This weekend was New York Comic Con, a time when hoards of people who are generally passionate about comic books, superheroes, anime, and video games gather to celebrate the characters they love. Attendees see all kinds of celebs there representing shows or movies (the cast of Pretty Little Liars attended this year!), plus, there’s tons of hard-to-find merchandise and artists’ renderings of scenes from beloved series, like Star Wars.
In this two-part post, you’ll get an inside look at the world of Japanese animation and cosplay, as well as conventions like Comic Con, through the eyes of several women, all experts in these topics. The first part is an interview with my friend Liz. (Her social media posts often feature fantastic costumes she’s created herself.) Part 2 features three other women, Erin, Lisa, and Raven, who discuss how video games and cosplay have impacted their lives. (Part 2 will be posted soon, so stay tuned!)
Liz is a 29-year-old graphic designer from Long Island, and she shares below why she finds anime empowering, what she loves about Comic Con (and doesn’t love so much), plus, why Sailor Moon is the greatest thing ever. Liz is kick-ass, kind, and funny, and I’m so excited to feature her here!
Galbraith: For those who aren’t familiar with anime and manga, how would you describe them?
Liz: The best way I’ll explain it is that with anime and manga, the point isn’t sales, the point isn’t money, the point is to tell a story. No matter how long or short that story is, no matter how everyday or how crazy ridiculous that story is, the author of either one has some sort of point of view to express, and wants that out there, even if it’s only for 10 people. So the manga, basically I would translate it to a Japanese comic book or graphic novel. Anime is Japanese animation, whether it’s a film or a cartoon.
Galbraith: How did you first get into anime?
Liz: I was 9 and I used to have to get up at 6 a.m. for school. I’m not a good morning person, so I would wake up and at the time Sailor Moon was on at 6 a.m. I was just like, “I don’t know what’s going on, but this is really cool.” That was my very first introduction to anime and manga. Two years later, I started seeing it again on Cartoon Network. They had it on every afternoon right after school, so I was actually awake to understand at this point. Between 4 to 6 p.m. or so, they would show different anime, like Dragon Ball Z. So I started getting an idea of what anime meant, of where it came from. I had no idea that this stuff wasn’t American. I did a little digging online and I found out that the originals actually weren’t in English. And that a lot of these series also had manga or comic books to go along with them. At the end of the day, Sailor Moon opened up this whole other world for me that I had no clue was there.
Galbraith: What is it about Sailor Moon that had such an impact on many people, especially on you? It seems like it’s often the most common introduction into anime from when you and I were younger.
Liz: I think the thing that resonates with me the most is that it’s a bunch of different girls, different backgrounds, different sexualities, different financial struggles, different interests, but despite that some of them have absolutely nothing in common, they’re still friends. They still respect each other and love each other. (And of course, they kill bad guys together, that’s important.) I love that friendship aspect. I was a big fan, and this is probably cliché, of them fighting in heels and skirts, I thought that was so cool. I always thought that in order to kick butt, you have to wear pants and boots, and some of them have boots, yeah, but those boots have some heels! I loved that. Whichever version of Sailor Moon you watch or read, the love and friendship, that’s really the basis of every single version of it. Because of that, and I guess Sailor Moon as a whole, I’ve met so many people and done so many things that I never would have if I hadn’t really dove into that world. It super emphasizes that love and friendship thing [for me] because of all the friends I’ve met. I met my boyfriend because of Sailor Moon. I would recommend it to anyone because of that.
Galbraith: How did you get into cosplay and then start designing your own (amazing!) outfits?
Liz: I remember going to a Halloween party in my first [anime] costume, which was Sailor Moon, of course it was [laughs]. When I was walking in, there was a mirror at the girl’s house and when I looked in it, I was so happy and I never wanted that feeling to go away. The downside back then was, unlike today, how it’s more normal to be into [anime and cosplay] and to be into video games. It was really looked down upon back then. You got made fun of hardcore for that; most people did, I know I did. [So] when people started opening their mouths [and said negative things at the party], I was kind of like, “Oh.” And [that wonderful feeling] went away. Fast-forward to 2002, I went to my very first convention in New York City, it’s defunct now, but it was called the Big Apple Anime Fest. I went with my friend Victoria and we were both cosplaying characters that were friends, so it was kind of like a group cosplay.
“It was such a change from that Halloween party where I was getting made fun of to people being like ‘I can’t believe you’re wearing that,’ ‘that’s so cool, where did you get it?’”
We walked into the hotel in Times Square and it felt like we were celebrities. It really felt like we were Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera walking into a hotel. That love that hit us was sick. Some girl screamed at us from four floors up. I remember she was like, “Don’t move, you stay there, I will be there.” And she ran down four flights of stairs on the escalator until she got to us. She started taking photos of us and all these other people started taking photos of us. It was such a change from that Halloween party where I was getting made fun of to people being like “I can’t believe you’re wearing that,” “that’s so cool, you’re awesome.” I loved it. At the time, I was getting people to make costumes for me, but now I make my own. It feels a bit better being able to say that you made it yourself. Walking around and hearing people say, “That’s so good, where did you get it?” “Oh my God, you made that?” That love that I felt [at the hotel in Times Square] has tripled. It’s the best feeling in the entire world, going to these conventions, seeing everyone else’s work, sharing that love, and knowing that at some point they felt the same way I did when I was a kid. Every single time I go, I meet new people and it’s so cool. There’s absolutely nothing like it and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
Galbraith: Events like Comic Con can be pretty dude-centric and women in cosplay are sometimes the target of sexual harassment and inappropriate comments. Have you encountered that at all?
Liz: Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with much of that, whether it’s at a New York convention or one in any other state. Last year, I wore a costume that was basically a bikini top and booty shorts, because I’m an idiot. I was with my friend, her boyfriend, and a couple of other people, and they were very adamant about staying with me. They were like, “We don’t want anyone doing or saying anything.” And nothing happened, I was fine. But I’ve 100 percent seen and heard people get told things, men too, but especially women, like “You shouldn’t be wearing that, you’re too fat for that,” or “nice ass,” or they’ll ask for a photo, not [ask] who they’re cosplaying but then make some lewd commentary about how they’re wearing it or how sexy they are. It’s disgusting, honestly.
“In the cosplay/convention environment, I think people feel entitled to say and do what they [want].”
I’m like, Why are you reducing what she’s wearing to a sexual thing? There’s no need for that. And it happens everywhere, even if you’re not cosplaying. In the cosplay/convention environment, I think people feel entitled to say and do what they [want]. Not all of them, but some guys are like, “They’re in our world, cosplaying these women, and if they’re dressing like that, they’re asking for it.” Well, no, that’s what the character wears, so what else is this woman going to wear if she wants to cosplay that character? It doesn’t matter [what she wears], she’s not asking for it. She’s interested in something just as much as you are, she’s there for the same reasons you are, she’s there for the experience, just like you. The only difference is she’s a female instead of a male, and just because she’s not dressing to your standards doesn’t mean that she should be touched or harassed in any way. I think a lot of people speak that way because they think it’s their dream character. The blame is never on the person that says or does it. It’s always the other person’s fault. This is a society issue I believe for sure, but it’s very rampant at conventions.
Galbraith: Can you tell me about the photo shoots that happen at conventions?
Liz: There was a Disney one last year. I was in a big group with my friends and we were all Disney princesses. We couldn’t walk three feet without getting stopped by a million people taking a photo. At one point, Princess Anna [think: Frozen] came running to us and was like, “You have to come outside, we’re doing a photo shoot right now. You’re coming. I’ll show you the way.” We went out there, and there was a lot of media there, professional photographers, people with iPhones, and there were so many Disney characters. All of us Ariels kind of huddled together, we were talking, taking selfies with the Flounder plushies we had. All the Annas and Elsas got together; it was the cutest thing. I think the best part about it was little kids. They thought that we were [really the characters]! They would ask questions and want to take pictures… it was so cute and innocent: “Princess Jasmine, why are you here, why did you leave Aladdin?” That’s my favorite thing. Whether it’s little kids or it’s a 25-year-old running to you screaming, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you dressed up like that, you must stop so I can take a picture.” Photo shoots are so awesome.
Galbraith: What anime characters do you relate to the most?
Liz: This is going to sound so lame, but a lot of them will have some sort of pink coming up. Like their hair is pink or the color of their clothes is pink. That’s usually the first thing that draws me in [laughs], not gonna lie. It’s been a mix, because a lot of characters, like Sailor Venus, are bubbly and when it comes time to being serious, they know it’s like, “Alright I’ve got to work, but once that’s taken care of, I can go back to being silly and playful and—wow, that guy’s cute.” I find myself also liking characters that are really sarcastic. They seem like they’re mean upon first impression, but really they’re just this cuddly little idiot that you want to pat on his head and send on his way. I used to say that it’s always the bubbly kind, but it’s a mixture of the bubbly-cute kind and the “Oh I think he’s rude… nope, nope, he’s a muffin, ok.” Those are really what’s getting me. I don’t know why. The bubbly-cute kind, I guess ’cause that’s me. At least I try to be!
Thank you so much, Liz!
Tune in for part two, coming soon!