For the uninitiated, the term "Cosplay" is a portmanteau of the words "Costume" and "Play."
SyFy's new reality series Heroes of Cosplay seems to get the "costume" part (mostly) right, but it completely misses the "play" part of it.
Now, prefacing everything, I just want to say: this is merely my opinion. I've been a con-going turbodork for over ten years, and during those ten years, I've met, befriended, and fallen in love with quite a few cosplayers; both casual fans and hardcore fabricators. I speak not as a well-respected voice within the "cosplay community," rather as a guy who, even with tertiary knowledge of what cosplay is and isn't, can easily call out Heroes of Cosplay for the farce that it is.
Another note is that, by and large, I have no real complaints against any of the actual people on the show. Of all of them, I really like Jessica and Holly; they have terrific craftsmanship, and you still get the sense that all this is very much a labor of love, even as deadlines mount and things fall apart.
But that's more of an accidental byproduct. By and large, Heroes of Cosplay reeks of a well-intended misfire, made worse by clueless producers, choppy editing, and zero research or planning. And considering that Heroes of Cosplay is the first time that cosplay itself has been placed under the basic cable spotlight, all eyes are on SyFy to see whether or not it withstands scrutiny. In short: it doesn't. Strap yourselves in, folks - let's run down the Seven Reasons Heroes of Cosplay is Terrible!
7) Cosplay is actually a fun hobby - something Heroes of Cosplay doesn't even pay lip service to
I mentioned why I liked Holly and Jessica earlier, and that's because they're good-natured nerdfolk tending to their costuming skills, having fun and stressing out in equal measure. Cosplay is a fun thing people do, first and foremost. Pick your favorite character, dress up, and have some fun. Are you into Dragon Ball Z? Are you also black? Who cares - dress up as Goku and have some fun. Anyone who gives you shit about it - "COSPLAY TO YOUR BODY TYPE, DUDE" - is completely wrong and terrible.
Now, that's not to say that there isn't moments of tension, drama, and television-worthy moments when you're a cosplayer. Any cosplayer can tell you how stressful it is when time is against you and the fabric you need isn't available and all that; and that part is something that Heroes of Cosplay actually gets across reasonably well. It goes into rather specific detail about what the girls (and their boyfriends/husbands, and one steampunk dude) do as far as construction goes. Although, unlike most cosplayers, the folks from Heroes of Cosplay have niceties that most cosplayers don't have access to, like, I dunno, a garage filled with expensive equipment and so forth.
Regardless, when they're filming the subjects as they poke and prod at fabric and foam, the show is pretty accurate. Once they're actually at the conventions, though, everything goes to shit. And that's because...
6) Their concept of "Competitive Cosplay" is insane
In Episode 2,
Except that that's totally, completely fine. Chloe's put in the time, work, and effort to get her own cosplay show - even though she's never "competed" before. BECAUSE THAT IS SO NOT THE POINT. As mentioned above, cosplay is a fun endeavor - you're using copyrighted characters owned by other people/companies, dressing up, and parading around crowded convention hallways for photos and hi-fives and all the fun that conventions allow. You're not here to win anything; cosplaying as your favorite character in and of itself is reward enough.
Now that's not to say that there isn't a "competitive" side to cosplaying - several of the individuals featured on the show often talk about getting into "professional" propmaking or costuming. And that's also completely doable - one specific cosplayer I know has parlayed her love of cosplay into a costuming gig for a major studio. But that wasn't because she "competed" - she's never entered a costume contest once in her life. But she has created an extensive portfolio, done several paid commissions, and thoroughly enjoys her work. None of those things require a lousy trophy from winning a cosplay contest at any convention.
But that's just costuming. What does it take, if anything, to be a "PROFESSIONAL COSPLAYER"? Which leads me to...
5) The Concept of Being a "Professional Cosplayer" Is an Unrealistic, Unnecessary Joke
There are several ways to use your cosplay skills to lead into a professional career. There's the one I mentioned above - using cosplay to hone your fabrication and costuming skills so that you have a robust portfolio and years of experience for a costuming gig. You can also use your love of cosplay to take commissions for other cosplayers! Some cosplayers may not necessarily be as skilled in certain areas - be they fabricating props, crafting the perfect wig, makeup, prosthetics and so forth - that they will gladly pay you a handsome fee to help them craft whatever they need for their costume. Because, once again, cosplaying is supposed to be a fun thing, and not a competitive thing. If there's something holding you back from attaining that perfect costume for your character, there is literally no shame in asking for some outside help.
And then there's this weird, nebulous concept of being a "professional cosplayer" itself. And that is something that only a VERY select few people have been able to achieve. Shockingly enough, two of them - Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri - have been featured on Heroes of Cosplay. Fancy that.
Being a "professional cosplayer" means having the right combination of both costuming skills, model physiques, and aggressive self-promotion that most people in their right mind would not necessarily seek. There's only so much money to spend on convention appearances from comic book publishers, video game publishers, and so forth that there isn't really a big market for pro-caliber cosplayers. Because the ones that do - Yaya and Jessica - pretty much take up the lion's share of the work available. And in the meantime, they're selling merchandise, like t-shirts, signed prints, and so on. They're like a half-model, half-exhibitor at these conventions. It's a lot of work, requires a ton of commitment and many years' worth of experience. And until either Yaya or Jessica abandon the cosplay front for greener pastures, those positions are seemingly filled.
That leads me to my next point of contention, carried on to the next page!