A few words of advice: If you cosplay, go all out!
Few cosplayers get as invested into their costume creation as KnightMage. The BioWars team recently sat down with KnightMage to learn the what goes into making his costumes, and to get insight on how other cosplayers might be able to break into the industry.
- What got you into cosplaying? Were you influenced by fellow cosplayers or was it through comics/gaming/film?
It all started when I decided to make a Halloween costume in 2011. I’ve always loved to dress up for Halloween. This time I wanted to make my own costume. I chose The Green Lantern John Stewart. I chose that character not just because I liked him but because the design seemed simple enough to do. I knew of cosplaying but I had no idea how big that world really was. Believe it or not I had never been to a convention before. Once I made that costume I started doing a few local charity events which led me into creating my second costume then third and so on. A few well known cosplayers took notice of me online and started asking what conventions I attend. Well, again I had never been to one. I finally attended my first convention, Cincinnati Comic Expo in the fall of 2012. I’ve been addicted ever since, obviously.
- What is the one of the most challenging aspects of cosplay that you have seen or faced?
There are so many challenges and all of them differ for everyone. Personally it’s difficult for me to pin point one aspect that is challenging to me because I love all aspects of cosplaying when it pertains to me. I love finding things that I haven’t done and learning new techniques. I love making up my own techniques as well. I love taking characters that are typically seen one way and creating a brand new look or one that is inspired by it. I love being busy with all the charity events and conventions. Even the negative challenges that people face I try to embrace and turn into a positive. The gender, sex, body and skill shaming is horrible. It sucks that it happens and that happens so often but when I see those things I use it to be vocal about how wrong it is. I try to empower others to cosplay however they want. Also I use that negative garbage as a reminder of how I personally don’t want to be. I guess for me the biggest challenge is figuring out how I can do more? Often I feel like I’m not doing enough, especially when it comes to the charity aspect. Oh and finding places to store my costumes. That’s extremely challenging.
- Do you copy a character’s costume exactly, or do you prefer to add your own interpretations?
I try my hardest not to copy a character’s exact look. I’m definitely not a comic/screen accurate cosplayer. I look at it like this. The character has been drawn and represented in so many different ways, whether it’s from a comic or movie or tv show. Cosplayers are artist just the same. We are costume designers. There’s nothing wrong with changing the character as you see fit with your vision. For me there’s something special about bringing your own version into a character’s world. So often someone will ask, are you this or that version? Nope, I’m just the character.
- How long does a costume take to make for you? Do you make them from scratch?
Typically between 2-5 days. Every costume is different. Depends on the materials I’m using and how intricate I want it to be. However two factors play a more important part on why I’m so fast. One, I really don’t have that much time between work, events and a social life. And also my attention span. If I get an idea for something I need to start and finish fast because if I don’t then I’ll quickly lose interest and set it aside. As for making the costumes from scratch, I’m like the junkyard cosplayer. There’s no rhyme or reason or particular way on how I put together an outfit. Again it depends on the costume. If it’s something I can piece together from thrift shops then great. If not, then I’ll bust out the sewing machine. If I can find odds and ends at the dollar store to modify then awesome. If not then I’m making it from foam or worbla. I’m also not opposed to modifying existing costumes from costumes stores either. I’m also a budget builder. I’m a firm believer that it doesn’t need to be expensive to be awesome. I know with cosplaying becoming more and more popular there’s this notion that in order to be a “great” cosplayer you need to make everything yourself. To have a quality costume you need to use only certain materials or buy from only certain costume and prop makers. I say that’s nonsense. In order to be a great cosplayer you simply need to wear a costume and have a great attitude. That’s it.
- What’s your favorite part about putting on your cosplay?
Seeing myself in the costume for the first time and thinking about how it first started off. I always say that I hate work in progress photos because even though I know that it will turn out ok it just looks like blah. Once it’s on, obviously showing people the finished product. Not everyone is going to love it and not every costume you create will be a hit. But having people really like something that came from your mind then your hands really is flattering and special.
- Cosplay can be very expensive. Do you participate in cosplay events or competitions to win money? Or is it more about meeting others and having fun?
You worded that right. Cosplay CAN BE very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Again, I’m all about doing things on a budget with the mentality that it doesn’t need to be expensive to be awesome. To date with over 50 costumes done none has cost me over $250 to make. It’s all about opening your mind to different odd things that can be used. I don’t compete in contests. The whole cosplaying thing happened so fast for me that I never really got a chance. I went to my first convention in the fall of 2012 and by the middle of 2013 I was guesting at conventions and judging the contests. For me cosplaying is about your inner fulfillment of your creative side, enjoying the company of like-minded individuals and most importantly having the opportunity to give back and do something positive. Charity work is the base of why I started cosplaying and it continues to be my main focus. Everything I do cosplay wise I have to give back in some kind of way. Every costume I make I’m thinking of how I can use it in that aspect. Going to conventions and doing photo shoots are awesome but it absolutely doesn’t beat seeing a sick child’s face light up when you walk in the room as Batman. I’ve done over 250 events since I’ve started cosplaying. Hospital visits, fundraisers, parades, home visits. Whatever I can do and as often as I can do it. When I started getting guest spots at conventions I came up with a way to give back while there. I give away prints and autographs for free for an optional donation of any amount that goes to a charity of my choice for that convention. I try to choose a different charity at every convention and also try to find one local to where I’m at. To date I’ve raised over $10,000 in donations for multiple local and national charities. I could easily make a small profit from cosplaying from selling prints and props or charging appearance fees but I honestly wouldn’t feel right doing that. Last year a gentleman offered me a substantial amount of money to make myself Piccolo costume from Dragon Ball Z, just because he wanted to see me do it. So I did and ended up paying off the layaways at a local Toys-R-Us store while dressed as Piccolo. My job as a Mahoning County Deputy Sheriff fully supports my cosplaying efforts. Also I was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. I’m proud of and vocal about my accomplishments not to boast but to inspire. If I can get one person to start doing something then mission accomplished. To me that’s what it’s all about. Using these creations for positive and not just having them sit in the closet or only wearing them at conventions. The opportunities I have are mainly because of people showing me love. Turning around and exploiting that for profit is not what I’m about, when I could use the opportunity to help others who really needs it. I have a day job, so again this is my way of giving back and saying thank you. In regards to competitions, this is where the “I think I can do more” comes in. In 2016 I’m thinking of competing in as many competitions as possible and donating the prize money to charity if I win any.
- You have probably had great memories participating in cosplay at numerous conventions. What was one of your fondest and where one was it at?
This is a really tough question. Every time I suit up it’s memorable. And usually it’s for different reason. Going to conventions it’s because I get to see friends and hang out with them. Making funny videos or awesome photos together. Have attendees look at and comment on my costumes. It really fills you with pride knowing someone, strangers, really appreciates something that you put together. When I’m at a charity event seeing the smiles from kids as they see their favorite superhero and then seeing the smiles from adults as they see their kids smile. All those moments are great and memorable. I guess if I had to pick only one from a convention it would be walking on the convention floor as Batman at my first convention ever. I was nervous as hell but then someone dressed as Robin came up to me and we got flooded with people taking pictures. All that nervousness instantly went away and I felt like I was at home. Robin and I are still friends to this day.
- When relaxing at home after a convention, what is your comic or video game of choice to wind down with?
I’m a Call of Duty guy. I sit and play for hours. As for comics, I’m a sucker for Batman titles. In all honesty though, I really haven’t had time for either in quite a while.
- Is there anything you learned through your years of cosplay that you wish someone had told you about when you first started?
Well, I haven’t really been cosplaying all that long but one thing that I never expected was the ugly side of cosplaying. The shaming, the jealousy, the trolling, all the negative stuff that people muster up. I hate to see other people go through it. So when someone new comes and asks me about cosplaying I say you have to have somewhat thick skin. It’s a sad truth. With that being said, it’s also important to know that with every negative comment there’s a hundred positive ones coming from the cosplay community.
- Besides cosplaying, what are some other hobbies you have?
Sounds like a dating ad but I enjoy quiet nights at home watching tv and listening to music. I’m at the gym whenever I can get there. Time out on the town with friends is always good. Let’s be honest though, most of my time is spent doing something cosplay related. After all, it is my passion.
- Is there an unwritten code amongst cosplayers? If so, how would you feel was someone to break that code?
I don’t really think there is one. And if there is it’s the code that should be used for everything…..don’t be a dick! And when someone breaks that code you just call them out on it or completely ignore them.
- When deciding on what cosplay you will be, are there any distinct characteristics about a character that draw you to them or do you follow a specific theme or genre of cosplay?
Remember my John Stewart Green Lantern? Well one main reason why I chose that character as my first costume was because he’s traditional seen as black. At that time I didn’t know if it would be socially acceptable to be a character that was traditionally seen as another race. Now, that mentality has went out the window. I’ve seen the true nature of cosplay and embraced it with every fiber of my being. And that’s the idea that the only limitation is your own creativity and mind. As for specific characteristics, not really. I just have to like the character in some way. Whether it’s the general design, personality or just the overall idea of the character. It does seem as if every character I’ve done there’s a small part of me that really embodies them once the suit is on. And some more than others. Like when I’m wearing Lobo, I feel like my bad boy side comes through. When I’m wearing Snake Eyes I feel noble. When I’m wearing Spawn I simply feel like a badass. Overall If I can’t find something I like about the character then it won’t be fun for me to bring them to life. I don’t really follow themes either. I will say though that I’ve found cosplaying villains tend to be more fun than heroes.
- Being a cosplayer, you are bound to have fun and unique personalities. Is there anything you would like to share about yours that your fans don’t know?
Actually the online persona that people see is really who I am. My life is an open book. I have no problem with showing the different sides of myself to people. I’ve found that in both professionally and in this hobby when you open yourself up to people they respond with doing so in turn. Daily I get messages from people telling me how much I inspire them and then I get people just wanting to talk about things. Issues they may be having in their life. Sometimes they want advice and sometimes they just need someone to vent too. I don’t want to be just that dude who makes costumes. I want to be known as more than that because I am more than that and I can offer more than that. I know many cosplayers have their “fan” pages and their personal pages and they treat them completely different. It’s like Dr. Jekyell and Mr. Hyde. And which in many cases I can understand why but I like to treat both of mine the same. Michael Wilson is Knightmage and Knightmage is Michael Wilson. What you see is what you get all across the board and even in person. So the things that many of my friends that I talk to everyday knows about me, my fans know the exact same thing.
- Why do you think there are more female cosplayers than males?
-That’s a tough question. I think a few factors play a part in it. For one, modeling and costume designing is on a very thin line with cosplay. I think in general females have a strong love for both. So when there’s a hobby that combines the two then add in fandoms that you love it just makes sense. Also I think the demand is there. I know it’s a controversial subject but let’s be honest, sex sells. Meaning that in many instances people will gravitate to the females more so than the men. They do get more attention. We see it at the conventions as well as online. That’s just the way it is. Many females see it as opportunity to further a modeling career or make a few extra bucks selling prints. And all of that is awesome. Cosplay can be a great gateway to other things. It’s extremely difficult to do because there’s so much competition out there but it’s definitely possible and the opportunities are there. And then there’s the females who are just into cosplay simply because it’s fun. Another factor I think is that even with geek culture and cosplaying becoming more and more popular there’s still that stigma that dressing up is “unmanly”. Many people don’t understand it other than the guy puts on spandex. It’s the analogy of someone painting themselves or putting on jerseys to go root for their favorite sports team versus a guy dressing like their favorite superhero to celebrate that fandom and going to a convention. There is no difference but that stigma is still there. It’s slowly going away though as more people are getting into the superhero movies and tv shows which is making them interested in checking out these conventions and understanding what it’s truly about.
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