One of our featured photographers, Eric Fiallos, had the wonderful opportunity to interview and do an exclusive photoshoot with Leah Rose while at Amazing Arizona Comic Con this year. It has been some time since the event but we are glad to finally be able to post this up for you all to enjoy! Leah is a growing presence in the community, not only in cosplaying but also with her various projects from Cosplay Calender, D20 Girls, as well as her recent news coverage duties with Bleeding Cool at Con-Nichiwa. She also recently joined the GNN team so look out for her as you will be seeing a lot more of her in events to come!
How did you get started in cosplay?
I started sewing when I was really, really, REALLY young. My grandma taught me how to sew from pretty much as soon as I could hold a needle, and I always wanted to make costumes and stuff like that. My first comic convention was Anime Expo in 2005, so when I got there I realized that people actually did this as a thing, like a full-time thing, like “I am a cosplayer, this is what I do.” That’s when I put the name to what I’d been doing for the past I don’t know how long.
Did you go in costume to that or did you just go to it?
Yeah, actually, I did go in costume, but I didn’t realize that cosplaying was such a huge community in and of itself.
What was that first cosplay that you did?
My first real cosplay at that Anime Expo was Arumi Asahina from this anime called Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, that’s a mouthful, right? Yeah, I made that one, well my grandma helped me make that one, because she was still around at the time, and we made my two other friends costumes of the two other main characters. So that was my first “official” one, but before that, I had made a pretty legit Sailor Moon.
What’s your favorite cosplay that you’ve done since then?
Oh, god. Ever, EVER? That one! (She laughs) It’s probably got to be Rogue from the X-Men, because, I mean, when I was a kid, there were no brown-haired, green-eyed Barbie dolls. You were blonde haired or you were a black girl, and I’m obviously neither. So Rogue was kind of my Barbie doll, so I grew up with her and she was my jam. So, with Rogue, I’m doing every single variation of her, but the green and yellow, early 90’s version is my favorite. And Amber from Sucker Punch, because my best girlfriends and I did that whole group together and that meant a whole lot to all of us. And actually, Shi. I’ve only worn that once, and that’s already my favorite. (Leah debuted her Shi costume at the Amazing Arizona Comicon in January of 2013.)
Okay, so those are your favorites, who else have you done?
Oh god, you might be sitting here for a minute! Okay, so a couple different variations of Rogue, Amber, Shi, Evangeline, a couple different versions of Catwoman, Thalia from Magic the Gathering, Aerith from Final Fantasy 7, Dark Brotherhood Assassin from Skyrim, I’ve got a ton, but those are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Oh, and Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Right on. Because, of course, she’s not blonde at all.
Okay, so your dream cosplay, if you could do any character, money is no object, nor technically putting it together, what would you do?
Okay, I have a little bit of a list for that one, too. Okay, so Shi, I’m going to perfect that one. I mean, since this is the first time I wore it, it’s got a little bit of twerrking to do. I was about to say “tweaking” but I thought that’s not the right word.
No, “tweaking” is the right word, “twerking” is something completely different.
Yeah, I know, I just totally flipped that around. I’m sleepy! So, yeah, Shi, Twilight Princess Zelda, and Witchblade.
What’s your best cosplay moment?
That would probably have to be when I met Billy Tucci. I wasn’t even in costume at the time, but the fact that he was so nice, and we’ve been friends for a couple of years now, and the fact that he was so open to me being the official cosplay model of Shi, that just blew me out of the water. A friend of his actually saw me in my Shi costume and took a picture and texted it to him, so he e-mailed me and was kind of freaking out because he’s really happy. I think that the culmination of all of that, was probably my best moment.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Finances definitely. Finances is one of them, you can ask anyone, cosplay is not a cheap hobby. I’m really proud of re-purposing things and thrifting and trying to do that to make things instead of going from scratch, but there’s only so much you can do with that. Definitely travel, because I am so far away from everyone else. I’m really right on the border, (With Mexico) I mean, it’s ridiculous. So travel to actually get up to these events and to meet up with everyone to do that. So that and trying to work my way up when it seems like there’s a lot of cosplayers that are very “every man for themselves, take no prisoners,” which is a fine attitude to have, but there are certain people that have a problem with me and it’s hard to keep climbing up the ladder when there are people who don’t really want to see you succeed.
Now in with all that, you were just in the Cosplay Calendar, which turned out to be eleven different girls, and even though you didn’t coordinate all of that, you also do the D20 Girls, how is it trying to manage time with a bunch of different people? I know I have a big enough problem trying to coordinate two models sometimes, so that’s got to be a challenge.
Actually, that has been the least challenging part of all of it. The people that don’t succeed, or don’t want to see you succeed are usually people that don’t know you on a personal level. Hanging out with my D20 Girls or my Cosplay Sorority Girls and the Cosplay Calendar girls, all of them have kind of naturally become a sisterhood to me. We all get along famously and every once in a while someone will have a spat, but it’s always something that we work through together and it’s something where you consider the cosplay community your brothers and sisters and your best friends, and you always act like, well you’re always supporting each other and you think of that first.
I know that’s one thing, when you have stuff going on with each other, but there are also a lot of people who get negative comments, online, or people talking stuff about you in public, so how do you deal with that?
I’m not really at that point where I have people talking too much smack about me in public. I’ve gotten a couple like I look like the fat Kardashian sister, or stuff like that. But even the fat Kardashian sister is really pretty, so let me say that right there. And she’s not even fat, so what the hell? ANYway, when I do get negative comments, even though they are in the minority, it can be a little hard to get past it. Again, like hanging out with my sisters, we are constantly talking each other up and saying stuff like “I freaking love you,” and “you’re freaking amazing,” it’s more of a supporting each other and realizing that you really can’t please everyone.
Have you gotten anything out of cosplay that you didn’t expect to, or didn’t realize was going to come to you going into it?
Honestly, I didn’t expect to make this many friends out of it, like I didn’t expect to get so close to some of the biggest cosplayers in the world. I didn’t expect to have people that I can call at 3 o’clock in the morning if I needed to. I didn’t expect to make so many business contacts like I have, and almost every business contact that I’ve made has turned into a personal friend.
(Here we got distracted by the cutest little kid in a Jawa outfit. Leah was gushing over how cute they were.)
So I didn’t expect to make so many friends and so many close friends and I didn’t expect to have the opportunities for travel that I’ve had. I thought this was just going to be a hobby where I go to my own things and do my stuff, but I got to go to San Diego for Kispworld, I’m going to be working with Aspen Comics and doing Kiani (From Fathom, created by Michael Turner.) with them, and bouncing around with Katy Mor. I just didn’t expect a lot of it really. I just expected a hobby, and it’s turned into a lifestyle, I guess is the best way to say it.
You talked about how you chose Rogue because she was like your Barbie, so when you do a cosplay, how do you choose what you’re going to do? Is it a physical characteristic, is a connection to a character?
Well, for example, with the Rogue thing, I would not have cosplayed her had I not had that emotional attachment to her. The physical thing definitely comes into play, because it makes it so so so much easier, because then you can focus on the costume and less on your body type. I always pick characters that I love, the emotional attachment is a big thing, I obviously have to know the ups and downs of the character. I’m not going to cosplay someone and be all “I have no idea about the character, I just wanted to wear something cool.” Complexity is a big thing, too, I’ll do like a dozen pretty easy, piece it together costumes, in a year, and then one or two big ones, that require major construction. And then the physical similarities I’d say come in kind of third.
What are some problems that you’ve had making your costumes and how did you solve them?
Well, specifically, and I hate to keep coming back to Shi, but we finished it the night before I wore it. So a big one that I with Shi was that Kip (Mussat) was helping me with the armor, and he lives in San Diego, and I live so far down south in Arizona. So it was “How is this going to work, we can’t do fittings or anything.” Our biggest thing was that he created all the armor and shipped it to me, but then it didn’t quite fit right, it didn’t properly curve over my shoulders, and it didn’t lay quite flat, so the biggest problem was that. And how we solved it, well, it’s still a work in progress, but we’re clipping the metal and bending it around and I couldn’t have don all that without him. So, yeah, the construction of that armor was definitely the hardest. Another problem would be that my old sewing machine couldn’t handle Lycra very well, so I had to have a friend help me out, hard core, with my Rogue jump suit.
Your whole Rogue suit is all handmade, and you do your own costumes; what specialties do you have in costume creation?
I like to dabble in a little bit of everything. I really like making accessories with wooden dowels and Sculpey. Crayola Model Magic is like god’s gift just to me, it’s so perfect. It’s a little bit of that crafting the lighter stuff, and sewing. I’m really good at hand sewing. Machines and I don’t always get along, but I can hand sew like a champ.
Now, for someone else who wants to get started, what do you suggest? Are there any tips on jumping into it?
I had to think of a really good answer to this because I met this girl at Albuquerque Comicon who was trying to break in, and we sat and talked for a while, but basically what it boils down to, is go in, be fearless, start out with something fairly simple. That is, not to sound politically incorrect, but that is your race and body type, because then you can focus, like I said earlier, you can focus on the costume and less on how you personally are different. That will make everything a lot easier and seem more positive, reaction wise. Then, don’t finish until it’s completely accurate first. Don’t go for creative freedom, don’t go for comfort, go for pure accuracy. Then people will respect you a lot more for that, and once you start building and building, and getting better and better, then you can start taking creative freedoms and people will be more receptive to it.
We’ve touched on some of the other groups that you work with, but who are some of the other cosplayers that you respect and why?
Oh wow, that’s a long list. Okay, so some cosplayers who I really, really admire are Ivy Doomkitty, definitely, she’s absolutely beautiful, she’s so completely gorgeous, inside and out. It’s not plastic, it’s not Photoshop or something, she’s just so real, and she’s so personable with EVERYONE, I mean I don’t understand how she can remember like a million first names at the same time, but she does, and she’s just so incredibly sweet to everyone. Rosanna Rocha and Toni Darling are two other big ones who I really admire. Rosanna is an absolutely incredible crafter, I have no idea, but if there’s like a crafting god, he’s like her personal BFF. It is ridiculous the things that that girl can do. And she makes all of her own stuff, she just has so much discipline, it’s insane. And Toni, she didn’t actually start out as a cosplayer, she’s a singer more than anything else, but she takes such good care of herself and she takes such pride in herself and her body, and she’s very business oriented and she’s very no nonsense when it’s time to be, and she’s one of the most organized people that I know, and god knows I need help with that.
Leah is all over the interwebs!
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Eric is a bit of many things: pirate, photographer, geek, biker, gamer, jewelry maker and master of bad puns. He has worked for Phoenix Comicon every year from 2007 to 2016 and was been a part of the Arizona Renaissance Festival from 2009 to 2013, which is where he picked up the Bald Pirate name. He also chuckles a lot when referring to himself in the third person.