Jacky the Nerd: What is your name and/or your cosplay alias?
Jessica: Actual first name is Jessica, my cosplay alias is usually ShinobiXikyu, and my business name/alias for artist alley and commissioning is Whimsical Squid Creations. I kind of go by all three nowadays; I made my alias AGES ago and don’t really care about it anymore but most people still tend to know me by it.
JtN: How long have you been cosplaying?
Jessica: I’ve been cosplaying since May 2007, aged 17, if I count going to my first con as the start.
JtN: Why do you cosplay?
Jessica: I always loved playing dress-up as a kid, and then soon after, making things (I remember getting into my Mom’s sewing box at age six for the first time…), and then as I got older I began to love designing characters, cool outfits to go with them, and generally world-building/expanding. Cosplay was pretty much my natural hobby when I discovered it. I love to sew and talk crafting- in fact, I went to fashion school a few years ago and now work as a freelance seamstress and artist alley crafter, hoping to eventually become a professional costume designer for stage and screen- which probably explains why I’m still so active on the cosplay.com forums, and love to show off the stuff I’ve made, and connect with other fans of what I’m cosplaying. I’m pretty reclusive outside of conventions so it’s really great to have an instant “Hey, we have something in common!” moment with somebody that can get me socializing and making friends. The praise and positive attention you get at a convention is definitely a big plus, too. Like a lot of other cosplayers have experienced, through at least half of my school life I was the “weird kid”. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which wasn’t formally diagnosed until I was in high school, and with that was bullied for everything, considered ugly, few to no friends, not into anything that was “cool” in my neighborhood, etc. So it’s definitely a great confidence-boosting thing to have people going “Wow, you look SO awesome!” and wanting to be friends all those years after, instead of “Wow you look stupid, you freak”. Not to say I’ve never had a single rude remark made to me while in costume, but they’re very few and far between.
JtN: You’re one of the first people to mention being involved in artists’ alleys. What is like attending a convention from the artist alley perspective?
Jessica: It’s VERY different from attending a con just for fun. You’ve got to watch your table, which means no running around the con willy-nilly doing anything you want- I tend to tell people that want to be cos-famous, “You think the people who get invited as guests to cons with tables to sell at and panels to host and such are running around having FUN? They’re WORKING. They’re lucky if they get enough hours of sleep at night”. I’ve got a few friends who work staff at small cons or promo tables, and sometimes get invited as guests to cons, and when they’re also cosplaying they barely sleep the entire weekend, they’re so busy. You also have to be at the con earlier than the general public to set up. On three-day cons I usually get there in the early afternoon, no later than 3 pm especially if I’m staying in a hotel, and for single-day cons I’m often up very early to be there and set up before 10 am.
I’m a bit of a control freak, so most conventions when I’m tabling, I barely leave it during the hours they’re open except to use the bathroom. I have an assistant (who’s also my wonderful boyfriend of eight years), and he handles things very well and helps me haul things to the con and set up, and sometimes records panels I want to see but can’t, but when I’m selling things I myself have made I hate to leave him unattended (he definitely gets to go do more than me during the alley hours!). Usually I only attend a panel or two during the actual artist alley hours and save more of my fun for the evenings if it’s a multi-day con. It’s also tiring- I’m the sort who’s a fussy sleeper so I need a good night’s sleep every night, and you need to be in bed on time to open up the table in the first hour or two of the con day’s programming, so no late-night parties or “Eh, I’ll just miss that hour and sleep in” and such, like any other job where you have to get up in the morning. I’ve always been a night owl, so it kind of sucks having to go to bed by 11-midnight and often be up at 6 or 7 on a Saturday morning, even if I’ve been training myself to get up earlier for the past few weeks. A natural early riser, though, probably wouldn’t find it so annoying.
My cosplays at cons where I work a table are also limited by the fact that I have to be able to move freely and be comfortable all day in them, plus setting up and taking down a table. That’s where I wear a lot of my more casual costumes, or just unique outfits (I love cyberpunk clothing) as a result and my fancy ones are reserved for the cons I attend just for fun now. I also don’t drive, so usually everything has to fit in a giant suitcase and a backpack to go on public transit, and my stock and setup takes up most of it- for a three-day con if I have a hotel I’m lucky to fit pajamas, toiletries, the food we bring with us (we always bring our own breakfast and lunch stuff, MUCH cheaper than eating out and more convenient) and one simple costume- and I usually wear the other outfit on the way- in with my table stuff. But cosplaying at your table is still a great idea, for cosplayers thinking of doing artist tables! It helps add another “catch your eye” factor. Just make sure it’s something you can comfortably sit around in for 8+ hours in fairly limited space. I wear my casual Commander Shepard a lot for AAing as an example- the jeans and N7 hoodie are comfortable and not fussy (and the hoodie keeps me warm, it can get chilly while sitting around and I’m usually the first person to be cold), the chaps over my jeans are still pretty comfy and I can hold lots in the pockets, and the combat boots are a VERY smart and safe idea when hauling about a huge suitcase that can, and has, run over my feet. And because she’s a customizable character I can usually save time and comfort in the morning by skipping a wig and just using my own hair. If I have to take transit to the con in the morning too, I don’t generally get looked at funny on the way there like I have in more obvious cosplays, but I still get pretty easily recognized as [Commander] Shepard at the convention.
However, I do love tabling, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I hated it. I still get to attend a lot of cons that way, make cool stuff, and make some money and friends while I do it. The money isn’t very good, especially since I’ve only been doing this a year (it usually takes artists several years to get consistently profitable sales)- but I certainly like it better than a “regular” retail job. Nothing like being your own boss, after all, and getting to sell things that YOU proudly made. If you want to eventually make a living out of sewing or art, it also helps a LOT for exposure and promoting yourself to get commissions and other work later, especially if you’re a social media hermit like me. Most of my non-artist alley business has been gotten by word of mouth/seeing me at a con and asking me about making a custom item, so I always, always have some business cards handy, even outside of conventions.
JtN: What is one of your favorite cosplay experiences?
Jessica: It’s hard to pick just one; but one of my favorites has to be this past November, when I volunteered for the Guelph Santa Claus parade. The local comic shop has a float in it that they get cosplayers to ride on or run beside and wave to and otherwise interact with the crowd, and the kids (and adults!) definitely love it. It was the second time I’d done it, it’s lots of fun, and I was wearing my Twilight Sparkle cosplay from My Little Pony like I had on the first year. The parade itself was great, lots of people loving our characters (we even had a Spider-Man on a decorated e-bike riding behind that was quite a hit!). But the sweetest part of that was after the parade, when I was sitting in the post-parade coffee shop with my free hot chocolate, a little girl came in who I recognized from the crowd (she had gotten SUPER excited when our float came by and had shouted “HI TWILIGHT SPARKLE!”), ran up to me and went “It’s TWILIGHT! It’s really Twilight! You’re the best pony ever!” and asked for a picture with me and if any other ponies were there (alas I was the only MLP cosplayer). She even asked if I would come back again next year, and then gave me a candy cane on her way out. I think we both left all smiles.
That’s all for this week. I will bring the second part of Jessica’s interview next week. Thanks for reading. To see some more of her cosplay work or her artist alley goods, you can visit her DeviantArt page, or you can support her by purchasing something from her StoreEnvy page.