When top cosplayers strut their stuff on stage or the convention floor, all flashing armour and skin tight spandex and story accurate props, they seem like the most confident people in the world. They step into the shoes of their favourite characters and, for a moment, they leave behind the stresses of the real world in favour of the effortless cool of their new identity. The excitement of seeing these characters come to life is only heightened knowing that the person underneath the suit is a fan just like everyone else at the convention.
They have all the same fears and insecurities as any of us. But, with a little creative effort, they can become any of pop culture’s greatest heroes.
For Khepera Cosplay, the art form was a way of finding her voice and gaining confidence. We caught up with her to find out how she went from a nervous cosplay newbie to a multi award winning artist.
What got you into cosplaying?
I have actually been making costumes for over 25 years. I always wanted to be obscure characters for Halloween that you couldn’t find in the stores and my mother got tired of making them for me, so she decided to show me how to make them for myself. The Childlike Empress from The Neverending Story was actually my first project! Over the years I have made costumes, wedding and prom dresses, designer clothes, and more.
I actually didn’t even know about cosplay until about 3 years ago when my family and I moved to New England. Even though I was scared to death to compete on stage, I was in awe and eager to give it a try. I decided to challenge myself and compete for the first time at Boston Comic Con in August of 2014. To my surprise, I won an honorable mention and have been hooked ever since!
What was the first character you ever cosplayed?
Blink from X-Men: Days of Future Past. I am a huge X-Men fan, and wanted to choose a character that I not only loved, but represented me at the time. I wasn’t ready to show off my body and walk out into the world wearing tight spandex, so when I saw the version of Blink from the movie, I fell head over heels in love. Not only do I love Blink, but I was attracted to how complicated her jacket looked. Enough beading to make a normal person cry, PERFECT!
How did it feel going out in cosplay for the first time?
Extremely terrifying and satisfying at the same time. I had been in art competitions and I had been in plays before, but I had never displayed my art on my body while being on stage before. It is a whole other state of vulnerability I had never experienced. It is one thing to display your art in a room and walk away while the judges critique your work, but it’s another thing to stand there and stare at the judges while they scrutinize you. It is very intimidating.
How does it compare to how you feel showing off new cosplays now?
Now that I know what to expect and have done it a few times, I feel far more comfortable on stage. I still get nervous and even sometimes have to chit chat and make jokes with the person next to me to help my nerves, but overall, I am still far more comfortable on stage then I was my first time.
What do you think of that first cosplay now?
I think my first cosplay says a lot about how I felt about myself at the time. I picked a character, (talking about the movie version of Blink, not the comic version), that was a side character, she was quiet, yet powerful and somewhat of an outsider. Her costume had her body completely covered, and it was not form fitting or risqué by any means. But even with all that said, the costume was very complicated and eye catching, definitely an attention grabber. At the time I was very unsure and insecure about my talents and where I stood among the other cosplayers, I wanted to show off what I could do, but yet remain quiet and in the background.
You’ve said that you find cosplay a good therapy for social anxiety. What led you to that conclusion?
When cosplaying you not only have an opportunity to put on a physical “mask” to literally hide behind, but you have the opportunity to pretend to be someone else in an accepting and safe environment. People who have social anxieties, insecurities, and more, are able to “act out” or “try” different personality types in an environment where it is expected for you to be the character you are dressed up as.
For instance, for years I had an extremely hard time voicing my opinion or standing up for myself especially in sexual harassment type situations. I would get nervous and anxious and my body would seize up. I had plenty I wanted to say to the person, but I was literally unable to open my mouth and let the other person know that their behavior was unacceptable. While cosplaying villains, I was able to “pretend” to be a villain, practice the “take no crap from anyone” type of personality in a safe environment where I knew people were expecting me to “act” in such a manner. Granted it took a few times to get a hang of it, it was, after all, a foreign behavior for me, but because I had an opportunity to practice being assertive and commanding, I was able to feel more comfortable speaking up for myself in my daily life. I have found my voice thanks to cosplay.
When did you realise you were first getting noticed as a cosplayer? How did it make you feel?
I started getting noticed right away! The second I walked in the Boston convention people were asking to take my picture and wanting to know how I made my jacket. When I did the prejudging the judges were not only geeking out over my cosplay, but they bumped me from the novice division to the journeyman division right away. It made me feel really good and it was the validation I needed. I honestly wasn’t ready for all the attention and I was so overwhelmed and excited at the same time. But after I processed all my emotions and sat back and realized all I was missing was my confidence, I was ready for my next competition!
What makes a character jump out at you as something you have to cosplay?
To me, cosplay has two categories for costumes, there is a “competition cosplay” and there is a “casual cosplay”. A “casual cosplay” is just that, you wear it for fun, it’s mostly store bought and you are not worried about it being extremely accurate to the character. For me, these characters are all the kooky fun characters that I want to pretend to be, but don’t want the stress of making the costume and competing in it. These characters are also not very eye catching or flashy, but I really want to “be” them anyways.
A “competition cosplay” is a costume you poured your heart and soul into making and you are very concerned about it being accurate to the character. In order for me to want to make a cosplay for a competition, it must be extremely complicated or challenge me in some way. If I’m not going to learn a new skill, bleed, sweat and cry over it, it’s not art and it’s not something I want to make.
I know that sounds masochistic, but honestly cosplay to me is the ultimate form of expression and if I am not pouring my soul into what I am making and if I’m not walking away with a better skill set, then it is not worth competing in. Currently I am on a villains from my childhood kick. These are characters that have inspired and enlightened me in some way or another while growing up. I have an overwhelming urge to bring them to life.
Has your Fine Arts degree influenced your cosplay? How?
Absolutely! Not only did I learn artistic techniques to catch a viewer’s eye and dazzle them with intricate details, but I also learned how to see things differently and how to express or challenge different views in a subliminal way. I am still new to cosplay so I have only created a few costumes so far, but my genderbend costumes are definitely my way of expressing female empowerment in a subtle way.
By taking a strong male character and not only making it female but also completely reimagining how that character would look as a female, I am asking the viewer to “re-image” this character as a strong female. By completely redesigning the character’s look I have taken the character out of its iconic, male, form and have given the female character its own standalone identity. Obviously I have to keep some of the iconic elements about the character in order for a connection to be made as to who the character is, but as a whole the character is reimagined and re-identified as female.
What’s your most memorable con experience?
I have so many actually, but besides my first experience cosplaying I think the most memorable was Massive Comic Con 2015 when I won my first Best in Show award in cosplay. I was so scared to go on stage and say my lines that I was literally shaking. But I was determined not to fail like I had done when I went on stage my first time, so when it came my turn, I marched right up on that stage and took over, with shaking knees and all. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, challenged myself and I had accomplished what I was determined to do. That alone was enough for me to walk away with a smile on my face, but when I realized I had won Best in Show, I nearly fainted. I grew that day, I gained confidence, much needed affirmation, pride and my voice. It probably seems like small potatoes to some people in the grand scheme of life, but any life changing experience that makes you a better person, is one worth holding onto.
You make an effort to engage with your followers and to build a community around your cosplaying. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from your fans?
I think engaging with your fans is extremely important. Your fans are the reason you are popular and the reason you have fan pages in the first place. To ignore or dismiss the people who support you is not only rude, in my opinion, but it sends the message that you think that you are better than they are and that is simply not true.
Besides, I love interacting with people, I not only get to know them but I learn so much about what people like, dislike, respect, find offensive and more. It is up to all of us voicing our opinion and stating what we feel is acceptable and what is not acceptable in cosplay. When we communicate with each other, face to face or through social media, we in a sense, create the standard. Cosplay is still young and growing and what the standard is, is still fluctuating and redefining itself, cosplayers learn and grow with this change. Cosplay truly is a reflection of what is socially, culturally, and morally acceptable. This is what I find most interesting about what I learn from my fans.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever heard or received from a fan?
I receive fan art and little handmade gifts all the time and I LOVE IT! Just the idea that I inspired someone to do something creative warms the cockles of my heart. But I haven’t exactly received anything that you would consider weird per se.
What do you find so interesting about beetles?
I love the dichotomy of them! They are beautiful and mysterious and yet menacing and terrifying at the same time. You want to touch them, but they give you goosebumps. They have creepy little legs and eyes and yet they have beautiful, colorful bodies. To me, beetles represent life, life is scary, painful and difficult, and yet out of all that life is also wonderful, beautiful and rewarding. Beetles also represent so many different things throughout history, especially in Ancient Egyptian Mythology and all throughout my life I have been fascinated with Ancient Egyptian Mythology, hence where my cosplay name comes from, Khepera.
What’s your favourite kind of whisky?
Black Crown Royal, although I have recently been introduced to bourbon. I might have found a new love.
What’s your favourite character to cosplay?
I really enjoy Cosplaying my Genderbent David Lo Pan from the 1986 movie, Big Trouble in Little China. It is a really random fandom so when someone ends up recognizing it the looks on their faces are PRICELESS! I tend to get a huge reaction that borders on ridiculousness, I LOVE IT! To see someone get that excited over something I created is extremely rewarding, not to mention the fact that I believe it is a very successful genderbend of an iconic character.
If you actually had to live as one of the characters you’d cosplayed, which one would it be?
Hands down, Evil Lyn! Just the idea of going grocery shopping and cooking dressed as Evil Lyn makes my heart happy. Hmmm. I think I may have just thought of my next photoshoot.
What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever done?
The secret cosplay that I am working on right now is by far the most time consuming, most difficult and most frustrating project I have ever taken on! I have learned so many new skills on this project it has been a little overwhelming and yet very rewarding at the same time. I have learned how to create a head cast, mold a prosthetic out of clay, cast that mold in silicone, apply a silicone prosthetic, do full body paint, wire LEDs, program robotics, build a bodysuit to alter my body shape, and so much more. Needless to say, I really stepped out of my comfort zone on this one.
Have you ever given up on a cosplay idea because it was too difficult?
NEVER!!! NEVER SAY DIE! Seriously though, there are so many tutorials out there and so many people willing to share their knowledge and help you if you get stuck, there is no reason to be intimidated by something you have never done before. Just take it one bite at a time and be prepared to not have it done when you want it to be.
Are you working on anything new now?
Yes, but if I told you I’d have to kill you. I am actually hoping to have this secret cosplay done for New York Comic Con 2017, so keep a look out for it then. I am also working on another Evil Lyn armor cosplay and possibly a reimagined Rita Repulsa from the Power Rangers. But it all depends on when I get my secret cosplay done. Spoilers!
Who are your favourite cosplayers working right now?
Oh man, there are so many of them, so many creative people. I enjoy seeing armor built by Kamui, Jessica Nigri and Danielle Beaulieu, I find them really inspiring. I also love how Leon Chrio, Riki Riddle and Belle Chere seem to morph into completely different people with every cosplay they do. And of course you have to love the Queen of all Cosplay, Yaya Han. She is an amazing seamstress.
You were a judge at Megafest last October. How was that? Have you got your eye on any new cosplayers after seeing the talent there?
Judging at Super Megafest is definitely different from judging at other conventions I have been at. For one, there is no pre-judging, this can be good and this can be bad. In my opinion it is just different. It is a different way of running a costume contest. I did miss the pre-judging though, because that is the one opportunity where the judges get to get up and personal with the contestant’s creations. Judges get to ask the cosplayer questions and get a real understanding of the cosplayer and their costume before they go on stage. I LOVE the eye candy as I call it. I love seeing everyone’s art up close and really absorbing their creation.
But with that said, I did see a few cosplayers on the stage that really wowed me! I honestly wanted to talk to them about their costume, but everyone tends to scatter after a contest, so I didn’t get the chance.
What did you think of the rest of Megafest?
Super Megafest is always a blast. They seem to always have the BEST random celebrity guests and unique vendors. And honestly, the entire convention is like a great big family reunion. The whole convention is very laid back and chill and it also has more of a personal vibe to it.
Outside of cosplaying, what do you like to do with your time?
I have a serious problem with holding still, I am constantly on the go and my mind is always coming up with ideas. I have a notepad on me at all times because I never know when I am going to be inspired by something. I like to draw, paint, write stories, create random characters and worlds they live in, I’m designing clothes constantly. I like to write scripts and create short films, I have actually won a few independent film awards for some of them. I teach community classes on painting, cosplay and worbla and I volunteer in and out of cosplay whenever I can. I really enjoy painting murals and doing installation art. The bigger the better I guess. But when I’m not working on world domination, I love playing video games and spending time with my family.
Do you think you’ll still be cosplaying in ten years’ time? Do you have any goals, in cosplaying terms or otherwise?
I honestly see myself being one of those 80 year old ladies still rocking the stage! Cosplay IS my life, it is who I am. I was making costumes when my chubby kid hands could barely handle a push pin and I will continue making costumes even when my delicate elderly hand can barely do the same.
Because cosplay is so huge right now and such an inspiration to people, young and old, I see it as an opportunity to share what I have learned and what I know about art, crafting, and finding confidence in yourself. My goal is to build a name for myself so that I have the ability to do more panels, community classes and events. I strongly feel that cosplay is far more than just putting on costumes and pretending to be someone else for a while. Cosplay is art, cosplay is therapy, cosplay is a voice of strength and creativity and I feel that it is important that cosplay is seen as more than just a geek trend.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
Please do not compare yourself with other cosplayers who you think are more talented than you are if it is only to put yourself down. If you see someone who you think is more talented than yourself, ask them questions, learn from them and grow. Everyone starts somewhere. Remember, everyone is at different stages in their experience and knowledge levels and everyone has been where you are. Cosplay is for EVERYONE, no matter the talent level!