Let me be the first to say I neither am responsible for bringing cosplay to Durban nor was I there when it started- I simply am one of the small crowd who was lucky enough to have been cosplayers back when it was a far smaller community and thus has been able to see it grow to what it is today and watch it grow further. I can’t speak for the community as a whole, nor can I accurately reflect everyone’s experiences, but I hope my own experiences and hopes for the future can inspire a few people in Durban interested in dipping their toes into this crazy world.
My name is Light River Cosplay and I’ve been cosplaying since 2010 (Pictured: Mystique from marvel’s X-men)
So if this is all new to you, let’s start with what cosplay is. Cosplay is an art form and hobby that entails the cosplayer transforming themselves into a character from pop-culture. It is a mashup of the words “costume” and “play” and thus incorporates both the aesthetic and the performance of the character to attain a full transformation. The extent to which these are realized and how they are done is up to the cosplayer- some choose to stay in character all day whilst others do so only for photos and skits. Similarly, some cosplayers choose to make all their costumes from scratch whilst others buy cosplays or commission them- there is no right or wrong way.
Of course when in a competition the rules must be followed (such as only self-made costumes in a craftsmanship based cosplay competition and so forth) but for the most part cosplay allows us the freedom of expression- an expression of our fandoms, our creativity and skills. You’ll see characters brought to life but you’ll also see mashups, reinterpretations and elaborate original characters that have a full backstory too.
My earliest memories of cosplay in Durban are back in 2008 when a small convention popped up in Hillcrest and we saw cosplayers for the first time. Being the awkward turtle I was (and to be honest, still am) I decided to closet cosplay an obscure character (Hayner from Kingdom Hearts II) and to date, nobody knows I ever was in cosplay that day- that said seeing the effort others put in made me want to try harder.
These were people who lived here, not just pictures of people overseas who in my head back then had access to so much more than we do here (of course now we have access to so much it’s easy for anyone to dip into cosplay). Three years later, I and a few friends founded the Cosplay Durban group and began organizing cosplay meetups. These were… small get-togethers to say the least, with only a handful of people showing up and often just wearing cosplay accessories. Still, it built a small community of people who became regulars and whether it was a café, picnic in a park or beach meetup there were some faces we could always expect and look forward to seeing again.
Fast forward to 2015 the Johannesburg-based comics and games convention ICON launched a sister convention here in Durban called ICON Durban (Back then it was ICON By the Sea) and upon attending its first year found that the small group of cosplayers I knew had multiplied. No, it still wasn’t an army of colourful characters that would flood a conference centre, but it was wonderful seeing so many new people with so many skill levels.
In the years that followed, more and more conventions and pop-culture events popped across Durban. Some were once-off whilst some continue to draw crowds like ICON Durban. Furthermore, Project Mayhem Collectables & Action Figures have been hosting various pop-culture events and supported the cosplay community at other events over the past few years- and now thanks to them Durban had its first Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest events as of last year- two internationally celebrated days where comics and comic fans are celebrated- and yes, people cosplay. In fact, one could easily attribute the increase in cosplayers in Durban to the increase of events where they can gather- many a cosplayer this year has stated that they started cosplaying after seeing cosplayers last year and wanting to try it themselves. Without a place to take their work and engage with other cosplayers, many may not have taken the leap.
Now one can barely take ten steps at a pop culture event in Durban without meeting a cosplayer. Where the community started with closet cosplayers and those whose grandmothers sewed them a cape has grown to include elaborate self-sewn garments, epic armour builds, incredible performers and even the effort that the new cosplayers make, even when simply putting together a closet cosplay is beyond anything it was years ago. Our competitions have grown to involve prejudging and awards ceremonies to celebrate our cosplayers and many of the Durban cosplayers have gone on to win awards beyond the Durban scene. The dedication and excitement have only grown in years, and the appreciation to simply be a part of this hobby is felt when talking to newer cosplayers whilst the veterans are just happy to see the community flourish.
Speaking to some of the Durban cosplayers, they all had positive experiences with the community. @pandora230 says:
“I started cosplaying in 205 when ICON first came to Durban, it was a really basic cosplay but it was fun, then with every cosplay, I tried to improve and make it better than the last. It’s been a really awesome experience since I joined the community, everyone is so friendly and fun to hang out with”
@pandora230 and @light_river_cosplay as Black Cat from Marvel Comics and Spider-man from Spider-man Far from Home
@starfyre_cosplay came to Durban a little later but says “I’ve watched it not only grow in size but in quality and personality”
@starfyrecosplay and @trixie as Marceline and Princess Bubblgum from Adventure Time
One of Durban’s newer cosplayers, @glitchingvoices has started cosplaying this year and especially active on TikTok. Her interactions with the community have influenced her cosplay experience:
“Well as it progressed I feel a lot more comfortable to do cosplay, and everyone is so friendly- like you can walk up to a cosplayer at ICON and they’re super nice”
@Glitchingvoices as Tsuyu Asui from Boku No Hero Academia
The support and love for the Durban cosplay community even extend to those who aren’t cosplayers (yet) but regularly attend events and are pop culture enthusiasts. Tamara, in particular, was impressed by the growth over the recent years:
I am impressed by how quickly the cosplay community has grown in South Africa; what started as a small scene has really flourished over the years as nerd and geek culture embraced it and people became more confident in their craft”
@quirky_expression also noted the embracing nature of the community:
Never before have I seen a group of people so accepting and understanding of all those around them. For in my experience this community does not share the divisions of society rather taken quite a stride to inclusiveness.”
Veyank who has cosplayed a few times notes the diversity of the community:
“Surprisingly diverse community, with members from different walks of life all sharing similar interests, who all want to grow the community, which can only lead to more opportunities and settings in which to showcase their talent”
Veyank, @Laurenorder66 and @light_river_cosplay as Genderbent Rogue, Miss Marvel (Carol Danvers) and Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy) from Marvel comics at the Project Mayhem screening of Captain Marvel
Overall the Durban cosplay community has grown in leaps and bounds since the days where six people would meet up in wigs and cat ears for coffee at a mall. Now we celebrate everyone’s work and welcome more and more cosplayers into the community with every event- and there are no signs of this slowing down. The Durban Cosplay community is still growing but after these past few years, we’re all excited to see where it’s going. Keep an eye out for upcoming pop-culture and cosplay events in Durban by joining the Cosplayers Durban Group on Facebook and be sure to check out all the cosplayers mentioned above on Instagram!
Cosplayers Durban Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/durbancosplayers/?ref=bookmarks