Hasslein Blog: Getting Into Character, Part Eight: Acid PopTart


Hasslein Blog

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting Into Character, Part Eight: Acid PopTart

by Rich Handley

Earlier this year, while preparing an article for Bleeding Cool Magazine issue #6, I spoke with eight cosplayers who shared their insights into why they enjoy dressing up, how they craft their creations, the mainstreaming of comic books, and the sexism and negativity that some women face regarding their participation in a once male-dominated hobby. That issue recently hit stands, containing truncated versions of the interviews I conducted with each costumer, in a roundtable format. Now that the article is in print, I thought I'd highlight each cosplayer by presenting his or her unedited answers on this blog. This is the final installment in that series. You can read all of the interviews here

Cosplayer: Acid PopTart

Acid PopTart as the Scarlett Witch (Photo courtesy Lost or Forgotton; MUA: The Painted Magpie)

RICH HANDLEY: How long have you been cosplaying, and what first drew you to the hobby? Do you create your own costumes or purchase them—and if you create them, what goes into making a typical getup?

ACID POPTART: Oh my, here comes the telltale signs of my age. Anyone remember the "bad girl" surge of the early '90s? I came into costuming just about that time. My first costuming venture was my first foray into comics. believe it or not—pr I should say, more mainstream ones. I had ventured into comic shops sure, but just to pick up Love and Rockets and Sandman. It wasn't until I was at MarCon, helping a friend with her booth, watching people walking around like extras out of the Hobbit cartoon, that this guy came up and started talking to me. I'm from the South and had just recently moved, and as I started to converse with him, he just stopped me and said, "Oh my god, you're perfect for Rogue." I said, "Who?" and he replied, "X-Men?" and I again said, "Who?" To make a long story short, the guy was Scott Crawford, and we became friends and he gave me a stack of X-Men comics to learn about Rogue. He begin making the costume and I took care of the wig, and I was one of the first members of his cosplay group. My first wig was this hideous brown thing that looked like some K-Mart blue light special. Thankfully, I had one specially made by the time we did our photo shoot, which landed us the grand prize in the Wizard Guide to Comics annual costume contest.

After that, I started making my own costumes and started getting into comics more, since we were going to a lot of conventions and even mall appearances dressed as the X-Men, so I was introduced to a lot. I made the Lady Rawhide costume and entered myself under a different name to the Wizard contest the same year we did the X-Men, and I think I was a runner-up. It was probably about a year after my first introduction into the con circuit that I met Everette Hartsoe, and I was in love with the character Razor, so I showed up at the con dressed as her. He told me my eyes captured the character perfectly and he hired me on to be the "cover girl," and I started traveling to shows with him, dressing up as one of the original "bad girls" and meeting more and more people, which just got me more and more drawn into the whole scene.

I use to make all my own costumes and I still make a good portion of them now. When the entire cosplay thing started for me, I also got into acting and modeling, which eventually led to me becoming the art director and fashion editor for Gothic Beauty Magazine (which led to a decline in my cosplaying due to time constraints) and I met and became friends with a lot of fantastic designers. Due to the fact that I was working as an actor, model and set designer (I'm also known as a "home haunter"), the time needed to put into cosplay became non-existent. When an event a friend was throwing came up with a superhero-villain thing, he asked me to dress up and I said "Pick a character and I'll do it." He said the Scarlet Witch, whom I was aware of but didn't know much about. So I set about researching, deciding which version of her costume to make and got to work. The time I had available to make the costume before the event was scarce, so I turned to a designer I'm friends with in Canada (ArtificeClothing.com) and I knew her stuff well since I had used her work in several fashion shoots and knew it was best that she made a well-fitting corset instead of me attempting one for the first time with a few weeks to spare before show-time. Since the Scarlet Witch has so many variations on her costume, I made just a few tweaks to suit my taste and had the corset, shrug, thigh highs, undies and neck corset made by Artifice and I took care of the rest, such as the cape and that headpiece which went through three total overhauls before I was happy with the end result.

Since I was an editor, I'm big on credits, from the photographer to the make-up artist. So when I post photos, I do let people know if I've made the costume or part of it. If I feel I don't have the skills and time to make something exactly how I envision it, then yes, I will go to a designer friend and see if we can work on a project together. It's what I did with so many of the modeling shoots that I art-directed, because that was my job. I do not like costumes out of a bag, though. The pieces I will occasionally have made to go into a costume are custom-fitted to me, and have the stamp of that particular designer.

A lot can go into a costume, because I believe the devil is in the details. After researching the costume, deciding which version to do, I need some kind of visual reference. The absolute best reference I've gotten though has come from action figures. Finding the right materials is usually the toughest part, because not everything can be found at your local craft and fabric store. Certain fabrics have certain weight and something may look good on a bolt but doesn't move right for photos, so finding the right materials can sometimes be more difficult than making the costume. Once I have a sketch, reference and the right materials, I get to work either drafting a pattern or draping on my sewing mannequin. Some costumes go quick and easy—the silhouette is easy to define, the hair is something within my wig wardrobe and I have shoes or boots that need some kind of simple alteration. Other costumes, such as my original creations, my Re-imagined Bride of Frankenstein and the Ghostly Baroness, took approximately 80-plus hours, and I made everything from top to bottom, including the wigs. I've come a long way from spray-painting wigs and now usually haunt all my favourite wig stores and create my own, by sewing wigs together, spraying and teasing, hand-dying, styling. There's a lot of trial and error, along with numerous poked fingers, glue burns, cut flesh and, in one case, a pretty bad burn with a soldering gun. Not too mention numerous fumes I inhale. I test a lot of the pieces separately and together for fit and maneuverability, but until it's "road tested," you rarely know what can happen, especially trying to get through a crowded Comic Con—and heaven help if your costume has a long cape!

Photo courtesy Lost or Forgotton (MUA: The Painted Magpie, Hair: Michael "Pottymouth" Gray)

HANDLEY: Why does cosplaying appeal to you? What characters do you most enjoy portraying, and why?

POPTART: Cosplaying and photo shoots in general is a form of acting to me and acting is one of my first loves. When I moved to Ohio, I did a lot of theatre and then I had the fortune of discovering tv and film and I fell in love with it. Unfortunately interesting acting gigs in this city are few and far between and honestly cosplaying gave me that release. It's also why my other non cosplay shoots are more than throwing on some clothes and running out the door, it's a whole production and I have some backstory of a character I've already created. Transformation is the magic part for me and slipping into character, just like I would when the director yells action. I still even get that little shot of stage fright before I would take my first step and the adrenaline would rush through me as I just fell into character. I also love dramatic costumes. :)

I'm probably most drawn to characters with a rebellious streak that have some of certain instability about them. Their weakness made into their strengths, their struggle to not let their past control their future. In some cases, the tragedy that has created it's own persona. It's the writer in me, and I doubt anyone sees any of that when I'm cosplaying. A few artists such as Jay Fife and Scott Ambruson, who use me as models in their work often, see it in me and appreciate it. Take for instance Joker and Harley Quinn, although I do appreciate the more comical aspect of the characters, I just see something so much deeper and darker in their psyche. It's not just "woo hoo, we're crazy", grab a couple of strait jackets and call it a day. In him there is something so darkly sociopathic that his calculating behaviour is obsessively needed. But with Harley, her behaviour is more manic, her obsession being on the Joker in an extreme dependency, I would even say erotomania, her world constructed of delusions. Erotomania gives significance to the tiniest actions for Harley, what is an insignificant glance from the Joker (possibly when she was even his doctor) is perceived as dedication to her. When reality doesn't fit into a delusional's perception, they will find ways to make it fit starting with denial and in extreme cases, ending with violence. Typhoid Mary (which is on the list of costumes to do for me) is another beautifully tragic character who I think has never been fully explored. I think writers have a hard time handling the true nature of her condition, dissociative identity disorder, without having first hand experience or being a doctor immersed in it's study. Rogue, with her ability to absorb other's powers, is a bit similar to having another person inside of you, unable to control unknown urges. Her Southern demeanor was another attraction for me. The Scarlet Witch has had so many traumatic things thrown at her, that it's really no surprise she is as unstable as she is.

There is something about these women I love, I feel for, I see myself in them. I spent most of my childhood threatened with being locked away in Dorothea Dix (mental institution in NC) because that's what happened to crazy people. I know the feeling of being restrained against your will by people who say they know what is best for you, being drugged so heavily you sleep for a week. I've spent an unwelcome amount of time in an asylum as a patient. We have not advanced far from the days of spraying the patients with high powered hoses or frontal lobotomies. The sad state of our mental health system and the resulting media coverage when things go very, very wrong, society quickly points fingers to keep blame away from home. Catch phrases like multiple personalities are tossed about because it's an easy scapegoat. I think these comic book "villains" are a perfect metaphor for what is happening now, how this system or lack thereof, leaves thousands untreated or worse, treated improperly. But in extreme cases, I think our mental health system through the media and society is creating these villains. I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder in 1998 and maintained "lost time" (black outs where another alter emerged and I had no recollection of anything they had done, it's like you are in a dreamless sleep) probably up to just a few years ago. It's a very misunderstood condition, with many assuming we are all "three faces of Eve" and either the reaction is to take away all sharp objects from me or thinking a good dose of pills will set me on the right path. At one time the former was a good idea but the latter does not have a happy ending.

But I digress, I doubt the world wanted that much information on me. Of course another thing to attract me to certain characters is just their overall look, it will be striking in some way and I lean toward the darker, mysterious ones who always have had some tortured past. I'm very good at playing the insane and the bad girls who use their sex appeal. I would dare say I've been typecast looking at the roles I've gotten in the past, but I do enjoy the roles of such a lot. I suppose because I am more in control of my "condition" and playing these roles is a controlled way to well, go crazy.

Photo courtesy Fan the Flame Photography (MUA: Tonya Taylor)

HANDLEY: In years past, those who attended conventions in costume represented a smaller percentage of total attendees. These days, that percentage seems to have grown exponentially. Why do you think cosplaying has become so prevalent, and how has the media played a role in this growth?

POPTART: I think I was very surprised to see it jump so much, especially since comics were experiencing a slump (I use to manage a comic shop and I remember the industry taking a huge hit with lost readers) and it seemed attendance at shows was even waning. I think the comic related movies really helped push people more into comics and then as audiences started to respond, more comic movies and tv series were being made until I'm fairly convinced that Hollywood execs just shop San Diego Comicon for their next blockbuster. Cosplaying is accessible, JoAnns are everywhere and with so much information on the internet now, networking and getting advice is fairly easy. Acting, being in films isn't the most accessible thing, anyone who has even gone through one audition knows how brutal this industry is. Not everyone is cut out to be an actor, but there are a lot of people who enjoy acting in the sense of cosplaying, being someone else for a while and yes, having that attention, being in the spotlight. You're delusional if you think being in costume doesn't get attention. I didn't go into the entertainment business because I enjoyed being a hermit. When I was modeling pvc spider web bathing suits being shot in a waterfall where firemen happened to be doing their training, there weren't a lot of "alternative" models out there. Now, everyone is a model. The internet gives a voice to everyone and anyone who wants even a little bit of attention can usually get it there. But with this great "power" comes great responsibility someone once said in a comic book.

HANDLEY: In 2012, the Internet was abuzz regarding the negativity being aimed at so-called "fake geek girls" by some male fans, and even some male comic book creators themselves. Have you encountered this bias—and if so, can you share an example or two, describing how you reacted to such negativity? In your opinion, why do female cosplayers have such a harder time than men in earning respect for what they do? And what can be done to improve the situation so that female fans are treated fairly?

POPTART: Oh wow, where to start on this. I was unaware of this whole fake geek girl fiasco and finally looked into it and yes, my initial reaction was one of anger and then just shock at the audacity of some people. Just because we have a thought, I don't think we need to share everything going on in our little minds online for the potential world to see. This emotional diarrhea can just have some unintended effects that you can rarely predict. Reading some of this childish diatribe just made me think someone got rejected and didn't take it very well. While I understand the need to vent, I think it might have been better done in the privacy of your own home or even a hotel room with a close friend. Attacking a group of cosplayers that don't meet your standard of beauty just comes off as childish trolling, a desperate cry for attention. Even if it's negative. I work with a lot of dogs, training and habilitating them, we even own an ex dog fighting Rottweiler. Dogs require attention, just as children do and when we punish in extreme negative ways such as physical force and yelling, we are giving them attention, even though it's negative. If they aren't receiving positive attention, they will repeat the negative behaviour just so they can receive the negative attention. People seem to react in much the same way and will do really ridiculous if not outright stupid things to receive some kind of attention.

I'm sure there are some bad apples in cosplay. Are there some women who are using a skimpy costume just to get attention? Probably. Do I care? Not at all. I know a lot of deceitful, untalented, rude people; both men and women, whom lack class and use whatever they will to get whatever they want no matter whom they step on. Hell, I think there are a few in my family! But I don't think it's exactly fair to just launch some bizarre attack on a group of people because I've had a few bad experiences. I've had a few run ins with male artists whose main purpose in talking me into "posing" for them was to just sleep with me. I certainly don't go around saying all male artists are undercover slimebags who cannot keep their hands to themselves. I chalk it up to experience, I defend myself and some guys have learned that once you survive being attacked by a gang of Nazi skinheads, that it takes only one wrong move to trigger me and I know how to fight.

I've not personally encountered this bias of the fake geek girl, perhaps because I know a lot of industry people who I feel respect me and I've been growing up in a way through this industry since the early 90's. I did and still do, get some degree of people thinking I'm just a pretty face. I'm not an artist, unless you count some hideous stick figures, but besides modeling I do write, but comicons showcase visuals. It's hard to get a new fan to stop by your table and read your stuff.

I think there are some men who aren't getting treated with respect either. I see a lot of male cosplayers being made fun of, by professionals (although I'll use that term loosely because I know a ton of well mannered true professionals), fans and other cosplayers. I think this is getting a lot of attention because there are a lot more girls into cosplay and social media sites can spread information like wildfire. I remember a male who dressed as Catwoman some ten years ago I think, I don't recall if he was a drag queen or actually in the process of transgendered but I do remember the general disgust that many had. I wish I could remember details, I believe there was a costume contest and they disqualified him and I thought that was ridiculous. But as soon as the issue came up, it disappeared. So my distinction between the sexes may not be the same as others. I have a tendency to see people as people, in the way they choose to represent themselves and knowing that for some, such as myself, gender is in flux. I do see a lot of disrespect coming from all sorts of people. For whatever reason, a person in skimpy clothing (or a costume in this case) can be called into question from their personal morals to whether or not they read the comics from which their character is from. But drawing a person in a skimpy costume for most fans, is a win win situation and usually brings about praise. Rarely do I hear of a case where the artist is being questioned about their morals (and in the case of EBas, "go ass", his motto, is met with cheers) or if they know everything about that character. Did you read all the previous issues? Do you interview their creator? Did you live as the character for a solid month before you drew her? No. Why, because that's asinine. (And Eric (EBas) knows I have no problem with "team ass".)

I've brought home paycheck after paycheck based on my body. I'm not a hooker, not a porn star, although I've been treated like one. I've done a lot of modeling and seen the good and bad side of it. But people don't know my whole story. And they certainly aren't going to get it while I'm signing autographs while people are snapping my photo. If they want to make a jump assessment of my character based on the outfit I'm wearing, that's their right. They want to blab about it online, again, it's their right. I don't really care much until your behaviour turns into those of a stalker. Now that, I've had too much experience with. And this is why I want to caution all my fellow cosplayers. Yes online stalking is real and damaging, but you really need your guard up at public places. All of my stalkers have attacked me either outside my personal residence or in some sort of after con activity like a party. Only once did one try something at a comicon and we had plenty of advance warning and security responded quickly. I think people need to be prepared because while some are just acting childish and venting, there are those who will take it too far. For a long time, I refused to acknowledge there was a problem. Don't stop what you're doing, but you may have to modify your behaviour just to stay safe. I can only do shows with friends, I'm always escorted by trusted individuals, and now thanks to being drugged, I no longer drink at parties. Does it sound like the behaviour of a paranoid girl with too much ego? Perhaps, but I've had too many close calls. I don't stop what I'm doing because of it, I'm just more aware now. I don't go around feeding trolls online and if I have some kind of an issue with someone being rude to me in person, I usually find a way to handle it. The best thing to do is not let them get to you. Water of a duck's back. Don't give someone that control over you with words. Don't be defined by someone's reactions to you. Be prepared with witty responses, an interviewer says something about a con full of male fans who couldn't possibly fulfill your needs, respond with, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize we were talking about you." Smile, walk away. You can also answer someone's rudeness with, "You should really quit masquerading your anger under the guise of sarcasm and deal with your mommy and daddy issues with a therapist. Possibly medication." They want your attention, a reaction, so don't give it to them. They want you to scream and yell and look a fool in front of everyone and then they want more validation when people go online and talk about it and then that finds more trolls who feed off the negativity like maggots to rotting flesh.

I'd say for the most part, I'm complimented on the entire look, the costume, etc. Do I flirt in costume? Well, if I'm playing Rogue, some might consider my Southern accent an invitation to something more I suppose, but I cannot control other people's actions. If I'm flirting with you, don't worry, you'll know. Have I been hit on? Yes. A lot. And every one of those men and women have reacted with grace befitting royalty when I decline their advances. Most people understand that Vampirella is a character I dress as who happens to be single and who uses her seductive abilities, well a lot. In real life, I'm happily married. I'm also not a vampire. Not a glittery one at least.

How can we insure fair treatment to all? I think we're wrestling with that daily in so many aspects of life. Just look how we are still fighting for the right for people to marry whom they wish. For cosplayers, focus on you and your craft. Take constructive criticism, ignore the haters. Get better, get faster, get stronger. In your confidence and your mindset. Be your own hero. And you can be. Understand that this is a minefield wrought with all sorts of insecure people. Sometimes it's a fellow jealous cosplayer, other times it's a rude fan. I'm criticized so much for my modeling and my acting, it's part of the job. Sometimes I can take the criticism and I get better, other times I know it's just someone lashing out and I ignore them. To thine ownself be true. Don't ever forget that. There are two kinds of people, there are those who can and then there are those who write reviews. Surround yourself with positive people, have a few trusted friends you can vent to when the going gets rough, get into that hotel room, let out a primal yell about that arse who said something rude to you downstairs. Realize how petty that person must be and how insecure they are in their own lives to make them strike out like that. Now breathe. Because what are you? You are a hero. A confident dame or bloke with a fiery streak, with one cold look you can make those haters shrivel in your path. Go ahead, look in the mirror, you see it don't you? Practice that look, smile a little, maybe smirk.... no no, that looks a little insane, go back to the smile. Okay now laugh hysterically because you probably look pretty silly. People who dress in costume, they have to be a little silly. We accept this, we move on. Now slap on that confidence and get back to the comicon! (In some extreme cases I have to punch something like a wall which never ends well for me at least, the wall seems unaffected. Talk about insensitivity!)

Acid as Rogue, with a fellow cosplayer as Gambit (Costume by Scott Crawford)

HANDLEY: Finally, how large a role do think cosplaying has played in the widespread acceptance of the comic book genre, encouraging many more fans to openly embrace their comic geekdom? And why is cosplaying ultimately a good thing for the comic book industry, as well as for Hollywood?

POPTART: I think people are bound to be discovered through cosplay whether it might be for technical skills for their costume and/or prop making or possibly as that unknown talent they need to fill a role. Cosplay isn't just limited to Halloween dress up and comicons are encouraging dressing up by holding contests and even presenting little photo op booths to promote their show and let cosplayers have something better than the photobombing escalator of fans in the background.

I'm not sure about how much cosplay has caused widespread acceptance of the comic book genre, I still see a lot of negative media reducing cosplay and comicons to some sort of a freakshow but it's slowly changing and I think it's starting to bring more out of the comic closet such as the tv show, Face Off, having hero challenges and even going to San Diego Comicon and teaming up contestants with well known comic artists such as Jim Lee, to bring their ideas to life. The subculture as it were is still sort of cultish in aspect, but that's part of it's charm. It would be rather boring place if everyone was into the same thing.

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