The appreciation of cosplay is very near and dear to the heart of Nerd Bastards. Whether it be expertly crafted, drop dead gorgeous, simple yet witty, or all of the above–we love it.
Now, in a new and ongoing feature we’re looking to celebrate all those unknowns who slave away creating amazing costumes. Those who put their sweat and tears into an outfit they’ll only wear on the convention floor for a few hours. Those who don’t have a gig on a major television network’s reality show. These are the Real Heroes of Cosplay.
For our inaugural edition of the Real Heroes of Cosplay I interviewed a good friend of mine, C.J. Biro. (Just one of perks to being friendly with us Bastards.) Over the years we’d see one another at conventions both home and away, and I’ve watched C.J.’s cosplay prowess grow from simple costumes to absolute show-stoppers. At this year’s Dragon Con while C.J. was dressed as Tin Iron Man he couldn’t walk more than five feet before crowds would swarm and start demanding photos. And while there were costumes that dwarfed C.J.’s Tin Iron Man in both size and skill, sometimes all it takes is a clever idea and good execution to make a knockout of a costume.
How did you decide to start cosplaying?
I enjoyed costuming for years at a casual level, but really, it was Lisa Lombardi who got me to seriously up my game into full on cosplay. Her dedication to craft inspired me to do more, do better, and learn. I’m still learning, and still striving for better, but if I had to cite the reason I am where I am now, without a doubt, it’s been Lisa who put me on the road to where I am now.
What was your very first costume?
I was a clown as a very little kid for Halloween, like five years old.
Haha, all right, how about the first one you wore to a convention?
My first major convention costume was probably my Mad Scientist for Marcon, complete with a giant flask filled with bubbling colored water and dry ice.
What was the response like?
Mostly good, because I would change the color of the water in the flask as the water cooled and the dry ice melted. This made people do double takes as they saw me at various points in the convention. I got a few folks thinking I was Doc Brown from Back to the Future or the mad scientist from Robot Chicken, which was a little frustrating, but I guess it was best to learn early on that people will mistake you for other characters, with the best of intentions and appreciation.
Thinking back on this year’s Dragon Con and the Tin Iron Man costume, what was the inspiration?
The Tin Iron Man was completely inspired by the illustrator Chip Boles, who had modified the original promo picture of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz into the Iron Man/Tin Man mash-up. I loved the imagery, and I reached out to the artist to see if he would be okay with me recreating his 2-D image in the real world as a costume. He thought it was a great idea.
Because I procrastinated? I got the entire thing done in seven days. The hardest parts were repainting the Iron Patriot mask I purchased to be Iron Man colors, and believe it or not, trying to replicate the elbow joints of the tin man’s armor. I never got that quite right, but as I was running out of time, I just had to go with what I could approximate.
Why did you use an Iron Patriot mask instead of an Iron Man mask?
Because the actual Iron Man mask that would have ideally been what I wanted, was not going to go on sale until after Dragon Con was over.
Oh, of course. Speaking of, how much did everything cost?
The Iron Patriot mask was about $30 shipped, and I had easily $75 worth of foam sheeting and craft foam. The arc reactor in the chest was something I actually had left over and lying around the house, so that was free. The brass fittings were a couple bucks a pair and the smaller brass fasteners were about $7 for the box. The under shirt and pants were thrift store finds, I spent a fair bit on hot glue and adhesives, and there was about $15 in spray paint. The cooling fans I had mounted on the inside of the torso were about $10 total. There were a couple dollars in craft paper to get the really shiny gold highlight around the reactor, the bow tie and elbow joints. The gloves were a last minute item as were around $5 bucks plus the paint to make them red instead of white. So, all totaled? Around $150-$200 , give or take.
And once you were wearing it, was there anything you realized you should have done differently?
I had not considered how to get the armor all fastened together to keep it all from falling off. I knew it was going to be hot, so the fans helped, but I really need to come up with a better circulation and cooling system.
What have you learned from constructing the Tin Iron Man that you’ll apply to future cosplays?
It’s NEVER too early to start on a costume. The more time you have, the more time you can do detail work, improve the paint and finish, practice wearing it, find problems in the costume (like my assembly problem), and solve construction problems. Underestimating construction and build time is the leading cause of cosplay meltdowns.
What’s the greatest thrill you get from cosplaying?
I love the pictures, and the compliments. It’s very gratifying to have others appreciate your efforts and ideas. The attention is fun, and it’s always great to have folks whom you look up to tell you that they like your work. It’s deeply satisfying.
What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome?
My biggest challenge has simply been overcoming my fear of failure. New building techniques, new processes… they’re all pretty daunting to me, and my reluctance to try and fail leads me to procrastinate, and procrastinating leads to late nights, frustrations, and a lot of energy wasted on being upset, instead of energy spent going into making the costumes.
To learn those new techniques and processes, where do you look? Forums? Tutorials? Friends?
The Internet is a fantastic place to start. Most of the major techniques are fully documented and there are tons of tutorials. I also rely on the experience of those more capable than I. Lisa has been a near complete walking encyclopedia of process and procedure. If she doesn’t know how it’s done, she probably can figure it out.
Is cosplaying something you can see yourself doing forever?
I’m 43 now. I don’t see me stopping any time soon. I imagine WHAT I will cosplay will change, but I doubt I will ever really completely stop costuming.
After the success of Dragon Con 2013, what’s next?
Ohayocon is the next big convention I will attend. I have a couple projects in mind, for me and my daughter. My next GIANT cosplay is a secret, but I’ve already given you a hint. I’m already in discussions with my inspiration for the costume.
Lastly, any advice for anyone who has never cosplayed but wants to give it a shot?
Complex, simple, easy, hard, everyone starts someplace. You will not be perfect in your attempt, but that does not mean you shouldn’t attempt it. Overcome any fear of failure, and choose characters you love and that inspire you. The long and short of it, do it because you want to, you want the challenge, the fun, the excitement, the learning. Have fun with it, so when it’s 2:00am and you’re working on a particularly tough costume part, you’ll want to keep going. Enjoy what you do and what you learn. The rest will follow.
Thanks again C.J. for sharing your cosplay experience as well as giving us a little behind the scenes info on your Tin Iron Man costume. And if you’d like to be featured in the Real Heroes of Cosplay, hit us up at heroesofcosplay@nerdbastards.