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Costume drama: Gia and Chloe lift lid on Northern Ireland's Cosplay community

For enthusiasts like Gia and Chloe, it can take up to five hours to get into character. But for the joy they get from like-minded people in the cosplay community, it's well worth it

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Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

In her bedroom in Donaghadee, teenager Gia McCormick puts the finishing touches to one of her latest creations - an electric blue wig with curls all the way down her back - then makes a start on her make-up.

It can take several hours for the 18-year-old to get into costume and create a set, before she's ready to take photos and make video to upload for Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.

While some of us might only get dressed up for occasions like Halloween, Gia is one of a number of young cosplay enthusiasts across Northern Ireland and before lockdown she attended conventions at weekends with like-minded friends.

Cosplay is literally a shortening of the phrase "costume play" - where participants create costumes most often impersonating anime, manga or computer game characters.

Live events this year have been cancelled due to Covid-19, leaving cosplayers relying on social media to pursue their hobby. But for this generation of digital natives, making friends and interacting online is second nature.

It was social media that first drew Gia to cosplay when she was 13.

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Gia McCormick

Gia McCormick

Gia McCormick

"A series called Attack on Titan was really popular and I started getting into that," she explains. "I stumbled across cosplay on social media and thought it was really cool, so I begged my mum to buy me my first costume for Christmas. I went to my first Comic Con in Belfast the following year and just absolutely loved seeing everyone dressed up."

Gia admits that she was the only one of her schoolfriends to become interested in cosplay, and some of her peers thought it was "a bit weird".

"It wasn't as popular as it is now," she laughs. "I was just a 13-year-old, dressing up in my bedroom and taking photos, learning how to do my make-up by following YouTube tutorials.

"But it was such a safe, welcoming community. Cosplayers are really accepting of each other."

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Showcase Comic Con Belfast at the Titanic Centre Belfast. Gia McCormick Picture Colm O'Reilly

Showcase Comic Con Belfast at the Titanic Centre Belfast. Gia McCormick Picture Colm O'Reilly

Showcase Comic Con Belfast at the Titanic Centre Belfast. Gia McCormick Picture Colm O'Reilly

Gia says she's always been creative, and is now starting a further education course in wig design and make-up. She wants to forge a career in Northern Ireland's blossoming special effects and film industry.

"Cosplay definitely led me in this direction," she says. "I've always loved art but now it's like I can turn myself into a work of art."

Before lockdown Gia regularly went to Dublin to attend cosplay events, and had travelled as far as Dusseldorf to attend conventions. She even met her boyfriend, Dean McMaster, from Tyrone, at an event and they now cosplay together.

Cosplay is the hobby of creating costumes and getting into the persona of favourite characters from anime, manga, movies, video games, comic books or TV series. Enthusiasts admire each others' skill at creating outfits, make-up or wigs, and at conventions there are competitions and prizes for the best cosplayers, as well as talks, trade stalls and live action demonstrations.

Chloe Crawford, from Lisburn, also got into cosplay in her early teens and now makes guest appearances at parties and events in costume.

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Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

The 20-year-old also found cosplay after becoming interested in the series Attack on Titan and anime, which is Japanese animation often characterised by colourful graphics and vibrant characters living in fantasy worlds.

"Cosplay wasn't as popular a few years ago but younger kids are definitely getting into it now," she says. "I was about 15 when I asked my mum to get me my first costume for Christmas.

"My parents have always been really supportive of my cosplay.

"I began attending conventions, such as Q-CON in Belfast, and met a circle of friends though cosplay. We also do meet-ups in public places and pubs where everyone dresses in full costume, which can be really fun."

Although in some circles there can be a sexual element to cosplay, Chloe says it's largely a very innocent pastime and safe for younger cosplayers.

"It's mostly really innocent," she says. "The whole community really takes care of the younger kids and at conventions the organisers are very safety-conscious too.

"I now attend children's parties dressed as a princess and we just have fun, singing and playing games. For me it's a way to express myself."

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Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Chloe Crawford (Credit: Liam McBurney)

Cosplay costumes can be expensive, but many cosplayers improvise and make their own. Most conventions include a fashion show and talent shows, with prizes for the best outfits and character impersonations.

The community welcomes participants of all shapes and sizes - and there's no such thing as being overdressed.

Many cosplayers find friendships by bonding over their love of similar characters, games or TV shows. Meanwhile online forums and social media are full of tips, make-up tricks, YouTube videos and advice on creating costumes.

Chloe, who can take up to five hours to get into character, also says that cosplay can have a positive impact on the mental health of young people. She adds: "It's a really accepting and inclusive community, you can be whoever you want to be, so it appeals to a lot of cosplayers who are LGBTQ+ or want to dress in drag. It's very creative; and I do know a few friends who have had mental health issues and have used cosplay as a way to deal with that. It's like an extension of yourself so it can be a helpful way to work through things in a supportive community.

"People who might be struggling to fit in at school or in their peer groups, or find their crowd of people, can also be drawn to cosplay. You get a real sense of belonging."


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