Just in time for Halloween, we present an interview with someone who knows a lot more about costumes and costuming than most: a real life cosplayer. I was privileged to chat with the wonderful Nashanta a.k.a. Nash Nova about costumes, conventions, and so much more. Nash is a blogger for chicagonow.com and a cosplay veteran.
Jon: I wanted to talk to you today about cosplaying—that is something that you do correct?
Nash: That is something that I LOVE doing
J: Now you use your real name, that’s not something that is typical as far as I understand it?
N: Well it’s like when I started cosplaying in 2006, I went by Nashanta or at first it was Yellow Ranger was my first badge name, I think, and people knew me, they knew my first name, and I started to get so many fans that I didn’t really know that were friends of my costume, I was like ‘I should create a separate persona, separate e-mail address, a separate everything, just to separate the people I know in real life with the people who are just admirers of my costumes.’ So that’s where Nash Nova came into play, because it’s part of my name and it’s something sci-fi sounding so that’s like my badge name that I use.
J: And obviously as you see on Skype, I use a different name too sometimes, but my reasoning is professional —I don’t want people searching my name and finding the camera-crazy weirdo. Do you find that other people use different names for other reasons?
Nash: I do know a couple cosplayers that try to separate the cosplayer life and their professional life and I think that I’ve gone beyond that. Because a lot of people I work with, I work at the WGN and I’m in the creative services department, so we’re graphic designers, we’re creative people and a lot of them are very nerdy, so I have just thrown out the window the whole “I don’t want people in my professional life to know that I do this,” because everybody knows now. But I do want to separate people I know from people that are just fans, because fans can be scary.
J: I was going to say, and I didn’t want you to have to say it.
N: Yeah, it’s weird because I feel like more people know me than I realize. There was an encounter that I had years ago, back when the Sear’s tower was still the Sear’s tower. I went to the sky deck and you know they take your souvenir picture before you go up to the sky deck area and the guy who does the photos of you (and I’m in normal clothes), he just looked at me and said “you’re the Yellow Ranger!” And I’m like “oh my God” and I’m like “you’re talking pretty loud, how do you know that” and he’s like “I saw you at Wizard World Chicago, I talked to you.” I’m like “really, did I take my helmet off?” I honestly talked to this guy without my helmet on and I don’t remember. I felt bad because I don’t remember him …. It was weird and I’m getting more and more people who are like fans of my blog, they read the blog and they know me as “Alter Ego Maniac,” so now I have two names; Alter Ego Maniac and Nash Nova. I mean, it’s pretty much the same person but Alter Ego Maniac is the name of the blog and people are recognizing me from that too. It’s flattering and it’s sometimes a little bit weird because there are awkward moments when you meet someone that you don’t really know in person and they talk for a long time. You don’t know really how to end the conversation in person and you’re kind of like “okay” and I just can’t walk away. “Well thanks for being a fan” . . . I really don’t know what to say sometimes. You know, as I feel just like a regular person and I am regular person.
J: what are some of your other favorite costumes?
Nash: recently one of my new costumes is Princess Tianna, from the movie the Princess and the Frog. Which is like, I think one of my first real girlie costume. A lot of the stuff I most like is X-Men and superheroes in action poses and stuff, and this one is like very dainty; it’s a ball gown. Little kids, little girls especially, love that costume and I love being a princess, so I think I would like to do more girlie stuff. Princess Dionne is a new one and I’ve done Storm from X-Men and I have a Thunder Cats character that I’ve created. That was like my first real costume I put together. I felt like it would be easier to make my own custom one than trying to make a canon version of Cheetara or something. When you’re cosplaying, it’s super easy just to make your own character as no one can tell you “that’s not supposed to look like that.”
J: That’s interesting, I guess I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t realize people created their own characters from certain universes. Going along with what you were just saying, is there a lot of heckling that goes on?
Nash: there are some people that are like uber-canon, like you have to be accurate. I try to be as accurate as possible. With the Power Ranger one, that was my ultimate dream costume; I wanted to be the Mighty Morphing Yellow Ranger since I was eight years old, so I wanted to make it as accurate as I could. So I commissioned a lot of people to make helmets, the boots and everything, and I tried to do it well. But the gloves that I use for that are not the leather gloves like they would use for the show, they are like magicians gloves from a costume store that I made bracers for. I try to be as accurate as possible, I don’t let it bother me. Other people might criticize or comment on some of my photos but ultimately I’m just doing this to have fun. It’s a hobby, it’s not my career, I’m not trying to make a movie with these costumes. I’m just trying to have fun. So personally, I don’t care if it’s not super accurate but it’s really close and it looks good in the photos—that’s what I care about.
J: What about aside from the costumes—do people ever criticize the way you look or is there a lot of negativity that surrounds cosplayers in that regard? Do people ever seem bitter that you’re there or have you ever dressed up as somebody of the opposite gender or race and had people curse you out?
Nash: It’s weird because I’m black and it’s hard to find black characters that are like recognizable or awesome. I’ve done some characters that are nonblack. My first costume I bought from eBay was Merrill from tri-gun, which is an anime and she’s either Asian or white. I mean she’s a pale-skinned character. I did the character as myself with an Afro. I did like a black version of her. Which is something I do if I like a character that’s maybe Caucasian or something. I haven’t gotten any criticism from doing that. I think I did Ugly Betty, who is Hispanic, and Merrill and I did my own version of Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy, which is a guy who is also white and there’s also a female version of speedy who is also white. So I just did a black original version of Speedy, which people seem to like. So I think if you do it well and don’t just kind of half-ass it and you have a confidence about yourself when you’re wearing the costume, I don’t think you’re into get too many naysayers. So I haven’t had any real negative comments about any of the versions of characters I’ve done, which is great.
J: You mention a couple different things about putting costumes together—you’ve mentioned eBay and going to costume shops. Do you just take each costume differently, do certain things yourself . . .? How do you go about putting together a costume?
Nash: Well my sewing skills are very minimal I just took one sewing class and haven’t really had the time to learn it. I do have a sewing machine and I’ve done some alterations to costumes, like hemmed a few things. In the beginning a lot of my costumes were created with iron-on adhesives and Velcro and hot glue. I used all the shortcuts to construct the costumes. The second year I was cosplaying, I did the Yellow Ranger, which was completely commissioned by other people. So that’s when I started (that’s when I had money). Before student loans, I would commission a big costume. Like, Storm’s costume from X-Men, that was a big commission and I bought it from I believe it was Cosplay Magic, and then I had a friend who’s a fashion design student alter it. Because it looked a little off to me and the collar was too high so she lowered the collar and we made a cape for it. So we took a costume that was purchased and we altered it a little bit. I would try to help as much as I can, because I don’t sew, but I’m really good at crafting props and things. I don’t know if you saw the pictures but my Yellow Ranger, I made those weapons from pieces of plastic, wood, clay, and hot glue. It was like the cheapest stuff ever, I mean I could never fight a real battle with them but they looked awesome in pictures and they were almost accurate looking and one of them did break. I think my expertise is crafting things, but sewing I suck it so I always get help; that, or try to create a costume from regular clothes.
J: Do you feel like there’s a divide between the people who one-hundred percent make their own versus the people who buy them? Is there a line that us casual fans would know about?
Nash: Well, I don’t enter any masquerade contests, as those people who make everything. When you go to anime conventions, they do have a craftsmanship judgment, so they’re asking you questions about how you made this and they’re looking at how it’s made. I don’t do that so I am more of a costumer who just does it for fun. I’m not trying to win awards. I just do it because it’s fun to pretend to be another character and to take pictures with other characters. But there is a little bit of a divide with people who make their stuff. It’s understandable, because if I made a princess dress, my boyfriend’s mother made it and she’s incredible, but if I were the person who made it I would want people to know how much work I put into it. There’s a pride in making something yourself and being able to show it off. So I think they do want more credit than someone who just purchased their costume.
J: You said you go to comic conventions and anime conventions—do you feel like you’re accepted at both or do you feel like there’s a hidden resentment—like there’s a difference?
Nash: I feel there is a difference with the attendees at the anime conventions. I feel like more teenagers go to the anime conventions, and the comic conventions are more like people in their 20s and adults, older people. So there’s definitely a different demographic with the two different conventions. When I go to anime conventions, I think I’m getting older now, because I do find them slightly annoying because they’re slapping each other with the yaoi paddles, which I don’t really know what that is. They’re like paddling each other and there’s little teenage girls with their cat ears and their like barely wearing clothes and it’s a little inappropriate. I go to anime conventions because I started cosplaying at Anime Central, and I met a lot of friends that went to the convention and I pretty much go now to meet up with them. They’re like my age; they’re in their 20s, but I am noticing but I am noticing that the attendees at anime conventions are younger and my tolerance for teenage behavior is getting very low.
J: Maybe you’re getting old
Nash: I think so. I do enjoy the conventions. And although I don’t watch that much anime, I do appreciate the costumes because they’re very elaborate. Like a lot of the videogame characters and the their wigs—they defy gravity and it’s awesome and I love going to look at costumes, but I feel more at home at sci-fi/comic conventions, because I know more about superheroes and sci-fi and stuff than I know about anime and video games.
J: I know you’ve said you’ve made a lot of friends at conventions, do you find there’s a lot of cliques at conventions or rivalries? Have you formed like rival groups?
Nash: It happens sometimes because I’ve noticed when you gather a bunch of people, like we had a big X-Men group, you’ll see another X-Men group at the same convention the next year. And we might say “huh, we did that better” or “we can do better.” So you do feel that little competitiveness when you see other characters are another group doing the same costume anyone say “okay we did that first and we did it better.” But it’s not like we go and start something with them.
J: Well that’s disappointing, I was hoping for some back alley gang war stories. Do you have any strange stories from conventions you mentioned you would like to share? Or how about a favorite story.
Nash: (long pause) Well I did meet my boyfriend at a convention. I think it’s great having for people like us those nerdy people do like to dress up in costumes I think the only way to have a good relationship is to meet somebody else at one of these events. Because I’ve dated “regular” people, that like sports and things like that and they don’t get it; it’s hard for them to get it, or they’re embarrassed by it. I’ve dated people who want that separation like “keep your cosplay and costuming stuff separate from your regular life,” you know. But it’s part of my hobby and I think it’s easier to date someone who goes to these events or at least understands it or is a little nerdy themselves you know.
J: True, or like with anything, at least somebody who’s at least accepting of it.
Nash: Right, not someone who’s like “don’t put any of your pictures online where my friends can see it.” You don’t want to date somebody that’s like that, because it’s part of who I am.
J: Well, that leads me to another question. You are talking about meeting someone who accepts you; do you find that forming friendships, that there’s a lot of issues around that? Is there a difference between being cosplay friends and your regular friends?
Nash: Before I started cosplaying, I was losing touch with a lot of my high school friends and I didn’t really have people that I hung out with. So I was looking for a hobby that would introduce me to new people because I wanted to have a group of people that I could hang out with you and I want to say that maybe 70% of my friends currently are people that I’ve met through conventions or cosplay or something cosplayer related. It’s been great for me because I think it also helped my self-esteem in a way. At the convention people are friendly, like if you’re wearing a costume and you see someone else in another custom there’s no stigma for approaching them and saying “hi I like your costume, can I take your picture?” And then you start talking to that person and you exchange e-mails or whatever and start talking about how you made whatever. I feel like it’s a very easy icebreaker for just talking to strangers and for meeting new people. They’re all really friendly it’s great for meeting new friends. I mean there’s always weird people everywhere and you can immediately tell when somebody’s socially awkward or probably is not the best person to give your personal information to you. And with Facebook and Twitter now, it’s so easy to connect with people so you don’t have to give them your phone number, you can give them your Twitter username and they can start following you and conversing. And, you know, you become friends and you meet at another convention and that’s usually how that happens.
J: Have you ever had a fight over cosplay, such as wearing the same costume as somebody(laughs) or making fun of somebody?
Nash: No, actually, I’m not gonna say any names or what the costume is but I know someone who did a costume that I was thinking about doing and I was upset because she did it so well. It was like accurate, and I was like “there’s no way I can do this costume ever now” because she did it so well. Anything I do is gonna look like crap and I’m just gonna get laughed out of the con. I knew for a fact I could not pull it off as good as she did.
J: Do you feel like amongst the community, there are a lot of body image issues, self esteem issues? Is that part of the camaraderie that forms, are there a lot of people helping each other in that regard amongst the cosplaying community?
Nash: Yes, there are a lot of cosplayers that look great for the costumes, and they’re always working out and eating healthy and they’re always sharing tips for other people who are trying to get in shape. I wanna say there was a Facebook group for superhero costumers helping each other, like sharing their diets and their workout plans to help other people who want to do spandex costumes get in shape and stuff. And it’s tough, it takes a lot of courage to wear spandex in public and not everybody’s body type is forgiving for spandex. I know I’ve gone through phases where my weight will go up and I feel like I’m too fat to wear this costume. Sometimes you’ll see comments on Flicker or somewhere and somebody posted your photo and someone says “oh my god she looks fat” and “oh my gosh that’s me.” So it’s kind of like, you have to have tough skin, because there’s always going to be people who criticize you. Most of the time it happens on the Internet, because Internet stuff can be anonymous. I know some people just avoid looking at comments on their stuff on the Internet. I kind of like to see what people say and for the most part I haven’t had [that experience], like other than somebody said I look like a guy when I was wearing the Power Ranger thing. And then some other people were like “she’s gaining weight, she looks a little heavy”; and I stopped wearing that, because I was gaining weight and its spandex and you can’t hide too much in it. Currently that costume is retired until I can get new boots, currently they won’t fit on my calves.
J: Do you feel like that’s an unfair part of “the game”?
Nash: I’ve seen some people who are heavier who wear whatever they want, which I encourage that because there are going to be people that criticize what you wear, but if you like a character and you really want to dress up like that character, I don’t think you should be worried about what other people say. It will be tough if you are going by yourself, but if you’re in a group of people and you want to do a character, I think you should do it. Because part of going to these events is having fun, it’s really about having fun. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing something, you shouldn’t, but if you are completely comfortable then screw what other people think.
We thank Nashanta for her time and honesty. As I said at the beginning, I wanted to do this as research for a future project, but I got so much more from it in the process. Nash also has the strangest hobby of making tiny food jewelry as well so please check that out, if you’re into that kinda weird stuff. Visit her etsy store at www.charmsbynash.etsy.com . As well as at www.chicagonow.com/alteregomaniac and www.nashnova.com . As always you can find me hanging around osmosis-online and please visit our new store envy store http://kingbonepress.storenvy.com for comics, shirts and other fun stuff from me and my friends at King Bone Press.