In 2008, photographer Ejen Chuang decided to head out to Anime Expo, which had just moved to downtown Los Angeles. He thought he would be there for just a few hours, but ended up spending the entire weekend at the anime mega-con photographing cosplayers. A year later, Chuang was setting up his portable studio inside convention centers across the country, shooting cosplayers for Cosplay in America.
A slick and beautiful tome, Cosplay in America showcases the diversity and creativity within the anime fandom. For the project, Chuang traveled to Fanime, Otakaon, Anime Fest, A-kon, Anime Weekend Atlanta and, of course, Anime Expo. He shot 1,600 cosplayers and spent six months editing the selections with the help of a designer for the self-published project.
"Believe me, you need someone to sit there and edit your work," he says.
For Chuang, who grew up in Texas and attended Dallas' A-kon in his youth, the project also rekindled his interest in anime.
"As the project went on, I started to recognize [cosplays] more and more from different cons," he says. "That got me into watching anime again. It was a full loop. I watched anime as a kid. In college, I watched anime and went to conventions. I kind of got out of it when I started photography to chase that dream and now I'm coming back into it."
At the Cosplay in America release party held at Royal/T last Sunday, anime fans seemed to have embraced Chuang's work. Many of the cosplayers who appeared in the book attended the event, including Eric Sivilich, who traveled from New Jersey. Sivilich, who portrays Vincent Valentine from the Final Fantasy franchise (Dirge of Cerberus version) met Chuang at Otakon.
"I was off on my own for a while, my friends had gone to a panel that I decided to skip," he recalls. "I was hanging out in the crowd. Ejen walked through the crowd over to me and asked to take my picture. Of course, I agreed."
Like most of the cosplayers at the event, Sivilich's costume is greatly detailed. He used luggage-grade nylon and a wood burning kit to create a cape that was tattered and torn in the exact same fashion as his character's and even modified his cell phone to look like Valentine's.
Though the book has an appeal that extends well beyond the anime convention scene, this is Chuang's source of inspiration and, likewise, it's an inspiring piece of work for anyone attempting to cosplay. It's fitting, then, that Cosplay in America will only be available online and at cons across the country. Chuang will be appearing in the artist alley at Fanime in San Jose this weekend.