[Interview @ AWA 2010 Day 3 (Sunday)]
Zippy: Here we have a very special guest that we get to talk to. If you don’t mind just introduce yourself and what you’re doing here in the Artist Alley.
Ejen: My name is Ejen. I’m the guy behind a book “Cosplay in America”, which is a photography book. How do I describe it? It’s like…if you walk to any con in the country you’ll probably find what you see in the book basically. It’s a huge range of people. I didn’t do the best Cosplay; I did anybody [and] everybody types. Kind of like an overall view. I spent five months in 2009 traveling to six conventions: Anime Expo, Otakon, A-Kon, Anime Fest, A.W.A., and Fanime. And then I spent another six months editing the book together. I got it printed in Shanghai, shipped over to the United States, and this year I’m traveling around the country to Artist Alley tables to hock a book. That’s pretty much it.
Zippy: Cool. I know when I met you online on Twitter it was because you were here last year doing the photos here. So how many of the people from your book that you shot last year have you seen this year already?
Ejen: I lost count. Honestly the last two days have been a big blur. Somewhere over ten? I can’t give you an exact number because I don’t know.
Zippy: That’s alright. Mention if you could a little about your photographic background too because cosplay is not exactly what you [shoot] outside of this book. Most of your normal photography jobs are totally different.
Ejen: My photography job requires me to go photograph some CEO or some corporate business person in kind of a boring office where I have like an artist to setup a shoot. No, corporate CEOs do not dress up at all. Oh sorry they do dress up, but they just dress up in business suits so that’s all I see.
Zippy: What kind of made you then decide to go out and start out on this endeavor?
Ejen: Well that’s easy. there’s no book about cosplay in America. When you look on Amazon [and] you type in cosplay you find books yeah but they’re all from Japan, but I live in the United States and I’m like why’s there not a book? So I had a few open credit cards and I just decided ‘oh well why not I’ll just do it’. Fast forward two years and I’m like ‘what happened’? [Laughing]
Zippy: You’ve definitely presented in my opinion the coffee table book for cosplay. It’s fun to just peruse at anytime but it’s just nice to have there especially for more otaku crowd I’d presume but even for non-otaku to just appreciate the work that went into [the cosplays] and then your work as well taking the shots.
Ejen: You know what’s funny is actually a lot of people just buy this book to show people what cosplay is about, which I was really surprised [by]. So they’ll show it to their parents or other people like ‘See this is what cosplay is about. This is what I do.’ It’s kind of unique. I never thought of it in that term as a reference or ‘hey this is what I do’ type book, but I guess it turned out that way.
Zippy: Do you have any reason or opinion in your mind why you think one hasn’t been made so far?
Ejen: I have no idea, but there are so many photographers out there and there’s so many great cosplays out there I was like ‘you know what somebody should have done a book but…’ I don’t know.
Zippy: You mentioned that your reason for doing it is because it wasn’t out there. Well obviously not everybody knows about cosplay, so how were you first aware of cosplay or is this something you’ve known about for a longtime?
Ejen: I’ve been going to cons since I was 18, but I took a break for a number of years. And then when I came back everything [had] changed while I was gone. I was like ‘oh hey there’s way more cosplayers then I remember ’, ‘wow they’re actually better than what I remembered [them] to be’, and ‘wow somebody should be taking pictures’. So I did.
Zippy: Which kind of conventions did you go to when you were younger?
Ejen: My very first con, the one that broke me in, was actually A-Kon in Dallas, TX. I think that one is the longest running anime con in the country and is in the top ten of the biggest ones. I feel very happy to actually [have gone] to it. I had no idea what I was getting into when I went to my first con. Oh by the way I’d never been to a comic book con before that too so it was like a double ‘woah so this is what it’s all about’. So that kind of got me hooked for a few years while I was in college.
Zippy: Cool. That’s very exciting [that] you have the pleasure for the book that you produced to do that again in a more professional role.
Ejen: Here’s the funny thing. It’s so weird when I came back and did this project I feel like I’m kind of reborn. I went back and found my childhood again. I’m watching way more anime than I did before. So it’s kind of crazy and great. Crazy most of the time.
Nick: If I’m not mistaken part of the reason for this book was to also show people living in Japan what Americans can do as far as cosplay. Is that correct?
Ejen: That’s turned out to be one of the reasons now. The book is actually in Japanese but I only did that because I thought it was kind of cool because a lot of people who are into anime are learning Japanese, but a lot of people are assuming because it is in Japanese that I planned for the Japanese market. It wasn’t exactly planned that way, but it could totally go that way. I just need to find some distributor in Japan who’s willing to pick it up. But it’d be so cool if this thing actually gets overseas they can say ‘Wow so this is what Americans are doing’.
Zippy: What do you find is the greatest reward that you’ve gotten out of making this book? Obviously you put a lot of costs into it, [and] you put in a lot of time. What are you getting?
Ejen: Sounds corny but it makes people happy. I know it sounds really corny, but you don’t know how many people come up to me to thank me for this book and I’m like ‘wow’. It’s almost as if I made an awesome cosplay and people kept coming up to me like ‘that’s an awesome cosplay dude!’ I guess I would feel the same way like that.
Zippy: My final question for you is what are your future plans with the book, touring, or any future projects?
Ejen: My next stop is New York Anime Fest. Then I’m going to AOD in San Francisco. Then I’m finishing up at Long Beach Comic Con which is just pure comic book…I just want to see what it does there. Long term plans I would love to do this every ten years. Go back out and photograph becuase there’ll be new titles, technology’s going to change, I just can’t wait to see what cosplays are going to be in 2019. You can always follow me on Facebook, Twitter. You know what? If you just Google “Cosplay in America” you’ll just find me. I’m right there.
Zippy: Thank you again for this great book, and thank you for your time this morning. Enjoy the final day of A.W.A.
Ejen: I will. I’m going to crawl under my table now and try to take a nap.
Interested in purchasing Cosplay in America? Click here