Cosplay has a profound affect on many people. It teaches us a little bit about ourselves and introduces us to new people as we travel to conventions. In this interview, veteran cosplayer, Charles Battersby eloquently discusses early convention going and how convention costume wearing has transformed over the decades. We also get into the creative process behind those amazing mash-up cosplays Charles is known for. He is a talented individual who always awes and inspires me.
LIZ: What first got you into cosplay and how long ago was that?
Charles: It was 25 years ago! I wanted to dress as the Michelle Pfeiffer version of Catwoman at a Comic Con – back when that was the latest version of the character!
LIZ: How is cosplay different today from back then?
Charles: First, we didn’t yet call it “Cosplay”. And there would only be a handful of costumers at conventions. The cons were smaller and tended to be focused on just one element of culture like comics, or Sci-fi (Anime, and gaming cons were virtually nonexistent). Most of the costuming was at the sci-fi cons, and those people took it very seriously.
The ratio of male to female cosplayers was also much different. It was primarily for the boys – and the sort of gender exploration that we see now-a-days was exceedingly rare. I was pretty much the only openly transgender person cosplaying in the NY con circuit then. I was famously thrown out of that con where I dressed as Catwoman.
Of course, there was no social media back then. No digital photography, so it was difficult to share your work, or meet other cosplayers. People were still using beepers, and dial-up America Online back then.
LIZ : Where do you draw inspiration from when creating some of your original cosplays, like Cinderbelle or the Justice Scouts? Mashups are popular but you always surprise me.
Charles: Often my mash-ups are more than aesthetics, they’re about themes that the franchises have in common. “Cinderbelle” is a mash-up of two Disney princesses whose stories are about beauty. Cinderella is about someone who is beautiful but can’t show that beauty to other people. A lot of people think it’s about the superficial nature of beauty but, when the Fairy Godmother works her magic, everything transforms EXCEPT Cinderella herself. She was always beautiful, and the fancy gown is just there to help other people see it.
Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” has the exact opposite story; Belle is someone who is seen as beautiful by the people around her, but she has to learn how to see beauty in someone else. The two stories fit together very well when you look at them from that angle. Once you’ve learned how to show your own beauty, you have to learn to see what makes other people beautiful.
Some of my mashups happen when I like a character, but their outfit just isn’t pretty enough. My “Lolita Captain America” was purely the result of wanting to emulate Captain America’s personality, but hating the aesthetics of his uniform. Marvel made a female counterpart to Captain America named “American Dream”, but even her outfit wasn’t girly enough for me. So I made a loli dress with the distinct Captain America features, and a folding fan that looks like his shield. That shield is made out of steel, too. Loli Cap is ready to defend freedom!
The “Justice Scouts”, a Sailor Moon / Justice League mashup, started when I wanted a very feminine version of Supergirl’s uniform, so I used a Sailor Moon sewing pattern to make the dress. The aesthetics of the two franchises fit together perfectly, and I quickly found countless little similarities between DC Comics and Sailor Moon. The color schemes, the character’s personalities, the planetary theme of the Sailor Scouts and the interplanetary cast of the Justice League.
After wearing the Supergirl dress to a couple of events, I made another version of the costume that was an even mix of Supergirl and Sailor Moon. Then I wrangled a few friends to join me onstage in similar outfits.
With my Bioshock/Fallout mashup, the design teams on both games are clearly influencing each other as the two franchises progress. They both have the same retro-futuristic aesthetics and general themes of warped Americana. By the time I did my “Vault 13 Elizabeth”, it felt like the game designers were demanding that SOMEONE do a mashup of the two games.
LIZ: You’re a local star at BBG’s Sakura Matsuri. When did you start getting involved with the event? Did you start out only involved as a model for the Cosplay Fashion Show?
Charles: I started out as a model, in the second year of the fashion show. I believe Dokudel is the one of us with the longest track record at the event. Then I started doing the Brooklyn Parasol Society’s lolita fashion show, which had also been running for a couple of years before I joined them. Eventually the BBG asked me to organize and moderate some panels on cosplay, because that event addresses both pop Japanese culture as well as traditional Japanese culture. There are a lot of people who come to see the cherry trees, or the tea ceremony, and have no idea why people are dressed up like cyborgs.
I enjoy moderating these talks with cosplayers, manga artists, and game designers, because a lot of them are very shy by nature, so it’s fun to encourage them to come out of their shells on stage and discus their work.
LIZ: You do some acting. Is that a lot like being in cosplay for you? What do you enjoy more?
Charles: “SOME” acting? I’m That Guy from That Thing, damnit! Check my IMDB page!
But, yes, acting is a lot like cosplay, especially when the role calls for some kind of outlandish costume. Oddly, I’m usually typecast as “The Scary Guy” or the villain when I’m acting, but my cosplay is usually princesses and superheroines.
Which do I enjoy more? Oooo… that’s tough. Nothing is better than performing in live theater. But acting usually involves months of hard work just for that moment when you’re onstage. With cosplay, I’m not on the clock. It’s something I do just for fun.
LIZ: What is the longest time it has taken you to finish a cosplay, and which one was it?
Charles: Ah, this is the deceptive part of cosplay. Just because something is big, or pretty, doesn’t mean it took a long time to make. I can bang out a princess gown in four days, but my Bioshock / Fallout outfit took much longer because of all the little details and pieces.
I wanted it to look authentically post-apocalyptic, which means the harness and armor pieces are made with re-purposed materials, like shotgun shell casings as grommets for the straps. I’m not experienced with armor and props, so it was a learning process in how to cut and paint foam and plastic. In the end I was pleased because people kept complimenting the “Leather work” when it was just foam painted to look like leather.
LIZ: Do you recall how many yards of fabric go into one of your Lolita dresses?
Charles: Another deceptive aspect of fashion design. Those tiny little lolita skirts take about 4 yards of fabric to make because of all the layers and ruffles. The princess dresses use about six yards for the skirts, and Cinderbelle needed nine yards of fabric because of the layers in Belle’s side of the skirt. I buy a lot of cheap fabric!
LIZ: Your cosplays are often detailed. Do you ever get any help from friends or family?
Charles: My cat “helps” in her own little way, by taking naps on my fabric while I’m cutting it. The rest of my family and friends are deadbeats!
LIZ: What are some of your favorite aspects of cosplay?
Charles: It’s a way to meet other shy nerdy people. I used to be horribly introverted and cosplay is one of the things that’s help me learn to interact with those terrifying strangers!
I also take a great deal of satisfaction in finishing a costume. The moment when I decide “It’s done!” and snip away that last thread. Even if I don’t have an event to wear the costume, I still love the process of making things.
LIZ: What is your favorite cosplay and do you still wear it?
Charles: Another tough one. I like the costumes that bring joy to other people, and the Cinderbelle dress brings a smile to people’s faces, so I’ll call that my favorite. I’ve made three versions of it, and intend to wear it again in the future.
LIZ: If someone wanted to start cosplaying, what are 3 pieces of advice you would give to them?
Charles: Pick a character that you love. You’ll have fun even if your outfit isn’t great, and you’ll signal your fandom to other people that love the same thing.
Invest in a sewing machine, even a cheap one (Or drag grandma’s sewing machine out of the attic). Then get a bolt of cheap fabric and make some ugly costumes! Most cosplayers learn through trial and error, and you WILL get better as you make more stuff.
Have fun. If competitions, fashion shows, and photoshoots get in the way of having fun, then just focus on enjoying the event. It helps a lot if your outfit is lightweight, easily transported, and comfortable.
LIZ: That is some great advice. You should follow Charles on social media: