It’s a typical Johannesburg day in the suburbs. People are walking their dogs and men sell feather dusters on the sides of the road. A big story here is when the garbage truck comes late. But knock on the door of number 26 Heathfield, Fairlands, and out comes a married couple fully clad in pink and bone armour and ready to battle dinosaurs or gigantic monsters should they threaten this fair land. On a scorching Johannesburg summer’s day, this was the meeting of Jeanine-Dee and Clint Hartog, a graphic designer and salesman, just two of the many devotees of cosplay.
Cosplayers are the following who dress as their favorite characters from the ever-growing gaming, anime and comic book industry.
“If you think this is bad, try walking around the whole day at KinCon. Clint sweated so badly people were afraid to go near him by the end of the day,” says Jeanine-Dee.
Cosplay is an idea born in Japan, but took off in America at comic book conventions. The gaming characters rarely fail to turn heads.
“I think it’s becoming a character that you’re ideally a fan of. Mainly cosplayers go to conventions and it’s to connect with other fans that have the same love of games or an anime character. At the end of the day you are a cosplayer,” says the 27-year-old game fan Jeanine-Dee.
“It’s fun to be in the life of that character for that day,” says Clint.
The Hartogs are not your average married couple; their home is like entering a temple to the gods of gaming. Piles of DVDs ring the lounge. Boxes filled with colored materials reach the ceiling and a spare bed is littered with Pokémon plush toys. The crowning glory is the couple’s two TV sets, enshrined by PS3s and gaming gadgets.
“For me, it’s improved my confidence. I used to be very shy. It’s improved my creativity. It’s something that if you are interested in dressing up like Dr Who, then do it. You don’t know where it will end up,” says Jeanine-Dee.
Their custom outfits, made from 3mm to 10mm thick EVA foam, was painstakingly moulded into Helms, Plates, Gauntlets, Waists and Leggings as per the game. In Monster Hunter, ‘Kali’ and ‘Squall’, as they are known in the PSP game, are bounty hunters that take down the monsters to earn rewards. The couple are such big fans of the game they even run their own guild, where they link with other fans on weekends for multiplayer game.
“You can make your outfit from scratch. Or you can buy your costume online or you can even get a seamstress to make your outfit for you. Creating this armor was like a puzzle. We dissected each armor piece and then worked from there. There are basic patterns like for a kimono or a jacket. But basically you have to go from there to make it suit your own character,” says Jeanine-Dee.
The armor took two solid months of breaking their backs on their lounge floor. It’s a common night for the pair to crawl into their bed with burnt fingers from their glue gun called Grimer, a goo-like Pokémon; covered in layers of paint; and their eyes square from playing games.
For the Hartogs, the blistered fingers and long nights sewing armor were all worth it. At the August KinCon convention, held in Edenvale, Johannesburg, Jeanine-Dee’s outfit won whilst Clint’s placed third in the gaming category.
“It’s nerve-wracking. Normally you have to do a two-minute skit. Basically you have to become the persona of your character; you have to show yourself as that character. When you enter you have to give a reference picture to the judges so that they can see where you are from and if you have the correct detail…Some rules only allow you to enter a cosplay outfit once. At another competition you would have to make a whole new one,” says Jeanine-Dee.
“A lot of guys struggle with their first time. We encourage people to just try it once, even if you just go as a casual cosplay. Just try it once and see if you like it. We look at our first cosplay pictures and we think to ourselves why did we wear that? It was so terrible. But we’ve grown our skills since then,” says Clint.
If nothing else, Jeanine-Dee and Clint are dedicated. They have been fans of cosplay for several years. The couple even went as far as taking a road trip to Port Elizabeth (PE), a 1,000 kilometer journey, for a convention. The drive down was an unusual affair as Jeanine spent most of the trip embroidering their outfits. When they emerged from the parking lot, their cosplays nearly blew away in the city’s notorious gusty wind, a hazard for any want-to-be cosplayer.
“We were the only ones from Jo’burg, so when people were asking us where we were from, we would start by saying ‘we’re from a game called…’and they would say ‘no no no, like where are you from in South Africa’ and we would say Jo’burg. They were really excited. We were the only guys who said we would go and we actually managed the distance,” says Clint.
“I suppose you could say we will go the distance for cosplay,” says Jeanine-Dee with a cheeky smile behind her Rathian Heart U armor.
In the meantime, the couple has lots of work to do. Plans for an outfit that will show in Cape Town in the first Saturday of May have already begun.
“Clint and I have done a lot of gaming characters this year. A lot of people say we are gaming cosplayers, so next year we are going to spice things up. It might mean a female Loki popping up,” says Jeanine-Dee.
Their neighbors will surely be on the lookout to catch a glimpse of the couple on their next adventure in the ever-safe suburb of Fairlands.
Growth of Gaming
rAge is a small drop in the ocean for the gaming industry that’s worth R2.4 billion in South Africa, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) South African entertainment and media outlook: 2014 – 2018. By 2018, it is expected to grow to R3.7 billion. Nerds worldwide are also making millions in eSports. Twenty million people tuned in through online streaming to watch The International 2014 finals of DotA 2, a strategy game where two five-man teams face off in a head to head to destroy the other’s base. The winners of the finals, Chinese team, “Newbee”, pocketed $5 million for first place, from a prize pool of roughly $10 million.
By far the largest cosplay event of the year is hosted by Legion Ink at the Really Awesome Gaming Expo (rAge) held in Johannesburg. There were 98 cosplay competitors at rAge in 2014, but well over 200 more were dressed up for the event according to Ray Whitcher, a Lecturer in Multimedia Design by day and Legion Ink Cosplay organizer by night.
“Cosplay is ever-expansive and constantly growing, with the hubs being Jo’burg and Cape Town. If you look at SA’s biggest Cosplay Group, Cosplay SA, they have 1, 485 members, but we’re quite sure there are more than that. Its growth over the past 10 years has skyrocketed. We used to see all of 10 people at most events, and the same people at that, but now there are hundreds in each city. I’d go so far as to say that a lot of conventions pull audiences because of cosplay. There’s something about the uniqueness, the expression and the exoticism within the hobby that has a constant pull on audiences.”
“It’s also a way of celebrating a love of a character from pop culture, be it Star Lord from the recent Guardians of the Galaxy film, or Hatsune Miku from the Volcaloid music series instead of simply consuming merchandise or YouTube videos. Then, of course, there’s the international proliferation of cosplay, with shows like Heroes of Cosplay bringing the hobby into mainstream entertainment.”
“Interestingly, not all of the demographic revolves around teens and those in their early 20’s – we’re seeing quite a large group of over 30 cosplayers joining in too, as well as pets, younger children and everyone in-between.”