Interview with Zonic, Camcon organiser and cosplay coordinator

831psWith Camcon less than a week away I interviewed head organiser and cosplay cosplay coordinator Zonic regarding tips to running and entering cosplay masquerades.

How did Camcon begin?

It was an idea I came up with in Brighton when I was performing there as part of the Brighton Japan Festival. I sat down with a few of the organisers and discussed how East Anglia was yet to have a convention. It became apparent that Cambridge (where I lived) would be a good place to hold one being most of the comic artists either live in the city or the surrounding area. From this I started a Facebook group that discussed and pitched the event, which attracted loads of interest. From this we got the committee, crew, event ideas and strategy to put the event into place. It ran for for the first time in 2012 and was very successful so the rest is history!

ziggy 02What was the biggest challenge in running Camcon?

At first the money. We had a wonderful plan for everything with a great venue and lots of good content but we had to fund it somehow. Luckily I had some money saved that I raised in my gap year for a big project I wanted to do after university. This worked out well as we paid for the deposit and managed to break even on the event. Other things was just general nerves about running your first event and thinking about everything that could wrong but we overcame this as its important to know that no matter how experienced you are, things will always go wrong.  Part of the job to deal with problems, as essentially that’s what an event coordinator is. I have no regrets and have always listened to others and learnt from mistakes so I will continue to enjoy my job no matter how stressful it may be.

Any advice for those looking to start their own convention?

Go for it! Don’t be scared. Running an event can be very stressful but it is very rewarding too. There is nothing better than being able to share all the hobbies and passions you’ve had since childhood with the local community and that’s the best part of running CamCon for me. The best piece of advice I can give is to go to as many conventions as you can  – don’t just go to anime conventions, go to comic conventions, sci-fi, gaming, music events -anything you can to. Also try and go in many roles, go once as an attendee, as crew and as a dealer. If you get the chance go as a guest, panelist or press. This allows you to experience events from all sides and with that you can plan an event 416psaccordingly thinking about how each person feels when placed in a situation. Never stay in one position. Like an orchestra, it takes a lot of different people working in different areas to run an event. Having experienced each role yourself you can plan accordingly and have added expertise when taking the baton of your own convention. Also don’t be too ambitious and don’t do things before your ready. Start small and build up gradually, don’t focus on trying to make your event the best one ever as you will lose focus and it should not be why you’re running an event in the first place. You should run it because you want to give your audience a great show no matter how small. I think it is very important organisers think this way as an event is supposed to benefit all involved not just that of the person organising it.

Why should people attend Camcon this year?

Why should you not! We are twice as big as we were last year, not only venue wise but content wise. Two sections that we have massively expanded are our gaming and film sections. In partnership with GAME our gaming section now includes exclusive preview and demos with attendance from top gaming companies such as Ubisoft and Nintendo. Also in partnership with Cineworld we have a mini film festival going on at the Cambridge cinema showing cult films old and new. We have a great selection of panels and workshops ranging from Comics (both indie and mainstream), anime, cosplay and music. Then we have our cosplay masquerade, alternative fashion show, club nights and maid café provided by the brilliant MOE (aka Maids of England). There’s pretty much no reason not to attend so we look forward to giving you a good show in August!

759psYou are one of the only UK female convention organisers, why do you think this is?

I love it! Hahaha no seriously it’s great to feel I’m making a difference. I think it’s a general situation similar to other areas such as business and politics where women don’t choose to take the lead. There is however speculation that geekdom as a whole is a vastly male subject with less girls going after hobbies such as gaming, sci-fi collecting and comics. This is very untrue and out of date though. There are loads of women on the geek scene with many taking top roles as comic artists and gaming developers. America actually has its own convention GeekGirlCon that celebrates women in the industry. I do wish and want more women to feel brave enough to start they’re own conventions and not hide behind their male counterparts but its just a matter of more women entering the scene and having the courage to take the baton and not just stay in a role such as cosplay, PR or crew management which are stereotypes for most women on convention committees.  Another speculation, certainly in the cosplay industry, is that women are seen as sexual objects and not seen as talented in their craft. This is another stigma I try to diminish when running my events and I think only by inspiring other women we’ll see more females taking higher roles and making bigger decisions on how geekdom is run. It is only a matter of time so go for it girls!

ziggy 03What criteria should a cosplayer be judged on in a competition?

It depends what scale you have. I tend to run two different types of masquerade. A casual masquerade which is laid back and has all levels of cosplayers enter with rules such as accuracy, effort and craftsmanship being in place and a pro masquerade where more is at stake and the rules are stricter. A pro masquerade also involves a heavier emphasis on performance with a full skit being required as well as pre-judging sessions taking place. All masquerades judge on accuracy and craftsmanship, this is important to determine how well cosplayers are using their specific skills to portray a character. Other things judges look for include use of specific skills; some cosplayers go on to make props and costumes for films and theatre so if you can demonstrate you can make an outfit that is well constructed, does not fall apart when you move and is cleverly made with the use of parts, sewing machines such as overlockers and added features e.g LEDS if your costume requires electronics, you stand a better chance of winning. Though accuracy is important, cosplayers are marked for originality, having your own spin on a character that is well executed will get you points too.

ziggy 04One thing I personally wish more masquerades would give more attention to is performance. People focus on the costume itself (which of course they should) but in the process completely ignore the play aspect to cosplay. I actually do a panel on cosplay performance which talks about what you should take into account when planning your skit or poses, techniques for acting the part and getting into character and use of props and stage FX. It is important even if your just walking on and posing to research the character in depth and do your best to play them. Cosplayers who just focus on the costume alone tend to end up being wooden on stage even though their costume is amazing, they show no passion of the character. In my opinion a good cosplayer is one who illustrates their love of the character they are portraying and this is done both by spending ages on their costume and applying their knowledge through their attitude and enthusiasm on stage.

What mistakes do you often see other cosplay competitions make?

They’re not run by the right people! A lot of organisers mistake cosplay as being just a fancy dress competition where people can get changed in the toilets and are not taking their craft seriously. This is the opposite of what’s happening. These are people who have spent months preparing both a costume and a skit that means a lot to them and it’s your responsibility to give them the podium to show off their work to people. If you want to be a cosplay coordinator it takes a lot more than to just to say “I think cosplay is interesting or I love anime I’m going to run a masquerade” you need to have the specific skills and expertise to do so and the only way to get that expertise is to cosplay and enter masquerades yourself. The worst mistake I’ve seen is someone who has never cosplayed in their lives thinking they can run a contest based only on talking to cosplayers and seeing them at conventions. This is nowhere near enough to give you the skills you need, you have to go out there and make the costumes yourself. This way because you’ve been through the same ups and downs of planning, crafting and convention going, you know what you’d expect yourself in being in the same situation.

023psAnother major mistake is an organiser thinking that just because they’ve run a casual masquerade at a small convention that the same rules and criteria are going to apply at big conventions such as London Film and Comic Con. Every event is different and often at the big convention you will have top cosplayers who make a living from competing. They will expect far ore than the average attendee and would expect a higher level of organisation. It is vital that cosplay organisers research the event they are working for, as if it is a big show with lots of cosplayers you’ll need to work to a higher standard to accommodate them. If the event is smaller and still new to cosplay there would be no point in creating a bigger spectacle as it may not be needed. Always be flexible and treat every event as different, never be presumptuous as every day you learn something new.

Top tips for running a masquerade?

Cosplay Cosplay Cosplay! Go out there and do it! There is no other way to find out what is involved in running a cosplay section than to cosplay yourself and take part in competitions to see how it feels. Research the event beforehand and find out what has gone on in the past don’t presume that one set of rules is going to work for every event. Also plan as far in advance as possible, there is nothing worse than having loads of ideas and not having enough time to put them into place. Also you need enough time to deal with problems as they come up. Every event, no matter how established, makes mistakes and has problems so it is important you give yourself enough time to overcome these so you don’t end up in a panic on the day. Don’t forget to cosplay on the day, if you can, ditch the crew t-shirt and jeans look. Your cosplay is your uniform so wear it with pride!

ziggy 05A lot of conventions are enforcing stricter prop rules and some are even said to be limiting what con goers can wear? How do you feel about this? Will Camcon or any of the masquerades you run by enforcing new rules?

It’s a double-edged sword. I think every event has rules for different reasons. At CamCon we don’t have any specific limits other than the usual nothing dangerous, offensive, audience appropriate etc. We don’t allow free hug signs for reasons that in the past they have caused harassment and edgy behaviour, but all events ban certain things for different reasons.

One prop that is up in the air at the moment at a lot of events is the use of airsoft guns and replicas. Some venues are very strict and do not allow any sort of “weapon” at all but others are lenient and allow replica and toy weapons to be carried as long as they have no firepower (i.e. water, foam darts, caps etc) and the orange safety cap is in place. I think if an event can back up why something is not allowed with clear evidence then it works out fine. Some events can be over the top like one major event banning the use of wooden props, which has caused controversy within the community as most props are made from wood or denser materials but it all depends on the situation. If an event has had an incident with a specific material or outfit then they have the right not allow it at future events if they see it as potential for trouble. In short, if they can back it up with clear evidence and objective perspective than an event can justify setting certain rules. If not, then there is no point and the event itself has no merit.

778psAny tips for those entering a cosplay masquerade?

Go for it! Every cosplayer starts somewhere and the worst thing that can happen is you don’t win, which happens to all of us. Enter as many as you can! Try different cosplays to improve your skills, get advice from other cosplays and look at YouTube tutorials to try new things out. Don’t be scared is the best advice I can give as even the cosplayers who are winning all the awards started out somewhere. My first cosplay was a very rubbish Ramona Flowers that I wore to MCM expo in 2010 (it was basically me in a wig with a pink top and skirt) and now I run cosplay shows for big events. It’s important to keep going even if you have down days as we’ve all been there. A quote I love from Shakespeare which I think sums up the cosplay scene as a whole is “All the worlds a stage”. This is very true as with cosplay there is no audition, no selection process and no barriers to keep you from expressing yourself. If you want to be Lara Croft you can be Lara Croft, if you want to be Chell you can be Chell! If you want to be Ryu, Superman, Connor from Assassins’ Creed or even the Incredible Hulk you can be those characters! It doesn’t matter about your size, your appearance, if you’re disabled, you can go cosplay and as you do your skills will increase. Maybe you’ll even be the next person representing the UK in the World Cosplay Summit! You never know unless you try, so go for it!

ziggy 06In today’s ever growing cosplay community and competitiveness do you think it is hard to win a cosplay competition without having a prop?

It depends on the character, if they have a prop then yes you need to make it as this gives you more marks for accuracy. It is the same as cosplaying without a wig, you need to make sure your entire outfit reflects the character. That’s not to say that you’d need to have a massive costume such as a fur suit to win a masquerade, as bigger isn’t always better. I’ve seen big monster cosplays that despite wowing the audience, lose out on marks because the craftsmanship didn’t match up to the required standard of others in the competition. Also people can make these big structures but never do anything with them. This is where performance comes in, as just walking on in a big monster suit isn’t going to get you marks. Of course all judging is different but I’d advise against making a massive cosplay just for the sake of it as that’s not the point of the contest. Its all about the character, craftsmanship and execution so focus on those instead of making a spectacle. If you’ve got these areas covered then your well on you’re way to becoming a top awarding winning cosplayer.

Check out Camcon Saturday 31 August 2013

Keep updated with all of Zonic’s cosplay progress and news

Photo Credits: Chell Main image, green maid dress and Harley Quinn – LoEC, Lara Croft – Ian King, Ziggy at Ayacon – Lynda Biggins, Lolita images – Katrisha Riae Espiritu