leadership and audience because of the constant flux. I’ve seen events flare up and die out, not because of lack of interest, but because the entire organizing team has changed careers and moved towns.
Also, there’s the elephant in the province.
KW lives in the shadow of Toronto. It’s massive and populous. It houses all of the biggest and best conventions in Canada and it’s right next-door. KW doesn’t have the numbers or facilities to compete, and many of our most skilled and dedicated costumers fall into Toronto’s gravity well, never to return. Toronto consumes much of the KW costuming community and masks its existence to the point that we, ourselves, don’t know who the big players in our local scene are.
Allow me to correct that as best I can. In no particular order, some of the big names and familiar faces in the region’s cosplay community:
Ray Slay, cosplayer and photographer
Lossien — Master cosplayer and seasoned convention runner who managed to go pro, working in costumes for film and television.
Turquoise Teaparty — Cares more about textiles that I care about anything. Knowledgeable, diverse, and detailed in her work.
Everest Cosplay — Versatile and clever costumer, and the boss at Arda Wigs Canada.
Arda Wigs Canada — That’s right, the headquarters for cosplay wigs in Canada is in Kitchener. You thought it was in Toronto, didn’t you? Well you were wrong.
Cosplayers Canada — We are home to one of Canada’s most known cosplay photographers. I don’t know that we can claim him as I’ve never heard of a convention that he wasn’t attending, but he lives here, at least occasionally:
Elora Veil — Exceptionally skilled seamstress and model.
KW Iron Man — Dedicated to his craft, unflappably friendly, and a very cool dad.
Lady Di — Exuberant, enthusiastic, and always trying something new.
Ryan Consell — That’s me. I mostly hit things with hammers, but I also write and make videos about costumes.
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Unless, of course, James forgets to come back and add the link before deleting this