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The Cosplay World of Julian Checkley

Did you know that an instance of cosplay back in 1910 led to a man being arrested for “public masquerading”? What made that costume different from the usual fancy dress was that it was designed to resemble a well-known pop culture character, instead of animals or literary characters. In 1939, the first costumed characters showed up at a science fiction convention. We didn’t yet have the term “cosplay,” or even “sci-fi” for that matter, but the hobby itself is a lot older than you thought.

These are things you’ll learn in the new book Cosplay World by Brian Ashcraft and Luke Plunkett of Kotaku. Ashcraft and Plunkett talked to writers, historians, photographers, and costume builders about the history and culture of cosplay, but the book is also packed with profiles and pictures of top cosplayers from around the world. Neatorama is proud to present an excerpt, featuring cosplayer Julian Checkley.

(Image credit: Julian Checkley)

‘I’ve been cosplaying almost all my life, ever since I made my first Darth Vader costume at the age of seven,’ says cosplayer Julian Checkley. ‘It was one of those papier mâché jobs plastered onto a balloon, and I had to steal my grandfather’s sunglasses so I could pop the lenses out and glue them on to complete the helmet eyepieces.’

This boyhood love of papier mâché developed, and Checkley decided to pursue an education and a career in making costumes.

(Image credit: Kamil Krawczak)

But he may have thought he’d made a mistake when he found himself studying hair and make-up alongside fashion industry hopefuls in London. A job in TV creating monster suits and special effects would soon follow, however, where he would not just learn how to develop visual effects and make fantastical creatures, but gain experience performing inside them as well.

(Image credit: Kamil Krawczak)

‘One of the first costumes I put together was Darth Maul,’ says Checkley. In preparation, he did loads of research, finding the right fabrics, sculpting horns and even locating the same type of boots the actor wore. ‘But when I eventually suited up and went to my first event, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being 6 foot 6, I towered above the resident Vader and other troopers. It just looked wrong.’

(Image credit: Kamil Krawczak)

Checkley and his wife later moved to Ireland, leaving the TV business behind to sell luxury perfume. He now has time to hit the gym each week to maintain his physique, and spends probably a lot more than the average cosplayer on his craft, in terms of both time and money.

‘Because this is my sole hobby and passion, my budget for doing it is set pretty high,’ he says. ‘This also allows me to take the costumes to the next level, not only in creating the look of the character but making them . . . function in reality. Every piece of the costume is sculpted, fabricated, painted and weathered as accurately as possible. These costumes don’t just have to look good, but also perform well and be resilient when I put the suit on.’

(Image credit: Kamil Krawczak)

The results speak for themselves. Yet despite all the effort Checkley puts into his cosplay, and all the incredible costumes he’s made so far, there is one outfit that still eludes him: ‘To give you an example of the extremes of money that gets spent, the only time I have backed away from a costume was when I priced up building a costume of Lord Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. To make that costume to the standard I wanted, I was looking at a price in excess of £12,000 [$20,000]. Who knows? Maybe one day.’

Cosplay World is available now at Amazon and at a bookstore near you. It would make a wonderful Christmas gift for any cosplayer or fan.  

See more from authors Brian Ashcraft and Luke Plunkett at Kotaku.

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