By: Andrew Liptak
Release Date: June 28, 2022
Publisher: Saga Press
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
Andrew Liptak’s newest work is an incredibly comprehensive, momentous celebration and history of cosplay. Cosplay: A History: The Builders, Fans, and Makers Who Bring Your Favorite Stories to Life is a beautifully realized history of cosplay, largely from the gaze of the science fiction community in the US.
Complied into 352 glossy, photo-filled pages wrapped in a paperback cover with French flaps, the physical product is beautiful, every photo gleaming off the gloss-covered pages, while remaining at a very affordable $24.99 in the US.[ This inherent affordability of what would usually be an expensive hard-bound book is something inherent to cosplay itself—creating something inherently unique that will wow an audience all at an affordable price—a neat little nod to the subject matter, even if unintentional.
Cosplay: A History is just that. A history, one that begins with science fiction fandom in the 1800s, masquerades, and those first individuals who donned outfits for events—what today would be called cosplay. Largely, this gaze remains through the lens of science fiction, more specifically science fiction within the US. This is one of the main avenues that led to the rise in cosplay in the region, and it is through this lens that cosplay as we know it is born.
Much of what would be suspected is discussed. The 501st Legion, the Star Wars Stormtrooper legion that spans the globe. The Rebel Legion, also of Star Wars fame. Halo’s 405th Infantry Division. And, of course, the myriad of now-famous cosplayers, makers, franchises, conventions, and more.
This, by and large, is a celebration of cosplay and fandom as a whole. It is an ode to the history of finding joy in stories, of wanting to be part of something larger than yourself, and of wanting to see the joy and awe on others’ faces when they see you in costume. Perhaps more importantly, it gathers together much of this history in one place, replete with photos, personal stories, anecdotes, and an inherent sense of why cosplay matters, why it’s such an integral part of modern fandom as a whole.
The not-quite-as-wholesome aspects of cosplay are spoken of as well. Sexism and racism have been issues across cosplay for, well, forever. These topics aren’t ignored. Nor is the complicated relationship between cosplayers, IP holders, makers, and makers who attempt to profit off others’ hard work. The book is an insightful look not only into the good, happy, and historical but everything. Though these topics may not have “right answers”—there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to systemic racism or misogyny, after all—it addresses them in a clear, confident manner and makes its stance apparent.
On a similar note, other aspects of cosplay and costuming that aren’t always brought to the forefront are discussed as well. The more ancient roots of donning costumes and their part in storytelling are looked at—costuming as part of rituals and religion, textiles as part of cave art, the history of masks. Perhaps more prolific are more modern instances of various versions of costuming outside of the popular convention scene. The history of Halloween is discussed. Historical reenactments and Renaissance Fairs are discussed and how they differ from both cosplay and museum employees and educators that use living history as a teaching device.
The rise in the popularity of anime and the cosplay based on anime properties also has a place within these chapters. Despite cosplay based on anime being huge at modern conventions, this is not the main focus of the book. It is A History, after all. The history of cosplay would need to be a multi-volume, globetrotting, history-spanning, likely hair-pulling odyssey, taking perhaps multiple lifetimes to fully complete for we have always loved stories, and we have always loved being a part of them, bringing them to life.
Cosplay: A History is an extremely well-researched and much-needed compiled history on a part of fans’ lives that makes up what is a much bigger, more important part of our lives than most outside of science fiction, fantasy, superhero, comics, and anime fandom probably realize or understand. It perfectly ties together the modern Maker community, the evolving of technology and its influence on prop and costume making, and what stories mean to the people who consume them with cosplay as a whole. It’s a fantastic book, one inherent readable with oh-so-wonderful photography, and it’s a book that cosplayers, con-goers, and anyone who’s found themselves awed by the silver screen or stories at their parents’ knee must read.