Written and Interview by: Toni Darling
You’ve seen her in pictures, on Facebook, even a Zom-Be-Gone commercial! But now you will hear a little more from this up and coming star about her career, her values and her future in this exclusive interview. Before you get to see this fantastic cosplayer in person this weekend at Phoenix Comicon, get to know her a bit here.
I think it is important to acknowledge excellence in any field. I don’t care if your trade is fashioning steampunk bunny slippers – if you do it well and with passion, inevitably it will get noticed. And I believe that hard work and dedication, which results in such success, should be celebrated by one’s community. As a blog which celebrates the Geek community here in Arizona, it seemed natural and appropriate that Geek News Network would seize an opportunity to interview the world-famous cosplayer Jessica Nigri. I think it is important for us all to recognize her hard work, her humility and pat her on the back for her success. She has single-handedly raised the bar on cosplay, and has done so with grace, compassion and humility. I have always wondered, where did she come from and how does she do it? Piggy backing on Todd Vanhoosers article (you can read here), I agree with him that there is a line between those who pretend and those who are legitimately talented people. And Jessica is one of those legitimate professionals. So I’m not simply asking how does she make a badass costume (though on a side note she makes every single one of them by hand), but how did she become top dog? Like any other group, there is a hierarchy in cosplay, and she is queen bee. So I have asked the questions that we all want to know! What makes her different from the thousands of other girls out there? Is she a ‘real geek’? What games does she play? Are they real? What’s it like at Warner Brothers? And what is this awesome news from Knightingail!?
I had first met Jessica at WonderCon 2012, while she was cosplaying for Knightingail. My first impression of her was that she was very high energy and fun. She handled the hoard of fan boys like a pro and was kind even during the most uncomfortable conversations. But before we chatted for the interview, I had the opportunity to hang out on set during a photo shoot she was doing for Knightingail. And the first things I noticed, or my second impression so to speak, of Jessica Nigri was: 1. I can see why people love working with her, she’s hilarious and carefree, very funny and quirky which draws people in and makes them feel comfortable in her presence. 2. She’s pro at posing, like any other well honed skill, Nigri has modeling down to an art. Watching her pose and reposition and embody the character was awesome 3. She is such a super geek – constant geek references, strange little faces and expressive noises, she is an entertaining person to be around. We have all seen this in her YouTube videos, but it’s an entirely different thing in person. To be honest it was the most fun I have had on a photo shoot ever.
But on to the interview. Let us start at the beginning….
Toni: So tell me about the beginning…
Jessica: In the beginning … Well it started when I went to San Diego Comic Con in 2009. I was actually gifted the tickets by a friend for my birthday, and he said ‘you know sometimes people go to these things and dress up.’ At this time I had no idea what cosplay was, but I’ve always been a huge fan of Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z and all that stuff.
Toni: Did you grow up playing games?
Jessica: Yeah, watching Pokemon and playing Pokemon, and Resident Evil and I REALLY really like Gears of War. Gears of War came out before I came to Comic Con. But pretty much I went to San Diego Comic Con dressed up like Pikachu and it was like Halloween, you know? You dress up like a sexy cop or whatever, and I was like ‘Oh I’ll be a sexy Pokemon! That sounds like a genius idea.’
Toni: Turns out it was VERY genius.
Jessica: Yeah, so that’s like a signature of who I am now, though I am trying to back away from that. And what happened was someone took a high res photo of me and my name was on my badge on my skirt and they zoomed in. When I got home from San Diego Comic Con I had like 400 friend requests because the picture had gone viral over the weekend. So I blocked my Facebook and deleted my Myspace and I made the fan page and directed all the people there. So that’s how I got started, and it kept blowing up because I had also been at San Diego Comic Con in my Riku costume. Then I was with KassemG who was quite a popular YouTuber and I didn’t know who he was at the time. I was actually a fan of Dave Days and he does the Miley Cyrus videos and I was like dude I love you, and we did something and it kind of exploded from there.
Toni: How many costumes do you have roughly?
Jessica: Like 30, but in the beginning I actually threw them away because I didn’t think I’d ever wear them again.
Toni: So before this what did you want to do? I heard something about journalism?
Jessica: Well journalism actually came along with all of this. Originally I was looking at nursing and I went to the hospital with my mom (she’s an ICU nurse) and I was like nooooo way! So then I was kind of scared, what am I gonna do with my life, etc.
Toni: And then San Diego Comic Con happened?
Jessica: Yeah San Diego Comic Con happened and then Comic Book Therapy asked me if I wanted to do some interviews. And after that weekend I was like ‘dude journalism all the way’ and it was my goal for about a year. But then after Lollipop Chainsaw now I want to do marketing and advertising. I think at some point I’ll steer away from cosplay and look more into marketing. I really want to focus on something that requires brains, I don’t want to be boobs and butt for the rest of my life.
Toni: Well we all are enjoying that now so… anyway what inspires you to cosplay certain characters?
Jessica: Religiously I only do stuff I know a lot about and I’ve played and I’ve watched. And I hand make everything.
Toni: That is so impressive and legit! So, I’m not from this area so learning about you from ground zero has been interesting. One of the things that strikes me as an outsider coming in, is the fact that there are so many cosplayers and yet there’s really not a lot of girls who do what you do, on the same level you do it. Why do you think that is?
Jessica: I think there are, but really it’s becoming a new thing, before there was just booth models and now it’s becoming more than that, and cosplay is becoming more and more popular.
Toni: What distinguishes you in my mind is the level of professionalism. I mean you don’t do nudes and rarely even do butt shots. Now is that a moral thing, a religious thing, a professional thing?
Jessica: I really want the only person to see me the way I am is my husband, I know it’s kind of old-fashioned, but it’s the way I am. But I don’t think the world needs to see that, and once you see that, you can never go back. They saw everything and then they leave, like porn stars you’ve seen them naked, there’s no mystery. So I’m kind of playing on the fact that there is still mystery, by saying ‘oh here’s my upper thigh and cleavage’ but not my ass, and it SELLS better than anything.
Toni: That is so true and really, it’s what sets you apart that you have become so successful and yes, surprisingly, without showing too much. Some people use that to get where you’re at but like you said, you don’t need that.
Jessica: Yeah! Because once you do that you have taken thousands of steps backwards. You really have. It’s there and it’s done and there’s no going back.
Toni: When I talk to people about this, you are revered for your professionalism but also for your kindness. I even witnessed it at Wondercon, you treat your fans so well.
Jessica: I treat everyone as if they’re wearing a shirt that says ‘make me feel special’ because you don’t know what their day has been like and you don’t know what they’ve been through. You never judge someone, because when I first started, people judged me like crazy, and for one it really gave me a tough skin and two it taught me that they don’t know me and they’re making these crazy assumptions about me. And when I was younger I used to do that and so its like – why would I be any different from those people, making fun of me back then? So I decided to make an extra effort, because you just don’t know what their day and their lives are like. So when they come to me and tell me they love what I do, all I can say is a big thank you.
Toni: That’s so super cool of you. Ok so with Warner Brothers, that’s a huge break, tell me about that.
Jessica: Yeah they actually held a contest on IGN, they partnered with the gaming website and they held a contest – They had seen my cosplay and asked me to audition, so I went out, auditioned and made it to the final ten and then my fan page was amazing, thank you fan page!!!! I won because of them, not because of me.
Toni: They’re like a cult.
Jessica: They’re like a mob, a cult force. They don’t know the power they have.
Toni: So how has it been working with them? Is this so pro, are you feeling amazing about this?
Jessica: Well every time I go out with them they get limos to pick me up from the airport, we go out to fancy restaurants and now we’re going out to Japan to tomorrow. So it’s a whole new world. And they are always saying, “You’re talent if you want anything, just say so,” and I’m like not gonna stamp my talent foot, no way. But they tell me if I’m ever uncomfortable or need a massage or an extra room for my dog etc. just ask.
Toni: A room for your dog, seriously?
Jessica: Yeah, its crazy! But the people I work with deal with super stars and they treat me like that. But I’m not letting it go to my head because soon I know it’s almost over and I’m really enjoying the experience. June 12th is when the game comes out and I stop traveling.
Toni: So let’s talk about Knightingail- how has your experience been? It’s been a year now right?
Jessica: It’s the one year anniversary and I have a lot I owe Knightingail because Wayne Gardiner contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be on the cover and did I want to be a booth model at Phoenix Comicon. He was the first person I ever did it for and I owe so much to Knightingail. I love it, it’s a great family friendly comic and we’ve taken it really far and I think it just needs a little push. And I think its great.
Toni: What inspires you about the lead character Eloa/Knightingail?
Jessica: She’s kind of goofy and peppy and sassy all at the same time. But she’s also really magical and has that power but it’s not like brute force, it’s commanding the elements around her.
Toni: How has Knightingail changed you?
Jessica: Knightingail changes me in to an elf every other weekend.
Toni: And I hear there’s some new exciting news related to you, Knighingail, and Phoenix Comicon?
Jessica: Yes! The first of the exclusives is a special “Jessica Nigri Photo-Cover” set of Knightingail comic book issues #1-6. All six issues will feature me on the cover and will be signed by both Wayne Gardiner as the creator/writer/publisher of Knightingail, and myself. The set is limited to 50 sets, all have the Phoenix Comicon logo on them, and they come with a numbered certificate of authenticity. Three of the covers are by Larry Stone of 12 North Photography. The other three were photographed by the team of Grant Brummett and Bobby Vyne.
The second exclusive is a special 10 poster set of 11×17 posters featuring me in all my Knightingail costumes. The posters will feature me as Eloa, Knightingail, Assassin Eloa, and Kaeli and also include Daniel and Purefire (other characters from the comic). And of course I’ll do a signing – but there’s only 20 of these exclusive poster sets available, and they will come with a numbered certificate of authenticity.
Both of these sets are being released to celebrate the one year anniversary of my collaboration with Knightingail. It was at Phoenix Comicon 2011 that Crucidel Productions launched its first Knightingail comic book with me on the cover. These exclusive promotions will be available at the Crucidel Productions booth #365 (the one year anniversary booth).
Toni: That’s awesome! I know Wayne has done so much for you and in general is really great to all the people he works with and promotes. So! Moving towards a finish – Dealing with fame, how’s that working out for you? Do you answer all the messages?
Jessica: I have a brain filter and I just scan through, but I also have A.D.D. and its very random what I answer. But I still don’t think I’m famous, when people say that, I’m like NO! It’s not even real, its internet likes.
Toni: But the power your fans have is real, and in our realm, our niche it is real.
Jessica: If I was ever in a movie, like a blockbuster hit, then I would think I was famous. But cosplay famous is retarded. I dress up in costumes and other people do way better jobs and don’t get the credit they deserve. But I post other cosplayers like crazy and promote my friends. I mean obviously I do events to help pay the bills but my fan page is really a vehicle for my friends.
Toni: Considering you have over 100,000 fans I am sure they appreciate that! So how do you manage all these fan made pictures I see?
Jessica: Like the one with the big raging boner? Yes I look at them all and save them to my computer.
Toni: Every single one?
Jessica: Yeah I love them!
Toni: Dude that’s so awesome. So how do you stay grounded in all of this?
Jessica: I think it’s ‘cause I’m not a big deal, so I don’t act like I am.
Toni: Any other plugs?
Jessica: Yes! Phoenix Comicon, 12 North photography, and Knightingail… and THANK YOU to all my fans.
Like the character Knightingail, Jessica certainly has a knack for commanding the elements around her. She commands fabric into fabulous cosplays, fanboys into a powerful mob and the industry into her land of opportunity. I was happy to have the chance to get to know a bit about her inner workings and I was thrilled to share them with you before we all see her at Phoenix Comicon. I think the thing that stuck out to me most in talking to her, was her comment about judgement. Who are we to judge, when we don’t know what people have gone through and who people really are? We play in a scene, the geek scene, where there is a lot of judgement going around between cliques and niche groups. Who is geeky enough? Who knows the most about Dr. Who? Who is a legit cosplayer, who isn’t? When I hear these kinds of questions I have to wonder, when we were children being picked on for our interests, did we imagine ourselves as one day being the aggressors within our own community? There are many breeds of Alpha geeks in each group – cosplay, gaming, comics and pop culture. I have heard many people bash girls like Nigri for exploiting the culture, but what I hope this article has shown you is that she is not only an authentic gamer and geek, but she is an authentic person. Put aside your judgements about her fame, or lack thereof, and join me in celebrating the fact that a local girl who represents our community has risen to the top, and is in many ways trying to give back to this community.
….And yes, they are real.
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