The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

How geeks made cosplay the sexiest, most creative hobby in the nerdosphere

Australia’s top cosplayers have managed to build and showcase their own costumes while upside down and covered in spiders, and still look damn good doing it. Also, they’re all unbelievably kind, warm, and friendly. What the hell, guys?

Meet Mad Maven, Justin Acharacter, Breathless-ness, Ardella, Eve Beauregard, and Rascal.

So, what’s your deal? (When did you start doing cosplay? What drew you to it? Why do you still do it?)

Mad Maven: In 2011 I saw Supanova Pop Culture Expo advertised and convinced my husband to come with me. I saw all these people dressed as their favorite characters, and to me they were what created the fun atmosphere at the convention. I always waited for friends to throw costume parties so I could dress up, so I saw these “cosplayers” doing it I decided next year I would make my dream costume, Michelle Pfieffer’s catwoman, and wear it to a convention.

I spent months researching it to make it exactly how it was done for the film, I learned to cast, sculpt and work with latex and wore it to Sydney Supanova the following year. Cosplay is a creative outlet that I couldn’t do without. I love making, I love learning, I love the creative process. I just can’t stop!

Justin Acharacter: I’ve always been into superheroes; before I did cosplay, I played superheroes for kids’ birthday parties and made my own costumes for that. I did my first cosplay six years ago and immediately felt “this is my home.” Ever since then, I’ve made great friends in this community and always will continue to make more.

In the '90s there was no such thing as too much shoulder pad. You wouldn't understand, kids.

In the ’90s there was no such thing as too much shoulder pad. You wouldn’t understand, kids.

: I started cosplaying in 2004. I went to my first convention the year before and saw people dressed up as characters from anime and manga series. I thought it was amazing that they had a way of participating further in their interests, and I later discovered that this was a hobby for a wide range of people. I had been interested in the anime genre for a few years, and as an artist had delved into drawing in this style, so it felt natural to open my creativity further and try sewing costumes. I tried out and modified a pattern from a craft store and since my first costume, I’ve never looked back.

Ardella: I think I started the same way everyone starts — wearing a towel as a cape and running around the house as a kid. I guess the joy of becoming a superhero just never wore off for me. I was 15 when I cosplayed for the first time. I sweet-talked my stepmum into staying up until 3 a.m. the night before my first convention to help me sew my first costume. I didn’t start cosplaying consistently or with any real effort until about 4 years ago, but the reasons I do it haven’t changed. I love it. I love being able to connect to the characters I enjoy in a really unique way. I love being able to show my appreciation for the characters and even the fandoms surrounding the characters. I also find that when you are dressed up as a character somewhere like a convention, other people who are a part of the same fandom feel more welcome to come up and discuss those things with you. It breaks down the social barriers that usually exist and I’ve met some amazing people because of that.

Eve Beauregard: I was taken to my first convention when I was about 14 by my two older brothers and have been thoroughly convinced ever since that cosplayers and other hardcore geeks are absolute rock stars. Having always been the artsy type, I couldn’t wait to try my hand at it, so the next year at Supanova Pop Culture Expo I dressed as Poison Ivy. Looking back on it now makes me cringe like you cannot believe (K-Mart wig, what was I thinking?), but everybody starts somewhere! I’ve made about six different incarnations of Ivy since then. In an immediate sense, perfectionism and an urge to improve parts of my crafting are what encouraged me to return to cosplay. However, on a whole, the friends I made at conventions and the overall positive experience I’ve always associated with cosplay are what keeps me so actively involved. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet such wonderful, like-minded people before and I couldn’t imagine ever leaving that behind.

Our costume will be that Tex Avery cartoon wolf who goes crazy over lounge singers.

Our costume is that Tex Avery cartoon wolf who goes crazy over jazz singers.

Rascal: I’ve been dressing up since I was a little kid, and all through my life I’ve taken every opportunity to dress up. I’ve always been artsy, and absolutely love sewing. I was taught to sew as a kid, and by the time I did sewing tech in highschool I had a teacher accuse me of having my mum sew my project because it was too well made. My own personal projects were always making pieces for characters, or drawing up my own costume designs, and when I was shown the insane world of cosplay I knew I’d found my home. I’d found people who understood and accepted the life-sustaining need to bring these characters into the real world.

Who is your favorite character to cosplay, and why?

Mad Maven: Catwoman. I get a latex suit, a stock whip and big shiny stomper boots. Batman was my childhood so I always wanted to grow up and be her. There’s nothing like doing a photoshoot on a rooftop with Batman and really feeling 6 year old you, yelling “I am Catwoman, hear me roar!”

Eve Beauregard: That’s like asking someone to choose their favorite child! I have such fond memories attached to all of my costumes, I couldn’t possibly choose one. I do have a real sentimental attachment to Poison Ivy though, because she was my first cosplay and I’ve devoted so much time to making various versions of her.

Rascal: I have two favorites: first, my stormtrooper. You encase yourself in a set of armour, and put a helmet on and you instantly become a soldier with no identity. You’re intimidating, but nobody knows that you’re pulling faces or falling asleep inside the helmet. I adore the shock factor that I get from people when I pull my helmet off and they realize that I’m a female. People just don’t expect it. My second is Jack, from Mass Effect 3. She’s got a fair bit of skin showing, but her character is one of the toughest, take-nothing people I’ve ever met. She’s a whole ball of crazy. You feel sort of sexy in her, but you also feel powerful.

This takes much more work than an Oracle costume of a sweater and khakis.

This takes much more work than an Oracle costume of a sweater and khakis.

Ardella: This is always such a tricky question to answer! I love all the characters I’ve cosplayed, and often find myself being drawn to characters that I see some part of myself in, or something I’d aspire to be.

Power Girl is always a favorite. She’s beautiful and curvy, but also smart, sassy and driven. She runs her own software company and doesn’t take crap from anyone.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Princess Zelda. She was my favorite princess right throughout childhood. I distinctly remember pretending to be her stuck in a tree (probably put there by Ganondorf), waiting for my Link to come rescue me. Personally, I’m not usually a very dignified person, but once I put on that costume I suddenly feel like royalty.

What do you think are some misunderstandings the public has about cosplay?

Breathless-ness: To outsiders and closed minds, it can seem very strange. Dressing up in weird or scandalous clothes, brightly colored hair and full makeup can be astounding. Some people may look at it as fetishist, other as attention seeking or rebellion. What they don’t realize is that cosplayers are regular people; they just use their imaginations and creativity on another level. Generally, though, if I’m approached by someone outside of the culture, they are curious about what I’m doing or where I’m going, and are only ever intrigued and impressed by what I do. I think the awareness of the culture and what it’s about is growing, and that can only be a good thing.

Ardella: My boss still insists cosplay is porn. “But hey, what you do in your own time is up to you!”

But really, the unfortunate truth is that sex sells, and the cosplayers who receive the most attention from the wider community are often not the best seamstresses or the people with the most accurate costumes. It’s usually the most attractive ladies who show a large amount of skin. It’s not surprising, then, that the uninitiated often see cosplay as something very sexualized. That’s not to say that sexy costumes aren’t a part of cosplay, but there is so much more to it than just that.

It is scientifically impossible to be more Deathstroke than this.

It is scientifically impossible to be more Deathstroke than this.

Eve Beauregard: There are two major misconceptions that I deal with on a regular basis. The first is your usual high school mentality anti-geek attitude which leads people to believe that all cosplayers are basement-dwelling, sweaty mouth breathers with more comic books than social skills.

The second is that cosplay is exclusively a fetish activity and that costumes are intrinsically linked with kink. There are always exceptions to the rule, but on a whole I can easily say that both of these ideas couldn’t be further from the truth. Cosplay is full of passionate, talented and downright awesome people from all walks of life that come together to nerd out over their shared fandoms. You simply cannot tar such a large and diverse group of people with one (outdated and poorly informed) brush.

I’ve heard people disparage cosplay as for “fake geeks” who just want attention. What are your thoughts?

Mad Maven: It’s disheartening that some people that normally identify as people that were bullied in high school will practice the same judgmental behavior within their own community. I don’t believe in geek purists quizzing a guy that bought the franchise t-shirt on what happened in episode 23. How do we become fans in the first place? We may start with the t-shirt or watching one or two episodes — fandom grows. There are many different people that cosplay for many different reasons. It’s just much nicer to enjoy and appreciate the costumes than question and judge the person doing it.

Justin Acharacter: We are geeks, but we’re the artistic geeks, not the brainy ones. Since cosplay is getting bigger, more geeks are coming out. I talk to a lot of body builders and most of them are into superheroes — they tell me that’s why they work out, to get that superhero body — so we’re all different but still geeks.

Rascal: When you’ve been an outcast from mainstream society for the large part of your life, and you finally find a small niche community that understands you, it’s really hard to see that suddenly explode and become a popular thing to do (even if it IS still just geeks/nerds who are doing it). Suddenly your fifteen years of D&D is going up against people who hadn’t even heard of it until six months ago. Your reign of the leaderboards for Call of Duty/Halo/Battlefield is now being challenged by a girl.

The resemblance is bioshocking.

The resemblance is bioshocking.

I understand the fear, in a way. The people who have been shunned from mainstream culture, who have been laughed at and bullied for a large portion of their life are seeing their community start to replicate the issues that they tried to escape from in the first place. They don’t want it to become popular, they don’t want the people who have only just discovered “geeky” things, because they don’t want to once again become outcast from the community that they created.

But who are we to dictate who is a geek, and who isn’t? What does it matter if one person’s love for Batman came from the Dark Knight trilogy while someone else has read every Batman comic since its creation in 1941? Is it really an issue if someone has only played top-release Xbox games, and doesn’t download Humble Bundles to get indie games on PC? What if someone plays 2nd Edition D&D while someone else has only ever played D20 Modern?

Ardella: I’m certain there are people out there who do cosplay for attention. Goodness knows it’s nice to have your work recognized and be praised. But for me, personally, I don’t think that the attention alone would be nearly enough to make me want to work so hard on turning out costumes and attending conventions, and I find it very hard to imagine anyone else being that egotistical either. Whether it’s buying an outfit off eBay or creating a huge handmade mecha costume, cosplay takes a lot of time, money and courage. That’s a lot of work for a few fake internet marriage proposals.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe anyone out there has a right to judge anyone else’s “geek cred.” It really doesn’t bother me at all if people don’t want to believe I can actually kick their ass at Team Fortress 2. If it makes them feel better to imagine that I’ve never touched a comic book, that’s fine. Whatever helps them sleep at night. I’m going to continue doing what I love.

What are some of your favorite cosplay moments?

Mad Maven: Honestly I’m always having these moments. That’s why I love it. The kids win you over, though. They KNOW you because you are Catwoman as far as they’re concerned, and with no fear they’ll let go of their parent’s hand and walk straight up to you and start hugging you. Nothing beats that.

Justin Acharacter: Doing charity events does it for me; it’s always a great feeling when you are making disadvantaged kids happy. Lots of great moments and a lot more to come.

Breathless-ness: Conventions are always fun, because families or little kids stop to get a picture and think you’re the character. I appeared at the Kings Comics stand at the Royal Easter Show last year in Sydney and the tiniest and cutest little kid dressed as Batman came up to me (as Batgirl) and “Batman” to get a photo. He asked for a hug from Batman but was too shy to ask Batgirl, and when I acted all sad he changed his mind and gave me a hug… around the knees!! Best day ever and cutest memory I keep!

Funk as puck.

All Jacked up.

Rascal: Once I was walking the floor of a convention in my stormtrooper [costume], and was dealt a very hard punch to the back of my head (you have no idea how common that is, seriously). I whipped around and grabbed the guy by a fistful of his shirt. His cocky ha-ha-what-are-you-going-to-do face melted when I pulled my helmet off and gave him a verbal beat-down.

On another note, a happy memory is from a convention in Brisbane, wearing Mass Effect 3 Jack. A man with Down Syndrome was standing in the crowd looking at me while photos were being taken, so I smiled and waved at him, and he lit up. He came to have a photo with me and his carer explained that Mass Effect is one of the only games he plays, and that he was in love with Jack. So he got a massive hug, and a photo with me kissing him on the cheek. Day made!

Any advice for someone just starting out in cosplay?

Mad Maven: Start following cosplayers on social media. They are very open with their construction in their posts. Unfortunately, sending messages about your ideas might not be the best idea as some of them are bogged down in messages and costume construction. Prop makers are also key. There are online groups on facebook for cosplayers that are pretty easy to find. There are youtube tutorials and whole dedicated websites like the Replica Prop Forum that can teach you anything and everything about constructing your own costume.

Breathless-ness: If you’ve never attempted cosplay before, there is nothing to hold you back! Read tutorials, patterns, gather info on different techniques, anything you can to help you start. Don’t be afraid to ask experienced cosplayers for help either. Usually if you’re polite (please and thank you go a long way) most cosplayers will be willing to share their process with you.

Ardella: One thing I’ve found holds true from the first time cosplayer to the internationally recognized aficionado: cosplay characters you’re passionate about and even if your costume is falling apart at the seams, you’ll still have so much fun bringing them to life.

Finally, a costume that will scare Australia's native spiders.

Finally, a costume that will scare Australia’s native spiders.

Rascal: The internet is amazing for learning new skills. Sign up to some forums, not just Facebook groups, and you’ll find a colossal amount of information at your fingertips. The cosplay and prop-making communities are called such for a reason! There are thousands of people willing to share their knowledge and teach others. Take the plunge, step out of your comfort zone, and be amazed.

Eve Beauregard: My best advice is really just to dive in. I get so many messages from people saying that they want to cosplay but they “aren’t very good” — I always tell them that none of us start off as amazing costumers. When it boils down to it, cosplay is and always should be about having fun. If you’re enjoying yourself, you can’t be doing it wrong.

Good Idea at the Time

Alli Reed is on Twitter.

Alli used probably way too many Magneto analogies in Feminism Explained Through the X-Men and took nerd-hate to task with Women Even Ruin Women Ruining Things.

Not that X-Men doesn't have its share of sexism, too.

Not that X-Men doesn’t have its share of sexism, too.

Isn't a girlfriend who can beat us in Halo part of the American Dream?

Isn’t a girlfriend who can beat us in Halo part of the American Dream?

More from Alli Reed

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