As a creative type, I’ve long been fascinated by the art of cosplaying: the merging of one’s favorite franchises with costuming. It’s mostly been a spectator sport for me; I possess no ability whatsoever to sew, staple or glue two strips of fabric together. My only attempts, a Lost Dharma employee, a Fallout 3 vault-dweller, a member of the Blue Man Group and Pee-Wee Herman, have really been more for Halloween parties than actual con-going. Still, I’ve found and befriended many cosplayers on social media throughout the years, and thoroughly enjoy watching the process of building props and creating costumes from scratch.
The act of cosplaying has, of course, been around for as long as sci-fi and fantasy conventions themselves, but the term “cosplay” (short for “costume play”) is generally cited as having been coined in the mid-1980s. Since then, it has evolved into its own art form and lately has erupted into the mainstream of entertainment, with many cosplayers now using their skills as a primary means of income. These days, it’s almost a fashion faux pas NOT to dress up while attending a convention.
I’ll admit, many of the characters I’ve seen at cons and online go way over my head, especially those revolving around manga or anime, so it’s especially interesting to come across familiar cosplay, moreso when it involves my favorite franchises. Internally, I squee with delight at the sight of Chell from Portal, or Back to the Future’s Marty McFly, or any one of the thirteen Doctors. These characters, along with the contingent of Jedi, Klingons, Stormtroopers and Federation crewmen, are all pretty standard fare nowadays at any given con, however. This is why, every few years, I look forward to Dimension Jump, the premier Red Dwarf convention in the United Kingdom, hosted by the Official Red Dwarf Fan Club.
Red Dwarf is, and has been, my all-time favorite television series, ever since I discovered it on PBS Channel 21 back in the 1990s. Alas, here in the United States, the show’s popularity isn’t as strong; I’ve been to nearly a dozen conventions on the East Coast, and have yet to come across even a single Red Dwarf cosplayer. Dimension Jump fills this void, offering a forum completely dedicated to fans of the show, and a place to show off their dedication in the form of cosplaying.
And show it off they do! It’s amazing to see the level of creativity that goes into many of the Red Dwarf outfits displayed at DJ, as well as at other conventions, every year. Red Dwarf is primarily about a crew of four living in the isolation of a universe devoid of humankind; because of this limited cast of characters, you would think that Red Dwarf cosplay would be fairly restricted. But it’s because of this limitation that fans are often tasked with getting creative with their outfits.
“I decided to do this [small offduty Czechoslovakian traffic warden/banana] cosplay as it was a bit different than other ones I had seen at previous DJs and a bit out the box,” explains Susan Casey, who attended this year’s DJXVIII. “I wanted to do something that only fans of Red Dwarf would understand and get what I was supposed to be straight away.”
|Susan Casey gets creative at DJXVIII as she cosplays as Kryten's inaugural lie from "Camille."|
2013’s Costume Contest winner, Cole Welch, blew everyone away at DJXVII with her literal Red Dwarf dress, complete with miniature spacewalking Lister and Starbug and Blue Midget light-up shoes. Her rationale was similar to Casey’s: “I chose to be the Red Dwarf itself, as looking back through costume competition images, it was one of the few things no one had done. The models around the shoes were an afterthought in the designing process.”
|Cole Welch poses with her award-winning Red Dwarf cosplay with actor Chris Barrie at DJXVII.|
Kerry King-Neale says she was similarly inspired for her Despair Squid cosplay for DJXVIII, noting, “I chose the Despair Squid because I hadn’t seen it done before, and I already cosplay Ursula the Sea Witch from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and it was a natural progression!”
|Left: Kerry King-Neale repurposes an Ursula costume to create the deep-sea terror, the Despair Squid; Right: King-Neale offers up some Mind-Rotter as Western barmaid Miss Lola.|
Some looked to the show’s mythology for ideas. Sadie Leggett, who attended DJXVIII with her mom, Denise Neave, found inspiration in the Series 1 episode “Waiting for God.” Leggett says of their costumes, “We were the religious cat race fighting over which faction was right—donuts or sausages, red or blue. We chose this theme as it is something you never really see within Red Dwarf. There is just a hint during an episode in the first series.”
|Members of opposing Cat religion sects are represented at DJXVIII by Sadie Leggett (right) and her mom, Denise Neave (left).|
For others, travel restrictions guided their cosplay ideas. “A big consideration, in my case, was also that I had to travel overseas,” says American Erica Madore, who attended DJXVIII dressed as a Tension Sheet. “I was greatly restricted in how bulky the costume could be or how much assembly would be required. Three rolls of bubble wrap and two cards take up very little suitcase space and do not raise eyebrows at customs, so practicality was also a huge plus in choosing Tension Sheet.”
|Erica Madore pops into DJXVIII as novelty item Tension Sheet.|
In some instances, fans play on the strengths of their own appearance to make a cosplay work. Kerry King-Keale’s second costume for DJXVIII, Western barmaid Miss Lola, exemplifies this: “I chose Miss Lola from the episode ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ because she is a larger lady and so am I! I don’t believe your size should limit your cosplay… I choose to do larger characters because they’re very under-represented!”
Gwyneth Flannigan, whose past Red Dwarf cosplay has included Lister, Cat, holo-virus Rimmer and “Backwards” novelty-act Rimmer, says of her spot-on Kochanski, “I love my Kochanski cosplay, as she is my favorite female character from the show.”
Naturally, the main characters make their appearance in cosplay as well, but even with a limited palette of six individuals, including the two Hollys (or seven, counting late entry Kochanski), the creativity of the show gives fandom a wealth of ideas for original outfits. Greg Szczepaniak Sloane, an attendee at this year’s DJXVIII, says, “My first [cosplay] was Series 1 Lister with the green shirt. I moved on to Lister’s leather jacket next, and a Series 1 khaki uniform… My most recent and favorite costume, though, has to be Holoship Rimmer.”
|Holoship Rimmer is brought back to life at DJVXIII by cosplayer and prop maker Greg Szczepaniak Sloane.|
Richard Talbot chose Cat’s alter-ego, Duane Dibbley, for his visit to the 2015 Newcastle Film & Comic Con. “It was my first time properly cosplaying,” he explains. “I chose Duane as he has such a unique cosplay-friendly look to him.”
|Richard Talbot's Duane Dibbley, complete with lunchbox, thermos and homemade Emohawk.|
Georgia Haines, a guest at the 2015 Birmingham Comic Con, decided on a Series 1 Rimmer ensemble. “It was my first-ever Comic Con, so I wanted to make it special by going as one of my all-time favorite characters,” she says. “But I also wanted to go as a slightly more obscure character that not many people will go as. So who better to choose than a character/actor that I’m obsessed with?”
|Georgia Haines salutes Red Dwarf fans at the 2015 Birmingham Comic Con as Series 1 Rimmer.|
Emma Threepwood chose the diesel deck-hiking holiday version of Rimmer for her inaugural cosplay outing. She recalls her experience: “For my first attempt at cosplay, I chose Arnold Rimmer because not only is he my favorite character, but I really relate to him. Plus, I already had the stupid curly-haired, sticky-out eared head! It was very freeing and fun to have a license to walk around with a look of general disdain for other people!”
|Emma Threepwood wowed DJXVIII attendees with her various Rimmer costumes, including, from left to right: Diesel Deck Holiday Rimmer (complete with full-sized skutter); khaki-uniform Rimmer (and a more casual version); and Holo-virus Rimmer.|
Another DJXVIII guest, Rob Coker, comments on his own personal favorite. “I don’t know why,” he states, “but I always wanted to do a Lister outfit. I just love the character’s style and awesome hats!”
Some characters are decidedly more complex, design-wise, than others, and the level of difficulty in recreating certain characters played a large role in the selection process of some guests. Alison Kozary, an attendee at a prior Dimension Jump, chose a robe-clad Nirvanah Crane for her first project because she loves the character. But having red hair and the materials at home, she says, helped make the decision easier.
|Left: A Tale of Two Listers: Greg Szczepaniak Sloane (left) and Rob Coker slob it up at DJXVIII. Right: Alison Kozary sports Nirvanah Crane's "Morning After" attire at DJXV.|
Other cosplayers, such as Mathew Clarke, saw the more demanding designs as a challenge. “Kryten was my first Red Dwarf cosplay, so that would be my fav,” he says. “I chose him because I assumed not many would do Kryten due to the difficulty of the costume.”
Tara Duffin, a cosplayer whose work includes characters from Star Trek and Ghostbusters, decided on the hard-light Rimmer uniform for her first Red Dwarf attempt. “When I accomplish one costume,” she says, “I tend to try to make it a little harder on myself each time. In this case, I was re-watching a lot of Red Dwarf and decided I’d have a go at my favorite character in my favorite of his costumes.”
|Left: Mathew Clarke shows off his cosplay skills with a perfect recreation of everyone's favorite mechanoid, Kryten. Right: Tara Duffin flairs her nostrils in true Rimmer fashion (photo credit: Damon Shearer).|
In addition to fantastic costumes and inventive makeup, some fans go above and beyond to stand out by creating their own props, from badges and belt buckles to entirely separate characters to supplement their own. Greg Szczepaniak Sloane’s Holoship Rimmer was made complete by adornments such as a homemade name badge and Enlightenment belt buckle. “[Red Dwarf cosplay] is now my main hobby, along with making replica props from the series,” he says. Richard Talbot’s Dibbley outfit was enhanced by a lunchbox filled with Dibbley’s personal belongings, such as a thermos, an animal footprint chart, a dandruff brush and a triple-thick condom (because, well, you never know), as well as a life-size emohawk. “I really enjoyed making props (and a model emohawk) to go with the costume,” Richard says. And Emma Threepwood went above and beyond by creating a full-sized skutter to compliment her Holiday Rimmer, “The skutter was a difficult task for my first go,” she admits, “but it was well worth it!”
If there’s one thing to be said about the cosplay community, and Red Dwarf’s in particular, it’s that everyone is made to feel welcome and among friends, no matter what their costuming skill level may be. Erica Madore recalls, “I actually was really concerned about showing Tension Sheet since I had never been to a Red Dwarf con before. I thought that people would find it cheap, uncreative and lazy (it literally is just red bubble wrap taped together with some textured paper and white paint for the placard, and since it’s an inanimate object, there’s no character or personality to adopt). I don’t know how I got the idea for it—it just popped into my head immediately as I was brainstorming ideas—and I assumed that since Tension Sheets were so iconic and so simple to create, plenty of other people would have done it before. Instead, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive—everyone loved it! I encouraged people to pop bubbles over the course of the con, and on the last day, I cut up my remaining roll of red bubble wrap to distribute mini Tension Sheets to attendees. Interactive costumes are definitely the way to go!”
With the announcement of two more seasons of Red Dwarf on the way, I think it’s safe to say that future Red Dwarf conventions will be host to a bevy of new and creative cosplay designs. Personally, I cannot wait to see what future episodes hold, both story-wise and as fodder for new outfits, costumes and props. I’m confident that I am not all alone (more or less).
Visit Kerry King-Neale’s Facebook page at Kezzlebob Cosplay
Visit Greg Szczepaniak Sloane’s Facebook page at Captain Emerald Cosplay
Visit Richard Talbot’s Facebook page at Duke of Dork Cosplay
Visit Gwyneth Flannigan’s Facebook page at The Girl In The Gingham Dress
Visit Mathew Clarke’s Facebook page at Dark Lord Props
Paul C. Giachetti is a co-owner of Hasslein Books and the author of the two-volume lexicon, Total Immersion: The Comprehensive Unauthorized Red Dwarf Encyclopedia.