MWS spoke with Cosplay Melee stars Becka Noel and Dhareza Maramis about making costumes and the recent popularity of the Cosplay world. We found their intelligence and creativity inspiring and think you will, too!
Becka and Dhareza: How did you get started in Cosplay?
MWS: Cosplay seems like a cross-section of storytelling, pop culture and crafting. What actually happens when you go to Cosplay?
Dhareza: It’s really dependent on the actual person. Cosplay is a subculture within pop culture. I was a convention goer for like ten years, and I was always trying to drag Becka to ComiCon and she wasn’t having it, and when she finally came she loved seeing all of the Cosplayers walking around.
Becka: I’ve been into costuming since I was little, so when I saw all of these people walking around in costumes, I was like, “whoa, I need to be a part of that.” Now I love it so much! So we go to a convention to display what we’ve created. We spend months sometimes making a costume and putting all that work into becoming a character. And in some way, we love doing it so other people can see their favorite character come to life.
Marisa: That’s interesting, so it’s sort of a conversation. Like the pop culture is the reference point that everybody shares, but then you’re communicating with everybody there just by being in that costume.
Dhareza: Yes, and to that point Becka loves to recreate something very meticulously, very exact. If the artwork has it, she includes it in her build. I approach it differently where I always inject something of myself in it. So it may be Batman, but it’s my version of Batman. So I do it because I love creating a character based on an existing character.
Marisa: Can you give me an example of a costume that included a detail of your own?
Dhareza: Sure, the very first one I made was Death Stroke, a villain from the Batman series. I’ll follow the artwork to some degree, at some point I veer…
Becka: You mean like omitting a certain detail…
Dhareza: Exactly, so let’s say that the character has more detail or structure in the shoulders, but I want to accent my legs in a certain costume, I might slim out certain points and make adjustments for what I want to say.
Becka: You also really make costumes proportional to yourself.
Dhareza: Exactly, I’m not a 6’3 guy with big muscles, so I can’t go exact to those guys. So I build it to my body and it makes the costume more of myself.
Marisa: So it’s like you’re letting your own form and self be super power enough by activating it with the costume?
Dhareza: Sure, that’s literally it. At the end of the day everybody dreams about being a super hero, a super villain, a super something. And Cosplay allows people to do that.
Becka: And it allows people who aren’t Cosplayers to see their favorite character in real life.
Dhareza: Yeah, so we get to bring a character to life in the way that we imagine them. And the other part is seeing someone’s reaction to what you made is kind of addicting. I once went as a Batman and a kid ran up to me crying and gave me a hug. That gives you so much emotional currency to keep going with it.
Becka and Dhareza: What is your Cosplay process?
Marisa: I’m curious about the process when you come up with an idea and commit to it, then you’re just with your idea and your craft for months at a time, and it’s kind of alone time, right? Is there an emotional journey you go on where it’s almost like you’re working something out of your own?
Dhareza: That’s a great point… Becka really goes through that.
Becka: Oh yeah, whenever I start a new costume I feel like I’m making something for the first time, like I’ve never made a costume before. So even if I’ve done certain things a million times, it’s always a different process with new details involved. It’s a wonderful process but it can be very frustrating. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and power through. But going through all of that… sometimes crying and tossing things across the room… at the end when it’s finished and you put it on for the first time it’s such an incredible feeling. You made it with your own two hands.
Dhareza: And where Becka’s emotional journey happens in the beginning, mine doesn’t even start until I’m on the convention floor. I work the same way that I work at my job. I’m sort of detached from the thing because I don’t want to spend too much emotion in it… I just want to hit the deadlines. So I don’t want to second guess myself. I just rely on instinct and power through. And then the end result I rely on the reaction from the crowd.
Marisa: Do you have moments when you’re on your way there when you think, “what have I done?” Like it’s not what you wanted it to be, or you feel vulnerable. Are there pockets of doubt?
Dhareza: Maybe in the beginning, but I’ll put it on a hundred times and really ask, “can I bend in it, can I sit in it, can it handle a kid running up to me.” So I work that stuff out before I even start. My job only allows me X amount of time to work on Cosplay, so I don’t have a lot of extra time to experiment. Whereas Becka enjoys experimentation and plays with new material, I rely on her to say, “Oh I tried this thing out and it totally works! Or it sucks!” Because I could just waste a weekend on that.
Marisa: Do the materials that you work with inspire you? Do you find a new material and it makes you realize you can make all new things?
Becka: Yeah, like I’m making a costume now trying out a process I’ve never done before, and the art that I’m creating this piece from called for a very shiny chrome finish, and some friends mentioned this product that would work, so I’m finally making this project that’s been on my Cosplay wishlist for years.
Dhare works mostly with foam, and I work with Worbla. I feel like I can literally make anything with Worbla. So I don’t feel there are any barriers for me, it’s just a question of figuring how things work technically and how they fit together.
Like last night I discovered a new method of working with it that I’d never done before. Dhare does this technique with his foam called undercutting. He makes cuts in the back of his foam and he heats that and uses a pebble to kind of massage it to make ab shapes in the foam. So I just did that with Worbla last night, which I didn’t think you could do, but it works and it looks great. So I’ll be using that technique.
Dhareza: Becka’s technique is to get it exact as possible, using any kind of material she can get her hands on. I’m the opposite, I’m more driven to see what can I do with X amount of money?
Becka: You take a Boy Scout approach.
Dhareza: Haha, right. Like I think, “what can I make from this $5 piece of foam?” And I post the pictures to try to teach people what you can do. I can make something out of $20 worth of materials. So that’s the direction I’ve been going in. A lot of people ask, “how do I start? How much money do I have to spend?” There’s no real set path to go. Becka goes down this detailed, meticulous path. I’m like, “I found this piece of crap, now what can I make?”
Becka: And neither of us set out to do it that way. It just happens. You start making something and you realize what you like and don’t like, and you just follow that. I didn’t even know how to sew when I started. I made my first costume out of duct tape.
Dhareza: Wow! Did you teach yourself how to sew?
Becka: Yeah, because I knew I would have to sew something eventually, and I wanted to make everything myself. I got a $50 sewing machine, and I looked up sewing basics and watched tutorials online.
Dhareza: Not my favorite thing. I have an irrational fear of being pricked by a needle, so I will go really slow and be really careful.
Marisa: So that becomes another thing to work around…
Dhareza: Yes, I’ll have to find the most ridiculous way to do something to avoid sewing.
Marisa: If you work with foam a lot, does that mean you rely on paint to make it look finished?
Dhareza: I’ve adapted a technique that Becka mentioned… I do a lot of undercutting. All of the work that I do with foam happens on the backside, that no one ever see, which makes the front side look more organic. I got to that because I didn’t want to sew, so I relied on the technique behind the foam, and then the paint accents it.
Becka and Dhareza: On the Cosplay community.
Marisa: What’s the Cosplay community like?
Becka: There are different pockets of community all over the country and they’re all really different. They all have their own personality- the west coast and east coast communities are vastly different. Over all I’d say Cosplayers are very friendly to each other. We’ve made a lot of friends and one of my favorite things to do now is to Cosplay in groups. It’s such a social thing to do. Sharing it with friends makes the whole experience so much more fun. And then sometimes when we go to a convention we see all of these friends, and some of them we only see at that one convention a year.
Dhareza: Yeah, it’s a very accepting and open community. We started 6 or 7 years ago and we didn’t know anybody, but now we’ve made a lot of friends.The community at large is just very open, they’re creative people and they’re very warm. Recently the community is getting very mature. Cosplay in general is now mainstream. 10 years ago Cosplay Melee wouldn’t have existed. So people are treating themselves as a brand.
Becka: And businesses are seeing that, too, and wanting to be a part of that. And I think that change is good. The more people who are engaged the better.
Dhareza: The more people who see it and interact the better. In general DIY is getting more popular and Cosplay is part of that. So you’re seeing people who are already into making their own things who didn’t even think they could do something like make a costume for themselves based on their favorite character.
Becka: Or that it would even be acceptable.
Marisa: That’s a great point. There used to be a sort of stigma around it, right? Like it was super nerdy. But now even the idea of what a nerd is has changed. Nerds are the cool people who are running the world, in a way.
Dhareza: Sure everything from the nerds starting up all the social media networks, to all the nerdy super hero movies becoming mainstream. And it allows people to explore whatever they want. One of our costars on Cosplay Melee was a black guy who dressed up in a Batman costume. Even though that’s traditionally a white character, nobody cares about that.
Marisa: It seems like it’s all shifting that way. The stories aren’t just about straight white men. It’s like people are catching on that we’re all having our own experience and we all get to be primary player.
Dhareza: Yeah, we’re seeing everybody’s perspective. That’s why Wonder Woman was so popular. It was the perspective of a woman.
Marisa: How does gender come into the Cosplay world? Is there experimentation or do people follow their gender usually?
Dhareza: Funny you should mention that because the costume I’m making now is Wonder Woman. Not Wonder Man, but Wonder Woman.
Marisa: So you’re building a breast plate and all that?
Dhareza: Yes, the Cosplay community is very open that way. We love gender bending. So instead of making the male version of something, I’d make the female version and create the opposite gender for myself to embody.
Becka: And I love that you’re doing that, because it makes an impression for a guy to let go of any macho stuff.
Marisa: that also feels very current; we’re at this point of acknowledging that we all have masculine and feminine inside of ourselves, instead of imposing this need to behave a certain way according to gender.
Dhareza: And that’s something I never even thought of before I got to Cosplay. And it’s not really cross-dressing, it’s more like a deep appreciation.
Tune in to our next installment to hear more from Becka and Dhareza!