//Cosplay: An Art Form

Cosplay: An Art Form

Jeanna Burdine discusses community, tips, tricks, and the magic of cosplay.

Introduce us to Cosplay – what is it and what makes it so exciting?

Cosplay is an all-encompassing artistic expression, it combines traditional art and crafting aspects with acting and representation – but that sounds too serious for what it actually is, which is a way to show off your love of a character or genre while having as much fun as possible! Cosplay is a chance to literally “play” as a character you esteem.  Cosplay is a great way to show appreciation for other art, by recreation with your own twist!  I have seen cosplay costumes vary from Van Gogh paintings come to life, to Bugs Bunny!  

What I love about cosplay, is that it has the ability to allow a person to be unique, while at the same time connecting everyone together.  Even if you are not cosplaying the same genre as another cosplayer, you still have that connection of being in costume, representing a character and showing love for its design.

You gender bend cosplay a couple of characters, any unique challenges to transforming them? What advice would you give to anyone looking to do the same?

Firstly, I would advise anyone who wants to cosplay a character to just go ahead and do so.  Do not allow physical differences to stop you from recreating that character in your own way.  Many of my favorite heroes (and villains) growing up were male characters.  I wanted to embody them but still, represent myself in the process.  Keeping true to the key points of a character’s attitude and personality is my main focus. I ask myself; What makes me love this character? What makes this character unique and interesting?  And how can I adapt these aspects to fit myself?  Do not be discouraged if it becomes difficult, and do not let anyone get you down!  This is YOUR cosplay, after all, YOUR take on a character YOU love!  Everyone loves a character for different reasons, and everyone should have the opportunity to share those reasons through their cosplay. 

Top 3 favorite characters to cosplay and why

Every cosplay is my favorite for one reason or another, but I will tell you about three for the fact that there would not be enough room to talk about them all! 

My first pick is my Hawkgirl Cosplay.  Hawkgirl has been my biggest cosplay, and the one I’ve recreated the most (those wings need a LOT of maintenance).  Though she is uncomfortable to wear, I always have to be aware of my surroundings, and don’t even think about walking me quickly through a crowd, she would still be considered my absolute favorite.  Hawkgirl was one of the most beloved characters of my youth.  To me, she represents strength, a toughness of body and spirit, with the capability of my childhood wish to have wings and fly!  Her character is one I would like to emulate, a person with good morals, hand in hand with a “won’t-take-crap-from-anyone” attitude.  The cosplay itself has a “wow” factor that gives me the most powerful feeling.  You can see the 8 to 10ft wingspan from across a room, and she had my first prop using LEDs (for her glowing mace).  I am extremely proud of her and have used her for many functions and charitable events.  The best feeling, however, when wearing her was when a little girl ran up to me with wonder in her eyes, and I got to tell her that she can be just and strong and powerful as I look if she wants to be. 

My second pick would be my gender bent Nightcrawler.  Unlike the Hawkgirl costume, this one is a joy to wear!  I can run around a convention, climb on things, jump, and sneak up behind people before leaping out in front of them with a “BAMF.”  I had some new challenges with wearing him that I had to conquer – my fear of contacts for one, and creating the right color paint that wouldn’t just rub off my skin for another.  Also, I am not a good seamstress, at all, and I had quite the challenge of creating his specific gloves and boot covers.  In addition, his costume was the first time I made from-scratch latex prosthetics, his ears.  Once the details of the costume were ironed out, he became so much fun!  I was able to play the role of “comical-quip” with an accent.  Whereas a larger costume can be fun, you have a tendency to feel like you are at a convention, not fully participating in a convention. This cosplay let me fully immerse myself in the con, and not miss out on any of the fun!    

The final cosplay I’ll talk about is one I’ve never actually even worn!  My good friend Lupe came to me about building him a Mr. Freeze Cosplay.  Lupe is a great artist and had come up with an original design concept based off of several Mr. Freeze images, and it would be up to me to bring that art to life.  Loving the Mr. Freeze villain as much as I do, I couldn’t say no, however the deadline for the build was fast approaching.  We had no pre-made templates to go off of, and so much of this build was trial-and-error I’m shocked it turned out as well as it did!  There were LED lights galore, and it became difficult to find places to hide the batteries.  My husband Scott, who is a fantastic builder of more practical things, lent a hand by helping us install a couple old computer fans inside Mr. Freeze’s dome, to keep Lupe from overheating (ironic right?).  I had to come up with a way to create an icy look, and after several different elaborate tries, wound up using one of the simplest materials, hot glue!  In the end, we were all able to step back and appreciate a complete, and very “cool” cosplay build.  I got to be Lupe’s handler at the Heroes and Villains event in San Jose (a handler, for those who do not know, helps cosplayers in larger costumes, keeps them cool and hydrated, and makes sure they don’t run into anyone), and my heart swelled at every stop for a fan-photo, or to pose with other characters, and no one could be more delighted than I when he won the first place in the Villains Cosplay Contest.  I got to witness from an external point of view the joy of cosplay, watching a person become a favorite character from their childhood, and the magic it creates.  Though this cosplay turned out amazing, it was really the collaboration of like-minded friends, working together in a whirlwind of glue and foam and paint, to create a piece of art we all enjoyed, which really made it worthwhile.  

Hellboy’s arm has some amazing detail, can you talk about the building process of that?

In most of my builds you will find extremely cheap materials, and in fact, often I use items I find just lying around my house.  The majority of materials for Hellboy’s arm are as followed: an empty 2 liter bottle of soda, plastic straws, 550 cord (I think I stole from my husband’s side of the garage), a gardening glove, EVA foam (otherwise known as a floor mat for the garage), some expanding foam (used to fill gaps in windowsills or walls) and the one thing I ordered online, a strip of LED lights. I used the 2-liter bottle as my base, and then cut and wrapped the EVA foam around it.  Between the EVA foam and the 2-liter bottle, I wound the LED lights so they would show between the cracks and glow similar to the scene in the Hellboy movie.  I created the rock-like texture with the expanding foam, spackled it everywhere then sanded it down when it was dry.  I also created the palm and fingers out of expanding foam, by spraying large globs of it, letting it dry and then cutting it down (using a kitchen knife, which is a bad habit of mine as cutting expanding foam will RUIN kitchen knives, and has started a war-of-tools between my husband and I).  To make the hand articulate I used straws in the fingers and ran the cord from the fingertips down through the palm and connected to a gardening glove inside the 2-liter bottle.  With several re-adjustments and a good paint job, the Hand of Doom was ready to tackle the cosplay world, and was sturdy enough to pick up a full soda can!

Mr. Freeze looked likewise accurate, how long did it take you to create that? 

My Mr. Freeze Cosplay was a rushed job.  I believe the total amount of time before it was due at the convention was two weeks – that’s two weeks while holding down a full-time job!  So for those two weeks of insanity I basically ignored every other adulting responsibility other than feeding my dogs (yes, do feel sorry for my poor husband, he was utterly abandoned), and focused on nothing but crafting.  Somehow, with the help of the designer, Lupe, and the assistance of my husband, not to mention staying up till 3am most nights, we pulled off one of my favorite cosplays in the nick of time.  I find having a deadline to be a great motivation.  Some people get their work finished ahead of time – I am not one of those people. 

Mr. Freeze – costume design by Jeanna Burdine

Hawkgirl’s wings are pretty substantial – what type of materials are in the build of the wings and the costume

For being so substantial, the materials for my wings were actually quite minimalistic.  For the “bones” of my wings, I used an aluminum conduit – a very cheap pipe that can be bent, with a little force, into the correct shape.  For the feathers I used Dollar-Tree Poster Board, cut into shape, coated with plasti-dip, and painted with a mix of high-shine silver spray paint and matt finish acrylic paint. I connected the feathers to the bones with the use of a duct tape lining, punched grommets in the lining and the back of the feathers, and then wired them together.  Once each feather was in place I “borrowed” some fishing line, and strung them together.  The primary feather was connected to the bones by a wheel and wooden dowels, and when it was lifted up all the linked feathers would spread out in their proper place. The majority of the rest of the build was made of different types of foam:  EVA foam for the chest piece and wrist guards, expanding foam for the helmet, and foam sheets for the details on the helmet, legs, and boots.  The Nth metal mace was made of PVC pipe (that was supposed to be used for our homes’ sprinkler system) a clear large Christmas ornament for the center, and Dollar-Tree plastic picture frames cut and pieced together for the spikes. 

Jeanna Burdine as Hawkgirl – Photo by American Heretic Photography

For costuming, there is considerable debate over who can cosplay what. Your thoughts on that?

Art is non-bias, and cosplay is one of the most all-inclusive forms of art.  It can be created by any person, no matter who they are, their skill set, their background, physical limitations, their age, their size, or their skin color.  In my opinion, you can not, and should not put restrictions on creativity, or imagination.  Though cosplay is universal, with many people portraying the same characters, it is also extremely personal.  Each person is portraying their individual take on a character that often has had an effect on them, usually in a positive way.  To take away the drive to represent that emotional connection with a character, based off of superficial reasons, is a tragedy, and even more so when it is done by one cosplayer against another. No, Cosplay is for EVERYONE, and as such needs to be a way we all are able to connect to each other, and never divide ourselves. 

Advice to either aspiring cosplayers or those who are looking to improve their costume building skills? (materials, tricks/tips, dos and don’ts, things to consider, etc.)

One tried-and-true piece of advice is to take advice!  Watch tutorials, ask other cosplayers questions, do research, accept constructive criticism, and build off the knowledge of those before you!  A teacher is never as happy as when they see their pupils succeed.  I give full accounts of how I build my cosplay, so that someone may find it helpful in creating something even better!  Cosplay is a community and a great place I’ve found for support and encouragement.  Also, don’t let your current skill set stop you from trying!  Whether you are just starting out, or have been crafting for a long while, there is always more to learn and improve on.  Also, never touch expanding foam while still wet and sticky, trust me…

Would you say that Fresno has a strong cosplay community?

I do believe that Fresno has a very strong cosplay community, and a growing one too!  I’m so grateful to have made local cosplay friends, who have become like family, always there for me, and people I look forward to see at all the events.  There is something wonderful about being a part of a cosplay group.  While in a group, participants know that when you encourage and build up an individual, you build up the group as a whole – and it is that level of encouragement that I feel with this cosplay community.

Any upcoming events that you’re excited about? (either locally or elsewhere)

Of course, I’m looking forward to Brew Con! (And not just because I’m heading up the cosplay contest) I can’t wait to see local artists, and visit with my cosplaying friends, and see all the local talent show up to show off their cosplay!  I hope to see everyone there, November 17th at the Full Circle Brewery.  The venue is a great place, the music will be spectacular, and the booths will have so many tempting nerdy items to drool over!  Now, I just have to get my own costume ready!