Recently, I had a chance to chat with Florida-based cosplayer Ms Valentine. During our conversation, we talked about how she got into cosplaying, advice she had for aspiring cosplayers, some of her favorite con moments, and what she’s geeking out on these days. Take a read to learn more about this super-interesting cosplaying powerhouse.
Scott (GNN): So, when it comes to cosplay, I figured out the recipe seems to be, “50 percent nerdiness and 50 percent enjoying-dressing up.” Which one of those came first for you? The nerdiness or the liking to dress up?
Ms Valentine (MV): The nerdiness for sure. Growing up, I wasn’t a girly girl. I didn’t like to play dress-up, put bows in my hair. That was my sister’s thing. So, for me, it was the nerdiness, but back then, I didn’t realize the things that I was into were nerdy. To me, they were just normal things. I grew up on Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles.
So, that was kind of my mid-80s childhood. For me, it was always the nerdiness, but like I said, it was just kind of what appealed to me. It was kind of what I liked, and then the more you talk about it, the more you start to realize that other people like it, but it’s not mainstream, and that’s when you kind of get put in that little nerd and geek niche that, back when I was young and growing up, you got picked on and made fun of. I was born in the wrong generation because nowadays comic books and anime are cool now. But back in my day, it was a struggle for sure. But the nerdiness first, and then the dressing up followed after that.
GNN: I mean, it’s so funny you say that. Back then, video games and comic books were nerdy, and now, every jock in the NBA and NFL…entire teams are playing videos games; they have PlayStations in their lockers. They’ve got rules on professional sports teams about playing Fortnite too much. So, it’s cool that there’s been a little bit of the merging of nerd and mainstream.
Speaking of nerdiness, do you remember first thing you were super nerdy about?
MV: Oh gosh. For me, my nerdiness started in middle school, sixth or seventh grade, which were the toughest years for me as a kid because I had a lot of friends in elementary school and moving in the middle school, I had no friends. All my friends were in different tracks and different classes, so I was kind of the loner kid. And for me, I started to gravitate towards sci-fi. So, it was X-Files and Star Wars, which were not the things to like to make friends back then [laughter].
But it was really cool. It was just something like when you’re that lonely kid, and you see all these worlds where these heroes are always the little guys, always getting pushed down, but they kind of rise up. You kind of gravitate and that appeals to you. So, for me, the early years it was sci-fi. It was definitely X-Files and Star Wars, and that kind of became my thing that I latched onto, and then slowly over time, I started to learn about video games and then anime. It was kind of all stuff in the mid-90s; that’s when I started getting into my real nerd culture.
GNN: So, we’ve talked about the nerdiness part of the cosplay recipe. Now, when does the dress-up part of the recipe come in?
MV: Well, my parents are big, big Halloween fans. They’ve always dressed up, and it wasn’t so much, “Go to the store and buy a costume.” It was, “What did we wear last year? How can we repurpose that? What can we make?” So, I guess my parents were cosplaying in the 80s before I even knew what it was.
So, Halloween was always a big deal for me, and like I said, X-Files was kind of one of the things I was really into. So, I guess my first unofficial cosplay was Scully from the X-Files, and I really looked more like a real estate agent because it was just a pantsuit, and my mom blow-dried my hair, and I made a little badge. But for me, it was cool because it wasn’t really about, “Oh, do people know who I am?” It was, “You have this awesome show that I love with this really cool female character who’s strong and smart, and I get to be that for the night.” So that was my first taste. I think a lot of cosplayers got their start around Halloween, and so that was my first time too because that’s the one day you’re, “Okay. It’s okay if I dress up.”
GNN: That’s a good point. So, fast-forward to the present, and again, perusing your Facebook page and your webpage, I mean, clearly Ms. Valentine – I’m going to assume that that’s Jill Valentine from Resident Evil – that seems to be one of your cosplays. I’ve seen Nathan Drake. I’ve seen Sadie Adler from Red Dead Redemption 2. You’ve done Catwoman. You’ve done Cortana. Again, you reach back into my wheelhouse, Gozer the Gozerian from Ghostbusters. Are there any costumes that when you were done, you were like, “Wow, look what I’ve done! This is pretty amazing,” I mean, even where you’ve amazed yourself?
MV: I guess, yeah, Gozer would definitely be one of those costumes. When you want to make a costume, you always kind of plan it out in your head. You kind of get your blueprint like, “How am I going to do this?” And sometimes, it goes exactly as planned, and sometimes, it doesn’t, and you’re just kind of making it up as you go along. So, for Gozer, the costume is 50% fabric and 50% Halloween decor spiderweb. All the pieces on the costume are just spiderwebs stretched. I made pieces. I glued it on. I filled in the blanks. I mean, if you were to tell me 10 years ago, “Hey, you’re going to make this costume, and it’s going to be fake spiderweb, and it’s actually going to work–” I don’t know what I was thinking, but somehow, I just kind of threw it all on the dress form and just manipulated it, and it worked. And then I thought, “Oh, this thing’s never going to last. It’s going to get dirty. It’s going to fall apart.” And it still, to this day, is in pretty decent shape. So that was one of those unorthodox materials. I’m sure there’s people out there who, if they were to make it, would maybe use something totally different, but for me, the fake spiderweb just somehow miraculously worked. And it kind of has a cool look and a cool texture to it. I glued beads, bubbles, sequins, glitter. There’s so much in that. It’s one of those things I would never ever make again because I don’t think the magic could be captured a second time. But I look back at that, and it’s like, “It worked. Somehow it worked.” So that’s one of the most surprising things that I think I pulled off.
GNN: Nice. Was that the most involved one you did, or have you done other ones that are more involved?
MV: I think maybe the most involved I did, I did Black Mage Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2, and that costume has about 14 pieces in total. There’s armbands. There’s two leggings. There’s a ribbon at the top of each one, a ribbon at the bottom. There’s a belt. There’s a waist cincher. There’s the dress. It’s one of those things that when I packed for a convention, I actually have to make a visual checklist because there’s so much for it. So, that was probably the most involved just because there were so many different things and so many different fabrics that went into it. Then, it’s all velcroed on me, so it’s like, “Just don’t move wrong,” because then everything might just come apart, so…
GNN: [Laughter]. So, based on what you were saying with getting to a point and going, “Oh, my God, what I’ve just visually designed is not what I expected,” and you’ve got to kind of wing it from that point, has there ever been a cosplay you’ve tried to do or maybe even not gotten five percent in and just like, “What? This isn’t going to– forget it. This isn’t going to work?”
MV: Yeah, I actually, I want to say, probably got about 50% done. I was trying to make Eliza Cassan [from Deus Ex: Human Revolution], and I really wanted to make that costume. I played the game and she just had this goth look to her; she was really cool.
So, there was this other cosplayer I followed and she made it and I followed everything she did to a T. I made the dress and the jacket, but then I couldn’t get the dress to fit right. She has this huge ruffle around the collar of her jacket and I just couldn’t get it attached. So, I still have it to this day. The costume’s halfway done, but it was just I hit that wall and I don’t know if it was too advanced for my skill level at the time, but I just couldn’t push forward and get it done. So, I mean, I’ve still got a pretty cool jacket out of it; it’s not completed but that was probably the one thing that defeated me where I was like, “Yeah, no, I’m never coming back to this again.” So, I just kind of let that one go.
GNN: From what I’ve heard from the handful of cosplays I’ve interviewed, it seems like cosplayers are a pretty friendly community. Have you ever gotten together with anyone to work on something you couldn’t work out? Where you called or emailed or somebody came over or you worked with them and gotten over a hump like that? Is that something that happens frequently?
MV: In the very early days of cosplay, people were so against sharing. It was actually people were very guarded because they felt like, “I figured this out, I discovered the secret. It’s mine. If you want to know how to do it, figure it out on your own. Those were the early days. It was very closed off.
Now, you have cosplayers who sell their patterns, do tutorials, do YouTube videos, so the sharing aspect is huge now. And I try to do it myself because I know especially for younger cosplayers it can be a struggle. A lot of people are scared of sewing and it’s nothing really to be that scared of, but in my early days there were a couple cosplayers I would reach out to like on live journals and they would kind of hit me back. I have a lot of great friends who are really, really talented with sewing, so I could either call them up and they’d help me out or I’d go over to their house and we’d struggle through it together.
So, I’m very fortunate that I have a great group of friends who are really talented and they’re each good at something. So, if I kind of hit a wall I’ve got a good group of people I can reach out to.
GNN: So, basically, you have a cosplaying X-Men group that you’re saying that can handle everything…each with their own special powers?
MV: Yeah, the one girl who is good at embroidery; this girl can do wigs; he can do helmets. So yeah, we’ve got a good group of people who kind of with our powers combined we can make anything.
GNN: So, instead of the X-Men, you’ve got the Captain Planet of cosplay! Nice! So, how long does an average cosplay take you to make? For example, one of your typical Jill Valentine costumes…
MV: The amount of time it takes to make each costume just depends. For Jill, it was more, “order this off of Amazon, get this at the thrift store.” So, it’s really not so much making as it is just assembling.
But then, if you have something like Cortana, it’s sewing and painting and gluing. So, just depending on the costume, it can take more time, depending on your work schedule and real-life commitments. I would say anywhere between like two weeks to two months.
I think the longest thing I’ve worked on was probably about two months. But this is when I was working full time. It just really depends on the project…and your motivation and your drive. Sometimes you don’t feel like working on it. And then other times it’s like, ”Oh, the convention’s in two weeks; I have to finish it.” So you’ll see a lot of people within the two weeks prior to a con it’s called con crunch, where you don’t eat, don’t sleep, just so. I always wondered about that because it’s like the date for the convention is set in stone, you know when it is like people always seem to wait till the last minute. I’m like, ”I’m too old for that. I can’t play that game anymore.” So, I try to schedule it out in advance.
But yeah, I would say just depending on the outfit…about two weeks, two months, anywhere in between.
GNN: All right. Earlier, you mentioned sewing as a skill that’s good to have as a cosplayer. If someone is reading this and wants to get into cosplaying and creating their own costumes, sewing is pretty obvious, but are there skills that you would recommend they hone that they might not be like, ”Oh, that’s something I didn’t even think I would have to do.” I mean like sketching, I know you don’t have to probably be a great artist, but just to be able to sketch. Do you sketch?
MV: Yeah. I do have a sketchbook. It’s really more for figuring out costumes. I actually have like a body figure that I just trace on and then I draw my costume pieces on it, try to figure out this fabric, that fabric, how much of this and that.
So yeah, I do use a sketchbook to kind of keep track of things. I am not the best artist. If you look through it, the faces are really derpy and terrible, but sometimes you just kinda’ have to draw it out and visualize it. So yeah. I would say keeping a sketchbook or even just a notebook helps, especially when you go shopping for materials, that way you can keep track of your colors. I do that when I go to the fabric store. I walk with my sketchbook and everybody’s like, ”Oh, are you an artist?” It’s like, “No, I just need to keep track of my shopping list.” But yeah, a sketchbook’s definitely helpful. Just take notes for sure.
GNN: Any other skills that an aspiring cosplayer should learn?
MV: Really, I think you need to have basic arts and crafts skills, because for cosplay you have to kind of visualize. You have to look at a shirt and ask yourself, “How can I cut this? How can I rearrange this to make it work?”
I would say it’s a lot better now fabric-wise, especially with all the cosplay stuff at JOANN Fabrics, but just learning fabrics, learning what kind of fabrics might work for a character, do you need a fabric? Do you need heavy fabric? Do you need something that stretches? So, just kind of taking your time to learn the different materials that are out there, realizing that you don’t need to buy fabric that’s $15 a yard to make something look good. Look through the clearance stuff. Does it have the right look and texture? So, an important thing when you’re working on making a costume is just knowing what materials are best for you.
Also, don’t get in over your head. Like if you see a silk fabric and you think, ”Oh, this would be perfect,” but you’ve never sewn it before, maybe take it slow and use something else.
Just knowing your materials and knowing what would work best for your project is important, because a fabric might be perfect and look great, but it’s Florida. If you’re wearing wool [laughter] in the middle of summer, you’re going to regret it for sure.
GNN: You just mentioned JOANN Fabric as a place to go. Are there other places online or brick-and-mortar stores you go to buy things that you can recommend to other cosplayers?
MV: For me really, the only fabric store option is JOANN. Growing up, JOANN was really the only fabric store and they didn’t really carry costume fabrics. So, it’s a huge difference now that Yaya Han actually has a cosplay fabric line in the stores. That’s a huge boost for the community. Amazon’s a great resource, especially for materials. I used to buy fabric off of eBay back in the day. A lot of times if I’m buying a knit fabric or a stretch fabric, I do Spandex House in New York City; you can actually order online with them so they’re really great.
Really, it just depends on where you are. When I lived in San Diego, there were a ton of mom-and-pop fabric stores that you could shop at that had a great selection. But, I would say for the majority of cosplayers you’re kind of stuck with the selection that JOANN Fabric gives you because a lot of cosplayers like to see the fabric in person and feel it. I can definitely say that Spandex House if you’re looking for a knit fabric. They’re really great.
Also, you can order samples from a lot of online fabric stores. Sometimes they’re free or sometimes they’re a few dollars just per sample.
GNN: How frequently do you, if ever, buy entire pieces from someone, or have you ever had anyone make you anything? Or do you 100% do your own stuff?
MV: I would say the majority of stuff that I’ve worn I’ve made myself. My friend, Dee, does a lot of my wigs for me. She’s amazing at wigs, so a lot of them she does. She’s gifted me costumes before. But, yeah. I haven’t really bought anything in a long time. The desire to do it is there sometimes, because you’ll think, “Okay. I can buy this schoolgirl costume online for $60 or I can make it and spend $40 on fabric.” So, it’s kind of a no-brainer to buy it.
But most of everything I’ve bought– most of everything that I’ve worn in cosplay I’ve made or a friend’s made for me. So, I haven’t really gotten into the realm of buying things just because it’s so hit or miss with whether or not it’s going to actually fit.
GNN: I know a popular place cosplayers have mentioned going is Goodwill. They go there for things like leather jackets or things that they’re going to rough up anyway. Do you ever do any Goodwill shopping for your materials?
MV: Yeah. Goodwill, especially in the early days before I knew how to sew. I think my entire Jill Valentine costume the first time I made it was Goodwill and eBay because back then there was no Amazon. So, everything was on a hope and a prayer on eBay.
So, definitely Goodwill because you can re-size things and I mean, why pay $30 for a brand-new pair of jeans that you’re just going to rip holes in? Yeah, Goodwill is a great option if you’ve got a good one near you, especially for shoes.
GNN: Okay. Let’s say that tomorrow you have unlimited resources. What costume are you making? Go crazy. Would you do a giant Optimus Prime costume? Or a giant mech?
MV: Oh, my gosh. Wow. I know most people are probably going to be like, “No way.” But for me, my costume…and it’s so ridiculous almost to say it… is from Gone with the Wind and it’s the dress that Scarlett O’Hara wears that she makes from the curtains and it’s this huge, green, velvet dress and a hoop skirt, and she’s got the fringe from the curtain ties on her shoulders and it’s so over the top and so ridiculous, but it’s one of those things where, if I could use the best materials, work with the best people, and make something as accurate as possible, that’s it.
I know if I would have tried it now I could pull it off, but I don’t think it would have the flair that I’m going for, but that’s definitely the dream cosplay, like, “Unlimited money, let’s go.” That would definitely be it.
GNN: I think that’s a great idea for a cosplay. It also reminds me of another question. When you do these cosplays I know there’s the dress-up aspect where you like to make the costume and look like the person or character, but then there are the people that become immersed in the character. They know the actions, the movements, the nuances and the dialogue. If you dressed like Scarlett O’Hara would you do the southern belle act, the whole shebang, or are you just into the dressing up aspect of it?
MV: I would definitely not talk with the southern accent because that would just be absolutely horrible!
However, you do have to channel the attitude of the character. So, Scarlett’s very, very proud, very sassy, so I mean I would definitely carry myself that way.
And then yeah, a lot of the characters that I cosplay as, if they have a certain pose or a certain reaction to something, I try to do that. For example, cosplaying as Goku, if I see a Gohan, I’m going to run up and be like, “Oh, it’s my son,” and give them a hug or something like that.
So, not so much totally immersed into it until the point where I’m roleplaying, but if you’re cosplaying as a character who has a default pose, you have to know it, you have to practice it. If somebody’s going to do something like the whole Goku-Gohan thing, you’ve just kind of have to embrace that and that’s kind of the fun thing for me; it’s just kind of getting into the attitude of the character and kind of carrying yourself the way they would.
It’s kind of fun because you get to leave your everyday self behind a little bit and you get to be this really cool person for the day. And it’s just fun to see how other people who cosplay from the same thing react and how people kind of feed off each other with that.
GNN: So, I mentioned your Gozer costume earlier. Did you go to a con dressed as Gozer?
MV: The first time I wore it was MegaCon, and then I wore it again to DragonCon, and then I wore it to a Halloween event. So, I’ve worn it to a couple of conventions in a couple of events.
GNN: Okay. So, there’s the first part of the question. Now, I’ve been to plenty of conventions and there are always bunches of people dressed as Ghostbusters. When they walked by did you ask them if they were gods?
MV: I was not expecting it, but I had so many people who came up to me and basically repeated back the whole speech to me, “As a citizen of New York…,” and the first time somebody did it I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening.” And I would ask them, “Are you a god?” And it was just so much fun, because sometimes as Gozer you might see a Ghostbuster cosplayer and it’s just like, “Oh, hey, how’s it going?” But the ones you stop and do that, you know they’re cosplaying and they’re dressing up for the same reason you are. So, that was a lot of fun just getting to react to people and just kind of reach out to the true fans, the people who are on the same level as you. So, it was a lot of fun.
That was definitely a character that when I was younger and watching Ghostbusters you had Sigourney Weaver who to me, those were women, they were beautiful. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh when I grow up I want to be like her.” I was like, “I think it’s time to make Gozer.” And I made Gozer and then my friend Dee, she actually cosplayed as Dana [Barrett from Ghostbusters] at DragonCon with me and she had the blow-out ’80s hair. And it was awesome because it’s like, “That’s our childhood. These are the women that we looked up to growing up and it’s like now we get to be them.” And it’s pretty special, especially when you have a like-minded friend that you can share it with. So, that was an awesome moment.
GNN: As a child of the 80s, you have earned my respect! And that’s not easily won. I love when cosplayers really get into the character and really sell it.
MV: You kind of have to. I would be disappointed as a Ghostbuster cosplayer walking up to a Gozer and you do that whole speech and you hear crickets and they just look at you. It’d be so disappointing, I’m like, “I can’t let the people down, they’re doing it for the same reason I am.”
GNN: Two thumbs up.
MV: Thank you!
GNN: So, you’ve given some concrete advice on places to go and some skills to learn. Is there any advice, soft-skill advice, you have for aspiring cosplayers? Maybe one thing to do and one thing to avoid? It’s easy to give advice, “Do this, do this, do this.” It’s the “don’ts” that I think sometimes people get caught up on.
MV: My advice on both ends almost kind of ties into each other. It’s, “Do you. Do cosplay that makes you happy. Make it the way you want to.”
I know there’s this big thing in the community right now: accuracy. Something doesn’t need to be accurate; make it the way you want to so that you’re comfortable in it. At the end of the day, we’re all just nerds playing dress up. That’s all it is. So, just cosplay the things you like. Do it the way you like. Don’t let the way another cosplayer does something stop you from doing it. It’s really just about embracing the fandom and kind of expressing yourself the way that makes you happy. For me, in fandoms, a lot of people express it differently. You could be a Star Wars fan. You put a sticker on your car. You wear a shirt. But for cosplayers, we dress up. It’s just how we kind of show that we like something.
So, my advice to cosplayers – my “do” advice – is just, “Do you and have fun with it.” And then, at the same time, don’t let other people’s way of making a costume change your mind. If somebody tells you, “Oh, you’re not the right gender. You’re not the right skin color. You can’t do it,” that doesn’t matter ever. Just do what makes you happy. The silliest thing is to have people say, “You can’t do it this way. You have to do it that way.” No! I cosplay from JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure, and even the manga artist who creates it, he’s like, “There’s no set color palette for the characters.” He likes to change it. He likes to do different hair color, different outfit color, so it just goes to show you that if even the creators of this stuff are kind of like, “Whatever colors makes you happy,” there’s no right or wrong in it. So, it’s like, “Just do it. Just have fun.”
GNN: That’s great advice. So, maybe one more question about advice. For someone who wants to get seen and become part of the cosplay community, and they’re like, “I go to these things. I take pictures with people, and they’re cool and everything, but I’m a little shy about really interacting with them.” How do you recommend someone get into the community if they’re on the outside looking in?
MV: A really good way to kind of get yourself established…this is something a friend recommended to me a long time ago…is business cards. I was like, “Dude, I’m not that cool to have business cards.” But a business card is a great thing because I know everybody’s so connected on social media, but it’s really easy to forget, “Oh, what’s your Twitter handle?” Just get a business card. They’re cheap and they have all your info, and you can just pass them out.
For Holiday Matsuri, I stapled little candy canes to my business card and handed them out. So, a little something like that really helps. because later that night when people are emptying their pockets, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, this is from that Gozer cosplayer. I’m going to look them up.”
So, handing out business cards is really a good way to help people remember you. And then also, I think a lot of times we forget when we’re cosplaying. It’s like when you introduce yourself to somebody, introduce yourself and tell them your real name. Because a lot of times as cosplayers at conventions, it’s like, “Oh, I know that person, but I don’t know their name.” So, you may not want to go up and say, “hi,” to them. And I guess just general life skills…just introduce yourself; be honest with people. A lot of times, what I do at conventions, is to try to keep track if I take a selfie with someone. I’ll ask them for their Instagram and pull it up and then screenshot it. That way I have my picture with them and then their Instagram so that way, I don’t forget.
So, yeah, business cards for sure and then just keeping up with people. Following hashtags is a good way to kind of keep up. I mean, I did that for Holiday Matsuri; I followed the hashtag on Instagram, and that’s how I ended up finding a lot of people that I met and took photos with that I didn’t get to trade info with. Really, you’ve just got to be willing to put yourself out there; use the right hashtags.
I also think one of the big things, too, is if you’re getting in the cosplay for the attention and the fame, you’re in the wrong hobby. 99 percent of the cosplayers out there are not going to be celebrities. And I think the problem is with a lot of new people in the fandom, they think, like, “Oh, I’m going to take one photo, and I’m going to be the most popular person on Instagram,” but it doesn’t work that way. It’s hard work. It’s dedication. It’s not going to happen overnight. So yeah, it’s a hassle like anything else. You’ve just got to be willing to put the time and effort into it and realize it doesn’t happen like that for everybody.
GNN: Yeah, entertainment, in general, is getting like that. For example, I’ve interviewed and talked to some authors and they talk about…on one hand, there are more ways to get seen, but there are also more people out there trying to be seen. Now, you can self-publish, get on Amazon, and, poof, the book’s out there. The problem is, everybody’s doing that. So, like you said, there’s one cosplayer that’s got an awesome costume; I could probably Google five other people right out of the gate with that same costume. You’re right, it seems to be a crowded landscape out there.
So, based on that, if we had a scale, and one on the scale is, “I dress up. I go to a convention. I leave. Everything’s cool because I had fun,” and 10 is, “I’m a famous cosplayer. That’s my job,” where would you see yourself on that spectrum?
MV: I guess I would put myself, and I would think that most people would probably put themselves here, I’m smack in the middle. So, on a scale of 1 to 10, I guess I’m like a five. Cosplay doesn’t pay the bills for me, whatsoever. Would it be nice for it to be a full-time job? Absolutely, but I’m kind of more realistic in a way that I know where I am in this hobby. For me, it’s just that. It’s a hobby. It’s fun. I enjoy it. It’s for me to do, to express myself, and then to see my friends and have a good time. So, I’ve never really seen it as anything more than just a fun hobby and a good chance to see my friends, hang out with them, and then meet new people and kind of establish new friendships. So, yeah, it’s not a job. Not a job for me.
GNN: And you’re not trying to push the needle up? Do you never want it to be a job?
MV: I mean, I guess for everybody who cosplays, that’s the dream. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I work at Disney, and I do this professionally,” or, “I travel the country going to conventions.” So, yeah, it would be amazing, but am I going push myself for that? No, I don’t think that’s my path in this fandom, in this community. I’ve kind of been having fun talking to a lot of the younger cosplayers. Talking to them, kind of helping them out a lot of times. Because I think to myself, I’m like, “Man, I wish when I was younger in cosplay somebody would have come up to me and given me some advice.”
So, I kind of see myself as trying to bridge the gap between the generations and trying to help out the younger kids. I have a lot of fun with that, so that’s kind of been my thing, but yeah, I don’t know if I’d ever want to make it– I mean, yeah, it’s the dream, full time, but realistically, I’m just having fun with it, doing it the way I’m doing it.
GNN: Yeah, I’ve met some folks who have made cosplay their business. They have booths at conventions and charge for pictures. So, I didn’t know if that’s something you’re working towards, but it seems like that’s not your path…
MV: No. I have fun with it, just kind of doing it casually. I do a lot of work with a group called GAAM. They’ve kind of been my main focus the past four, five years. Games, Arts, and Music. It’s based out of Jacksonville where I used to live. So, that’s kind of been, I guess, the business side of cosplay, for me, these past few years. We do a big show every year, and we have a big cosplay cast, and we do photoshoots and videos. I’ve kind of worked myself into a position where I’m the cosplay manager for that. So, that’s kind of the business aspect of it for me, but it also ties into bringing in new cosplayers, interviewing them, casting people, helping people with costumes, wrangling the cast every year. I really enjoy that.
I kind of like the behind-the-scenes stuff more than putting myself out there because, at the end of the day, when you work with a group like that, it’s not about one person. If one person looks great and everybody else is just kind of there, it’s not going to work, so it’s really about bringing a group of people together and getting everybody on the same level and pushing people to get there that you know can, that might not think they can do it on their own. So, it’s just kind of pushing each other up and coming together as a group. I have a lot of fun with that, working in groups and trying to get everybody to be the best that they can be.
GNN: We talked about conventions a little earlier. I’m assuming you attend your fair share. You’ve given some advice to cosplayers, is there anything advice you can give convention attendees to help them enjoy their experience?
MV: As a cosplayer, for sure, I always try to bring safety pins and a glue gun because you never know when you’re going to have a costume malfunction. I actually had one at Holiday Matsui; the sole of my boot for Jill completely come off. Thankfully, it was at the end of the night. So yeah, I always tried to carry little cosplay repair things.
Also, you would think I would know something like, ”Drink water; stay hydrated.” I’m probably like the worst person at that because I’m always in like such a rush to get going. But yeah, definitely just stuff to fix your costume. It’s also good to bring a portable charger for your phone…and hand sanitizer. Oh my gosh, please wash your hands! Yeah. Just like the everyday life essentials fit into also being a convention attendee or a cosplayer.
GNN: The hand sanitizer and hand washing things are really good advice. I don’t want to seem like I’m stereotyping con attendees, it’s advice I would have for anyone who’s going to be in a crowd, or on a cruise, or on a plane. It takes one person at an event. It takes one person to stand in a group of 50 people. I mean, it gets tight. So, you’re right, hand sanitizer is a big thing. Like you said earlier, sometimes you’re shaking hands or hugging people, or posing for pictures right next to people…
MV: Yes! Another good thing I would recommend is either bringing a bottle of vitamin C or Emergen-C packets and keeping them in your hotel room. Start taking it a day or so before the con, and then take it throughout the weekend. Not only will it help you not get sick, but also makes you feel pretty good when you have a good dose of vitamin C. And it’s one of those things you can never take too much of because most people, the Monday, Tuesday after a con will report that they’re sick with Con Crud. So, it’s kind of one of those ways to prevent it. Yeah. That’s fair, and it happens to everybody.
GNN: Now that you say that, I get Con Crud as I’m getting in my advanced years. It’s like Cruise Crud or Airplane Crud…anyplace with a lot of people.
MV: I think that’s one of those things that comes as you are being an older cosplayer or having cosplayed for so many years, have been doing it for so long, you kind of start to learn like, “Okay. I have to take better care of myself.”
In my early years, I wouldn’t eat; I would just stay up late; I wouldn’t sleep, because it was like, “Oh man, I have to go back to school when I get home.” Now, as you get older, you start to realize like, “My body can’t function on three hours of sleep and a candy bar.” I’ve got to kind of stretch in the morning and wear comfortable shoes, or put insoles in my shoes.
And that’s another thing. All respect to the people who cosplay professionally because it seems like people think, “Oh, all you do is take pictures all day. How hard can that be?” It is hard. Doing photoshoots is hard. It takes a toll on your body; it’s physically draining, especially if you’re trying to get into character and you’re screaming or there’s a weird pose. It’s not an easy gig.
So, people who think that models have it easy or that, “Oh, you cosplay for a living? You don’t do anything.” It’s a tough gig, and you have to stay ahead of the curve and you have to stay current.” So, I mean, it’s not an easy thing. All due respect to the people who make a living off of it because number one, it’s not easy to get in, and number two, to stay there and stay relevant, it can be pretty hit or miss, so. Yeah, photoshoots hurt [laughter].
GNN: Absolutely. I’ve seen people dressed up as Spiderman jumping onto tables and doing the webslinger pose, and it looks hard as hell. Then, on the flipside, you’ve even got, people who cosplay as Chewbacca, and they’re not doing backflips, but Chewbacca’s still wearing a giant rug in Florida.
MV: Yeah, and it’s a lot of weight too. I think people don’t realize, especially if you have an intricate wig, that can be really heavy. Or even if you’re cosplaying as a martial arts character, people are going to want you to punch and kick. After doing that for a long time and holding that pose, it can take a toll on you, for sure. So, it’s not easy if you want to have fun with it and be accurate, it definitely can take a toll. So, stretching in the morning is another thing that I would recommend, for sure.
GNN: All right. So, one of the last things I ask con people, is about the big thing: cosplay is not consent, and it’s 100% true. Is there any advice you have for people attending cons when it comes to interacting with cosplayers that they might not think is weird but can be just a matter of perception? Is there any advice you can give that it’s like, “I’ve noticed a lot of people are doing X recently and they think it’s cool.”? Or do you not notice really anything like that?
MV: I would say it’s gotten a lot better recently; I’ve noticed people have been really a lot more respectful to one another. One of the things I have noticed, though, is a lot of people who cosplay Deadpool. Okay, we get it. Deadpool is a jerk and a douche and this and that, but that doesn’t make it okay for you to be a jerk and a douche. So, you can’t just walk by a Wolverine cosplayer and be like, “F*** you, Wolverine,” because we know that’s what Deadpool would say, but you’re not Deadpool. He’s not Wolverine. You’re humans.
So, I understand the whole being in costume and stuff, but try to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all people. When you interact with them, kind of hold back a little bit because you don’t know that could be the person’s first convention, their first time cosplaying, and they might be scared out of their mind and it might just take something small to kind of knock them over the edge and not do it again.
But, I would say the community’s gotten a lot better about the whole consent thing and people are a lot more like, “Oh, can I hug you? Oh, can I shake your hand?” So, it’s gotten better, but never be afraid to speak out if you feel uncomfortable and never feel awkward to walk up to a cosplayer and be like, “I love your costume. Can I have a hug?” There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve been in situations where I was cosplaying Batgirl and a Robin came up to me and was like, “Can I take a photo with you?” and I was like, “Sure.” And then the next thing I know he’s literally dipping me like we’re dancing and I’m like, “Okay. This is all right.” And then he gets nose-to-nose with me like he’s pretending to kiss me and I was like– this was in my earlier years of cosplay so I was just like, “Okay. Well, this is what the characters would do so I guess it’s okay,” but looking back, I’m like, “Well, it’s not, ” because we’re not the characters. So, it was kind of one of those things that always kind of made me be on my guard.
And another thing I would say, especially for female cosplayers is have code words with your friends. That way, they know. Because a lot of times my friends and I will go to conventions and it’s like, “Who’s that guy she’s talking to? Does she know him?” and then we’ll hear the code word and it’s like, “Okay. She’s not good. We need to bail her out.” So, it’s always something different because you want to be nice and cordial to people but sometimes it’s kind of like, “Okay. This guy’s got to go.” So always kind of just be on the same page with your friends and never be afraid or scared to speak up for yourself because if you’re in the right, people aren’t going to judge you and if they do, then they’re just shitty people anyway, so…
GNN: Right. That makes complete sense. I had a convention experience where a woman was cosplaying as Rogue. I always like to do funny pictures. Not over the top, but something silly. So, what I wanted her to do is have her leaning in to kiss me but me freaking out and pulling away because she’s Rogue and if she kisses me she’ll suck my life force out and kill me. I could tell she was uncomfortable with that, so I said “You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with,” and she said she’s had guys try to play that on her and then turn around and then kiss her. I didn’t even consider that, and I respected her personal space. We still took a picture, but with her putting her hand up to my face. It’s just sad that some people take advantage like that and cosplayers have to feel uncomfortable…
MV: It’s funny too, because you’ll get people who will ask you for a photo, and then their friend is kind of standing next to them nervously and you could tell they want to take a picture of you but they’re too scared to ask. So, a lot of times I would just ask, “Do you want to be in the picture?” and then they get there and they don’t know what to do. They just stand there. So, I’m like, “Keep it above the waist. You can put your arm around me. It’s fine.” So, sometimes, you have the people who are overzealous and it’s like, “Oh. I’m going to totally put my hands on your ass while we take a picture,” and then you have the people who are like almost too scared to stand next to you, and usually, there’s no in-between. It’s one or the other. So, you just have to use your people skills and take it case-by-case.
But the community is a lot better now and, I will say, conventions are way better with acknowledging that it’s a problem, and really not standing for it. So, it’s pretty good to have friends who are going to back you up but always know that if there’s somebody at a convention going around making you, making other people uncomfortable, go to staff. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? They can’t kick you out for reporting on somebody else.
GNN: Absolutely. That’s a good point. It’s hard sometimes because, at another convention I wanted a picture with someone cosplaying as the Baroness and she, straight up, came up from behind like right behind me…really close…and grabbed me and held her fake knife to my neck. I guess what I realized is that it’s up to the cosplayer to determine the level of closeness. That seems to be the pretty basic rule.
MV: Yeah. It really is, especially even if you’re playing…when I cosplayed as Cortana and I met up with the Master Chief cosplayer and we were taking photos standing next to each other and he asked me, “Do you mind if I pick you up?” and basically put me on his shoulder. But he asked, and I was like, “If you can do it, go for it.” And he did and it was amazing. It was so cool. But if he would’ve just picked me up and done it I would’ve been like deer in headlights, like, “Holy crap. This is happening.” But, the fact that he asked, and I even knew him and he still asked me, that was really cool.
So, if you feel like you want to do a certain pose, ask the cosplayer. If it’s something ridiculous where you’re smacking their ass, obviously, that’s probably not cool. But never be afraid to ask, and if they say, “no,” just be like, “Oh. Okay. No big deal.” But it’s all about communication because, I think, “People, remember I’m cosplaying as Goku. I’m not Goku; I’m me.” So, you have to kind of realize we’re people behind all this stuff.
GNN: As a con attendee, have you ever met anyone you’ve really admired? I think I saw on your Facebook page that you met the guy that was the voice of Nathan Drake [Nolan North]…
MV: Yeah. That was amazing. My best friend Dee was actually a guest at Metrocon, and she got me to the front of the line for that. It was so awesome. And I was in kind of a Nathan Drake outfit, and I was the third person to meet him, and the reaction I got from him was way past anything I could have imagined. He came out from behind the table. He hugged me. He talked to me. Not only did we take photos, he’s like, “Now, pose like this. Now, pose like that.” He was the nicest guy ever. And it was just the fact that it was a Nathan Drake-inspired outfit not so much the full costume that I have now, but the fact that he recognized it and knew what I was going for was just dream come true. I would have been crushed if he was like, “What are you wearing? Who are you?” He knew. He was the nicest guy. After it happened, we left the room. I had to stand to the side because I was in full breakdown mode just over how [laughter] amazing of a moment it was because these people are your heroes, and you wait so long to meet them, and it can be make or break. If they’re a total jerk, it’s like, “Oh, my dreams are crushed.” But, yeah. That was one instance where I got to meet a voice actor wearing the costume of the character they do. It was really awesome.
GNN: Were there any others? Any other people you’ve met while you were cosplaying?
MV: Yeah. At MegaCon, I got to meet Troy Baker. I was dressed as Elizabeth from BioShock, and he voices Booker and I got to meet him, and his reaction to my costume was just– he’s like, “You look like you walked out of the game. You looked like you walked off the set. You made this?” He’s gushing over my costume and I’m gushing over him and his work. And it was just so genuine and so sweet, and it was just really the best compliment you can get as a cosplayer. This is their character. They give them a voice. I just make costumes. To have them appreciate your work is just like, “I’m done. I can stop cosplaying now.”
But those were the two instances, and they’re both great voice actors. They both work on Uncharted now, which is amazing. So, yeah, those were moments like, “Okay, guys. I got to go stand against this wall because I’m going to have an emotional breakdown because these people love my costume.”
So, I was crying after meeting Nolan North because it was just so special. So, yeah. Those were my two instances…if I can take away anything from cosplaying, it’s having really cool moments like that and also being able to share it with my friends because my friends were there. And they’re standing off the side laughing, like, “Oh my gosh. She’s crying again.” I’m like, “Leave me alone [laughter].” But having good friends be there to kind of witness it and usher it in for you was really cool.
I’ve also had the amazing chance to meet the voice actor for Master Chief two or three times. I’ve never met Jen Taylor who does Cortana’s voice and Halo was huge for me. So, there was a convention where both of them were going to be at it. So, I’m like, “Okay. I’ve got to go to this,” because she never does appearances. They’ve never done appearances together. I brought the Cortana costume out of retirement and went to meet them, and it was one of those few times where I was like, my friends had to push me to go because I was so just freaked out. And I’m like, “What if they think, ‘This weird blue girl,’ and, ‘Oh my gosh.’?” And my friends took a video of it, and it’s one of those videos that I look back, and I’m like, “Oh, it’s so embarrassing.” But it was just so genuine, getting to meet Jen and have her sign my costume and talk to them about it and get a picture with the both of them.
A lot of times when I’m in cosplay, I just kind of try to smirk and smile in character, but in this picture with the two of them, I’m ear-to-ear grinning because it’s like, “Oh my gosh. This is amazing.” So, yeah. That was another time where it was just like, “Am I really this lucky to get to meet these people?” And then just to have them be so nice and so understanding and [respective?] of the fans. It makes a huge difference when they actually– like your thing with Dale, when they actually embrace you instead of it’s just like, “Oh. Shake hands. Take picture. Bye.” So, it makes a huge difference. It really does.
GNN: So speaking of that, have you ever had a less than stellar happening?
MV: Yeah. One of my first conventions, I went to MegaCon. I met the actor who played Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings [Brad Dourif]. I was huge into Lord of the Rings at the time, and this is back when you have disposable cameras; you didn’t have digital cameras or cell phones. As I was meeting him he was kind of having a conversation with somebody else so he was only half paying attention to me. And it’s like, “Okay. I’m paying like $25 for this.” And then in the picture I took with him I’m smiling, looking at the camera, and he’s kind of looking off camera in mid-conversation with somebody else. So, it was totally like, “Oh, I’m really glad I got to meet you and everything and it’s really cool but now I know if I ever get the opportunity again I will skip it.” That’s probably the only negative guest moment I’ve had. I’ve been pretty lucky and had some awesome ones.
GNN: So, do you have any cosplays you’re working on right now that you care to share or do you keep them secret?
MV: No. I put a lot of stuff out there. I haven’t started anything new. Holiday Matsuri, I kind of went overboard and brought five costumes so that was overkill. A lot of work. I haven’t started anything new yet. I do really, really want to make Lord Beerus from Dragon Ball Super. That’s actually in the sketchbook sketched out and planned out, so that will probably be my next project. That’s my next set-in-stone project and then I have a couple of things with friends that we’re kind of tossing back and forth. I think my friend Dee and I were fine– we’ve been talking for years like, “Oh. We need a cosplay. Let’s do Gears of War, we can make the armor,” and I think, finally, this year it’s like, “Okay. Let’s do it this year.” So that’s kind of in the works for later in the year but Beerus will probably be the first new costume I’ve made this year.
GNN: Nice. You know it’s funny, for a brief moment, I thought about cosplaying as old Baird from Gears of War 3 because he’s bald and he’s got the goatee. I asked somebody about it and they were like, “Doing that armor, if you want to do it right, is not necessarily cheap.”
MV: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if you’re going to have it light up and stuff like that then it takes a lot of work. I want to do armored Anya and then my friend Dee wants to do Queen Myrrah, which, I think, she has a lot more work to do than I do. I’m like, “Okay. Thank God in Gears of War 3 their armor is really streamlined,” and stuff like that so it’s not as bad as the first two games where it’s the full set. But, yeah. That’s one of those things where it’s lots of research, lots of planning before I spend any money or do anything because, it’s one of those things where it’s an expensive build and it’s even more expensive if you jump into it and mess up and have to start all over again, so. And it’ll be my first armored build, so I’m kind of freaking out over that. But we’ve got until September so we’ve got a while before that’s going to happen.
GNN: I assume some mistakes can be costly when it comes to materials, right?
MV: Yeah. It’s not so bad if it’s like, “Oh, I just got to go back to the store and buy more clay or buy more fabric.” But when it’s something you order online it’s like, “Oh. I have to order more,” and they have an order minimum.
That’s another thing I always tell people. “Buy more than you need.” If you need three yards of fabric for a project, buy four. If you need three sheets of foam for your armor, buy five. Yeah, it’s going to cost more money but, in the long run, you’re so much better off. There’s some costs if you can go cheap on and other things, it’s like just buy extra and put it in your stash if you don’t use it and if you need it, you have it. If you don’t, you’re fine. But yeah, always, always overbuy. Cosplay’s not a cheap hobby.
GNN: So, since this is an interview for Geek News Network, I always have to ask the same question. What do you like to geek out on, in general, and what are you geeking out on now?
MV: Right now I’m geeking out hardcore on Dragon Ball Super, especially with the movie coming out. I’m freaking out every day. My good friend Ryan, we have literally talked about this movie every day for the past month. We’ll have normal conversations and it just manages to segue back into Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball is one of the first anime that I ever got into before I even knew what anime was, so it’s kind of always been there for me, going through middle school and being the loner kid and stuff. So, Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon were big for me. Dragon Ball has been there for years and years, and it’s kind of coming on; sometimes it’s at the forefront but it’s always been there. I’ve had a rough few months lately; I’ve gone through a bunch of stuff, so for me, I’ve kind of latched back on to Dragon Ball again and it’s kind of been my outlet and my escape. So, cosplaying Dragon Ball and getting hyped up for the movie has really helped me kind of make myself better in a way. So, that’s kind of what I’m really geeking out on right now.
Cosplay, in general, is having this great renaissance right now with all these streaming services. So, it’s kind of a great time to be an anime fan, especially for older fans who know the struggle. It’s just great to see anime in general just kind of be popular and mainstream and kind of be excepted.
I went to Michael’s yesterday and a girl saw the Dragon Ball sticker on my phone and started geeking out and was like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s so cool, stay awesome and never change.” She was a younger girl telling me that and I’m like, “Wow, that resonates with me.” So, I’m kind of just geeking out in general over anime. Dragon Ball is my main focus.
I’m also a big game. Video game-wise it’s all about Red Dead Redemption 2, which is phenomenal. I’ve probably put a good 80-something hours into Red Dead 2. I was absolutely hooked. I could not stop playing that game. So yeah, that’s kind of have been my main focus recently.
GNN: All right. I guess I’m going to have to check out RDR 2. So, the last question and, again, keep in mind that literally dozens of people are going to swamp to what you will say in a second, where can people find you on the interwebs?
MV: I exist on the internet. I’m on Facebook. It’s MsValentine (@ValentineCosplay). I am also on Twitter. I feel so old because I’m still trying to figure out how the hell Twitter works. It’s @Cortana2552 on Twitter and then on Instagram it’s @msvalentine2552. So, that’s where I exist. That’s where I post. Right now it’s all Dragon Ball content so if you’re not a Dragon Ball fan it’s probably not a good time to stop by because it’s all I’m talking about right now. But, yeah, that’s where I exist online.
GNN: Excellent. Thank you very much for your time!