by Bill Watters, Senior Editor/Photographer
Our Bill got to sit in on a group phone interview with one of the main personalities from the upcoming SyFy network original series Heroes of Cosplay Yaya Han. The show airs tonight after Face Off.
Q: It’s nice that cosplay is getting this attention from the series, why do you think it’s been so misunderstood all this time?
Yaya: I think that cosplay is a very unique art form, and I’m not surprised there are misunderstandings about it. Inherently we’re all adults, from all walks of life. And we’re dressing up as these characters from cartoons or comics or video games, and that in its self raises questions like “why don’t you just do it once a year on Halloween?” But when you take the time to understand cosplay more beyond just the surface, you’ll find that it actually offers a lot of positive aspects. There is a lot of creativity that goes into it, a lot of craftsmanship involved in making the costumes, and there are sets of skills you have to have in order to bring these characters to life. And as these characters are coming more to life, as video games are becoming more elaborate, TV and movies being able to offer more intricate costume design, we as fans have to replicate these designs. So in a lot of ways, cosplay is so much more than just buying a costume and dressing up. The essence of it lies within actually creating the costume. Also, to me, to most cosplayers; us growing up as geeks, as nerds, we definitely experienced our own issues being outcasts with kids at school or liking something that is considered not mainstream. And cosplay is a way for those people to come out of their shells, and it teaches a lot of social skills. Someone who is shy can put on a costume and become confident, all of a sudden they have more extroverted tendencies. For me it’s certainly been a confidence builder, and I’ve made a lot of friends it’s a very social activity. I think it’s a great thing with the geek community with comics and such becoming more main stream, cosplay is becoming more accepted and more known.
Q: This seems like it could end up being an expensive endeavor. How do you balance cutting costs and getting the costume right? That must be like walking a tight rope of sorts.
Yaya: Good costumes do cost money, but if you think about it, everybody has something they’d like to spend their hard earnings on. Some people are really into cars, and others are really into fashion. Most cosplayers prioritize by having a budget. The cosplayers that are able to make costumes continuously throughout the year they do budget. They really take on the monetary and also the time management. And it’s more than just a hobby, it really is a lifestyle for us. We spend most of our time, either thinking about costumes, or next convention or next project, there’s really so much that goes into it. You have to be able to put the money aside for it, and also to be frugal. I mean for me I’m always buying things in bulk, or shopping around, waiting for sales on things. I don’t really think there’s a trick to it, I think if you really love something you’re willing to spend your money on it.
Q: How do you keep your designs unique but still the original character?
Yaya: There are thousands, HUNDREDS of thousands of designs out there. There’s always something you can pull from or that can inspire you. Cosplay first and foremost is a very personal past time, it’s something that’s deeply personal to each cosplayer. Some of them are way into video games, or really into movies they grew up watching. Like one of our cast members Victoria is an AVID Star Wars fan, and she will spend the majority of her money and effort on Star Wars costumes because that’s what she loves. I don’t think cosplayers choose projects to try to gain popularity, at least to me and the majority of our cast on Heroes of Cosplay choose projects that we love, that we want to be next. And so the popularity of a character doesn’t always tie in to why we want to do it. The other thing is because we each make our costumes, you can do your own version of a character. So even if you’re making a costume of a character that’s been done hundreds of times by other people, you can put your own spin on it, your own materials, your own design. That’s one of the best parts of cosplay.
Q: You and the cast travel to several conventions on the show. What’s been a stand out experience for you?
Yaya: I myself love to travel to outside of the US. And cosplay is a global phenomenon, I love to meet people in other countries and see how their culture enjoys cosplay. It’s also really great to share a bond with people who you might not speak the same language, but you have that instant bond. My personal favorite moment was in London was called the “Grand Cosplay Ball” and it was an evening of celebrating cosplay from around the world, I was invited as a guest to perform in costume. It was really amazing to see all these people in these amazing costumes with the music and the dancing, and the having drinks together. Celebrating that we all come from different countries, but we all come together for this.
Q: What is your take on the current trend of people using Kickstarter and Indie-a-GoGo to fund their costuming. You made the mention of if people have the commitment they put their own money into it, but on the other hand you now have more and more people doing the “I really want to go to such and such con, but I don’t have the money to do it, so here’s my Kickstarter”. What’s your take on it?
Yaya: Oh wow. Um. LOADED question there, Bill. Well, I myself have been doing cosplay for 14 years, and in that time, I have never asked for money from people to fund a trip to a convention or a costume. Even though I do make a living through cosplay, it’s always been very important to me to provide a service, or to provide a product in return for money. I either create my cosplay accessories, or in the past I’ve done costume commissions so I’ve been able to monetize cosplay that way. But there is always a very specific product or something people can physically receive from me in return for money. I personally do not believe in crowd sorcing for your next costume or project, it’s seems tacky to me, unnecessary and like you’re taking advantage of websites like kickstarter or indie go-go. I think that if you really want to do a project, you can either find private sponsors which I’ve seen some people be able to do, or you can fund it yourself. A great example of this is a gentleman by the name of Ejen, he made a book called “Cosplay in America”, and he funded it himself with his own credit card. He maxed out several to be able to publish the book, and I find that so impressive and I respect him so much for doing that because he wanted to make a project, but he didn’t want to accept hand outs from people.
Q: Can you comment at all on the other cosplayers that are on the show with you, did you learn anything new about them? Did you already know them? What did you discover along your travels?
Yaya: Oh it was certainly a journey of discovery for all of us. I mean just being on a TV show was a really amazing life experience. Some of the cast like Rikki, Monica and Victoria were friends of mine before the show, we already had a personal relationship. Through us knowing each other, we were able to be on the show. And it was really nice to see everyone be able to showcase their personal way of cosplaying. Rikki is very much into the molding and casting the armor part of cosplay and props, Victoria is into as much accuracy as she possibly can achieve she works with her partner Jinyo, Rikki works on a team with her husband Chris, so we will get to see what it’s like for two couples to work on this stuff together. Monica is very young and very impressionable, and so we’ll see on her journey that she will go through some changes as she’s thrust into this world of cosplay. And then we all got to know the other cast members we didn’t know before, such as Holly and Jessica, and we learned that they’re incredibly funny and very professional. And Chloe who is quite the newbie in cosplay but brings this new air into it with her “why is it important for everything to be made perfectly?” And “why can’t I just do this for fun?” None of it is wrong, none of it is the way it “has to be”, it’s just to show there are different ways of cosplaying.
Q: What criteria do you personally use when you’re judging these contests? How do you weigh the exact replication of a costume from craftsmanship and creativity?
Yaya: For me when I judge a contest, I look for a combination of techniques. I’m looking for the best craftsmanship, but also the best performance. The best contests will allow the contestants to have both. They’ll have a craftsmanship judging before the contest, where the judges can look at the costumes up close and find out how they made their costume. As opposed to someone who bought their costume, they won’t be able to answer questions about how it was made. We’re looking for a costume that was made as much as possible at home, and it doesn’t have to be COMPLETELY made by you, it could have been made by you and your family, or you and your partner, but as long as you credit everyone who’s helped you on the costume. Now on stage, there is the ability of the contestants to do a skit, or do some sort of performance where they can actually show off how the costume moves, how THEY embody the character, which is very important to me with judging. As far as craftsmanship, it’s not so much about if the person looks exactly like the character, because I think that anybody should be able to cosplay outside of your race, your gender, your body type, outside of your height, so we’re looking at how well the costume fits the person, how well it’s executed, and how much detail work was put into the costume. Because there are some cosplayers, myself included, who will veer away from 100% accuracy to be able to translate the costume into a real live work environment. So we’ll add details onto the costume, or materials that aren’t as accurate but have more texture or depth. Just to enrich the costume in person.
Q: You had made mention of your doing manga before, with Cherry Blossom, have you ever thought about revising that with your on going adventures?
Yaya: Oh my gosh, it’s a huge regret in my life that with cosplay I had to put art on a back burner. There is so much that goes into making a costume, that my brain can’t handle that and focus on art at the same time. I would love to revisit art, but it would probably only happen if I had to take a break from costuming, and I don’t think that’ll ever happen. So unfortunately at the moment, I don’t have the time or energy to focus to go back to art.
Q: Can you talk about the seemingly symbiotic relationship between photographers and the cosplayers? I mean after last year’s DragonCon (2012) and those amazing shots that Elysiam Photography did with you. It’s ALL about the cosplayer and their work, but there is something special that happens when the right photographer shoots a costume.
Yaya: I think photography has completely changed the face of cosplay. It’s a huge part of why cosplay is so well known now. When I started cosplaying back in 1999-2000, there was no photography like there is now. The only way we could show off our costumes was to enter contests because that’s where the audiences would gather, and you’d have good lighting on stage. With photography, it brought that extra aspect of cosplay, it was no longer enough to make a costume and wear it. With the photography, you can now recreate a certain scene of a character from the comics, or recreate that iconic moment a character has in that movie, or video game. I think the relationship between the photographers and cosplayers should be fostered and encouraged. With social media and such when you have a good photo of your costume, your reach can be a lot further. That photo could be shared, and end up who knows where. The drawback to that is though there aren’t as many people now who feel compelled to enter cosplay contests because its so much easier to take a great photo and share it online. I hope that Heroes of Cosplay will hopefully show that the contests are still a valid challenge for cosplayers, and should be an aspect should still pursue. Because a lot of the time, when you do a contest, you have to put MORE effort into your costume, you have to think about a performance, and different stakes than JUST taking a photo and posting it on Facebook.