Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cosplay America!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! Today I am pleased to be joined by the talented photographer Ejen Chuang.  Ejen is here to talk to us about his first Kickstarter Cosplay in America.  Thank you for joining us today Ejen!

Thanks for reaching out to me! I’m always appreciative of folks interested in such a diverse fandom as cosplay.

Would you be so kind as to explain what Cosplay is for those who are unfamiliar with the term?  Why make a photobook about Cosplayers?  

Cosplay is basically “costume + play”. The term was coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi who witnessed costumers at the 1984 sci-fi convention, World Con. Today cosplay refers to any media from comic books to anime to videogames to movies.... heck, even TV commercial characters are cosplayed! I witness my first cosplay at Anime Expo in 2008 and decided in 2009 to put together a book celebrating the love of cosplayers and their fandom. Since then, I’ve travelled to numerous anime and comic book conventions promoting the book as well as tweeting and posting up photos live from whatever con I’m at as well as making a con video. Somehow I ended up as being Cosplay in America *shrug*

As a fan of Cosplay myself I was happy to hear about your first book by the same name.  What makes you want to work on another book on the same topic?  

For years I resisted doing a second book - although I admit, I was shooting portraits for years with an eye to a future edition. Yet, I didn’t want to make exactly the same book because … well, that would kinda be boring to me. Around the start of 2013 while I was in New Jersey, I decided to start visit cosplayer’s homes. I went to about 4 people’s places in the NJ/NYC area and from there the idea sprang to mind that I should focus more on the behind the scenes - yet maintain the idea of the first book by having portraits taken at conventions. Since then, I’ve been tweaking the idea. Going to San Diego Comic Con really got me excited for expanding the project so I can’t wait to get to New York Comic Con and DragonCon!

Personally I’ve always enjoyed the creativity that goes into Cosplay especially as the quality gets better and being able to see more of that “behind the scenes” stuff sounds like a great way of sharing that.  How many people do you plan to “follow” in this book?

My plan is to follow around 8 cosplayer/groups of cosplayers at around 12  conventions. I’m putting the word out there and I’m just showing up at people’s hotel rooms as well as visiting cosplayer’s homes (roughly 6 per city) so on average I’ll be following around 18 people/groups on-and-off the entire weekend. On Saturdays, I will set-up at the convention to do portraits of anyone who wishes to have their photo taken. This is kinda of nerve racking but yet wonderful because I can’t predict what will happen, I’m kinda going along for the ride. Obviously not everyone I photograph will get into the book but I hope this gives me a broad enough canvas to work with.

I’ve noticed a rise in the awareness of the Maker culture along with Cosplay here in the US, how intertwined are the two groups in your opinion?  Any thoughts of adding a Makerfair or event to your itinerary for this book?  

It’s interesting how technology is advancing the techniques of cosplayers. I’m definitely approaching prop makers as well on this book as well as commissioners and cosplayers. This is one of the reasons I started the book. I love the idea of people at homes and garages across the country creating props and costumes - to me it is very American - the do-it-yourself attitude. So far I’ve visited a prop maker in Seattle as well as Los Angeles. I have plans to visit more in other cities.

“Back in my day” Cosplay was mostly Japanese anime characters and the occasional Video game Character.  Have you seen a shift in genres the characters that are Cosplayed as in recent years?  

The shift probably started in the late 2000s. When I started in 2008, cosplay still refer to Japanese media but recent years since, it has expanded. Some still maintain the term costumers, others are alright with cosplay. I for one am fine with it. It’s just a different word for the same exact thing. Walk into any convention and you’ll see video game, anime, comic book, cartoons, webcomics - the same cosplays but in different quantity. For example, you’ll see more Marvel/DC at comic book conventions but at the same time, you will see Marvel/DC at anime conventions as well. The interesting aspect is using cosplay to see what is popular with people.

Do you think Cosplayers have become more accepted in American culture or are they still a “lower level” of nerdom?  

I think slowly cosplay is becoming more accepted but currently I believe general people’s perception are narrow in definition to “sexy girl wearing costume”. There has been more media into the behind the scenes of cosplay. Recently Atlanta’s PBS station aired “Cosplay : Crafting a Secret Identity” and Syfy will be airing “Heroes of Cosplay” so there will be more content about cosplay out in the media. I would be interested to see how cosplay will be in 2018.

Your first book cost $18,000 in printing costs alone, but this time around you’re asking for $35,000.  Is that inflation or are you planning on doing more?  

Ah, $20,000 is the printing cost I’m asking for on this round. The $10,000 additional is for the 12 cities I have to visit for a week each. So basically $10,000 divided by 12 is $833.33 for each city. I plan on crashing on people’s couches, using AirBnB and eating Subway to managed this! The last $5,000 is to cover Kickstarter fees and rewards. Truthfully, I’ve been shooting this project for the past 6 months already so I’ve already spent my own money on this. I predict I’ll be spending more money in the future in addition from the Kickstarter.

With the advent of Print on Demand services and eBooks the ability to keep your book “in stock” without having to preprint stock is easier than ever.  Are there any plans of submitting the book to those kinds of services in the future?  Making an eBook, Kindle, iPad version of the book?  

Print on Demand I did investigate but those work for lower quantity of books. Once you start getting into the thousands and thousands of copies range, it makes no sense to do print on demand. As for an eBook, I do plan on releasing them in the future but since I’m pretty much doing everything myself, that is on the back burners currently.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I backed my friend’s Kickstarter back in 2011 and I’ve heard about it for years from people who who tell me to use Kickstarter. It wasn’t until the Veronica Mars Kickstarter that I really started to pay attention.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Honestly, I’m still feeling this one out. this is my first project and I’ve definitely run into snags and learned a few things along the way. I’ve been using the updates for my meetups as well as convention videos I’ve posted.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I’ve been using Facebook for the most part although I’m also on Twitter, YouTube and paying for Google Adwords as well as ShinyAds on DeviantArt. I haven’t used Kicktraq but I did check it out.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Honestly, you’ll need a month or more to really set it up. This is definitely not something you can do in just one afternoon. Research as much as possible ahead of the time.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Take your time to figure out who you are and where you are going. The one thing that this book project taught me is that there is no clear path and what paths you take depends entirely on you and not on what someone else has done before. Through this project, I’ve met amazing people and had a chance to hear their stories. That to me is the best thing about this whole book experience.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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