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Tell us about your first cosplay experience. Who, what, when, where, and how did it go?

Well, I started this hobby around thirteen if I am not mistaken, and before that, I was dressing up as anime characters for Halloween but wasn't really aware of cosplay. I was dressing up as anime-themed characters like Pokemon before the big craze really hit. I've been cosplaying a long time, so forgive me if my memory is a bit fuzzy. I'm twenty now; this was about six years ago.  I actually had two costumes at my first convention that my mother helped me make. I wasn't completely skilled in sewing. No, in fact I sucked.  I was very creative with props and figuring out how to use household objects and integrate them into costumes, but to give you an idea of how long ago this was, I was actually allowed to carry live steel around the convention with me. Such rules are long gone nowadays. I dressed as Kouji from Fushigi Yuugi, a very unknown character. He is in only one or two episodes. I had made the costume to cosplay with a friend, and I soon had to learn that lesson we all learn eventually: that nothing ever goes right at conventions, and finding people and keeping their attention is nearly impossible. It went really well for the few times that I was recognized. The second costume I had was Xelloss, who since then I have improved on quite a bit, but that’s when I started helping more and more. I helped with the creation of Xelloss' staff and outfit, and from the minute I set foot into the convention with that costume, it was safe to say that I was bitten by the bug. I didn't really get into heavy craftsmanship until about two years into the hobby when I began fully independently working on my costumes and started to venture into competition.

What were your most embarrassing and your happiest cosplay moments?

Now, to be honest, I had never really had an embarrassing moment during cosplay until Oni-Con 2005. Gren and I were sitting on stage during the award-ceremony of the cosplay. Third place was a lovely girl named Phoenix dressed as Yue from Card Captor Sakura. She tried to bend over and give me a hug after accepting her prize but ended up having a wing catch my Sora wig and pulled it right off my head. Gren dove in front of me to cover up my bald-head, and the crowd was roaring. Thankfully, Gren saved me from having to see pictures of it later, but it was pretty hilarious looking back.

As far as happiest moments go, I believe that would be the first time Gren and I went on stage together in Sora and Riku and performed one of the sweetest skits that we have written . . .ever. And hearing the audience. . . well, I think that was just a great moment. I was also overwhelmed to the point of tears when we won Best of Show Runner-Up at Anime Expo. I wasn't expecting to receive anything with all of the amazing, talented costumers there, and I was very overwhelmed by the sheer size of the competition.

Are there a lot of events or opportunities for cosplay in your area?

There really are a lot of cosplay opportunities where I live. Not only in Houston, but in Texas there is a very strong cosplay community. Texas hosts A-Kon, one the larger conventions across the United States. Along with that, in my home town, I actually took the reins for running cosplay at Houston's largest Anime Convention, Oni-Con, with my partner, Gren! There are also a few other conventions that are a blast in Houston and a few more in Dallas as well. On top of fantastic conventions, we also have a number of fantastic photographers that are always willing to do shoots with cosplayers to expand their skills and allow us some very beautiful keepsakes of our work. I also try to incorporate cosplay into other aspects of my life, such as dressing up for my job at Electronics Boutique and movie premieres.  Let's face it, all of us cosplayers need little excuse to dress up and have a good time.

You’re part of a couple of endeavors, Candy Hearts and Limit Break. Give us some background and let us know how they’ve affected your cosplaying.

I have to say that over my cosplay career I have been a part of many different cosplay groups or projects. Limit Break Cosplay has been, by far, my favorite and really was what kept me going in this hobby.  I originally started Candy Hearts Cosplay back when I was very young (around 12-13) as a gallery for my suddenly explosive number of costumes, and I was very hung up on the popularity-contest, back-biting, trying-to-be-better than everyone thing. Looking back, I'm rather ashamed about it, but around fifteen, I began shaping up and tried to look at cosplay differently. I found myself enjoying it more and more and trying to do things that brought cosplayers together. I started hosting events such as "Candy Hearts Cosplay Picnic" that was hosted twice with over 100 attendees. It was really a nice experience helping cosplayers get together and unite. I started on a few other endeavors that fell through a few times, and about two years ago, was growing very weary of cosplay altogether, as it was both a financial and emotional drain. About that time, Gren and I started Limit Break Cosplay, and honestly, were it not for Gren and the friendship that was made through Limit Break, I would probably not still be in the community today.

Limit Break was spawned after our Kingdom Hearts skit at A-Kon 2004 when we decided that competition could indeed be fun and healthily competitive, but we just didn't want to stop there. We decided to form a team based on the drive to help others and spread knowledge through the cosplay community. Limit Break was like wildfire, really. Invites started coming in from multiple conventions, and we were hosting more and more panels that often were standing room only. We tried to share as many secrets, tips, and advice as we could while presenting the information in a fun and humorous manner – in a way that everyone could understand. As well as that, we started competing and raising the bar on competition. We were very pleased to notice that within one year of Limit Break's creation, many cosplayers were taking our hints in both skits, construction, and surprisingly how they treated their fellow cosplayers. We were really making an impact, and I was thrilled to see that we were actually helping others. We got to watch a lot of new cosplayers that had asked for our help grow and develop their craft over that year, and now, one and a half years running, I couldn't be more happy that Limit Break is still here and going strong. I'm cosplaying for all the right reasons, I think. This hobby has let me meet and help a lot of amazing people.

     

Your collection runs the gamut from video games to anime to movies. With so many possibilities, how do you choose what to actually put your effort into?

You know, I'm never quite sure how I end up picking my costumes. I just sort of see one and fall in love with it. By the end of that evening, I have a pile of fabric. Creativity sort of hits me in little seizures. xD I tend to drift away from too many anime costumes because I'm really strongly into the gaming costumes. They're always very dynamic, and instead of just watching them, you end up becoming more attached to them over the course of the game. Video game costumes seem to be more elaborate due to drawing time and animating problems in anime. I also don't really have time for the larger series in anime anymore, especially with these series that have 50+ episodes! I also was raised on video games and have worked at a video game store through most of my teen years as a part time job. I have a lot of time to stare at shelves and books and go, "Ooooh.. Shiny... I could do that!”

Some of the costumes in your collection are extremely elaborate. Is there one that you thought would turn you into toast at the time you were working on it?

I believe that Kefka was the most maddening costume that I've made to date. The cloak alone nearly drove me bonkers. Seven feet of fully lined, expensive material with gold braided trim. There are also, while most pictures do not see it, hand sewn in beads on all seven feet of it that I stayed up on the kitchen floor many sleepless nights working on. Also, the fine curls on the chest piece are hand beaded and sewn on. The sleeves are painted and beaded and hand embroidered on every strip of green.  The collar and head dress are all hand-stitched. . .and the feathers alone cost me a pretty penny. Altogether, I am guessing the costume had to have cost me $800 or more.  All of the beaded trim really killed me. The boots were maddening to work on as well because they were all hand painted. By the end of that costume, I was pretty much banging my head against the kitchen floor and just praying that I'd finish it in time for Anime Expo.  . . . We suffer for our art!

Your collection also boasts a number of stylish wigs. Can you share some tips to help the rest of us with our hairlines, high ponytails, or spikes?

Admittedly, Gren is the wig genius between the dynamic duo that is Limit Break. Only recently have I really started to explore wig creation with my newer costumes such as Reno from Advent Children. My biggest tip to anyone is to approach wigs calmly and with lots of patience. Don't get a wig commissioned! Always try to see if you can attempt it yourself because, the chances are, it's a lot less difficult than you'd like to think.  If you decide it's totally beyond your skill level, that's just fine, but at least give wigs a shot. You might just find you're really good with them. As far as spikes go, I would suggest BeyondTheZone's Hair Cement, or Aqua Net. I've found that a lot of cosplayers really do enjoy Aquanet, and more recently Gren has found a version of Aquanet that doesn't smell foul and stink your hotel room up.  I highly suggest always bringing Aquanet with you to a convention if you have a very spiked wig that may need a touch up here and there. Also, from styling a Sephiroth wig recently with Lord Masamune, I've picked up his techniques, which involve hanging your wig (on a wig head) upside down and angling it just right, then alternating between Aquanet and a blow drier to coat the wig a few times over. This will allow you to make taller bangs and strengthened spikes. Remember, if you are spiking a wig, it's best to make sure that it is a thick, high quality wig, or that it is already made to be styled in an upward manner with lift. Punk wigs work very well for spiky-styles because they're already meant to flip out on your head. As for hair lines, I just preach for everyone to use wig caps religiously, and if you are a person with a lower hairline that seems to poke out of your wig at certain points? I suggest dying your wig cap with Rit-dye to match your wig's color to make it less evident, or even taking a spray-on hair color product and applying a light spritz to the exposed hair in hopes of blending it in well.

Shoes can be one of the most difficult parts to find or alter. Short of having each pair custom-cobbled at a leatherworks, how do you get your feet to look professionally dressed?

That's a tough one. Most of my shoes are all custom made [by us]. On Limit Break Cosplay.com, we have a pretty nice boot-cover tutorial, but the truth is sometimes you can just cop-out with shoes and sometimes you can't. Buying store-bought shoes is perfectly acceptable in most cases, until of course you encounter those huge Sora-boots that you've been dreading, or you find that you need boots that match the fabric of the rest of your costume. I highly suggest just buying a pair of $4 shoes, ripping away the shoe, and simply building off it, making a clean line against the sole. Don't be afraid to use very odd household objects to try and Frankenstein together that odd-shape of a shoe. The Sora shoes that I have are actually two shoes. A shoe that's my size, then a much larger shoe's sole nailed atop that and curved up. The tip of the Sora shoes are actually Nerf soccer balls, and the rest is built with craft foam with a spandex lining around the ankle. See? Don't be afraid to mix and match and go crazy. You really have to think out of the box to keep up with some of these crazy designs.  Also, make sure that your shoes are comfortable. Having bad footwear can really ruin your convention. So if it comes down between being miserable, and making your shoes look better. . .well, the more hard-core of you guys will choose, "I must look better! Not feel better! " But please do try to account for the fact that you will be walking a very long time at these conventions. I about died in a few of my shoes.

What do you want to be when you grow up, and how does cosplay factor in?

I'm going into public relations and being a publicist. Cosplay actually has helped me a lot with that. I've met a lot of really talented people and learned to network as well as becoming a very experienced public speaker, and I’ve learned how to work with mass amounts of people from running so many cosplay competitions now!  Cosplay is a crash course in presentation and in working with a mass number of very diverse people!

Hardly anyone has unlimited closet space so what do you do with costumes that you no longer wear?

I have a pretty good method. I've actually only sold one of my costumes before. I sold one of my first costumes which was Kouji from Fushigi Yuugi. I never really can handle parting with them, and even to this day still regret selling him. Costumes are like my children!

This is actually a really handy method for anyone wanting to store costumes. I find the long, flat bins that Rubbermaid makes and label them on the front by costume. I neatly fold all of the costume parts into the box. If there are pieces of the costume too large for the box, I put a note inside that says "WINGS NOT INCLUDED IN BOX" so that I remember to grab them from elsewhere. I then stack them atop each other. So when I want to get a costume out, I simply grab the whole box and take it with me. Makes packing for cons much easier, as well. Multiple costumes of a single character or from the same series, I will usually place together. I know that I have somewhere in the vague neighborhood of 35+ costumes that are either complete or half finished in my closet. I also have a giant crate marked "BOOTS" and "WIGS" since my wig collection is actually somewhere in the neighborhood of 60+ wigs. I buy a lot just for a rainy day, actually! Hah. From my desk right now I can spot at least 10 on various wig heads around my room. It's a sickness!

Running a masquerade or cosplay contest at a con is no easy task, and best practices are often found through trial and error. What are some things that work well and some that definitely don’t?

Some conventions make the mistake of not trying to listen to all of its competitors. I try to be strict on the rules while still understanding that everyone entering is human and makes mistakes. I have run and judged many, many cosplay competitions now, and I have had a lot of trial by fire. I have found that once I arrive on scene at a cosplay, things become much easier once the cosplayers are there. Most cosplayers are very eager to pay attention and listen to help you put on a great show, you just have to remember to treat them all with respect. Just because I run a cosplay show doesn't put me above any of the cosplayers competing because we have to  remember that they are the real stars of the show.

Also, a big problem I see with cosplay heads is that when they microphone-host the show, they feel the need to make comments after every single skit. This makes the cosplay drag on, and sometimes the cosplayer can feel offended because of the jokes. Gren and I try to keep the cosplay about the cosplayers. They are the ones on stage to entertain, after all, not us! We make a few comments here and there, and just try to make sure things go nice and smoothly and that both the cosplayer and the audience have a great time.

My biggest suggestion to anyone is to just remember to have fun, and relax. Award or no award, cosplayer or audience, we're all just caught up in this big crazy fandom and have to support each other as much as possible.

During this time of year when daylight hours are short and “weather gloom” can easily set in, how do you avoid or pull yourself out of a seasonal rut?

I really don't tend to get too gloomy around the holidays since November all the way to February is usually a nice convention off-season. Not that cosplay is first priority in my life, but it's nice to just sit back and relax for the holidays and enjoy family and friends. The holidays are also a great time to go visit your friends that you've made from your time at conventions and get to know them outside of a convention environment! Get out there and relax. Holidays can get pretty stressful just dealing with day-to-day problems so try to remember the reason for the season. Take a break from cosplay, and enjoy the here and the now. Just have to roll with the punches and get out a lot to avoid cabin fever or depression.

What words of wisdom can you offer to newbies who may feel intimidated by the level of craftsmanship that they see at cons?

Well, Gren and I try to encourage all of the cosplayers that are just starting out to not feel like newbies at all. I was a newbie once. We all were. We all came into this hobby looking for a creative outlet for our over-active imagination and just want to meet friends and share our experiences together. Try to look at cosplay as what it is, a hobby. Admittedly, some cosplayers can get over zealous about competition, but ignore them! I used to be one of those types, actually. I thought that cosplay was a popularity contest, and truth to tell, I was miserable because of it. I nearly quit cosplay entirely before I formed Limit Break where my partner Gren and I try to encourage everyone, both new and old cosplayers, to remember just why we're here. Rather than being intimidated by high levels of craftsmanship, well . .. why not try to learn? If you're curious about a higher-skilled cosplayer's methods, go right on ahead and ask them. Most cosplayers, if approached in a polite manner, will be more than happy to share their secrets and then you can integrate what you learn into your next set of costumes. Continue to learn, and research, and be patient, and who knows what you’ll be capable of. I'm by no means the best, that's for sure. But I try as hard as I can to make beautiful costumes and to have fun along the way.

If you have any additional comments or rumors to dispel, now’s your chance.

I do have a few things to say. For one, I wanted to thank Cosplay Lab for having me as a Spotlight cosplayer. This website really has been around for a long time and has always been an insanely resourceful way of keeping track of cosplayers and costumes. The staff is really nice and is a really great addition to the community.

Also, I wanted to take this time to send an apology to some of the older cosplayers that have been around. I realize in my first two years of cosplay, I really did focus on the poorer aspects of cosplay. I was catty and jealous when I was younger, though that was over four years ago now, I still know that there were a few feet that I stepped on along the way. It took my getting smacked a few times to realize that I was becoming one of these people that I preach against. Though I assure everyone, good will toward your fellow cosplayer is the only thing that I preach nowadays. Limit Break Cosplay really saved my favorite hobby, that was for sure. Through our panels that we've been doing for a year and a half now and the conventions that we've been invited as guests to or to run cosplay at, I have met some of the most fantastic, wonderful people and cosplayers that I could ever hope to have the pleasure of knowing.  I've learned a lot through this, and I hope that, in turn, I can help others to learn and improve their craft as well. So, I also want to say thank you to my cosplay partner, Gren. I can't even begin to take credit for most of my work by myself as we've learned and taught each other a lot over these past couple of zany years.

I'm always more than open to questions or to helping people with costume advice. Please feel free to contact me!

see more of Cherry's costumes here

Picking our monthly spotlight is becoming increasingly more difficult as cosplayers are rapidly improving their skills. Part of the fun here at the Lab is getting to see what everyone is doing and challenging ourselves to learn new costuming techniques. One of the things that really strikes me about your costumes is they are constructed how they would be if the character really existed. In other words, they look more like a real outfit, rather than just a costume. I am always amazed at the level of detail that goes into creating these works of art, and I know that other appreciate being able to see it too. Keep it up and we look forward to seeing your success in the world of publicity.

Garry

 
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