Tell us about your first cosplay experience.
When I was a girl, I had a fascination with dress up. My mother and grandmother were seamstresses and taught me the rudimentary skills of sewing, but rather than quilting, or only making everyday clothes, I wanted to make myself into cool characters from books, comics, and film. Honestly, I used to study comic book characters, trying to figure out how their costumes were made. I guess I’m a re-creationist from way back.
In college, I worked in a theater costume shop and learned a lot about technique, pattern design, and materials. I met my boyfriend (now my husband Nemo) in college. He was an amateur puppeteer and also had a strong interest in costumes in much the same way I did when I was a kid. His first trip to a science fiction convention showed us that people actually made costumes and wore them in masquerades. We decided we could do that, too, and did so the very next year. We’ve never looked back.
When I started costuming, people didn’t “cosplay.” That label came later as anime became more popular. The first set of anime costumes we made were Senorita Grandis Grandba, Sanson, and Hanson from Nadia of the Mysterious Seas. We wore them to science fiction and fantasy conventions, and people were not quite sure who or what we were. Nemo was Hanson, and we rigged him with a tape player under his jacket so we could play our cool music and do the characters’ walk through the halls of the cons. I learned to swish my hair over my shoulder just right, too. We thought we were quite the sensation.
In the early 1990s, we went to the first Anime Expo (right after the first Anime Con) in these suits and won Best of Show Technical. Lots of people knew who we were at Anime Expo. It was very cool. I’ve always thought that it was nice of the AX people to give us the tech award even though we had to do the presentation mute because our sound cue was flubbed.
You've been cosplaying a long time. What are some changes you've seen in the scene?
That we have actual anime conventions is a huge change. We used to be a subgroup at other conventions. Before anime became readily available in the U.S., most fans had seen the same shows, and costumes were more recognizable because you almost always knew what you were looking at. There were also fewer cosplayers at a convention.
Now, MANY fans cosplay, and you don’t know all the shows. I think I like it better this way because sometimes an interesting costume makes you want to see a show, or you can appreciate it for its own sake, and you don’t see as many of the same duplicate costumes. Okay, that’s a lie. You see plenty of duplicate costumes. But you see really rare stuff too. I live for when someone shows up in a costume that’s not done as much, say, something from Last Exile or something.
Have any nostalgia for the "good old days," or are you happy with the progress of cosplay?
Both. I miss the environment of anime cons of the past. Somehow, it seemed more laidback among the few of us who were cosplaying and less competitive. I could have been oblivious, but I didn’t notice the high level of competition and rivalry among cosplayers that I sometimes see today. People seemed a little nicer and more polite to cosplayers. Because there were fewer of us, there were more paparazzi and more frequent photo-taking
However, I think that the overall quality of cosplay has improved. Cosplayers have practiced more and learned how to do the particular tricks of our genre of costuming. People have learned how to build wigs, futuristic armor, and really look close to the animation. I’m also thrilled with how many people are now willing to wear costumes and have fun which is more important than any other aspect of cosplay.
As convention attendees get younger and younger, do you see additional changes being necessary?
I used to teach high school and junior high, and that’s the age of about a third to a half of the fans I’m going to conventions with now, depending on the convention. I think cons really have to be careful about presenting age appropriate material to the right groups and to make sure they have some family friendly content in their programming. There’s a need to make sure that younger fans can’t walk into anything they’re not prepared for. Parents need to make sure they don’t just dump their kids at cons, but take an active role in knowing about the different types of anime because all Japanese cartoons are NOT for kids while some parents still have that mindset.
You've obviously made a massive number of costumes through the years so what do you do with them once they're retired? (sale, storage, charity, etc.)
Obviously, I don’t keep them all! Periodically, I do a wardrobe sort. Some of the pieces wear out, and they have to be discarded if they are beyond repair. I don’t sell suits. I don’t feel comfortable with that. These aren’t my characters, and as an author of original fiction, I know how I’d feel if someone used my characters for their own gain. I figure cosplay is flattery as long as I keep it free.
Often I will give suits away to friends who might want them or donate them to charity. The second hand shops love me around Halloween time! I never give away pieces that have nostalgic value for me. Ifurita, for example, finally wore out, but I loved that costume so much, I still have the key staff. I recycle costume pieces when I can or turn them into other costumes on rare occasions.
Are your projects mainly solo efforts, or do you usually collaborate with others?
Without Nemo, there is no Grandis, plain and simple. I make more costumes than my husband, and go to more anime cons than he does, but most of the costumes we make have been made by both of us. We can both sew, and we can both make props. However, Nemo’s better at some things, and I won’t hesitate to ask for his help on those. It works the other way, too. Guess who gets to do all the appliqué on the Count of Monte Cristo’s jacket. Yup, that’s how it works.
I have cosplayed with a costuming group called Mochi (http://www.mochi-mochi.org), and I recently joined their ranks officially. I’ve also teamed up with many cosplayers for various projects, most recently with Amethyst Angel for the Utena armor project.
I’m happy to partner with people, provided the costume others are asking me to make is one that’s already on my rather long to-make list, we’re similar in skill level so the costumes don’t look too uneven, we’re going to be in the same place at the same time, and my dance card for a convention isn’t already full.
You have some nice armor and great wigs in your collection. Please share some construction tips for these often challenging pieces.
There are just some times when a restyled wig isn’t going to cut it, especially when you need massive amounts of hair. I have ordered custom wigs before (http://www.hollywoodtoys.com), but that’s often cost prohibitive so I finally decided to bite the bullet and learn to make wigs. A cosplaying friend of mine in Minnesota designed a great technique that she was kind enough to teach me, and while I’ve modified it a bit, it’s still basically the same technique. I usually buy my hair from Doctored Locks (http://www.drLocks.net). With hair, felt, some wire, and a glue gun, you can make a great wig. Let me know if you want to know how to do it. I’ll hook you up with the right people.
I really haven’t got any great tips with armor except that you need to study your costume and your materials. I think many times people make the mistake of trying to use a material that can’t do what the costume actually does. Tips for working with armor? First of all, don’t let armor intimidate you! Working with hard material is different from working with cloth, and it takes some time to figure out how to do it, but as with cloth, practice makes perfect. Remember to read about the material you’re working with so you don’t poison yourself or make yourself sick with fumes. Always work in a well-ventilated place with the recommended equipment.
Our experiments in armor have always been a compromise between appearance and economy. Some of the materials we’ve used are ABS plastic, illustration board, foam covered with cloth and painted, and Foamies covered with ABS plastic (Amethyst Angel’s technique here: http://amethyst-angel.com/armormaking.html). The armor is often decorated with Friendly Plastic, plumber’s putty, a variety of materials. You should decide your budget, see what’s available, study your materials, and give it a whirl. Experiment and enjoy!
What were some highlights of your nationwide tour when you worked with Kevin Lillard interviewing cosplayers for "A Fan's View: the Book?" Is there a follow-up planned?
Well, that was probably the only time my college would ever pay for me to go to anime conventions! I really liked seeing the flavor and tone of cosplay in different parts of the country. One particularly fond memory is sitting in Denny’s really late at night with members of AGSMA, Ah! My Cosplay, and USA Musume, and we talked about cosplay with, maybe, 20 people. We were frenetic and caffeinated! Transcribing that tape was fun. It was interesting to hear what the many cosplayers I interviewed thought of their craft and to hear their interesting stories from their cosplay experiences. If you want to know more about that, you should write Kevin Lillard and ask him for the book (http://www.fansview.com).
I really enjoyed getting to meet the many cosplayers that I interviewed for “A Fan’s View: The Book.” My regret, of course, is that the book had to be finite in size and that I could only interview so many costumers. It would be very easy to plan a sequel, but I don’t have any plans to participate in one as I’ve moved on to other projects. We discovered that copyright implications for character images from various companies pretty much kept the book from being something that publishers could readily touch. Luckily, we have many wonderful websites that continue to interview and profile cosplayers! Kevin has intimated that he would be interested in doing the project.
I don’t know what the future will hold, but I might eventually like to author a book on cosplay techniques or cosplay culture. I’m also working with ImageCraft Studios on their up-and-coming Heart of Costume magazine.
If there were an outtakes reel from all your masquerade experiences, what would be on it?
One outtake already exists on film. If you have the Army of Darkness Book of the Dead version, you can see me dressed as Urd in Fanalysis, which is me backstage in costume, talking about cosplay.
If I were planning more outtakes, I’d put my favorite skits on it: Urd seducing the AnimeIowa MC, the Danger Mouse/Emma Peel skit, and the Power Rangers skit. I’d probably also put accepting the award for Lenneth Valkyrie at Project A-kon on there because I was really proud of that, and some of the interactions that I’ve had in the halls with people, including the time that I talked to one person in two different costumes, and since they didn’t recognize me from before, they told me that I was in a great costume, unlike the lame superheroes that they had seen earlier that morning!
Does cosplay mesh with your career path? Do you wish it did/didn't?
I’m a college professor, and I coordinate an English Language Acquisition Program so you wouldn’t think that cosplay meshes with my career path, but it does. One of my research areas is pop culture. I do a lot of work with anime and manga that is sanctioned by the college. Every other year, I take a group of students to Japan to an art school there so they can draw manga and study Japanese pop culture. “A Fan’s View: The Book” gave me several presentations at conferences that helped my career. I have a call for papers about Japanese pop culture in the U.S. sitting on my desk.
Most of the folks at the college who know about my identity as Grandis think that it’s pretty neat. My dean is one of my biggest fans. She regularly asks me what I’m working on. So, at work, I get to do some things with cosplay. And of course I wear the costumes when I teach. Really.
Does cosplay have a spiritual side?
I’m not sure about a spiritual side. I believe that creative endeavor places you closer to the divine, and if you cosplay because you are creating, and are artistically challenged, then maybe it does.
If you could make only one more costume for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh geez! The best I can do is whittle it down to three, and tell you that I’m more likely to lean toward one of these on any given day: Princess Sapphire’s wedding dress from Ribon no Kishi, Sylia Stingray’s Knight Saber Armor from the original Bubblegum Crisis, and World of Elegance (Urd’s Angel) from Ah! My Goddess. Today, Princess Sapphire is getting the nod.
Here's your space for additional comments and the dispelling of rumors.
Cosplay is about having a good time and learning a craft. Even though I’ve been costuming for a long time, I try to make a point to pick costumes that continually challenge me and make me learn new things because that’s the only way I can improve my skills. For me, it’s about the whole package, making, wearing, and being the character. It’s not about me or my image. I try to re-create what I see as best I can and to be a character as best I can.
I’m always happy to share what I know. Give a cosplayer a wig, and they wear it for one con. Teach a cosplayer to make wigs, and they will have wigs forever. Share what you know. Support one another. We all do it because we all love the hobby. I have no time of day for cosplayers who gossip or tear each other down. I did the high school thing already, and I don’t need the negative energy or the bad karma.
You should always come up and talk to me at a con. I love talking about cosplay with just about everyone. It’s the main reason I go to an anime con.
Grandis - it's awesome to see a seasoned cosplayer still challenging herself in the sewing trenches. It's great that you and your husband share cosplay as a common passion. It also sounds like you have the perfect job - travelling to Japan regularly and getting paid to "research" cosplay. All in a day's work I suppose. Keep up the great work and here's to your continued success.
Garry aka Prof.
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