22 August 2012

Super Awesome Cosplay Interview: Anne Packrat!

As Riza Hawkeye from FMA (Ishval War era). 
Anne's no stranger to conventions--she's been a panelist, a convention staffer, and avid cosplayer since 1998, with over 50 constructed costumes to her name. She's got loads of experiences under her belt, varying from good to bad, and I'm so happy she let me interview her. She's got wonderful advice that I find particularly helpful to noobs such as myself, and a great sense of humor. Bonus points--Anne's also a writer, and as you know, we like writers on this website. :)

Anyway, if you're thinking about cosplaying for the first time, or want to give conventions a try, read on!

What made you want to cosplay?

Mom always made my Halloween costumes as a kid, I never got store-bought. At one point I started designing them and when I got into anime and saw people cosplaying  I wanted to do it too.

What was your first cosplay?

I cosplayed Amano Ai from Video Girl Ai at Animazement '98. Me and a friend did a skit and we were laughed and booed offstage. Later online I was told it was because I was too fat to do the character. After that I stopped cosplaying for three years, but eventually started up again with a silly Pikachu costume at Ohayocon '01.

What's your process for choosing a character and making the costume?

I usually cosplay characters for one of three reasons: I love the design (like the Tegami Bachi uniforms), my friends are doing a group from a particular show and I want to cosplay with them (Ouran High), or I just love the character (Riza Hawkeye!).

I start by getting as many references as I can of the character from all angles and then determining how to do the costume. Then I buy pattern / fabric / wig / materials and since I procrastinate like a bitch, I usually rush around and try to finish it in the weeks leading up to the con. Mascot outfits take a lot longer to do usually so I'll try to start earlier.

What is the most challenging aspect of cosplay? 
Can't go wrong with Totoro

The most challenging aspect is making the costume and dealing with reactions to it for me. Making it can be difficult especially if you mess up a lot (and I do) and since I am rather self conscious I sometimes take bad reactions (or a lack of reactions) harder than I should. For newbies the hardest part would probably be actually making the costume then being in it. A lot of people don't realize that you will be in this costume for hours at a time and you will sweat, lose hydration, and be uncomfortable if you don't plan for it.

What has been your most popular cosplay?

Overall I guess it's Totoro. I wear that one the most since it's so comfortable and easy to move around in. It's also really recognizable. I've also gotten a lot of good reactions from my Black Hayate, Hammer Bros and Goron outfits, mainly because so few people have done those characters.

The biggest Web reaction I've gotten is for my "Garbage Bag Kakashi" joke costume I did. The reaction hasn't been favorable though, and it's quite often posted as an example of cosplay fail (which it was intended to be.)

You've won awards for performance--any advice for cosplayers in this regard? How important do you think it is for cosplayers to be in character, whether they're in the masquerade or on the floor?

You don't have to be in character all the time, sometimes that can get annoying if the character is particularly annoying itself (I'm looking at you, Homestuck trolls with horns!). 

When entering a skit in the Masquerade follow the three S's: short, sweet, and simple.
  • Short: Don't go longer than you have to because the audience has a short attention span, and gets bored easily.
  • Sweet: Make it original and funny or memorable. Don't just get up there and sing along to some song, those are done to death. Some cons have gone so far as to ban skits involving Lady Gaga, Yatta, Avenue Q and other songs because they are so common.
  • Simple: Make it as general as possible so even people that don't know the series you're from can understand it.
To you, what makes someone's cosplay successful? What makes your own cosplay successful?

A cosplay is successful if a person is as accurate as they can be within their body limitations, and if they are recognizable as the character. You can put a cowboy hat and flannel shirt on all you want, but no one is going to think you're Applejack unless you add more identifying elements of the character to her.

My cosplays are successful when they are recognized and I don't feel I look like a complete idiot in them.

Let's get into your favorite cosplays... 
  • What is your favorite cosplay to do?
  • What is your favorite cosplay to see at conventions?
  • Is there a favorite series or franchise that you'll always cosplay from?
My favorite cosplays are simple ones that are comfortable. Totoro is fun, as is Snorlax. Mario is my favorite since he's so recognizable and fun to play around with people in. I often get people humming the World 1-1 theme song when I pass by as Mario! Of my mascot ones, I love Gin from Tuxedo Gin the best because who doesn't love a giant penguin in a Hawaiian shirt?

Said penguin, said Hawaiian shirt.
= Love!!
My favorite cosplays to see at cons are rarer well-done cosplays. At Colossal Con I saw a Gegege no Kitaro cosplay and that just made my day.

I often cosplay from FMA since I love it and the uniform is pretty versatile. I also bring my Pokémon ones, Digimon, and Totoro all the time because they're simple and comfortable.

What cosplays would you like to see more often? What cosplays are oversaturated at conventions?

I like when people use props or costumes to reference a particular scene or aspect of a character, or to do something different. Like if you're cosplaying May from FMA Brotherhood and carrying around a Worm-Envy in a jar, or a Soul Eater Evans cosplayer who carries around a kishin soul to pretend to eat.

What oversaturates conventions depends on what is popular. Fifteen years ago it was Ranma, Escaflowne and Evangelion. Ten years ago it was Trigun, InuYasha and Cowboy Bebop. Five years ago you couldn't spit without hitting a Naruto or Bleach cosplayer.

Oddly enough today the most popular costumes are from non-anime series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Dr. Who, and the web-comic Homestuck. In terms of anime the most popular are Pokémon and Hetalia, though they have nowhere near the popularity that Naruto or Bleach once had.

This is so cute, it hurts!
Anne as Mao from Shadow Hearts FTNW.
What are the best aspects of the cosplaying community? What are the worst (what would you like to see change)?

The best aspect is that the cosplaying community is almost always ready to help each other in making a costume, giving advice or suggesting materials.

The worst aspect is the drama and wank that comes out of it. I've seen major shitfests erupt because one person is butthurt over someone else cosplaying the same character, or over who is better. Then there's times when the "big-name" cosplayers (or drama queens if you prefer) have a falling out and start saying all sorts of nasty stuff about each other. Eventually it becomes a shouting match over who's a bigger bitch, who didn't actually make their own costumes, and who did what with a Sprite bottle in a hotel room.

Also, cons and cosplay are not an excuse to act however you want, though many people, particularly younger fans, seem to think it is. I know someone who cosplayed Naruto and was innocently talking and all of a sudden a Sasuke cosplayer came up and hit them hard on the ass with a wooden Yaoi paddle. I've also heard of skeevy old men who use cosplay as an excuse to get close to young girls and take up skirt shots or to do even worse things. Just because you're at a convention doesn't mean common sense gets left at the door.

This is one of my favorites of Anne's,
I've always been a fan of historical, glamorous
costumes! And coats. I looooove fancy coats!
How important is realism in cosplay?

Realism to me, is pretty important. That being said though, I don't have a problem with someone cosplaying any character they want as long as they fit the costume to their frame. If you are a large person like me then you need to make sure the costume isn't too tight, and you should probably avoid wearing anything too skimpy. I've seen a three hundred pound woman in a tight chainmail bikini. It was not a pretty sight.

Also if you want to make modifications because of a disability you have, for comfort's sake, or for modesty, well that's perfectly fine too.

I've also seen good, incredible costumes be passed over because the person isn't physically perfect. A costume will look best if you look exactly like the character, of course, but that doesn't mean you won't look great with a wonderful costume and a little extra weight, or if your skin tone is different than the character.

Do you follow pro cosplayers or cosplaying groups? Any shout outs or compliments you'd like to give?

I don't really follow any pros. The few I do admire are Yaya Han, Hanyaan Fairy, Athena and Pikmin Link. I was part of a group called Sexy Nyo, but a lot of our members have moved on to other things in their lives. I'll pick up and cosplay with other groups if they are interested, and I've done skits with other groups in the past.

Celeste Orchid is a good friend, and an excellent cosplayer, and she often works with Godly Team Cosplay, who do some of the funniest damn skits I've ever seen.

I'll give shoutouts to my friends Sugar and her boyfriend Carefree Captain. They do tons of impressive work and were part of a group that won Best in Show at Otakon a few years ago. Melissa from ICosplay.com was also a part of that group and is a wonderful cosplayer in her own right. Finally is my Pony pal and occasional cosplay partner Bobbi who also runs a damn fine masquerade.

This one makes me really, really happy!
Anne as a Goron from  LoZ. Woo!
What pressures have you felt when you've cosplayed, if any? Any advice with how to deal with this stuff?

I'm often posted as an example of bad cosplay, or cosplay fail. Mainly because of my weight, but occasionally for other things. I've also been chosen as one of the top ten worst cosplayers alive by a popular Japan-culture blog, and I've been told that I have no talent, I'm fat, I'm ugly and I had to get my husband blind stinking drunk before he'd ever propose to me.

I won't lie, it hurts, but at some point you have to realize that you're a person dressing up and pretending to be a cartoon or video game character. The whole thing is silly fun, and neither the critics nor the experience should be taken seriously.

The main cosplay biases you'll see online are threefold: fat people shouldn't cosplay, Americans / Westerners can't cosplay, and to a lesser extent, black people and minorities shouldn't cosplay.

As long as they fit the costume to their frame and don't have their bits hanging out why shouldn't fat people cosplay? If you limit yourself to cosplaying "fat characters" there's not a whole lot to cosplay. Losing weight is incredibly difficult, but is always a noble goal to strive toward. That doesn't mean you can't have fun and cosplay while you're doing it.

You'll come across the Westerner / Americans can't cosplay bias a lot, usually accompanied by a badly taken picture of a closet cosplay costume worn by an American and an incredibly gorgeous cosplayer with an incredibly accurate costume worn by a Japanese person. There are many reasons the Japanese may appear to be better cosplayers. Official props, costumes and wigs are a hell of a lot easier to get over there, as there are literally stores full of them. Also if you look closely most of these photos are photoshopped to hell and back. (Often these people don't even appear human anymore!) The main reason though is exposure. The West tends to only get the good Japanese pictures since they are filtered through other websites that pick only the good looking cosplayers. But when it comes to American cons we get all sorts of unfiltered pictures posted by everyone who attended.

I've already touched on race and cosplay, but overall it shouldn't really be a factor. However, if you do choose to do one of the few characters that match your own race and do it well, I applaud you for it.

Any advice about getting your picture taken and overall cosplay etiquette?

Pick a few poses beforehand. Practice them for a few minutes in the mirror to get them down.

DO NOT BLOCK HALLWAYS AT CONS! It is rude and can get you in a lot of trouble. Particularly when getting your picture taken, try to go to a wide open area, or arrange yourself so you are against a wall. If all else fails get it over with as quickly as possible so you don't block the hallway for very long.

Most cons have unofficial series photoshoots organized by fans where you can take pictures with other cosplayers from the same anime or show. Sometimes they are listed on the schedule, but you can always find them listed on the con website's forums.

Do not glomp or hug other cosplayers without asking first! You can seriously harm someone if they can't see well in the costume and you try to do a running glomp on them.

Don't annoy other people by being in character all the time and expecting them to do the same. It can be fun for awhile, but if the person is showing signs that they are uncomfortable or want to leave then drop the act and let them go.

Also always bring safety pins, duct tape and a small sewing kit with you in case of costume malfunction.

Fun Hammer Bros cosplay from Super Mario Bros!!
Final thoughts

To cosplay seriously, you need to have a thick skin. People will talk bad about you online, and talk about you behind your back. The Internet has allowed people to be anonymous dicks to each other and they do not always say nice things. If you're prepared for that, or you don't care what some jerks on the Internet say, then go for it.

 Cosplay is a ton of fun, and is very rewarding. It's a great way to run around a convention and be silly for a weekend. Do your best on your costume, and have the time of your life in it. 

Just wear underwear while you do it. Man Faye doesn't. I know firsthand, and have quite possibly been rendered sterile by the experience.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

If life gives you lemons, make orange juice.

For more of awesome Anne, check out her complete cosplay list (my, how it grows and grows!!) and visit her on Deviant Art and her tumblr Geek Squee

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