Stephanie Ruehl, half of the “-J. & Steph Talk About Comics” feature, is an avid cosplayer. We asked her to talk about her outfits from this year’s C2E2 event.
This past weekend was the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), a time and place for nerds and geeks to celebrate their fandoms. Cosplay — the art of dressing up as a character — was in full force, and everyone was obviously having a fantastic time.
I got into cosplay about five years ago. I was working a booth at the first ever C2E2, and I spent most of the time chasing down cosplayers to ask for a photo. I was totally fascinated. I needed to know how each one was made, how long it took, the process they used. It was an amazingly fun weekend. As a lifelong comics lover (and of many things geeky), I began thinking of dozens of characters I could recreate.
One hangup: most of the characters I wanted to portray were superheroes. Superheroes who tend to dress in skintight body suits or show large amounts of skin. I have never had an abundance of self-esteem, and I balked. Instead of diving in, the following year I decided to dip my toe in, so to speak. I went as a casual Kitty Pryde, wearing jeans and a yellow t-shirt. I crafted her pet dragon/alien, Lockheed, to sit on my shoulders.
The third year I continued with the casual superhero idea, and went as Rogue, dyeing my hair, and wearing gloves, shorts, and a T-shirt.
Last year I decided no more beating around the bush and just went for it.
I asked my best friend, Megan, to join me, and we went as Catwoman and Poison Ivy from the Batman animated series. Megan is a talented seamstress and she made my catsuit for me when I realized my sewing skills were not up it. Another friend, Kirsten, joined us as Harley Quinn to complete our cosplay of the Gotham City Sirens.
I honestly thought, as the introvert I am, that I would feel completely self-conscious walking around in a catsuit; that I wouldn’t like being asked to have my picture taken by random strangers; that I would feel vulnerable and uncomfortable the whole time. But I loved it. I don’t think I’d ever felt so comfortable in my own skin, which seems strange to say since I was playing at being someone else. After that I was hooked.
This Year – Trial and Error
I’d like to say I have a process, that I have things well in-hand when I create a cosplay, that I know what I’m doing. But I have no clue. I am completely winging it. I have a fine arts degree, which definitely helps when figuring how to make things out of nothing, or turning things into other things they were never meant to be.
The planning began early. Around this time last year, I asked Megan: if I went as Xena, the Warrior Princess, would she be my Gabrielle. She agreed.
At the end of 2014, I saw images of a Cliff Chiang statue of Wonder Woman, reimagined as a Roman warrior. I needed to make it real, which meant I had a second outfit to make.
I needed to figure out how to make armor at that point. Most cosplayers will use a material called worbla, which is a plastic that comes in thin sheets that can be molded using a heat gun. It’s lightweight and very versatile. It is also somewhat expensive. Other people use craft foam, or L-200 or EVA, which is also moldable with a heat gun.
I’ve also seen excellent armor made from layers of thick paper, and at my job at the comic shop, all our books come packed with thin cardboard liners. This gave me an idea. I started taking these cardboard liners home and playing with them, seeing what I could create. The first thing I made was my chakram for the Xena outfit. With the exception of a ring of foam core in the middle, it’s made entirely of cardboard.
After that it was a matter of playing around with it while it was wet, cutting it and folding it, and seeing what happens when I cover it in masking tape and wood glue. I went through four 12-oz bottles of wood glue, dulled three Exacto knife blades, and a bunch of sandpaper, and I created two breastplates, greaves, two sets of bracers, a back plate, pauldrons, arm bands, a belt, and a sword. Everything was made by me, and about 90% of it is cardboard.
Unfortunately I am a severe procrastinator, and both of these costumes were barely finished on the days I planned to wear them, and by the last day I was constantly covered in the long wispy strands that hot glue makes while it’s drying. But they were both really well-received. Xena and Gabrielle couldn’t get more than three feet before someone asked for a photo of us, and Wonder Woman was a huge hit with the kids.
There were so many cosplays at C2E2 that were just fantastic. Our friend, Anne, went as All-The-Way May from A League of Their Own, Megan, with her amazing sewing, went as Ada Gillyflower along with her boyfriend Josh as the Eleventh Doctor, from the Doctor Who episode, “The Crimson Horror.”
Cosplay is a community. There are so many of us, and I have experienced nothing but support and positivity. There is no right way to cosplay. Some people spend hours and hours and money on their costumes, some people throw something together from things they have laying around the house. You can cosplay on a budget, or put whole paychecks into it — so long as you enjoy the outcome and have fun.
I am so grateful for this outlet for my creative talents. Its nice to think my arts degree is being used for something that I truly love doing, no matter how many late nights, burned fingers, blood, sweat, tears, and cat hair is involved. I am already planning for next year.