In our time covering conventions and other fandom events for LA Weekly, cosplayers have both directly and indirectly influenced the work that photographer Shannon Cottrell and I produce.
Neither one of us has ever cosplayed, but we appreciate it as an art form. We try to look at cosplay culture from a variety of angles. One of our questions, on occasion, is about creating the cosplay. Cosplayers often spend months on their work and the process of becoming someone else for a day requires a lot of trial and error in costume design, prop creation, make-up, etc. We're genuinely curious about this.
Other times, though, we look at cosplay to help us gain insight into what's making an impact within the fandom. This is most important when we're at anime conventions. Cosplay is, from our experience, far more common at an anime con than at any other sort of event. When you regularly go to anime cons, you'll notice that cosplays tend to reflect the newest anime and manga series. Thanks to cosplayers, we've become aware of many titles over the years, like Ouran High School Host Club, Black Butler, K-On! and, most recently, Durarara!!, which ran in the U.S. online via Crunchyroll alongside the Japanese broadcast, but won't be out on DVD for a few more months.
Cosplayers are in some ways evangelists for specific anime and manga series. Because of their dedication to the craft, they help spread the word about new titles. This stands in contrast to the studio-driven hype at cons that I mentioned in a post on Friday. As an observer, seeing 100 people cosplaying a certain series on their own (something you can usually tell by the varying degree of quality in the outfits) can mean a lot more than advertising for fans.