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Verve People
October 16, 2018

The big fan theory

Text by Tina Dastur. Photographed by Anai Bharucha

The early versions of comic conventions mainly attracted people who were looking to swoop up limited-edition comic and sci-fi merchandise. Today, they have become less about the products and more about an immersive, interactive experience, expanding to include the entire gamut of pop culture entertainment. Cosplayer Sana Saha Khan reveals the finer details of this upcoming art form while Comic Con India founder Jatin Varma breaks down the evolution of the fandom subculture in India

As a young girl, Sana Saha Khan would collect Pokémon stickers and posters and hoard Marvel and DC comic books. Today, the 25-year-old graphic designer and cosplayer has taken her childhood passions a level up by leveraging her artistic skills to craft elaborate and detailed costumes of some of her favourite pop culture heroes. Scroll through her Instagram page, and you’re immediately immersed in her fantastical universe, where she resides as her online avatar, Violexi Cosplay. “In a general sense, cosplay is an art form where you dress up as…well, anyone or anything! That said, there are many aspects to it. For example, the whole process that goes into the creation — from arranging for the right pieces of clothing to building the props, deciding on the make-up and, finally, being in character…or what you would call ‘enactment’,” explains the Mumbai-based cosplayer. She adds that the reasons for participating can vary — “It could be a love for the character, an interest in meeting new people from the same fandom or even just learning new skills.”

Khan, who has been cosplaying since 2016, has now been part of national conventions and won numerous accolades for her complex costumes and realistic character portrayals. Some of her more popular cosplay themes include Olivier Mira Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist, Darth Cognus/Sith Lord from the Star Wars series, Vengeful Spirit from Dota 2, Widowmaker (Huntress) from Overwatch and, most recently, Saber Athena from Pacific Rim Uprising (2018). For this feature, she slips into the villainous skin of Sarah Kerrigan from the video game StarCraft II.

Excerpts from an interview with Sana Saha Khan….

“I was introduced to the concept of cosplay in 2014, through social media. I attended my first event, Comic Con Mumbai, in 2015, and a year later, I tried cosplaying for the first time. It was then that I learned about different materials and techniques of making props through an old friend. I finally debuted at the World Cosplay Summit in 2016, where I cosplayed as Grell Sutcliff from the Japanese manga series Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler).”

“Everything starts with deciding on a character and costume that is challenging yet feasible to pull off. After estimating the cost of materials, I get printouts of images of the character from different angles. Then, I start to work on a specific part of the costume. Some require pattern making; for this, I either use a mannequin (or ‘body form’) to drape the fabric and then cut it accordingly or I wrap myself in clingfilm and draw patterns directly on it with a Sharpie, cut out the patterns and then trace them on the cloth. Most props are made out of foam, but people in the community try to push the boundaries of cosplay by coming up with advanced tricks and techniques. For example, we also make frames out of PVC pipes, wood and aluminium to support the heavier parts of a costume. We use LED lights and motors programmed to work a certain way for visual effects. But that’s advanced stuff. The biggest test is the comfort factor — being able to walk with ease and remain in the costume for hours on end. No matter how fun it looks, when you have on all the elements — lenses, wigs and structures (like wings) — it can be quite unpleasant. But you know what gets me going? Everyone else and their spirit — it’s infectious!”

“When you are working on any cosplay outfit, it takes months of preparation, so you need to be dedicated. Else, you’ll end up with a number of unfinished projects — quite a few of which are lying on my shelf. But, there have been those that I have been totally devoted to, and what it took was positivity, patience, focus and a whole lot of motivation. Getting into character has never been difficult for me, but sometimes, for example during photo shoots, my shy side does get the better of me. But that is the side that keeps me grounded and keeps my own self separate from the character I am playing.”

“The cosplay community in india is like a nest for all of us in the country. It’s like a family with whom we have an unspoken bond. We help each other (especially during conventions) and share opportunities and experiences. I am grateful to and admire the works of many cosplayers in our community, including Ironman–The first Indian, IMJM, Scythe’s SkunkWorks, Vijay Sinha, AT8 and Abhishek Chaudhary.”

“I am currently into Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch. One, it is a first-person shooter game, which is my favourite genre, and two, every character in the game comes with a strong backstory. As of date, I have cosplayed as characters Tracer and Widowmaker, and plan to portray many more down the line.”

Talk Nerdy To Me With Jatin Varma

“Comic Con India (CCI) is the ultimate pop culture event in the country. It encompasses pretty much everything from comics, television and movies to gaming, and more,” says Jatin Varma, founder of CCI, adding, “Our first convention in 2011 was a free-for-all event behind Dilli Haat in the capital. We estimated that we had between 5,000 to 10,000 visitors. Since then, we have expanded to five other cities and even started hosting a bunch of smaller events. Last year, we clocked close to 2,00,000 footfalls! And yes, as we have evolved over the years, so have the market and community in India. There is a fandom for pretty much everything out there and it goes beyond just comics and superheroes.” Probed about his favourite superhero, New Delhi-based Varma admits it’s always been Superman. “It’s difficult to find a fault with the guy! Even after they killed him, he came back. My all-time favourite Superman story is Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar.”

But one does wonder what sucks people into fictional worlds and, often, drives them to make these universes a part of their daily routines ­— whether it’s collecting and carefully assembling Funko Pop figures in unique formations, proudly wearing T-shirts featuring their favourite characters or even just spending the majority of their days gaming to build their character’s XP (experience points that allow a character to advance levels in a game). “I think what drives them is passion, but it is subjective. For some, it’s the characters of the story, for others it might be the actors who play those characters in movies and for the rest, it’s simply a way to blow off some steam,” reveals the 34-year-old.

On the topic of home-grown fandoms, Varma says that CCI does support the local community, given how instrumental they were in helping the convention grow in the country — “Be it a special programme for local talent, through dedicated booths and sessions, or by offering discounts to established publishers. Our annual awards showcase and highlight the best of local talent in the comic book industry, and we hope to include as many people as possible in our programmes”. Cosplay is another integral part of CCI. Expanding on this aspect, Varma states, “For our very first convention, I, along with the other members of my team, did some cosplaying ourselves and even got our volunteers involved because we wanted to build awareness around the practice. And it grew fast — by our third show, we had tonnes of people showing up in costume. So, from 20 odd cosplayers back in 2011, we now average about 2,000 at each show. And, we get a variety of cosplayers — from the more casual to the super professional ones. It has been heartening to see the growth of the cosplay community and I am proud of the fact that CCI has played some part in promoting it — by sending our Indian cosplayers to international conventions, giving out massive cash rewards to validate their efforts and even creating the Indian Championship of Cosplay (the only one in the country), which lets our best compete against those from across the world.”

Varma discloses that the upcoming CCI conventions have quite a few surprises in store in terms of guests and experiences, promising, “This year is going to be epic!”

Comic Con India 2018
New Delhi Comic Con: 7th to 9th December, NSIC Exhibition Grounds.

Bengaluru Comic Con: 17th and 18th November, KTPO, Whitefield.

Mumbai Comic Con: 22nd and 23rd December, Bombay Convention and Exhibition Centre, NESCO Compound, Goregaon.

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