This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Elves, Space Marines, Jedi, Sith, Assassins, Thieves, and even Androids. Once a year, since 1966, in Lucca, a beautiful little town in Tuscany (Italy), not too far away from many of the cities that made it into my list of favorite Italian getaways, a huge number of fantasy worlds meet, intertwining in a single, intricate and colorful plot. We have already talked about this event, with an up-to-date guide to Lucca Comics & Games, which I hope will be useful even to those who have never been there. This time I would like to focus on the Lucca Comics Cosplay, which attracts fans and artists from all over Europe. I have to admit that the work of the incredible cosplayers, veterans and newbies, who attend Lucca Comics & Games, is one of the main reasons me and Aldo have been taking part to this event for years.
Lucca Comics Cosplay: what are we even just talking about?
The word cosplay comes from “costume” and “play“, and indicates the art of wearing a costume representing a character and playing that same character. The term was created in 1984 by a Japanese reporter, Takahashi Nobuyuki, after a trip to the United States, where for many years some people had begun to sew their costumes, inspired to their own favorite characters, to participate to themed conventions.
However, it was only in 1995 that the Japanese press devoted itself to this phenomenon. Specifically, they wrote about a group of Tokyo kids who wore costumes inspired by the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise (now you know why we were fangirling all over the Evangelion XR ride at Universal Studios Japan!). We can say that they managed to give to this phenomenon a mainstream trait: since then, in fact, cosplay has become more and more widespread. Sure, there will always be someone ready to turn their nose up. I’m certainly not a “professional” cosplayer, but I will never forget the “You’re weird” from the wife of one of our friends, when we told her of how we meet once a year with our friends in a ranch to wear costumes inspired to western movies and tv series. Soon after (unfortunately I’m not joking), she unfriended me on Facebook and disappeared from my life.
The old saying “live and let live” is not for everyone.
Nowadays it’s quite common to see cosplayers in Tokyo, especially on Sundays: it’s part of the otaku culture.
Lucca Comics Cosplay: the costumes
Many believe that you can just wear a nice ready-to-go costume, maybe recycling the one you bought to celebrate Halloween. And that’s how you become a cosplayer. Actually, I have seen more than one expert turning up their nose in seeing costumes that to me looked absolutely wonderful. “They bought it.” There’s no faking it, cosplay costumes have to be handcrafted!
Being a cosplayer is a serious thing. A real hobby, often cultivated over the years. There’s no fun in buying a ready-to-go costume. On the forums and on the official Lucca Comics & Games facebook page, it won’t take you much to find posts from boys and girls on the verge of a panic attack. Oh my gosh, Lucca Comics is in two weeks and my costume isn’t ready! Yes, because it takes months to craft the wonderful costumes you see in these photos. There are those who go at it with a sewing machine and lots of patience, and those who let their creativity do all the work, incorporating common use items into their costume. I was impressed by a steampunk cosplayer who used a skimmer as an antenna for his futuristic hat, but at Lucca Comics Cosplay you’re bound to learn that there are much more creative uses to the things you see every day in your house!
Lucca Comics Cosplay: cosplayers are tough fellas
In Lucca, for the Lucca Comics and Games, there are thousands of people who are proudly wearing the costumes they crafted by hand with hard work, spending money and sleepless nights drawing, sewing, glueing… just to start all over again if they aren’t satisfied with the results. I have often read that the greatest compliment for a cosplayer is to have a large number of people approaching them to take a picture. Actually, I think that their biggest challenge is to put together a costume that, in great detail, represents the one they have seen on their favorite character. And wearing it in such a big event, chin up, because they know they have done all they could.
Walking for hours on high heels, with a tiny costume like Lum from Urusei Yatsura, even when outside it’s freezing cold, taking part to the parades even if it’s raining hard, riding overcrowded trains just in order to present your newest creation to a Comic Convention. Being a cosplayer can be tough, and yet they still love what they’re doing. Sometimes people tend to underestimate all the work they do in order to craft a costume they like. So perhaps if you look at it from this point of view, then yes, asking a cosplayer to pose for a picture is like paying a compliment to their creativity. But they will definitely be much more pleased if you stop by and tell them: don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their costume, they are always willing to chat!
While we were visiting Kyoto we met a few fellow Italians who were looking to buy original Japanese fabrics (which can definitely be bought as cool souvenirs from Japan) to sew a few costumes for anime that we don’t even have in Italy “officially”. This is the kind of dedication they have.
Lucca Comics Cosplay also means posing for lots and lots of pictures. At Lucca it’s easy: wherever you go, you’ll have an awesome monument or building as a backdrop. “Becoming” a character, for a cosplayer, means that they have to study poses that emphasize their costumes when in front of a camera. Things become much more complicated though when there are group cosplay like the Akatsuki from Naruto or the Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings. Coordinating many people, in fact, is by no means simple. But Lucca is perfect for this because they have a whole ancient town they can use as a stage.
Lucca Comics Cosplay: Umbrella Italian Division
Over the years two groups have become something absolutely stunning. The Umbrella Italian Division and the 501st Italica Garrison.
It’s been a few years already that the Lucca Comics & Games management has offered a big space on the Medieval walls that surround Lucca to the two groups, created by a handful of people in love with Resident Evil and Star Wars. The Umbrella Italian Division, always promoting zombie walks or themed shows for the Resident Evil franchise, has now become a reference point for the science fiction re-enactment. To put it using their own words, they reenact a fictional atmosphere, but in a real and plausible context, to engage the audience to a much deeper level. In their dedicated area, we found military vehicles with turrets and sentinels, a “zombie bus” people could enter for a good scare and even a (fake) helicopter. A few make-up artists applied zombie make-up for free: for the whole 4 days of the convention, a long line of kids and grown ups has asked for “half zombie” or “full zombie” make up. The great dedication of this no profit organization is truly an inspiration for many other groups in Italy and abaorad!
Lucca Comics Cosplay: 501th Italica Garrison
The 501st Italica Garrison is the Italian branch of a worldwide organization of Star Wars saga fans. The 501st Legion has been featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest Star Wars costuming club in the world. In Italy there are about 130 members, divided into 5 teams that cover the national territory and who participate in major national and international conventions. Famous not only for the magnificent costumes, but also for the hard work they do for charities as Amref, Unicef or the Italian Red Cross, the 501st Italica Garrison guys have been busy for years, trying to offer an increasingly “realistic” experience to the viewers. I think the only way one could understand what I mean would be to see the face of a little kid who meets one of their Jedi or Stormtrooper: it’s priceless. They truly believe that their heroes are real.
During the Lucca Comics & Games 2017, to commemorate the death of Carrie Fisher, the actress who, in addition to many other iconic roles, played Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga, the 501st organized a series of flash mobs. Hundreds of fans responded to their call not only to remember a character from the Star Wars saga, but to remember a brave woman who wasn’t afraid to talk about her bipolar disorder. Me and Aldo took part to one of the flash mobs and we sincerely believed that nobody was ever going to talk about her bipolar disorder. It was a comic convention and here people still shy away from such topics. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that Carrie was reminded as an incredible woman who, even after passing away, is teaching people that there is no need to feel ashamed of sharing our own pain. Mental illness shouldn’t be a topic we can’t talk about. Hats off to these people who are trying to break a taboo explaining it so tactfully.
The 2017 edition of Lucca Comics Cosplay also saw the presence of great names in the video games industry such as Activision and Blizzard, who brought big pavillions and gaming stations at Lucca Comics. Yet they also also promoted a few cosplay initiatives. Being a World of Warcraft player since vanilla, I have to say that it was awesome to see so many of my favorite characters from the saga parading in the streets of Lucca. It showed that this MMORPG still has a lot to offer. We almost expected to be the only ones interested in the live streaming from the Blizzcon opening ceremony in Anaheim (CA) and instead… the enthusiastic cries of joy from dozens of WoW fans made us feel part of a big family. After a few years of a complete invisibility, it was great to see Blizzard back to the Lucca Comics and Games!
Activision dedicated a large pavilion to Call of duty: WWII in Santa Maria Square. A total of 100 gaming stations, show matches broadcast on a huge screen, and above all, the rebuilding of a US military headquarters in the Second World War with authentic jeeps dating back to the 1940s. Once again, the cosplay has turned out to be the perfect means of delivering a message, in this case by fuelling the hype for a video game that came out in the early days of November 2017.
You just have to look at the faces of these guys to understand that it was the right choice.
Lucca Comics Cosplay: the oldest cosplay contest in Italy
Each year Lucca Comics Cosplay also organises the oldest cosplay contest in Italy. A major hook-up for every cosplayer throughout the Country. You can sign up for the cosplay contest either online, filling a specific form, or in Lucca during the Lucca Comics and Games: it’s completely free. The contest is held every year on the last day of the convention, on the Lucca Comics stage located in Baluardo San Donato. The cosplayers will have to provide some reference photographs that they used to create their costumes, and play a little sketch of the character they are portraying on stage.
There are many categories in this contest, and range from the best characters (man and woman) to the most difficult costume (obviously hand made), to the best acting, just… like some kind of Oscar ceremony in the middle of Tuscany!
Many people get scared of the crowds who take part to the Lucca Comics and Games, after having read exaggerated reports from the previous years. Some even claimed that attending can be “dangerous“. It’s been a few years now that the organization has chosen not to sell more than 80.000 tickets for each day of the convention. But to be honest, even before that, I’ve never felt in danger. The crowds in Lucca are quite polite, if they push you, they will apologize right after. There’s a huge number of families who take part to this event also with very young children in tow, and that’s why there’s also a “Junior area” where kids can play with their parents. The educational pavillion offers insights on how comics are drawn, but also teaches kids how to make origami, among other things. Lucca Comics & Games is becoming, now more than ever, an Italian event suitable for both adults and children.
Attending the Lucca Comics & Games doesn’t require a ticket. The event takes place in the whole town, inside the medieval walls: every shop decorates its windows with superheroes or manga characters. Unless you want to enter one of the pavillions where they sell merchandise and comics, or attend one of the exhibits, then you can just walk around for free. Lucca Comics Cosplay attracts every year a huge number of cosplayers: you can just meet them in the streets, they’ll be more than happy to pose for a few photos.
If you are worried about the crowds, I suggest you attend the Lucca Comics the first or second day, avoiding the busiest days of the fair, generally Saturday and Sunday.
Every year during the Lucca Comics Cosplay there will be quite a number of parades that circulate freely within the city walls. That’s why if you are specifically interested in seeing the cosplayers, you won’t need to buy a ticket. Just make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes and always check the weather conditions before to head to Lucca. There’s so much to see, which is why, especially if you get there using a train from Florence or any other big city in Tuscany, you will walk a lot. While the city might seem tiny, and the train station is very close to the city walls, there is no public transport inside. Because the convention spreads all over Lucca, the only way you have to see everything is by walking.
If you are in Tuscany for a trip between the end of October and the beginning of November, I strongly suggest you not to stop only in Florence, even if it’s an absolutely beautiful city. Tuscany’s small towns, just like Palazzuolo sul Senio, are certainly worth a day trip. And then, even if you aren’t huge nerds, visiting Lucca during Lucca Comics might be a way to experience a very unusual festival.
Lucca Comics Cosplay: all things Japan
You might be wondering why I have mentioned Japan in the title. While you might have understood how deeply rooted the Japanese culture is in this Italian festival, I didn’t only refer to it because of the cosplayers. Japan is one of the main “themes” at Lucca Comics and Games. Every year there are more and more events dedicated to the Japanese culture and traditions. A big area of the city, during the convention, is in fact renamed “Japan Town“. Here people will be able to attend Japanese fashion shows, or themed events and exhibits that represent the Japanese culture. Buying a ticket for the Lucca Comics you will be able to attend calligraphy courses, seminars that teach you how to translate from Japanese, or courses that will explain what to do if you want to move to Japan.