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Investor by day, Wonder Woman by night: Inside this thousand-dollar hobby

Composite image of Danijela Dacic (Miss Dani Cosplay) in three roles, Disney's Princess Jasmine, Wonder Woman and Aquaman's Mera.
Miss Dani Cosplay in three of her roles. Images: Miss Dani Cosplay Instagram, Silavon Photography, Lach Doherty photography.

It took thousands of hand-sewn hexagons, 60 hours to paint and four months to complete, but the result was spectacular: a shimmering teal and green bodysuit - the spitting image of the one worn by actress Amber Heard in Hollywood blockbuster, Aquaman.

So similar, in fact, that Jason Momoa - the star of Aquaman - asked the wearer, “Did you steal that from set?”

It’s moments like that that explain Danijela Dacic’s thousand dollar hobby.

“It sparks my inner child,” she explained to Yahoo Finance.

“It's fun. I'm into property investments, so the other side of my life is quite boring and structured, whereas this is so fun.”

Getting told you look just like a DC heroine by a bona fide Hollywood star is something else entirely.

Dacic, or Miss Dani Cosplay, as she goes by on Instagram, is part of a growing number of people putting hours, dollars and energy into cosplay; dressing up as comic book, movie and television characters.

Where did it come from?

Cosplay originated in Japan, with the term coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi after he attended the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles.

Now it’s a global phenomenon.

The San Diego Comic-Con attracted 130,000 attendees in 2018, many taking part in cosplay, while the London MCM Comic Con Event drew 133,000 cosplayers in 2017.

Its increase has been put down to a number of factors including the increasing prominence of films based on comic books and even a bleak global economy.

As Dewitt Wallace Fellow, James Pethokoukis wrote in 2014: “When you're disillusioned with the reality of your early adult life, dressing up like Doctor Who starts looking better and better. It's not to say that all or even most cosplay aficionados are struggling to find work.

“It's only to say that any rise in people fleeing reality for fantasy suggests problems with our reality.”

But while the Australian economy, and young Australians’ futures may look bleak, that’s not why Dacic does it.

“Imagine going to a convention with your ten close mates and you're all wearing costumes that you guys love, and you're a big group of let's say Justice League; it's so much fun,” she said.

“I can't explain the adrenaline you get. It is the most fun. You do photo shoots, you recreate photos from comics. It's like you get to be that hero that you looked up to when you were like six years old.”

It’s a hobby that takes passion, and money

Cosplay isn’t Dacic’s full source of income yet, but it’s a goal. While she’s paid to attend a lot of conferences, she also works with charity agencies.

Until she does convert it into a full-time job, she forks out for the costumes and time she spends for charity events, fan events, conferences and film premieres.

If she buys them, costumes like her Jasmine outfit can be less than $100.

But others, like her Gal Gadot Wonder Woman set, can cost up to $5,000.

“If you really want to have something that is movie accurate, if that's what you love doing, then it can get quite expensive,” she said.

“I know cosplayers that have spent up to $10,000 putting their costumes together because they want it to be movie accurate. So it's not a cheap hobby.”

But can it make you money?

It can. But it’s hard to do.

Stella Chuu has 395,000 followers on Instagram, and according to CNBC, she raked in a six-figure income last year from making paid appearances at Comic Con and other conferences.

That was supplemented by the money she makes selling photos and merchandise.

However, Chuu admitted she probably spends around half of her earnings on the costs of creating those incredibly detailed costumes.

Then there’s Lindsay Elyse. She has 497,000 Instagram followers and cosplay is her sole source of income.

“A few years ago, comic conventions and cosplay blew up, and being a professional cosplayer became a thing,” she told The Hustle.

She’s now been doing it for a decade, building a social media presence and engaging with fans and other cosplayers.

According to cosplay photographer, Don McCaskill, cosplayers can earn up to $28,000 for modelling jobs, and $143,000 for appearances - although the number of people earning that much would be less than 10.

But for Dacic, the money isn’t the main thing: it just keeps coming back to the feeling of community, the feeling of fun and the freedom to explore different characters and different worlds.

Her advice to those looking to follow in her footsteps echoes that attitude.

“I've had the amazing opportunities to meet some amazing people that I now call my best friends and close friends. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get involved.”

Miss Dani Cosplay will attend Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne, held from Saturday 8 June to Sunday 9 June.

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