By Rizwan Merchant

Editor Note: Teca Cosplay is part of The Cosplay Team Wild Garden Cosplay with fellow cosplayer Lilacwire CosplayWild Garden Cosplay was chosen at Nan Desu Kan 2013 to represent the Mountain region of The United States at the 2014 U.S. World Cosplay Summit Finals at Anime Central 2014. The winner of this event will travel to Japan to represent the United States in the international World Cosplay Summit, where they will compete against representatives from other countries.


Introductions

Kefka from Final Fantasy VI Photography by Angelwings

Kefka from Final Fantasy VI
Photography by Angelwings

Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello! My name is Mandi, or Teca, if you like cosplay names. I’m twenty-eight and I live in Denver, Colorado! I’m about as stereotypically extroverted as you can get. I love meeting new people and talking for hours and hours.

When did you start Cosplaying?
2002.

What got you into Cosplaying?
My older sister and her friends used to dress up to go to the local Renaissance faire and sci-fi conventions so I was “exposed” to cosplay well before I even knew what it was called. As soon as my best friend and I decided to go to our first anime convention, we immediately knew we wanted to cosplay. So I was actually a cosplayer before I was even a convention attendee!

What is your favorite Cosplay that you’ve made (or worn)?
Oh man, that is like asking a parent who their favorite child is! But if I’m truly honest, it would have to be my default America from Axis Powers Hetalia. Not only does that series crack me up from the stand point of a history nerd, but I have had some of my most unique and special experiences in/because of that outfit. Plus it give me the best excuse to be stuffing my fave with food while in cosplay.

How do you determine what characters you Cosplay?
I decide who to cosplay based on how excited I get about making and being the character, which can run a whole gauntlet of reasons. Sometimes it’s because I absolutely love the character, sometime it’s because I absolutely love the outfit and sometimes it’s simply because I want to hang out with my friends but don’t really care about the character or the outfit. It’s all about how much I’m going to just enjoy the outfit (and maybe how much space it takes up in my closet).

Why do you enjoy Cosplaying?
As a textbook extrovert, it’s really the social benefits that keep me pushing through the tedious sewing and spending hundreds of dollars of supplies. The people that I meet, the experiences that I have and the skills that I learn only continue to get better and better. Cosplay gives me about the only form of artistic outlet available since I am much better at math than art.

Do you have any dream costumes you want to make or wear?
I feel like as I become a more experienced cosplayer, my list of dream cosplays changes a bit, depending on what I am currently enjoying about the hobby or what new technique I want to learn. I think Sylia’s 3rd generation hardsuit from Bubblegum Crisis 2033 with micro cameras in the helmet is one that has stayed on the list ever since I started cosplaying.

Out of all of your costumes, which was the hardest to fabricate?
I actually am exceedingly unmotivated to make an outfit if it’s NOT challenging in some way, so each new outfit tends to be difficult for me! Also, as I’ve grown more experienced, I also have acquired the ability to be okay if the outfit isn’t perfect. It’s NEVER perfect and that’s totally okay. You can still rock it and have fun with it. Ever since I learned to accept that, any stress that I get from cosplay contruction comes from not giving myself enough time to do a new/difficult/time-consuming technique properly. With that in mind, I would say the ‘hardest’ outfit I ever did was when I tried to make KOS-MOS from Xenosaga I after only a year of cosplaying. It was completely out of my skill level in so many ways and I was forced to learn a lot of hard, painful lessons. But I’m a much happier cosplayer having learned them.

Alice in Wonderland  Photography Sapphic Lens

Alice in Wonderland
Photography Sapphic Lens

What are some Cosplays you are currently working on?
I’m going to assume you don’t mean the three half-started-and-languishing cosplays or the 20+ I’ve bought fabric for that are just waiting to be made! Personally, I do much better if I have a single project to focus on. As such, getting ready for WCS finals is pretty much the only thing on my plate right now and that is MORE than enough. Sets to build, paint, and sew; costumes to reconstruct, edit, and embellish; props to plan, build, and paint; a skit to choreograph, cut music to, and rehearse; it’s like juggling a full mini-play with the opening night fast approaching!

Which costume are you most looking forward to wearing in the future?
Other than our WCS skit, there was a set of gorgeous Pokemon gijinka designs that were popular in the fall of 2013 and I fell in love with the Gyrados outfit. It has a lot of new techniques I’m eager to learn, not to mention it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to feel like an elegant lady while cosplaying. Normally I’m the guy because I have a love affair with tailored jackets.

Do you think you will ever retire from Cosplaying?
I could certainly see myself stopping cosplaying at some point, under the right conditions. The hobby can be time consuming, expensive, and stressful. Since the actual making of the costumes is not my favorite part, when the social benefits of cosplay stop outweighing the negative factors, I’ll probably move onto something else.

Have you ever considered wearing costumes outside of conventions, for your day-to-day life?
I have occasionally worn pieces that I made for cosplay originally but could easily pass as regular clothes. Other than that, I’d much rather throw on a pair of jeans!

Do you tend to fabricate/make your own costumes or buy them?
I almost always create my own outfits, partly because I’m just too picky and cheap to pay someone else to make it the correct way, partly because I enjoy taking pride that I made the outfit when I receive a compliment on it, and partly because that was what nearly all cosplayers did at the time I started cosplaying.

 In the World of Cosplaying:

Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass Photography by Idolatry Studios

Suzaku Kururugi from Code Geass
Photography by Idolatry Studios

What in  experiences in your life have changed the way you Cosplay?
In the summer of 2010, Hetalia had just been licensed by FUNimation and I had just gone through a fairly rigorous casting process to cosplay as America for the debuting events at Otakon through American Cosplay Paradise. It was the first event I’d ever volunteered for, a character I loved, a con I had never been to and events that thrilled me to death. I was deliriously excited. Then, two weeks before I was supposed to leave for the con, I was diagnosed with Hodgekin’s Lymphoma. I sobbingly begged my oncologist to delay the chemotherapy by two weeks so that I could still go to the con. If there was a chance that I was going to die, I needed that last bit of joy.

The con was far beyond anything I could have hoped for. The other American Cosplay Paradise cosplayers, only one of whom I knew before the con, took it upon themselves to make sure at every turn that I wasn’t feeling sick or worn out. The events were a level of fun I didn’t know I could have in cosplay and working with both the ACP staff and FUNimation staff was like a finely tuned machine. I even met and quickly became close with Suzanne, one of the members of the Katsucon wildcard team Kirayume, at the con when we roomed together.

After that con, I had to give up cosplay for a year while I went through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. Ironically, the first con I was medically cleared to go to was Otakon 2011, exactly one year later, to help promote the second season of Hetalia with many of the same people whom I had worked with the year before and had kept in touch with during the hard year of treatments.

However, I came back with a completely different view on cosplay. I was in remission but there was no guaruntee that the cancer wouldn’t come back. I decided that I was going to do conventions and costumes that would really important to me. I continued to do more ACP events because I love the people, the work and getting a unique way to interact with guests. In addition to that, I figured I better stop merely flirting with the idea of trying for WCS. That November, I approached Christine and asked her if she would be my partner and the next September, we competed at Nan Desu Kan in the first USA regional qualifier.

What kind of reactions do you receive for any alterations and reinventions of character designs and attire?
I tend to be the person who compulsively clings to reference art. I did a thousand hours of handbeading because I couldn’t find a large trim that I felt was close enough to the original design. I usually will only stray from the design if physically impossible, which does occasionally happen. However, maybe because I’m tall and forward, I’ve never had anyone say anything negative to me in person about any outfit I’ve ever worn. Online I’m so unknown that I’m not worth trolling!

How do you react to the attention your cosplays generate?
Nearly all the attention my cosplays get is in person, rather than on the internet, which I much prefer because I’m a very social and extroverted person. It is so flattering to have someone recognize and appreciate the hard work you have put into an outfit. It wasn’t until after I had joined an in-character cosplay blog group on YouTube on a whim that people recognized me outside of my state. I’m still flattered, shocked and a little embarrassed when someone seems to know who I am.

What are some of your favorite moments while cosplaying?
I’ve been blessed to have some really great moments cosplaying. I love people and I’ve met some of the mot amazing individuals that I never would have met without cosplaying. But I have to say that my favorite moments are the times I’ve cosplayed America in Japan. I’ve never seen so much raw euphoria at my cosplay. People screamed in excitement when they saw me and jumped ropes past staff to get a picture of me. Two girls burst into tears because they were so happy after I hugged them. A doujinshi artist at Comiket gave me my doujinshi for free because she was so excited to meet an actual American America. The entire tale of the first time especially, while far too long to detail here, were the most surreal twenty-four hours I’ve ever experienced in my life.

America from Hetalia Axis Powers

America from Hetalia Axis Powers

Do you participate or have you participated in any cosplay contests (Convention, online, etc)?
Other than the people that I’ve met, cosplay contests are my favorite thing about the hobby. I LOVE them.  The other cosplayers’ dedication inspires me and techniques and the best place to find other cosplayers with that drive is in a cosplay contest greenroom. The contests also make me accountable for the choices I make (or the corners I cut) in my outfit. A good photographer and photoshop can make a paperbag look incredible but there is no computer screen to hide behind when the judges start poking at your outfit. I find that level of accountability and reward to be extremely gratifying and a great counter-weight to the sometimes-shallow judgments of the faceless masses on the internet.

Have you won any awards for your cosplay? If so, what kind and/or where did you win them?
I’ve been competing ever since my first cosplay so that’s quite a list! I’ve competed at Costume Con, Anime Banzai, Anime Expo, Anime Matsuri, Anime Oasis, Animeland Wasabi, Mile Hi Con, Fanime, Nan Desu Kan and Starfest. I’ve won several different awards such as three Best in Shows, 1st Place and Best Presentation at Anime Expo, Best Advanced Craftsmanship at Fanime and Runner-up to WCS Team USA 2013.

What was the first event/convention you went to?
Nan Desu Kan in 2012 .

What is your stance on handmade vs store-bought cosplay?
When I first began, the common opinion was the hard work you put into your outfit was a reflection of your passion for the source material. Craftsmanship was what was admired and rewarded; it didn’t matter if your face or body-type was like that character because everyone was too busy “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over your hundreds of hours of embroidery. Skills and techniques are something that can be improved so a “good” costume hinged entirely on if it was the best you could possibly make. I’ve been lucky to still be surrounded with people who think that way.

Plus back then, there just weren’t well-made costumes widely available! As more and more people have joined into the hobby, it has grown to include a greater range of fans that includes those who  just want to have fun in an outfit. With that change, I think the emphasis on craftsmanship has faded and with it, the stigma on purchased costumes. Every fan, whether they can craft/sew or not can now participate and I think it is wonderful to share your joy with as many people as possible. The only place that I still think 100% purchased costumes remain taboo are in cosplay contests, as they should be.

How do you feel about those who get into character while cosplaying? Do you get into character as well?
I know that is a HUGE part of enjoying cosplaying for a lot of people so as long as they aren’t being rude or obnoxious (which is true of anyone’s behavior, cosplayer or not), I don’t mind it at all! I, however, do not consider myself an actress and I become extremely self-conscious trying to act like a character if I don’t have a script. There’s a few exceptions to this, like Kefka is INSANE and insanity is easy to just wing it, but for the most part it’s not my cup of tea personally.

Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to meet and have a photoshoot with?
… Tom Hiddleston? I would do pretty much anything you wanted me to do to get to do a photoshoot with Tom Hiddleston. No, really, is this an option?

Personal Experiences

Fersen from Rose of Versailles

Fersen from Rose of Versailles

What would you say are the challenges of Cosplaying?
I would say the biggest challenges are the personal and social challenges. Crafting and fabrication techniques can be learned fairly easily with time and practice but like a lot of hobbies, cosplay can be emotional. There are so many different aspects to cosplay (planning, construction, wearing the outfit, phtoshoots, gatherings, competitions, websites, fansites, etc) that it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out which parts you really enjoy and which ones just stress you out. But once you have found that formula that works for you, it just becomes a lot more fun.

How do you deal with  the constructive criticisms that you receive on your Cosplays?
I absolutely love it. I love hearing other people’s ideas and thoughts about my outfit if it will help me improve my skills. Even if I don’t end up agreeing with their suggestion, it makes me think about it in a different way and maybe try the suggested technique in another manner. Of course, this is assuming that the constructive criticism is, in fact, constructive and was requested. I think offering up your own critical opinions of someone else’s work without being asked to is extremely rude and selfish.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring Cosplayers?
It is an AMAZING hobby that can enrich your life in ways you might not have ever thought of. If you have even the slightest desire to try it out, go for it! Whether you pull something together from your closet, buy an outfit or spend months making your own, there are lots of different ways to participate and none of them are wrong.

Don’t ever feel threatened by another cosplayer who might be better than you or get more attention than you. You’re not them and you should only try and be the best that you can be at that moment. Find friends who will support you and have a positive attitude about the community.

If your costume is incomplete to the extent you have to bring a sewing machine to the con to finish it, it’s not worth it. Trust me. Cons happen every year, don’t spend THIS year’s con stuck in a hotel room trying to finish. You can finish it later and wear the cosplay next year.

Outside of Cosplaying

America from Hetalia Photography by Sapphic Lens

America from Hetalia
Photography by Sapphic Lens

Do you have any hobbies other than cosplaying?
I love traveling outside of the country! Nothing opens your eyes to the little details all around you in the world and each other quite like being in a completely foreign place. I also have a passion for history, psychology and geo-political relations. I love hosting panels that overlap anime with those themes, such as looking how the modern geo-political relations of Japan were represented in Code Geass or comparing and contrasting cultural psychologies behind Attack on Titan against Pacific Rim.

Do you have any helpers (pets) that often assist you?
My faithful guard dog just recently passed away in January, but who knows. Perhaps I will have to be carefully keeping an eye on my bolts of fabric while house training a puppy soon!

Is there anything you do outside of Cosplaying that gives you ideas of what to do for a costume?
Fashion, historical clothing, theater, opera and art!

 

Final Words to the Readers

Thank you for reading! I hope that you get to cheer on all the teams competing to be WCS Team USA!

For more information on Wild Garden Cosplay check her out on social media below!

Email: wildwoodcosplay@gmail.com
Twitter: Amochica
Facebook: Wild Garden Cosplay
American Cosplay Paradise: http://www.acparadise.com/loves/teca