Here’s a new feature of the blog in which we’ll sit down with an artist and ask a few questions about the process behind what they do and what it means to them. Our first interview is with cosplayer Beryla Gann, who I had the pleasure to meet at Wizard World Philadelphia this year. Okay, enough from me, let’s get to the fun stuff…
Dax Christopher: I have to start with Liv Moore. When you walked past my table at Wizard World, which I believe was the first time I ever saw you, your resemblance to iZombie’s protagonist was startling. I know from reading your blog that you got a lot of well deserved praise for that cosplay, and I’d like to take this opportunity to see if I can get you to tell everyone…how did you do it?
Beryla Gann: Thank you. Hah, um, the short answer is to stare and stare and stare at reference pictures and then practice the make up several times. Her outfit was the first cosplay that I haven’t sewn since I started sewing my cosplays in January of 2014. It felt weird buying the clothing pieces instead of sewing them, but with a plain-clothes cosplay, especially when you can buy the screen accurate clothes, it doesn’t make much sense to make it yourself.
I stared at probably 300 wigs. I searched and searched and even bought a few cheaper ones that I ended up tossing (one I used as a test for cutting the wig and styling it). When I do a cosplay, I want it to be as accurate as possible, so I looked hard for a wig that is the right color, and let me tell you, that is no easy feat with Liv. Her hair is a different color in almost every scene, ranging from white to silver to blonde to almost grey, and everything in between. I had a hard time making sure I got a wig fit somewhere in that color scheme. I’m happy that my wig has different color tones in it, making it look more natural. I also wanted one that had a bit of wave or grunge to it. Thank you ebay!
The makeup was tricky. I’ve never done complex makeup before. I watched a tutorial, asked some friends, asked people at Sephora. I ended up buying Ben Nye Clown White and mixing it with my own foundation, which took several tries to get right. The same mixture comes out too white on my face, so I blend in a little extra foundation for the face. I just kind of….spread it and try hard to make sure it’s even. The eyes took some finagling. Brown eyeliner, smudged. Grey eyeshadow. Purple eyeshadow in different heaviness (heavier on lid than on brow area than under the eye). Red eyeshadow along the lashes. Taupe in the corner. Heavy mascara. White Lip Tar lipstick with a nude/pink lip liner on top. I don’t really know…I kind of just tried to match the photos I had, and if it didn’t, I wiped it off and tried again.
DC: That sounds like a lot of work. How much time would you say you devote to putting your average cosplay together?
BG: That is hard to answer, because no cosplay is the same. It depends how much synchronous time I put into it. My Ty Lee took over a month, but I was only doing bits here and there. I did the base for the pants and the bottom cuffs in 4 or so hours, but then it took days before I did the red flaps, which I did over the course of a week here and there. My Elizabeth, however, took two weeks…of me sewing morning till night. It changes on the cosplay. Astrid was more difficult, as it involved fur and leather and plastic and metal and cloth and who knows what. The only costume that took less than two weeks was The Wire. The shirt took two days, the skirt took one, but that was simple. Finding the accessories took longer.
DC: Do you have dedicated space for your costume making? Can you tell us about it?
BG: I DO! Finally! When I started, I was in an apartment with no space for hobbies. It was perfectly sized until cosplay. Now I’m in a house with bedrooms! And my sewing room was painted (not by me) to look like a friggin castle! I’m so happy with it. My Cosplay Castle. Carpet, walls painted like stone, a desk with a sewing machine. I have a shelving unit where I stand my wigs and place my fabric (by color…makes it easier to find what I need). I finally have a closet to put my cosplays in, too. It’s fabulous. The room gets very messy, very quickly.
BG: That changes by year. Last year I did…6? This year, I may do more. I think my favorite is Dragon*Con. It’s a huge party, it takes over three hotels and a couple city blocks. I don’t even know if there are panels, but people just walk around, in cosplay, some of them partying. The con runs practically 24 hours. It was overwhelming at first, but it was just magical.
DC: Which cosplay is your favorite one to do? What’s your favorite part about being a cosplayer?
BG: Honestly, my favorite cosplay to do changes on my mood (and reception). I’m very proud of my Astrid, as I put a lot of my heart into making it. It was incredibly challenging, but incredibly rewarding to see finished. And I love my Liv because I’m very into the show and she gets such a good reception at cons. The attention isn’t everything, but it is outstandingly rewarding. I put so much time, effort, and love into my cosplays, and it makes me immeasurably happy when people freak out over them. Does that make sense? I think my favorite part about being a cosplayer is bringing someone’s favorite character to life. It’s so nice to watch someone’s face light up when they see your cosplay. And I love the community, despite it’s occasional problems (as all communities have). It’s so easy to make new friends when cosplaying. I almost feel like the rest of the world melts away when I’m at a con. It’s just the cosplays, the merchandise, the celebrities (depending on the con), and the other fans.
BG: Oh my word yes I have a bucket list. My “white whale,” as it were, is Nightingale Armor from Skyrim. I don’t yet know how to work with leather or how to foamsmith (taking eva foam or craft foam and sculpting and painting it to look like armor). One day, man…one day. Actually, I wouldn’t call it a bucket list so much as a to do list. I have two “to do” lists: an active one that I will get done this year for such and such con, and a passive one, a one day, I will cosplay blank. The problem is, they both change all the time. My list was set, and then I watched blank show or blank movie, and suddenly, I have to do this new cosplay. And that might push an active cosplay to the passive list, depending on what I want to do more, what calls to me.
DC: Yes, you HAVE to do Nightingale Armor someday. That would be incredible. If you had to nail down one single factor that was the most important thing to get right when putting a cosplay together, what would you say it is?
BG: Just one? Can I do that? Um…for me, personally, it’s screen accuracy as best as I can manage. I haven’t done original concepts, not really. I mean, my genderbent 10th Doctor, I guess, is original. No one does a vest and pants. I didn’t agree with the fan art that a female 10 would wear a skirt and blazer. It just didn’t fit the personality. I felt that, if the 10th Doctor were female, she would stick to a sportier dressy side. Almost everyone I’ve explained that to goes, “oh…yeah! You’re right!” Would a Doctor who runs more than the others really wear a skirt? So I guess, if you aren’t being screen accurate, try to capture the feel of the character. It’s too hard to pick one factor! There are too many things to take into consideration, such as original vs. screen, etc. And it’s hard because anything I say will sound judgemental. Not everyone can make their own stuff. Not everyone does it well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it. If they take joy out of making something, even if it isn’t “great,” they should do it. Gah, I guess, then, after letting myself ramble, that the most important thing to get right is that you have passion in what you do.
DC: Is there a cosplay that you’ve seen that stands out from the rest? Do you remember where you were when you saw it?
BG: I’ve seen so many that wow me. There was a woman who, using worbla, made beautiful Warhammer 40K armor (this was at AwesomeCon last year). Or, at Dragon*Con, the women who crossplayed the dwarves from the Hobbit…IN BARRELS! You couldn’t really tell they were women. So many stick out. But the one that comes to mind most was the Party Princess Batman from Dragon*Con. It’s based on a meme. It sticks out because it made me laugh and I thought, “Wow! This is brilliant, and it never would have occurred to me to do something like that.”
DC: I don’t know much about being a cosplayer; at all the shows I go to, I’m “Guy With Hat and Tie.” Is there much of a creative process behind putting a good costume together and taking it all the way from concept to the show floor, or is it a mostly mechanical one? For instance, are there certain characters that have made you feel inspired to put a costume together? Or is it more just seeing a design you like and putting your own flavor on it? I suppose the question here is, how much of a cosplay comes from character inspiration and how much comes from design preference?
BG: I’m going to say both. Let’s start with my first cosplay: Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. I love the game. I love her. I never thought about cosplaying her until my friend went, “So, my friend and I are cosplaying the Luteces. You should cosplay Elizabeth with us!” And I went….”Sure!” The 10th Doctor was one I wanted to do because he is my favorite. Astrid was mostly a “Let’s do a group cosplay,” and I went, “I guess I call Astrid because she is awesome.” The Wire was my decision because no one has done her. Honestly, the character annoyed me…so much that I never forgot her. Thor (working on a full one, I have a lazy day one) was inspired by a group cosplay idea, but I picked Thor because I liked him. Ty Lee…I knew I had to do someone from Avatar. I’m going to be doing one from Legend of Korra, too. I was going to do Katara, but I noticed I look more like Ty Lee than Katara. And Ty Lee is fun. So there’s that. Liv I just had to do. I loved the show and her character and just had to. Plus I loved her clothes. I’m hoping to do a cosplay from Big Hero 6 because I saw her and just went, “I’ve got to do that.” So some of them are ideas I get because a group is telling me I should join them, so I choose (or it is suggested) that I do one. If I agree that I like the character enough, I will. Sometimes I fall in love with the character after that. Sometimes, like Liv and the secret Big Hero 6 cosplay, I love the character first. I won’t do one that I don’t care for. I want to do a Game of Thrones one. I have the fabric for Margaery Tyrell, but I haven’t started it. Who knows if I ever will. And then a friend went, “We should group cosplay the Sand sisters.” And I went, “yanno, I do love this one’s outfit.” I guess it mostly comes from the character inspiration, but it can come from the design. I want to shy away from difficult ones, but they always end up being the most rewarding.
DC: I ask this last one of all the cosplayers. Put the following things in order of importance from most important to least when it comes to doing a cosplay: costume accuracy, attitude/enthusiasm, dedication, personal touch, acting in-character, photogenicity.
BG: Oh, geez. Okay. To ME, for MY cosplays: costume accuracy, attitude/enthusiasm, acting in-character, dedication, photogenicity, personal touch. I think. They’re so similar. Attitude/enthusiasm and acting in-character are almost the same thing to me. If I don’t act in-character, I try to at least have the enthusiasm the character would. But they’re similar. I feel like dedication and costume accuracy go hand in hand. Although, dedication could mean wearing Astrid all day even though it’s 85 degrees and humid in Atlanta and I’m sweating to almost dehydration from the heat under the fur and leather, but I keep going with a smile and bottle of vitamin water. I’d say that’s important…although knowing when to get out of cosplay is also important. This is so hard! I also feel that costume accuracy and personal touch are polar opposites. You can’t be accurate and have a personal touch, as that detracts from accuracy. I know it’s a frustrating answer, but it will always depend. Is someone doing a genderbent cosplay? Own creation? Trying to be screen accurate? The order of that list depends on the kind of cosplay. You can’t always be accurate in a genderbent cosplay. I’ve seen a femme Thor who was screen accurate to Avengers’ male Thor. I’ve seen more femme Thors that kind of went their own way, but was accurate enough to be recognizable…which is what I plan to do. It’s hard to give a static order when cosplay is ever changing.
I think that list changes per person per cosplay, and even per method of creation (ie did they sew it? Did they commission it? Did they piece it together through random clothes/accessories through amazon, ebay, thrift stores?) All I can say is that when I sew a cosplay, I try to be as screen accurate as possible. I try to act the character or at least have their attitude. I try to look good in photos, but also look in character. I am dedicated to making my cosplays to the point where I skip social events (and once or twice homework. Bad me! Don’t do that, folks at home). I’ve skipped meals and stayed up super late. I bring a bag of sewing supplies to cons. I ignore discomfort to stay in costume.
I think, more important than the list, is being open and nice. Everyone judges, but do so quietly. Find the nice thing to say and say it. And don’t care so much about crossplay and cosplaying different races or body types. Are you really going to go up to a human cosplayer and go, “You can’t cosplay Nebula. She’s an alien. You’re a human. You should stick to your race”?? No! So why would you do that about someone being black/white/Latino/etc? We are dressing up as fictional characters. What does it matter if they don’t have the same body? Am I really supposed to be a stick with disproportionate curves to cosplay…any woman in comics? Come on, guys, we’re dressing up. How about we don’t hate and just accept?
Wow, ranty, sorry.
DC: No worries, it was very well said. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?
BG: Before I started cosplaying, I was awed and wowed by great cosplays. I thought, “I want to be that good. I want to wow and inspire others.” Whether or not I do that, I want to at least wow and inspire myself. I taught myself to sew using Google and YouTube, and every cosplay I make makes me proud, even though I look at it with artist eyes (always something to change). It inspires me to keep going, get better, and experiment. I don’t need to be the best, but I want to be proud of every costume I make. And sometimes, it makes me love the characters even more. The first time I rewatched How To Train Your Dragon 2 after finishing/wearing Astrid, Astrid came on screen and I started bouncing in my seat. Every time I watch the episode of Doctor Who with The Wire, I get excited. I make cosplays because something about the character resonates with me. But taking something off the screen and making it real, then becoming it, gives me even more love for the character than I had to start. And that’s magical.
I’d like to thank Beryla for being my first interview, and a fantastic one at that! If you want to see her in action, get out to a convention and look for that 1,000 watt smile. Thanks for checking in, see you next time!