Conventions continue to garner popularity, regardless of the type of event, cons have become a massive fish-bowl gathering of comic fans, gamers and cosplayers. The comic book industry was down slightly last year, though having still sold nearly 84 million books and turning in roughly $287 million. The cosplay medium, however, has skyrocketed to become a billion-dollar industry. To give you an idea, just in America, shoppers spent close to $3.4 billion on costumes in 2017. Hey, people really like dressing up, even if it’s just for one day.
Now, there are people out there that do this for a living and travel, both regionally and abroad, to show off their skills and love for dressing up. Don’t assume cosplay is just about costumes and sexy outfits, because you are sadly mistaken. Plus, you know what they say about people that assume. It is hard work, an art, a hobby and, in some cases, a full-time job. Cosplay has grown up. For an increasing number of people, this creative pursuit is a way of life.
Today, cosplayers have also adapted to the digital era, using their personalities and branching out to help others create masterpieces as well, whether via online video tutorials, social media or books. We managed to make our way through a flood of cosplayers to catch up with six personalities while at Megacon in Orlando, Fla., last week to get schooled in the art of cosplay, but really just to say hello. So, if you are not familiar with them already, see below to get to know LeeAnna Vamp, Raychul Moore, Jessica Nigri, Alyson Tabbitha, Joanie Brosas and Mark Robards.
MFR: What would you suggest for an aspiring cosplayer?
JB: “Just start. Begin with understanding who you are and what you like about yourself, because people are always going to tell you what they don’t like about you, but if you like yourself first, that’s most important. Cosplay for you. Don’t cosplay for compliments or attention, but for yourself. That’s when you will have the most fun doing it.”
MFR: Did you always have aspirations of becoming a cosplayer or was it something you fell into?
JB: “It was a little bit of both. I think every little girl dreams of making a career out of playing dress up. When I was younger I wanted to be a model, which is kind of similar, but I didn’t realize you could do it and be nerdy doing it. I started with modeling and integrated cosplay in, so I’m very lucky.”
MFR: Where do you see your career heading?
JB: “I’m just kind of going where life takes me right now. I’m at a peak right now where I’m really happy with what I do, so I want to do it for as long as I can. One day, I’m not going to be as cute, but maybe I can be a hot grandma, or something (laughs).”
JB: “Dynamite initially contacted me to do a Vampirella #2 variant cover and then they asked me how I felt about the Red Sonja character. I was like, ‘I’ve always wanted to cosplay her! That would be awesome!’, so that worked out well. I ended up dying my hair to the red that it is now and I have essentially become that character. I love both of these characters though, because they are super sexy and kick butt.”
MFR: What character are you extremely fond of that you have portrayed?
JB: “There is a character that I absolutely love, but I’m not very good at cosplaying it because I don’t feel like I’m doing her justice, and that is Uhura from Star Trek. She is so inspirational and revolutionary, just the way that a woman should be. She was strong in so many ways, as well as a woman of color, in a time, the 1960s, when women weren’t really encouraged to be so. My favorite ones to do right now, though, would have to be Vampirella and Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Those are some of my favorites to do.”
MFR: We know you game. So which came first for you, cosplaying or gaming?
RM: “I was absolutely a gamer first. I think it has a big influence in getting into cosplaying. Gaming characters are among some of my favorites to cosplay, but being a gamer is definitely at the core of me cosplaying.”
MFR: Would you say your fans are more gamer-centric or more on the cosplaying side?
RM: “It depends. I usually get people telling me that they know me from YouTube or Twitch, but it is never really specified. I don’t know if they want a picture because they enjoy my gaming streams or because of my outfit, but I’m always happy to help (laughs).”
MFR: What is your favorite videogame and what is your favorite to play right now?
RM: “I have two favorite games of all time, because I can’t choose between them. Bioshock and Borderlands. Even now, with Bioshock, the game is so amazing and all these years have passed, and it is still such a groundbreaking game. It’s perfection. My favorite game to play right now is Guild Wars. I’ll always come back to that game. I’ll usually take a break for a bit, usually a few months, and then fall into an absolute GW binge for like six months. It’s the best MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online).”
MFR: Any humble beginnings in propelling you to this point in your career?
RM: “I started off my career in videogame journalism and now I’m a cosplayer and gamer. My career just goes as I go. It’s fun and I’m definitely taking it a day-at-a-time, but I want to keep this going as long as I can. Later on, when I’m much older, I’d love to open an animal rescue shelter. I have two dogs and I’d say that, after gaming, animals are my second passion. I’d love to do more to help all animals.”
MFR: What is it like to deal with fans on a daily basis, whether at cons or online?
RM: “It is incredibly humbling. It means the world to me. I don’t think I would have gotten to where I am today if it wasn’t for them. They have helped me reach my goals and achieve my dreams. I’ve never had a bad interaction with a fan. They have been just great to me and so supportive.”
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MFR: How did you kickstart this career in cosplaying?
MR: “I’ve always been a big nerd, from the time I was a kid. I would come to shows to buy art because I’m a collector. I’d see the cosplayers and just tell myself that I wanted to do that so bad. In 2014, I did Christian Bale’s The Dark Knight. I couldn’t move like, four feet. People were surrounding me. It was just an absolute adrenaline rush. That experience motivated me to up my cosplaying game. In 2016, after Deadpool came out, I did that character. A lot of what I wear is above my skillset, but for the most part, I build all of the costumes. Sometimes it takes me months to find the pieces I need to complete each one because I’m a stickler for accuracy. This weekend I did the costume from Deadpool 2 and it took me almost a year to complete it. Smaller pieces, I’ll do myself, I also do my own painting, but parts of my costumes come from all over the world. I’ve ordered things from Mexico, Russia, countries in Europe, and obviously, here in the States.”
MFR: Do you have a character that you absolutely love portraying?
MR: “I get a lot of compliments on my Batman portrayals, and I do about five different versions of him from the movies and videogames. A few I do, an Arkham Origins, Arkham Knight, BvS: Dawn of Justice, a Frank Miller version, but my favorite is absolutely, Deadpool.”
MFR: Considering you do a few gaming versions of Batman, do you game, yourself?
MR: “Yeah, I’m a console gamer. I am a major God of War fan and I usually always come back to the Arkham Series. I’m not so much an RPG (Role Playing Game) fan as I am for FPS (First Person Shooter) and hack-and-slash titles.”
MFR: What do you do outside of cosplaying, gaming and collecting Con art?
MR: “I am a regional director of operations for a supermarket chain. It’s funny, because some of my employees know my ‘alter-ego’. I come to work and I have a bit of an A-type personality, but the ones that know what I do, know that is not so. They’ve seen my Instagram account (laughs).”
MFR: You love portraying Batman and you love doing Deadpool. So, are you a DC guy or a Marvel guy and what characters would you like to do that you haven’t done?
MR: “I’m a fan of both. It might sound like a cliche, but it’s the truth. From the 1970s, when I was a kid, comic books have been my world. That was my world. I remember losing myself and it didn’t matter whether it was a Batman comic or a Spider-Man comic. Even back then, I was a huge Black Panther fan and I loved Silver Surfer and guys like Green Arrow, Flash, Green Lantern. I wish I could cosplay the Surfer, but it would be really hard to do. I’ve never been much of a Superman fan, believe it or not. Which I guess is weird (laughs). I am going to do Moon Knight eventually though. Yeah, if I do it, it has to be done right. I want it to be legit. My hope with cosplay like that, and when I do stuff like Red Hood and Deadpool, that if you see me in an ally, you’re going to turn around and go the other way (laughs).”
MFR: Where did ‘Vamp’ come from, how did you get to this point in your career?
Vamp: “I’m LeeAnna Vamp. Vamp is my last name. So, that’s where that came from (laughs). I actually got started as a fan. I used to come to conventions to be a nerd, buy comics and check stuff out. I actually met my husband at a Con and, it was crazy, we had been at so many of the same ones, at the same time, but never met each other prior. Our love for attending is something that we bonded over. We then started a show called I Love Nerd Girls and, if you couldn’t attend the conventions, you could catch up on things you missed that you maybe wanted to see. Yeah, I just saw these people in amazing costumes at San Diego Comic Con, which is basically Halloween in July. I wanted to do that, year round, and that was it. I started and absolutely fell in love with it.”
MFR: How did you come up with the concept of Best Fiends Forever (BFF)?
Vamp: “So, BFF is my kids puppet show. My husband and I are Halloween freaks and we both love puppets. Specifically, The Muppets. We grew up with them. We wanted to do something where ‘Halloween meets The Muppets’ and all of it is actually from his brain. He created all the characters on piece of paper, years ago, and we just got into it and started coming up with a concept and everything just kind of came together. He initially thought it would be something we’d do in a comic book or graphic novel, but at a convention, we met the guy who voiced Kermit the Frog. We hung out, really hit it off and thought to ourselves that this could really happen and it did. His family is now some really good friends of ours.”
MFR: Do you always get the ‘Elvira and The Muppets’ mashup comparisons for BFF?
Vamp: “Yeah, I do. It’s because I’m the only human on the show, but it’s that kind of, creepy-cute. You can watch the show no matter what age you are because there is humor for both adults and children, but it is still kid-friendly. We’re in the safe zone (laughs).”
MFR: Out of all the cosplayers here, you seem to be the only one that embraces the 80s culture. Would you say that era plays a big influence in what you do?
Vamp: ��Oh, one-hundred percent. I was born in the late 80s and, unfortunately, missed a lot of the early part of the decade when a lot of really cool stuff happened. Fortunately, I had great parents that exposed me to all that stuff. People usually tell me that I’m not old enough, but I tell them that my parents raised me right. The trend in pop culture is that ‘what is cool is what was cool’ and that is something that I love. I don’t do what is popular, I do what I love.”
MFR: Where do you see your career heading from here?
Vamp: “I kind of fell into cosplay, by accident. When I started, I feel like this wasn’t really a world that existed. I never really thought it would become what it is now. Cosplay has become a job, but it is still something I do because I love it. It is more of a hobby. I do a ton of other things though. I act, model, I have my own shows, my husband and I have our own clothing line. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ve done a good amount of acting and hosting, so I’d really love to do more movies. That is my goal and the road that I’m currently on.”
MFR: Care to shed some light as to how you got your start in cosplaying?
AT: “I absolutely fell into it (laughs). I just loved getting dressed up for Halloween and for movie premieres and special events. I had friends that frequented conventions and they asked me to start coming with them. I saw a great opportunity to be able to dress up, as an adult and not be judged! My interpretation of Captain Jack Sparrow went viral and people kept asking me if I had a cosplay page because they wanted to follow my work. So, I fell into it unexpectedly, but I’m so happy I did.”
MFR: You have consistently had one of the longest lines all weekend. What does it mean to you that you have so many devoted fans now?
AT: “I don’t know. It means so much. I’m so humbled. I can’t believe people love my work so much that they’re willing to wait in line for so long, just to meet me! I really look forward to all their hugs. I love to see them at conventions. I really do.”
MFR: Do you have a favorite character that you love to portray?
AT: “My favorite character that I do is Edward Scissorhands, because, growing up, it was one of my favorite movies. I love him a lot. He’s kind of this misfit, thrown into this world with all these new people. I can relate because I was homeschooled and didn’t go out much. When I became an adult, I was in awe of this world, like Edward was when he left the house, and all the beauty in it, but you also realize that some people are not always going to be nice. You want to be everyone’s friend, but sometimes it doesn’t work out like that.”
MFR: What character would you love to do that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
AT: “What I really want to do next is Jareth, the Goblin King, from Labyrinth. I’d also really love to do the giant beast, Ludo, as well, but that is very ambitious. I need to get to that level first.”
AT: “That’s so sweet! I’m excited to do it. Thank you so much!”
MFR: Was cosplaying something that you always wanted to do?
JN: “I kind of got my start by accident. I’ve always been a nerd and really into anime and survival horror, like Resident Evil. My friend bought me tickets to SDCC one year and I went as a sexy Pikachu, because I heard people dressed up. It took off from there. It was insane! I have never looked back, but I’m really lucky it happened. I have no idea how I got to this point. I’m just enjoying the ride while I’m here.”
MFR: Where do you see your career heading?
JN: “Oh, shoot. I don’t know (laughs)! I’ve always told myself that, if I ever don’t enjoy doing something anymore, then I’m out. But I genuinely love this so much, I have to stay in it. I am so attached to this job and the people I meet are so great. So, yeah, I’m staying for a bit (laughs)!”
MFR: Are there any hobbies outside of cosplay you enjoy?
JN: “I love hiking. I also love to make mini fairy houses and bring them to parks and stuff. The kids all go nuts. I love it. I can’t wait to be an old lady, put them all in trees and stuff and weird them out. I also enjoy anime and video games. True story, I used to want to be a forensic scientist, back in the day, so that I could poke at dead people. Maybe one day, I’ll go back to school, and finish up and do that (laughs).”
MFR: What is your favorite character to do or do you have a general theme you enjoy doing?
JN: “Yeah, I’m fond of all my dragons that I do. I don’t wear them all the time, but they are my most-favorite costumes to wear. They’re the ones that I have definitely poured my soul into and I feel like people can see that.”
MFR: What is the weirdest scenario you have encountered at a convention?
JN: “Oh. Yeah, I can’t tell you that one (laughs).”