Comic Con: Cosplayers explain how they support their art

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Yaya Han as Catwoman, Anna Faith as Harley Quinn, and Luxlo Cosplay as UmbreonImage source, Yaya Han/Anna Faith/Luxlo Cosplay
Image caption,
Yaya Han, Anna Faith and Luxlo Cosplay are all well-known within the cosplay world

This weekend, the Excel Centre in London will be packed with superheroes, Disney princesses and anime heroes for the latest MCM London Comic Con.

The event has grown significantly, with an estimated 133,000 attendees at the three-day version in October 2016, compared with a more modest 47,000 attendees only six years earlier.

For those not in the know, cosplay (a portmanteau of "costume" and "play") can be broadly summarised as the act of wearing a costume to represent a character.

The key thing that differentiates cosplay to simply dressing up is the time invested into the hobby - cosplayers can spend hundreds of hours creating costumes, and similar amounts of time wearing them at conventions.

As cosplay has grown in popularity, so have the chances for participants.

We spoke to a variety of people in the community to understand how they found opportunities, and in particular, how they can support themselves through cosplay.

Yaya Han explains fabric lines and accessories

Image source, Judy Stephens/Yaya Han
Image caption,
Yaya as Wizard from Granada Espada (a fantasy online multiplayer game) - and as herself

Yaya Han has more than two million fans on Facebook alone. She's become a celebrity in her own right and has even featured on comic book covers for Marvel.

She has found her niche within the community, but only through trial and error.

"It's still brand new to all of us," she says.

Image source, Yaya Han/Paul Tien
Image caption,
A single costume requires a lot of work - here are some of the steps required to make League of Legends character Fiora

"I have a line of cosplay accessories that I designed back in the early 2000s. I have been selling online as well as at conventions as a vendor or exhibitor.

"People saw me at conventions for years, and this was how I built my name and brand recognition.

"I did all of this without knowing what I was doing. I just wanted to live at cons [conventions].

Image source, Yaya Han
Image caption,
Yaya's original accessories include wings, cat ears and bows

"Now it's a small business, there are just under 10 people on my payroll.

"I had to go through the process of learning how to run a business. To pay people fairly, to pay taxes, to do all these very boring business things."

On top of her cosplay and accessories business, Yaya has become known for one particular thing - fabrics.

Image source, Yaya Han
Image caption,
Yaya says she can't go to any conventions in the United States without seeing someone in costume using her fabrics

"I have a fabric line," she explains. "It's in the biggest craft store chain in the United States.

"It's really neat to go into a store and see signs with my name on it, and to know I represent our community.

"I had to educate the fabric company on what type of fabrics cosplayers need - unique finishes, very specific patterns, and fabrics that are very durable but still breathable."

Image source, Yaya Han/Marvel
Image caption,
Yaya featured on the cover of Marvel's Inhumans comic as Medusa in October 2016

Yaya explained to the fabric companies exactly what cosplayers needed.

"It makes me very happy to know that people are liking what I've designed," she said. "As a cosplayer who has grown up in this community, it's the best way I can give back.

"It's very fulfilling."

Regan & Kelly explain guides, tutorials and charity

Image source, Sara Lynn Photography
Image caption,
Regan and Kelly as Princess Celestia and Queen Chrysalis from My Little Pony

If you have any doubts about the quality of Yaya's fabrics, Regan Cerato and Kelly Kullman will set you straight.

The married couple, known to their fans as Cowbutt Crunchies Cosplay, gave the fabrics rave reviews.

"Yaya is awesome," Regan says. "A lot of cosplayers looked up to her back when there were very few resources available.

"I admire her a lot as a businesswoman in this community."

Image source, Sam Saturn
Image caption,
Regan's latest cosplay, Loki from Thor, incorporates Yaya's fabrics throughout

The pair have found success on Patreon - a website where people can pay monthly fees to support creators.

They currently receive $814 (£636) in donations, which the pair say goes directly to charity.

"It's been really nice," says Kelly. "We can ask our patrons where they're from and put it towards small animal charities near them.

Image source, Para Para Productions
Image caption,
Kelly as Button Knight - an original design

"The nice thing about Patreon that sets it apart, is it's one of the few social media where people can dictate what they see.

"It's better for communicating with your audience."

Image source, Regan and Kelly
Image caption,
Regan and Kelly married in 2016, 11 years after their first cosplay together in 2005

Regan agrees.

"For us it wasn't a calculated effort to grow," she says. "It was a natural progression of doing what you love and being enthusiastic about it.

"That resonates with people - we're just lucky there's an audience for what we wanted to do."

Anna Faith explains Patreon

Image source, Anna Faith
Image caption,
Anna Faith - seen here as Wonder Woman - cosplays as her full-time job, balancing private parties and her Patreon to make a living

Anna Faith has 1,569 Patreon donators.

Each person donates between $1 and $60 per month, in exchange for various rewards including videos and photo prints.

But she warns it is more work than people think.

Image source, Anna Faith
Image caption,
Anna as Harley Quinn from Batman

"It's very time consuming," she says. "Especially each month when it's time for the prints to go out.

"You have to confirm the address for every person, order supplies, personally sign all the prints and much more.

"Fortunately, I have help from my sister, Lexie, and my family."

Image source, Anna Faith
Image caption,
Anna shot to fame online when she and her sister Lexie posed as Anna & Elsa from Frozen

Anna says she will promote her Patreon posts to her social media following - she has more than 739,000 followers on Instagram alone.

But she has a word of warning for anyone looking to do the same thing.

"Just understand that people will always ask for more," she says. "It can be overwhelming at times.

"It can be stressful, but I wouldn't change what I do for a living."

Luxlo explains smart social media

Image source, Luxlo Cosplay
Image caption,
Luxlo, seen here as Umbreon from Pokemon, is one of the top cosplayers on Patreon

Luxlo is also popular on Patreon.

She puts her success down to the different rewards available to donators, and the work she does promoting herself on social media.

"I offer different things," she said. "Signed prints and cute pins of my cosplays, exclusive content and group chats.

"I just mention my Patreon every couple of posts on social media, so people know what I offer."

Image source, Luxlo Cosplay/Nigel Murray Photography
Image caption,
Luxlo receives $2,152 per month in donations from her fans, which help fund cosplay including this Odogaron from Monster Hunter

Luxlo advises anyone wanting to grow a Patreon to post regularly on Instagram.

"Once a day is a good amount," she says. "Pay attention to what time of day your followers seem most active.

"Try not to compare yourself to others. Make friends in the community and support each other.

"The reality for most doing cosplay is that it is a supplementary income, not a full-time job."

Chaozrael explains commissions

Image source, Chaozrael/Silvia Gunther
Image caption,
Chaozrael, seen here as Tyrest from Transformers, is commissioned to make costumes for others

Chaozrael earns money through commissions, but warns it can be inconsistent.

"For all self-employed artists, it really depends," she says. "If I sell a few small commissions, it's enough.

"One month, I just sold nothing. The next month I was commissioned to make a full set of armour and more - I made almost €3,000 (£2,660).

"It has a lot to do with savings and managing your money."

Image source, Chaozrael
Image caption,
Chaozrael is currently working on a character from video game series God of War

Chaozrael says the best advice she can give to people is to start with something they love.

"I started in the Transformers fandom," she said. "There are fewer cosplayers there compared to big fandoms like Disney.

"If you get popular within that niche you can develop faster.

"It's worth it."

By Tom Gerken, BBC UGC & Social News

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