This is the second part an interview with a cosplayer named Jessica, who goes by Shinobi Xikyu online, and runs her StoreEnvy shop and artist alleys as Whimsical Squid Creations. You can read the first part of the interview here.
Jacky the Nerd: What is the most difficult thing about cosplaying in your opinion?
ShinobiXikyu: Two things. First, paying for it! It’s not a cheap hobby. I’m thrifty but I don’t like to skimp on quality, so it does make me carefully plan costumes so I don’t waste extra money on ones I won’t wear more than once or twice, or ones that I could have saved a lot on if I’d waited for sales (you know the saying “Cheap, fast, high quality, pick two”). Cons aren’t very cheap either, especially because I like to shop at them, but fortunately I’m local to a lot of cons which saves on travel and hotels, and I work Artist alley at a lot of them, so I do get to go to a lot of cons for a lot less than what some people have to pay. Last year I attended a total of eight conventions and three small events, and had applied for the AA in two others but didn’t get in. But just for fun? I only attended four cons, two of them small, local and inexpensive, one huge, and one mid-sized and very close to my house. But it’s still a good chunk of money that I put away every month.
Second, my own inner perfectionist. SOME day I’ll have master craftsmanship without a single flaw, but it’s going to take a long time (all the best makers I know, have been at it for around 20+ years on average and have also had jobs involving sewing/crafting that gave them a lot more experience than just hobby crafting). It’s hard for me to just accept a less than stellar part or two that nobody else would notice after I spent all day working on it and hoped for it to be absolutely perfect, especially for costumes I plan to compete in. It serves me well when I’m being paid to make something for someone else, but for personal things? Even after nine years of people going “Omg I love your cosplay!” while I’m inwardly going “Oh GOD my hems are a bit crooked, and my prop has brushstrokes on it and I need to touch up my makeup….” it’s still fairly hard for me to let it go and not sweat the small stuff and just enjoy myself with the bigger, fancier costumes that I spend a ton of time (and often money) on. The issue is fortunately much less with simpler/cheaper ones I make for the express purpose of hassle-free fun at a con or event.
JtN: What kinds of characters do you cosplay as?
ShinobiXikyu: It took me a long time to notice, but I have a tendency to being characters who are either really smart, like Princess Bubblegum and Twilight Sparkle, badass leaders like Motoko Kusanagi or Commander Shepard, or “darkly regal” and often mysterious characters who are usually also princesses, like Princess Luna from MLP and Schala from Chrono Trigger. I also enjoy making original characters (that are often one of those three types), but I don’t make as many of them as I’d like, since wearing those is mostly limited to Renfests.
JtN: You’ve been involved with cosplay for 7 years now. How do you think the community has changed since you started?
ShinobiXikyu: Things have definitely changed, even if it hasn’t been as massive as compared to cosplaying in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Wigs have gotten SO much better since I started- heat resistant, pre-ponytailed, and lacefronts, were not a thing for the vast majority until the 2010’s. I not-so-fondly remember straightening wigs with boiling water and having to stub my own ponytails with days of tedious layering and sewing on wefts. Likewise, colour contacts were quite a rarity until 4-5 years ago. And thermoplastic! Wonderflex was a new and amazing thing when I started, with most people still using cardboard or fiberglass methods (and a liiiiittle more recently than those, craft foam- I don’t remember the use of it REALLY taking off until a few years after I’d been cosplaying), and now darn near everyone can try it or the many types of worbla now available. It certainly made me [abler] to make non-sewn stuff!
Sergers and embroidery machines, too, are more common than they used to be. I still don’t know very many cosplayers who do have them, but in the mid-2000’s you were a HARD CORE FANATIC hobbyist or a professional sewer to own either one.
It was also a bit harder to buy cosplay items online; you can get literally everything you need for a cosplay online nowadays, be it the whole costume, props, wig, styling tools, worbla, contacts, beads, fabric, etc. I remember having to do a lot of frustrated local-store shopping in my early days to settle for something close enough, and whenever I could buy online, wait for my paypal balance to transfer and then usually wait another 4-5 weeks for it to arrive. And, there’s a much bigger abundance of online tutorials to make things! With all that, costume quality and quantity has gone way up; a costume that could have gotten a best in show award in 2007 would probably get a minor award if anything today, and people who would never have thought of cosplaying ten years ago are easily able to try it out. And, much as I hate Heroes of Cosplay, it did at least bring some mainstream attention to the hobby- now most people actually have an idea what I’m talking about when I say “cosplay” and a lot less assuming of the old “fat ugly nerds in awful cobbled-together costumes at Star trek conventions” stereotypes. However, it’s also opened up a whole “cosplay is hot half-naked girls on a stage” and “cosplay is only about competing and can make you rich” can of worms with it.
There was also not much of a “cosplay famous” thing until the 2010’s when more widespread social media took off. While there were cosplayers that were definitely well known in the region before that, they stayed quite obscure/unknown outside of the area cons and didn’t usually have much care towards trying to make themselves more famous. I noticed conventions only started regularly inviting and announcing large amounts of cosplayers, local or not, as special guests, in the last 3-4 years or so, and masquerades have gotten slowly bigger every year (and better run, in most places). Photography, too, has gotten far better (and I’m willing to bet that’s helped the “fame” thing along too). When I started, especially before Facebook took off, it wasn’t that easy to get professional shoots if you didn’t have some connections beforehand. Many cosplayers had to settle for photoshoots with a friend’s point-and-shoot camera or lousy hallway photos and were pretty lucky to get high-grade photos from the couple of photogs you could see walking around with expensive cameras, to say nothing of some people actually selling prints of themselves. Today, however, you can’t walk ten steps at a large con without bumping into someone doing a private shoot or with a big fancy camera.
There’s also more cons- there’s been quite a proliferation of smaller fan-run cons popping up in the last five-six years and conventions are all almost constantly growing each year. Where I grew up, there were NO conventions or events of any kind in the area. I lived almost exactly between Ottawa and Toronto (for non-Canadians, our provincial and national capitals and the biggest cities proper in the province), three hours’ drive each way. Cosplayers where I lived had to go to Ottawa or Toronto or south to the US for anything. It sucked hard because I could only afford to save up and travel to go to at first [to] one [convention], then once I was done with school and had an actual job, a max of three cons per year and had nothing at all in the interim, not even local picnics or get-togethers. But last year? The city finally got a small convention (which I couldn’t attend since it was the same weekend as a con I was [artist allying] at), and a few years ago a personal friend of mine also started up a small convention in another nearby city.
And lastly, there’s definitely a move away from cosplay-specific websites, like cosplay.com, ACP, Cure and even a bit so on DeviantArt, and a lot more keeping their costumes on Facebook and Instagram. It’s gotten more exposure, but I think it takes away a lot of the communication and community-specific interaction and leaves a lot of us having to check across multiple places for confirmed information on conventions, which is why I’m still so active on cosplay.com. You can’t really have a multi-page discussion of an issue, an ordered, easy-to-tell-when-posted announcing of convention updates or a big continuing thread to share tutorials on most of the mainstream social sites.
JtN: What are your plans for the future, cosplay and non-cosplay related?
ShinobiXikyu: My plans for the future are to eventually have a full-time job in costume design for movies/tv/theater, though it’s a bit of a dream job for now. I do know, however, that I want to keep my career focused on sewing and creating things, as doing cosplay as a hobby made me realize what my passion was. I’m not out to be “famous” (I wouldn’t protest it, but I’m realistic. Me? Hah, no way. I’m not conventionally hot, don’t show tons of boob or wear skimpy fan service costumes, often do more obscure cosplays, don’t go nuts on social media and am certainly no insane master skill level yet. And with the exception of about three people, there isn’t exactly money in that fame anyway). I’m hoping to make a decently-paying full-time career branching off from what I love and what I’ve spent tuition money and years of practice and time doing. I’m working at it slowly, but businesses do take time to grow. Hopefully in the next few years I’ll be a lot more financially secure.
On a more personal note, I fully plan to work up to master skill level in masquerades (an added note, we have four, not three, skill levels at most Canadian conventions, so I have one more to go before I’d confidently enter myself in Master) and someday win a Best in Show, and I’d love to get to the point that I’m able to judge masquerades, maybe get invited as a regional guest to cons. I also hope to travel to a couple big US cons in the future. Dragoncon has been in my bucket list for years. Out of cosplay, I also want to do some pretty widespread travelling around a lot of the world, but I certainly need to save that up first.
JtN: What closing comments would you want to give to the readers?
ShinobiXikyu: Cosplay has certainly changed through the decades, and will certainly continue to, but the big two rules for everyone are still as true as they ever were; Don’t be a jerk, and have fun cosplaying, whatever way you may have it.
And as always, thanks for reading!