Conversations in Cosplay: Gina B Talks About Finding Confidence in the Cosplay Community and Why She Chose Team Mystic
For all the attention it has got in recent years in more mainstream circles, there is still a lot about the cosplay community that exists on the fringe of popular culture. People can choose to portray any of their favourite characters from any show, movie, book, comic regardless of how little or well known it is and be welcomed with just the same enthusiasm as anyone else. The sense of community allows anyone and everyone to show off their creativity and their love for their own favourite fandoms. It invites people to come out of their shell and be whoever they want to be within the safe space of the convention.
This was certainly the case for Gina B, a once shy teenager who now has tens of thousands of followers supporting her experiments with cosplay.
We spoke to Gina about her journey from her first tentative foray into cosplay to the influential she plays in the community today.
What got you into cosplaying?
Truthfully, I have two starting points that first got me interested, then brought me back. The first time was the summer between Middle and High school back in 2004, and the second time was in late 2010. I actually owe my exposure to cosplay from a girl who lived a block away from me. I cannot recall her appearance, nor her name, but she was a few years older than me, and I saw her frequently when I would walk home from school. Back in middle school, I was a quiet, shy type who always dressed overly tomboyish. One day walking home from school I ran into her and she saw my DBZ T shirt I was wearing and asked if I actually watched the show. When I told her I was an avid fan, she explained how she is an anime fan as well, and was attending a convention that summer in Baltimore. She described all the panels, and costumes, and fun that made up a convention, and I became mesmerized from it all. I was hell bent on going, and after doing various odd jobs, I was able to accumulate enough revenue to send myself. None of my family members wanted to go with me, so I had to pay an aunt to take me as well as all the hotel and badge fees. Once I got there though, I knew I found a community I wanted to be a part of.
I gave up cosplay and conventions though while I was in college. I couldn’t afford to travel, let alone dedicate time to costumes when school dominated so much of my life. I also travelled over seas, to attended Nanzan University in Japan. Despite being in the relative middle of the main island of Japan, I was forcefully removed a few weeks after the quake that hit the Sendai region. Upon my return to the States was when I found a rekindling of sorts for cosplay. Though I didn’t start to take cosplay “seriously” until August of 2012 when I made my fan page (after Facebook purged my account, I figured a page was the safest place to showcase my work).
What was the first character you ever cosplayed?
I remember my first cosplay very well. Like I said before my first convention was Otakon in Baltimore. I was just turning 14 at the time, so I was not very learned in the realm of materials, but I was beyond proud of the outfit: Sango from Inu Yasha. I made her battle version, with pizza boxes covered in fabric for armor, along with a surgical mask colored silver for her metal mask. In hindsight, coloring a surgical mask with sharpie was not the greatest of ideas! However, I look fondly at photos from that con. Everyone has to start somewhere, ya know? I simply started at a very low point on the totem pole. I actually remade the outfit in 2008, when I fiberglassed the boomerang, but kept the rest of the outfit. That was my first experience working with the material and my introduction to higher level crafting. I remade it again in 2012 for Anime Expo with fully fiberglassed armor and weapons. I’ve learned just a little over the years!
How did it feel going out in cosplay for the first time?
Nerve wracking doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt. Realistically, even today I have that anxiety that all my hard work and effort will spontaneously combust in transport to the con. I always expect something disastrous to go down, and will be concerned until I can have everything unpackaged and in my hotel room laid out. My first con (and for a number of them after that as well), I went by myself because I knew nobody. I had my hotel room alone, walked over to the con center alone, spent my time alone but meeting up with people according to the cosplay.com meetup schedules (Remember, this was in the MySpace days, so Facebook meetups weren’t a thing!). My first con, first day, walking up to the center was the most exhilarating experience of my life. Getting bombarded before my foot even hit the threshold of the con for pictures, people exclaiming how awesome I looked and how cool it was that I had the actual scaled props and such. I mean, my outfit was rather cringeworthy compared to what I have now… but at the time it was a show stopper. The anxiety of whether or not everything would work out or not quickly evaporated within about 10 minutes of being there, and it was the warm welcome I got that made me want to keep going back.
How does it compare to how you feel showing off new cosplays now?
I cannot think of a time I went to a con and felt fully confident. I always have a concern one way or another. Will a piece break? Did I sew it all securely enough? Do I have enough clasps? Will I be able to go to the bathroom? What if something hits me, will anything break off? Does my body look okay enough for this outfit at this time? What will people think of my choice? I mean realistically, I cosplay for myself. A majority of my outfits are older content characters. My focus is mainly characters from the 80s-early 00s, and they aren’t currently popular or trending, so it can be pretty hit or miss. I at least have the benefit of having a smaller social media presence so I don’t have to worry about whether or not a costume is “successful enough.” Doesn’t mean the fear of the con isn’t there though. I am a rather shy person when it comes to certain things, and cosplay, while rewarding, can come with so many concerns!
What do you think of that first cosplay now?
I am still proud of my first costume. I mean, I know it’s a train wreck… but for the materials I had access to, the time frame I completed it in, and the skill set I had at the time? It’s glorious, and I am happy I was able to start where I did.
When did you realize you were first getting noticed as a cosplayer? How did it make you feel?
Believe it or not, it was my first con when I noticed how much cosplay in general gets noticed. But if you mean in terms of social media today and becoming more popular…hands down it’s when I was Velma for the first time back in 2012 at NYCC. My picture all of a sudden started popping up on 9gag, and Imgur and people began mass sharing images of that costume… it was overwhelming to say the least!
What makes a character jump out at you as something you have to cosplay?
Nostalgia, and love for the character, as well as plausibility of appearance and skill. Those are my top factors! If I have a love for a fandom, say Inu Yasha, I chose Sango because I love her as a character, and felt I resembled her enough to do justice to the character. While I have a love for, say, G Gundam, and would love to make a God Gundam outfit… My skills (and storage space) may not be up to par to accomplish it and feel like I can be proud of it, so I am looking to do Rain, a female support character instead to show my love of the series. I tend to shy away from popular characters or trending series simply because I feel there is too much hype and fandoms can ruin a person’s appreciation of a character. So I stick to my guns and do what I like, no matter how simple or difficult it may to be to construct!
What’s your most memorable con experience?
Outside of my first con? I mean with my first convention, it was the most mindblowing experience. Meeting people because they cosplayed from the same fandom as myself; having them save my number as “Sango” because they had to remember who I actually was and it was the easiest way. But as the years have gone on, and I am meeting more and more people I find I am having many smaller interactions that mean a lot to me. Having a fan approach me at a Dragoncon, with custom made shoes he had designed to be with Okami art was so heartwarming. Or to run into a fan at Colossalcon, who did a double take and began geeking out and excitedly telling me how he’s followed me for years and was finally able to show appreciation… I am now good friends with him and correspond with him frequently. Just as it’s the wand that chooses the wizard, it’s the people who make the con!
What’s your favourite character to cosplay?
I would at one time put Officer Jenny as one of my more favorite costumes to wear because it is comfortable to get in and out of, and comfortable to have on. Some of my costumes involve clear straps, or fashion tape or wigs that are heavy, but Jenny is easy to walk about in. Officer Jenny may be my most comfortable costume that I’ve constructed everything in, but Velma had quickly rose to the fore to be the most fun to bring to a con.
I made Velma on a whim really. At the time I was hired to do some booth babeing for NYCC, and my booth manager asked that I wear something “family friendly”. I won’t delude myself here: basically none of my costumes at that time had constituted as “family friendly”. I had found the orange sweater in a thrift store, and decided to last moment slap together a Velma outfit for that con. I had no idea how popular it would become, and was quite overwhelmed with the response to her. She is now one of my staple outfits, and I actually sometimes wear her on a Sunday of a con, don’t change out of the outfit, and wear her into the rest stops on the way home. It really is quite fun to see people with their quizzical eyebrows think they know I’m dressed up as a character, but not want to ask me in fear of offending me if it is my real outfit.
The more I cosplay as Velma, the more I affiliate with her. I have always been the booky, geeky girl of my social circles. I personally do wear glasses (and in the last year I have actually bought a pair of glasses for myself that are similar to hers for everyday use), and will constantly put them down for a moment while I sew or something and lose them in an instant, fumbling around to find them again. My boyfriend makes fun of me all the time how appropriate a costume Velma is to me.
If you actually had to live as one of the characters you’d cosplayed, which one would it be?
Most characters I cosplay because I admire something about them, which makes this difficult to answer. Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell? Chel from El Dorado? Wonder Woman? I mean that’s the point of cosplay isn’t it? To escape who you are for a day and be able to embrace that character and what they are.
What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever done?
Two costumes come to the fore of my mind at this, and for different reasons. The first one would be Mai Shiranui. I made her to be as close to the figure as possible; worn to Dragoncon, I was able to wear it with a g string and not worry about overexposure of my person. While I knew it was erotic, I took a deep breath before stepping out my door in that outfit, and it took continued confidence to take some more negative responses in stride. That outfit helped build my confidence and sense of self like no other. The second would probably be Urd from AH! My Goddess. It was the first cosplay I made involving wings, a giant wig, a full gown and lots of details. It was a rollercoaster of emotions spanning from excitement, to discouragement to sheer rage as I successfully or unsuccessfully made each piece. The end result really made it worth it though!
From a technical standpoint, after that my next hardest outfits to make I think weren’t even for myself, but my boyfriend Miggy Jagger. Outfits like his Shazam and Sinestro from Injustice, where each outfit had 300+ pieces to a tight bodysuit that involved mixing mediums like spandex, leather, mesh and other materials. Working outfits for others makes me think in different ways and stretches my abilities in ways I can’t even imagine sometimes.
Have you ever given up on a cosplay idea because it was too difficult?
YES. It’s always healthy to take a step back and reevaluate a situation. I may not have the skills to accomplish something at that point in time… but I always try to revisit it if I can once I feel I can. Or to even remake old things as I learn more efficient ways to construct.
What inspired you to make all your own props as well as the costumes?
Necessity, and lack of funds, of course! When I started, commissions weren’t really a thing, and if people did them, they were super expensive. As a broke middle schooler I had no choice but to begin to learn what to do for every part of an outfit.
Are you working on anything new now?
I think the real question is what am I not working on! I have many half finished projects just sitting in my crafting room waiting for a day to be finished, but unfortunately I can be indecisive, or last moment a friend will pitch a collab project and I’ll drop something in favor of another thing, or my mood will change and I’ll lose the desire to finish an outfit. My goals are to make a few plug suits from various anime, delve more into 80s movie characters, and get elaborate with more detailed comic work.
Who are your favourite cosplayers working right now?
There are a few people I really admire. The top two are actually non-American, and I began following them back in the cosplay.com days. Goldy Marg from Japan, he does mech suits and gundams. His clean details in suits blow my mind and how quickly he posts from drafting patterns to having a completed item is astounding. The second is Ryoko Demon from Russia. I first found her because of her costumes from Pokémon as Team Rocket’s Jessie, and was floored by her clean work from then on. I highly recommend them to people looking to fill their feeds with top notch work.
Outside of cosplaying, what do you like to do with your time?
I love to do things with my hands. Cooking, crafting, talking, etc. I love not just cooking but eating, and anyone who follows me, especially on IG can see a lot of my food postings as well. I am also an avid reader. I even have a Goodreads account for fellow readers who would like to recommend books.
Anyone who has been following your Twitter knows you’ve got really into Pokémon Go. What Team are you on?
MYSTIC. Which is actually really odd for me. I have picked the fire starter of every game since the Blue/Red days, but I wanted to be with my friends so we could gang up on gyms together.
What’s your favourite Pokémon?
As a kid I liked the pretty ones, Ninetails, Arcanine, etc. As an adult, my favorite is Ditto Pikachu. His derpy face makes him look adorable. I think there are now other Pokémon as plushies with Dittos face. I want them all.
Do you play the other Pokémon games? Are you looking forward to Sun and Moon?
I think the Alola forms are something exciting to look at. I also have been hearing tons of rumors of this game being the end game to reset the whole universe, or something along those lines. Basically the rumors and whispers I hear make me more and more interested in playing.
As a small side story, I will never forget my cousin’s face, the day I took his Pokémon Blue, and by accident reset his game and lost his Mew. Granted, I was like 6 or something at the time, but I’m pretty sure he held that as a secret grudge against me for years.
Do you think you’ll still be cosplaying in ten years’ time? Do you have any goals, in cosplaying terms or otherwise?
If I am cosplaying in 10 years… that would put me at 36. I am unsure if I’ll still be connected to the community, but I will always have fond memories, friendships, and photos to look back on.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
I feel like everyone wants some sure fire way to be able to make a costume. Like the 10 minute abs workout equivalent to sewing. I am pretty sure there is no way to overnight be amazing at cosplay, but there are tips I can give that may change how people think of putting it together.
Personally when I am making a costume, the first thing I do is Google it. I look to see what other people have done. What elements work on it for them, and what doesn’t. I then make a list of the things I like from what others have done, and things I didn’t, so I can avoid those same issues. I then think about my body type, and how I sometimes need to mold myself to fit the shape of the character better. I think there is a huge stress in the cosplay community to make everything. But I think, for beginners, that is quite silly. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If there is a pair of normal pants or shorts in the outfit, just go buy and wear them! Don’t make your life hard.
I also recommend to focus on time management. I always end up doing a great deal of panic sewing at the last moment that could have been avoided easily if I simply managed my time better. A week to finish an outfit is too little. Give yourself at least a month to work on whatever it is, and if you finish it sooner than that month, then you are in a good place.
As for construction: don’t forget support! If the character isn’t wearing a bra, that doesn’t mean you have to not wear one. If you are insistent to not wear one, then wear silicone or something. No one appreciates body parts flailing about at the con. I always wear things to support my body at all times. Structure is very important. Watch shows like Project Runway where you can see how they make things. Google patterns and what the words in the patterns mean. You will be amazed by how much you can learn from the internet these days!