Conversations in Cosplay: From the Convention Floor to SyFy’s ‘Cosplay Melee’ The Rise Of Becka Noel
For so many years, cosplay was a niche hobby even among the global nerd community. It is only in the past few years that it has gathered mainstream attention and, for some of the early attempts at introducing it to a wider audience, not all of it was good. This year, Syfy showcased cosplay in an entirely new way with its show Cosplay Melee. It focussed on the creative drive and the passion felt by everyone who makes the effort to step into the shoes of their favourite characters by bringing pop culture’s most fantastic costumes to life.
The show wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful if it wasn’t for the dedication of the cosplayers who strutted their stuff on the Cosplay Melee catwalk. Becka Noel was one of the creators who took the leap from convention floor to international television and captured the imaginations of nerds all over the world with her art.
We spoke to Becka to find out how the show has changed her work in cosplay and what she could possibly have lined up to follow it.
PC or Mac?
What is your favourite cereal?
Oh my gosh. My favourite cereal. I have one healthy favourite, that is Cranberry Almond Crunch. And then I have one sugary goodness favourite, which is Reese’s Pieces Cereal.
What is your favourite curse word?
Probably ‘fuck’. But I also really like the word ‘twat’.
If you could pick a world from any video game, where would you live?
World of Warcraft.
What fictional character from TV, movies, video games or comic books have you crushed on?
Um. Legolas. And, hmm. Let’s just go with Legolas.
What got you into cosplay?
Let’s see. I got into cosplaying about six years ago. My fiancé brought me to New York Comic Con here in the city. I come from an artistic background. I got out of the car and saw everyone there in costumes. Instead of being excited about being at the convention and going to the panels and visiting the different vendors, I just couldn’t stop looking at all the costumes. I had loved costumes my whole life. Having a pretty nerdy background, it was like marrying the two together. I went straight home and made a costume in like a week. That was it for me.
What was the first character you ever cosplayed?
Harley Quinn from Arkham Asylum. I made her entirely out of duct tape.
How did it feel going out in cosplay for the first time?
It was so amazing. You get to be with all the same people who are into the same things you are, but now through cosplaying you’re becoming this character that you’ve played or seen. Other people see you as this character. So, when I was Harley Quinn, people were calling me Harley. I’d think “Yes! I am Harley Quinn!” It was a really cool feeling.
How does that initial feeling compare to when you show new cosplays now?
It’s still really exciting. It never really, at least for me, the excitement of it doesn’t die down. It’s not like that “ooh, so exciting and new” kind of feeling it was when I first started. I’m more used to being stopped for photos and that kind of thing now. But it’s still really exciting. Every time I made a new cosplay, it’s still exciting to debut it. When I’m on the floor, some of the brand new excitement I had during the first year or so of cosplay – and going all out, all the days of the convention… I don’t do that any more. I’ll go all out on day one, day two, but on Sundays, I’m slacking. I’ll be out there in my own clothes, relaxing, having fun with my friends, enjoying the convention.
How did it feel when you realised you were first getting noticed as a cosplayer?
It feels really good. It’s nice to have your work appreciated and noticed by people. It’s certainly not something that I set out to do, that wasn’t my goal. But it’s a really nice feeling to have your hard work go noticed by people. It didn’t happen right away for me, I worked really hard – and I still work really hard – for years before I started gaining any traction.
Then I feel like it kind of happened all at the same time. There was a few years of cosplaying and then one year we have the New York Times and MSNBC and all these different people wanting to follow us on the road to New York Comic Con. That was sort of the start of this ball that kept rolling and getting bigger. Every year something exciting happens and I think “How am I gonna top this next year?” And then next year I’m on Cosplay Melee! It’s crazy.
How did you get involved with Cosplay Melee?
That was 100% down to my friend Jackie, who is also on the show. She saw the posting on Facebook that they put out looking for cosplayers. I don’t really pay attention to that sort of stuff, so I never would’ve seen it if wasn’t for her. She came to me one day, saying we should do this together. I was thinking about Heroes of Cosplay and I’m not into reality TV, so I said no right away. I was totally not into it. She kept trying to get me to at least apply. I finally gave in. We did everything together. All the credit of applying to the show goes to Jackie.
What’s the main difference between showing off cosplays on the convention floor and on international TV?
It’s really special to take something like cosplay that was, at one time, a really niche community and now it’s getting more traction within regular communities. I feel like we had a responsibility to portray cosplay the way that we all know and love it to be. So, on the show we wanted to make sure that we portrayed it in a positive way. Every community has some drama, but that’s not what drives cosplay. For a lot of people. So we all just knew that we had this weight hanging over us from the last reality show that didn’t portray the community so well. It was really nice to be able to show people was cosplay is actually about.
Do you feel like the new show learned a lot from Heroes of Cosplay?
Definitely. I think they 100% tried to absolutely do a one-eighty and not do anything that was in the previous show. Not everything was bad in Heroes of Cosplay, but I think that in the new show they really wanted to show the crafting side of cosplay and the comradery between contestants that didn’t really get shown before. And the fun. They wanted to show that it’s a fun thing that you can do together and help each other and that you can be competitive and still help each other. I definitely think they captured that.
What was the most memorable thing that happened on the show?
I don’t know if there was any one moment. Probably the most memorable moment was during the first elimination challenge where we’re all four of us standing on stage. At least for me, standing there was one of the most stressful moments of my entire life. It was so stressful because what you saw actually happened. We didn’t know anything. We’re standing up there waiting for them to call your name to say you’re going home.
And you don’t want to go home, you want to be able to finish your character and bring it to life so people can see it. That was a really stressful moment and then you’re totally relieved that you’re not going home. But you’re sad that Cait is going home and I cried, but they didn’t show that, thank God! So that’s probably my most memorable moment. But being on the show is just really special. Getting to know my fellow contestants was really special and working together.
What was the biggest challenge you faced on the show?
Just getting my piece done. It was really challenging to first come up with something that you thought that you could get done in the allotted about of time and then to make that happen. There were some moments where I think all four of us, at one point, probably had a little mini breakdown thinking that we weren’t actually going to finish. It was hard. We helped each other. Because there were some times Steven helped me, and if he hadn’t helped me problem solve then I don’t think my piece would’ve gotten finished. So that was crazy.
What the most important lesson you learned on the show?
I think that time management is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m a total perfectionist and that’s something I really struggle with in cosplay. I’ll focus on one tiny little detail and forget about the big picture. But on Cosplay Melee you can’t do that because you have to finish the whole thing. You have to move past it and go onto the next piece. In a situation where I was forced to do that, I can do that and it’s still okay.
And it also made me realise that, fuck, I can finish a whole costume in three days! That’s pretty amazing. I sort of felt like a badass after the show, like I can make anything I want in a couple of days. I haven’t yet, but I still think I could!
How do you think the show has impacted the cosplay community?
I think it had – and continues to have – a really positive impact on them. I see people online who seem to be really happy with the show. They enjoyed watching it. During episodes, on Twitter people would be messaging back and forth with the show and seemed to be motivated by it.
I think it’s really great because I’m seeing people who are already cosplayers and people who have wanted to cosplay but have been afraid to see what we’re doing on the show and that motivates them to start or to be better or to be faster or to get their kids involved. All those things I’ve seen happening. I haven’t really seen very many negative comments, which is great because we’re all very scared of that. The only negative comments I’ve seen is that people seem to want to eliminate the first elimination because that happens pretty quickly. They want to see more of the contestants.
The other thing is that anybody who’s a hater, we’ve all learned to combat against them by saying “why don’t you apply for next season?” And they usually say, “yeah I should!”
I think the motivation to be better and to try out to be on the show themselves have all happened because of the show.
What was your favourite piece created for the show?
My favourite costume altogether is, I think, a tie between, well, I have three favourites actually. Jessie Pridemore’s in the last episode, the Animelee episode, Jessie’s Magical Girl. And Jackie’s fairy that she created. I love both of those so much. I think Jessie’s craftsmanship is insane. I also really loved Lisa Lou Who’s demon that she created on the Angels and Demons episode. I think those three are my favourites for sure. Maybe because they’re so different.
What about a character makes it jump at you as something you have to cosplay?
I tend to pick characters that I have a really strong connection with, like Wonder Woman. I think a lot of people feel strongly connected to her. As do I, I’ve cosplayed her a lot of times. I really love RPGs and fantasy and sci fi. I love Nordic mythology, so when I’m creating my own designs, a lot of my design tends to be very Nordic. I’m hugely inspired by Vikings and the mythology there. If it’s not something I’m totally familiar with, if I’m going to cosplay something – like, I’ve never watched Dragonball Z but I’ve cosplayed Vegeta. I didn’t know anything about it, but I liked the way the character looked a lot. But I refuse to cosplay something I don’t know anything about, so I’ll just research the shit out of it.
You’ve done a lot of cosplays with armour and big weapons. What drew you to that aesthetic?
I really love armour and weapons and knights and being a total badass. I love the idea of combining a really feminine beautiful female figure with rugged rough armour and weaponry. I think that’s a really cool mix. And I also want to be that.
What is your favourite weapon to make?
I think that would be the bow. I only made one bow, but I had so much fun making it – it was the bow I made for my Greek Goddess warrior Pinkie Pie. It was just so much fun. I think that designs for bows are just so much fun, they’re endless. And they can be so beautiful and so deadly at the same time.
I’ve made a lot of swords. I seem to be stuck making swords. Which is fine, but they’re not my favourite to make.
How do you feel about the restrictions a lot of conventions are putting on carrying big prop weapons?
I think that, at first, I reacted the way everybody else does, oh here we go again, stopping me carrying my four foot long metal blade, or whatever. Everyone is quick to jump on that and judge it. But, conventions these days are getting so busy and it’s hard to move around, so why would you want to bring a big huge prop there anyway? You’re not going to get good photos there. You’re going to get hallway shots. So save your big, amazing, dangerous prop weapon for a really nice location shoot.
Go to the convention and go for the fans and other people, and go for yourself too, but you’re going so other people will see you, that’s the whole point. You’re not going to show off your big, huge prop. So I think that there’s no real issue with conventions having this policy. It’s for the safety of other people, for everyone at the convention. It’s very easy to make a prop that fits within their policy. And you can always schedule a nice, beautiful location shoot to show off your props and everything else.
What is your favourite convention you’ve been to?
My favourite convention of all time is KatsuCon. It’s just outside of DC. It’s an anime convention, but it’s more of an everything convention these days. And my other favourite convention is C2E2 in Chicago. I love that one because it’s a comic and pop culture convention and it’s a medium sized convention that hasn’t quite hit those huge numbers that New York Comic Con has so it’s still really fun to go to.
Are there any international conventions you’d like to go?
There’s a bunch. There’s MCM in London, I really want to go to. It’s coming up! Some day I’ll get there. There’s also one in Germany that I can’t remember the name of. Shoot. I can’t remember the name. But international conventions are something I’ve wanted to branch out to for a number of years. Just trying to get there.
If you had to live as one of the characters you cosplayed which one would it be?
Oh gosh. Um. I think I would want to be my first armour cosplay that I ever made, the grown-up, badass warrior version of Red Riding Hood. It’s a very medieval knight-looking armour set. And she’s very grown-up and she’s killed the wolf and used his head as her cauldron. And she’s just this badass warrior that goes around the forest and lives killing things and being a total badass. I think I would want to be her.
What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever made?
I think that the most time consuming, I guess that’d be most difficult, would be my Blue Vienetta. It’s all sewn. So this cosplay is the first thing I ever sewed. I picked this really complicated Sakizou design so that I could teach myself different sewing techniques as I made it. It has a lot of details and there were a lot of things that I had never done before – like making a corset, and making this skirt that defies physics and a lot of crazy things on it that weren’t necessary hard but took me a long time to research and figure out how to make different parts of it.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
Well, obviously Worbla. That’s probably my favourite, it’s such a nice versatile material. I’m growing more and more on sewing, which I hated when I first started it because I couldn’t even sew a straight line. That’s why I made my first costume out of duct tape, because I didn’t know how to sew. But every time I make a new costume now and sew it, I like it more and more.
What is the most unusual thing you’ve used to make a cosplay?
Probably the mace that I made for a Hawkgirl costume that I never ended up making, but I made the weapon first. To make the ball part of the mace, I used a big light fixture. I took that, it was a plastic light fixture, and I sawed one side of it off, it had this ring around it. Then I covered the whole thing in Worbla. That was when I’d first started using Worbla and I didn’t really know how to make the round piece, so I just went to Home Depot and bought a light bulb.
Do you feel like you Fine Art studies have had an impact on your cosplay?
Oh, absolutely, yeah. I studied drawing and painting in school. Painting has always been and, still to this day is, my favourite thing to do. So when I’m making my costumes, I always can’t wait to start painting because that’s my favourite thing to do. I love shading and highlighting and putting all the details in. I could just sit around and paint details on things all day long.
As well as cosplays for yourself, you also take commissions for others. What’s the most unusual thing someone has asked you to make?
My gosh, I’ve had some really weird ones. Just weird costumes and characters that I’ve never heard of. I had this one from a person just a few weeks ago. They were asking me for one that had charred, burnt skin, a whole suit of it, and it has these crazy wing parts and I had no idea who the character was and I didn’t really know how I’d approach making that.
I do get weird ones often and I do have to turn some down because it wouldn’t be worth it, for the customer to pay the amount that I’d have to ask to make something so custom.
Are there any characters you’re looking forward to cosplaying?
Oh, my cosplay wish list is so long! I have several versions of Wonder Woman that I’d like to do. I have more ideas for my big group cosplays that I like to do, but those have to stay secret. HawkGirl is one that I really want to do. I’m actually working on a Gears of War cosplay right now. I want to make a female version of Ilidan from World of Warcraft. There are so many that I have. The list is endless.
What’s your favourite thing about the cosplay community?
Hmm. I think just the ability to make new friends that love the same things you do. The friends that I’ve made in the community are so special. I feel like they’re such a big part of my life and they’ve helped me in so many ways. I know that the community, sometimes, can feel toxic to people, but I feel that you find your friends.
My friends here on the East Coast that I’ve made are some of the best friends I’ve ever had and they’re going to be a part of my life forever. They’ve always been there for me, I feel like they’re so giving. I think that the community wants to help each other. One of my favourite things is that everybody is very open with giving information. There are so many tutorials online. It’s so easy to learn how to do something because someone has come and paved the way before you and put it up and it’s right there.
I get so many questions every day from so many people about how to make stuff, saying how did you do this and how did you do that. 95% of the time, my answer is just, go to YouTube, Google it, there will be a tutorial.
How do you feel the cosplay community could be improved?
I think that definitely more transparency and less collectively talking about people as a whole, behind their backs. That happens in every community, but I think that in cosplay – because it’s more of an entertainment in the public eye type of thing – that if you have a problem with somebody, just go talk to them. You don’t have to go on 4Chan and talk about them. Just act like a normal person.
Outside of cosplay, what do you like to do with your free time?
My life has totally been consumed by cosplay. But I am totally in love with the outdoors. I am originally from Colorado, I grew up riding horses and having a lot of animals and going hiking all the time and camping. That’s my favourite thing to do in the world, just be outside. Riding horses is one of my favourite things in life to do.
Do you think you’ll still be cosplaying in ten years’ time?
Absolutely. I’m never going to stop.
Do you have any goals you’d like to achieve in that time?
I think I’ll always cosplay at conventions. But I do feel like cosplay is kind of a stepping stone for me to other things. Since I was in school, I’ve loved making costumes, designing them for films and TV is something I’d really love to do. That’s kind of my long term dream/goal. Anything else that comes along on the way – I love entertaining people and being in front of people, talking and teaching, doing tutorials. So I don’t know, we’ll see what the future holds.
If you did go into making costumes for TV and film, what would be your dream project to work on?
If they ever did any more World of Warcraft movies or did other Tolkein books, I would die to work on those.
What’s your favourite Tolkein book?
Lord of the Rings, for sure. Return of the King is my favourite.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
Don’t be afraid to get started. It’s not some unattainable thing to start doing. If you don’t know where to start, go online, there’s bound to be something there that can help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get your friends involved. Make sure you have fun. First and foremost, make sure you’re having fun. If you’re not having fun, that defeats the whole point.