Local Lives 24

A Cosplay return to Carnival’s Roots
Photo and story by Mark Lyndersay

There's a leafy green cool shading us from the blistering sun under the huge tree that towers over Josette James' mas camp in Laventille.
Here, high up on a hillside with a commanding view of east Port of Spain, the young woman is turning her considerable skill at cosplay, recreating and reinterpreting costumes from fantasy, adventure fiction and superheroes to the business of Carnival and bringing the idea of masquerade full circle.

What, after all, were the old masters of the festival doing but costumed play based on military uniforms, Roman armor and the wonders of Egypt?
So Josette James will lead a mini-band of 15 players, ALIAS Mas: The Mythical Realm-Battle of the Four Armies, to competition venues. It's the theme of the band's cosplay expo planned for later this year as well.
James and Natalia Henry designed the band, Henry creating the Camelot section while James created The Dragons, The Fae and The Council of Magic.

Henry claims to be the country's first cosplayer, making her debut 16 years ago at the Genesis event Anime City.
James isn't far behind, having cosplayed for the last 14 years.
The handcrafted costumes, built by the designers with assistants moving the work along, are created with sheets of a German thermoplastic called Worbla that's malleable when heated but hardens to a lightweight but solid shape.

The material is popular with cosplayers, and James is the agent for it in the Caribbean. She's demonstrated it to local Carnival creators who had no interest.
One reason might be the handcrafting inherent in the work. Simpler costumes take the pair two to three days to create, but the frontline designs can take up to two weeks. That doesn't scale well for even a medium band.
Masqueraders are allowed a surprising degree of customisation and the cost of a finished costume ranges between $1,200 and $6,000.

For that, players will receive multiple pieces with finishes that look like insect chitin, polished metal and delicately laced armor. Each sports stunning detail and delicate texturing.
Despite the surprising lightness of the work, it looks like a lot for a masquerader to wear in modern Carnival.
"All our masqueraders are cosplayers so we have not had any push back," says James.

"They are all excited to be a part of it, and some are also first time mas players as well. Many have opted for comfort over bulk, but we think that we were still able to deliver on both fronts so the judges are in for quite a show."

Updated: The band placed seventh overall in their category in the 2018 Carnival competition.