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Asian American cosplayers offer tips for Halloween

Interview by Barbara Yau with graphics by Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews

Comic Con 2021 may be over in New York City, but cosplay season across the country has just begun. With Halloween events and numerous comic conventions returning to their pre-pandemic glory days, cosplayers get to make up for lost time as they transform into their favorite characters!

Two seasoned cosplayers share their experiences with AsAmNews and offer tips to those who may be interested in getting started in the intriguing world of “costume play.”

Nina Ha 

“Cosplaying encompasses much more than just wearing a costume for Halloween or a party. It is truly embodying all the elements of the figure you’re trying to emulate, keeping in mind the various dress and equipment that truly make the character come alive!  It’s a fun momentary escape from everyday life.

I was five years old when I experienced my first Halloween. Our family had just immigrated from Taiwan to California, and I couldn’t believe there was a holiday where you could dress up and get free candy! I picked out a Frankenstein mask and plastic tie-on costume for the occasion and grunted my way to a hefty haul of sweets. That may have laid the foundation for my love of costumes, and later, cosplay. About a decade ago, I decided that I wanted to dress up and attend a comic convention after reading an article about cosplaying. About a year later, I was able to secure highly sought-after tickets for Comic Con International in San Diego. Since our family had already been dressing up as superheroes for several years prior, we simply took our little Justice League family to the convention. We attended Comic Con for seven consecutive years before the pandemic. 

The first year we cosplayed, we were surprised by the number of people who asked to take photos with us. My daughter said, ‘My face hurts from smiling for all the pictures!’ My husband always says, ‘If you want to feel like a celebrity for a day, go to Comic Con in cosplay.’

Our family has mainly focused on the big SDCC event each year. We enjoy group cosplay because it’s just so satisfying to work together to cohesively portray an entire theme or aesthetic. My favorite family costume of all time was the Super Mario Bros. You can’t go wrong with a comfy t-shirt, baggy overalls, and a giant mustache! My husband and daughter favor being a family of superheroes. My son enjoys cosplaying the titular character from SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical. 

Last year, I was chosen by Warner Bros. as a Wonder Woman DC Ambassador in a nationwide search for people who embody and promote the spirit of the Amazon warrior.  They gifted me the new Wonder Woman 1984 golden eagle armor costume. It was a dream to wear. I feel like my inner 5-year-old finally got her superhero wings. Being able to represent Wonder Woman in an official capacity is a tremendous honor and blessing, and it’s even more meaningful now whenever I cosplay Diana of Themyscira. 

As far as giving advice about selecting the right character to portray, I feel it’s important to find out what lights you up from the inside and then let the world see it. If you deeply identify with a fictional character, a real-life icon, or even a spirit animal, try to think of creative ways to channel their energy, show their influence on you, and make it your own. If you feel confident, excited, and amazing in your outfit, others will see that. The wonderful thing about cosplay is that it allows you to express various versions of who you are since it’s all in the spirit of fantasy and fun.

Think of your favorite movies, TV shows, comics, and cartoons when you were a kid. Depending on how elaborate you want to be, you can do anything from fabricating an exact replica of The Greatest American Hero costume from the 80s to simply wearing a trench coat, buying a Dollar Tree mustache, and calling yourself Inspector Gadget. 

You could always attend a comic convention and just people watch the first year. It’s so inspiring to see others dressed up in their fandom. Their creations might kick start your own cosplay imagination. Vince Martinez, an award-winning Comic-Con friend I met in 2013, makes his own extraordinary Transformers Bumblebee costumes complete with lights, moving parts, and even missile launchers! 

Graphic by Rhiannon Koh. Photo courtesy Nina Ha

It’s time-consuming and takes incredible skill to craft custom gear. However, if you have the time and means, making your own costume not only ups your cosplay credibility, it ensures that you have complete creative control over your final product. There are countless online step-by-step tutorials for almost any character you can think of. As a busy mom and writer, I default to pre-made costumes with modifications that I make each time I wear the outfit. For instance, I have tried to keep up with the myriad iterations of Wonder Woman over the years. I started with the classic Lynda Carter costume. I bought the corset, skirt, golden tiara, and cuffs online. I cut shiny red stars from an old superhero costume and sewed them onto the silver bracelets.

I purchased a custom reversible Wonder Woman/Supergirl cape from an Etsy costume designer and cosplayer Viva WW. I even got a pair of sample non-prescription blue contacts from my optometrist friend. I’m always fine-tuning to create the most comfortable costume while maintaining its authenticity. I’m a firm believer that it’s all about the details. Also, true fans notice and appreciate all the nuances and intricacies of the costumes cosplayers try to recreate. 

I have experienced costume issues when cosplaying Wonder Woman because manufacturers often make her skirt insanely short. As a parent, I don’t want my image to offend other parents or be too risqué for kids. I’ve had to cut up my older Wonder Woman skirts to fill in the deep gaps on the newer costumes. I believe personifying a superhero also means taking on the responsibility of being a good role model for the next generation.

One of the most magical aspects of cosplay is that you can transcend any barriers of race, gender, or even species! There’s a fine line between a costume that pays homage to a different ethnicity or gender and outfits which are culturally appropriated and offensive to the culture they’re representing. If there’s ever a question as to which category your costume falls under, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution. One year, our family encountered a large group of women cosplaying Iron Man, Thor, and other predominantly male characters.They made for a collective cool crew that turned many heads. I’ve met my match in dozens of people identifying as male, non-binary, etc. dressed as Wonder Woman. I think we should respect and celebrate all people in how they choose to cosplay, but especially so when they’re not in costume.  

Once in a while, our family will see another Asian American family at Comic-Con. We usually geek out and get all excited about it. However, it happens far less than we would like.  It would be wonderful to see more AsAm representation in the future. This Halloween, we’re going to cosplay Ted Lasso (my husband with a big adhesive ’stache), Squid Game (our son with the teal 456 jumpsuit and me with the 218 tux), and Glee (our daughter in a Cheerios cheerleading costume). However, we’re aiming to represent Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the next comic convention. It’s exciting to be able to cosplay characters from the first Asian lead superhero movie in history. We would love to see other Asian American individuals and families picking up the cosplay gauntlet so to speak.”

Graphic by Rhiannon Koh. Photo courtesy Reggie Antagan

Reggie Atangan

“Cosplaying is more than just putting on a costume and going trick or treating. You essentially take on the essence of that character, their personality traits, the way they walk, and their poses. You add their expressions and their mannerism, and sometimes you’ll modify your voice to sound like how the character sounds from the movie or manga, or comic. Something about that character — whether villain or hero, main character or support — just resonates with you, and you want to do everything you can to be like that character. 

I started cosplaying in 2015 at New York Comic Con. The creator of the manga Naruto made an appearance, and I wanted to be a part of the fans that cosplayed some of his character creations in a tribute to how much that manga impacted me. For me, it started as a ‘I’ll try it once just to see how fun it is to cosplay,’ and now, it’s embedded into my lifestyle as more than just a hobby, like sports or reading. Another reason why I cosplay is to see little kids’ faces and expressions when they see their hero or idol, and you get to see that child’s face light up, knowing they saw and talked to their favorite person. it may seem like a fantasy, but to them, you just made their whole world.

I’ve attended a few events like New York Comic Con, Anime NYC, Anime Next, and local cons such as Garden State Comic Fest and Eternal Con. I’ve also traveled to areas like the DC/Maryland area for Katsucon, and San Jose for Fanime Con. I’ve also been a part of networking events such as Lightbenders, a networking event to allow cosplayers and artists to create content and works of art. Individually, my most memorable character I’ve portrayed is an anti-hero named Hero Killer Stain from My Hero Academia, and another anti-hero in DC comics by the name of Deadshot. I’ve also been part of many different cosplay groups and participated in huge meetups and photoshoots. 

As far as tips on finding the right character, there are so many different ways to choose one. For me, it’s simple — who resonates with you or vibes with you? Who fits your personality? Who do you admire? Who do you think seems cool? Also, cosplaying on Halloween is different from attending an event as a cosplayer. For Halloween, you’re not expected to be in character compared to attending a meetup at a Star Wars meet up.

After choosing who you want to cosplay,now it’s time to decide. If you like to craft — meaning sew, be hands-on, create from scratch — go for it! If you don’t have the time or skills, and having someone craft your costume for you, go for it! If you think buying from a store is up your alley, go for it! There really isn’t one method that’s better than another. Some people can afford to buy the items they need for their cosplay. Others make it from scratch. The main factor to remember is that YOU portray that character. How you carry that version of Superman or Wonder Woman, whether you make armor or buy the suit, YOU bring that character to life. 

If you’re crafting, there are a massive number of YouTube videos on how to make something, sew something, etc. For example, for my Gyomei cosplay from the manga Demon Slayer, I bought the uniform with the haori (outer cover, like a jacket), bought the contact lenses, and bought flip flops. But, I used ACE bandages I found at work, I bought wood beads, red paint and string to make his prayer beads and bead necklace, and I crafted his weapon from scratch, using PVC pipe, EVA foam, plastic chain, a styrofoam ball, construction paper, glue, and paint. I found a YouTube video of someone who made the same prop from scratch and followed his tutorial step by step. I relied on images and photos as a reference to go back to, so I could try to look as close to the character as possible. So, in the end, you kind of do a little of everything — buy ready-made and craft. 

All cosplayers have issues that come up with their costumes, so expect to have accidents when cosplaying! My Hero Killer Stain boots have spikes glued on the end of the boot, but I always lose three or four of them at every event because of walking, posing, or someone stepping on my shoes. I have daggers that were 3D printed snap off while trying to unsheath them. I’ve had contact lenses rip/pop out. I’ve bumped into people unintentionally because my contact lenses for Gyomei are white mesh, so my vision is impaired. I’ve had LED lights blow out mid-photoshoot. My Deadshot mask is latex, so I sweat like I’m in a sauna. 

When it comes to cosplaying opposite gender characters, or characters that seem to identify with a particular demographic, I find there is a very thin line between what’s accepted and what’s not. For example, an accepted practice is wearing color contacts or wigs because that character’s color scheme is what it is. Another practice that’s accepted is body makeup — orange skin for Starfire or white makeup for a demon from Demon Slayer. As for genderbending — the term often used when a male gender identified cosplayer portrays a female character — I’m all for it. It’s common for female characters to cosplay a male character, but putting on their own spin. Race itself is such a hot button issue. Altering your skin to seem white or black or modifying your eyes to seem more Asian triggers so many people. So I say, don’t change what you already have. You don’t need to blacken your skin to be Nick Fury from the MCU or Luke Cage. You don’t need to make your eyes look ‘Asian’ to look more like Shang Chi. To me, that’s pointless. Respect what you already have or have been given, and enhance your cosplay with details. It’s all in the details. 

In the end, there’s one real rule to cosplaying: COSPLAY IS FOR EVERYONE!”

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