Hasslein Blog: Getting Into Character, Part One: Becka Noel


Hasslein Blog

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Into Character, Part One: Becka Noel

by Rich Handley

Every year, conventions attract thousands of science fiction, comic book, fantasy, animation, horror and gaming fans. One aspect of this phenomenon that has grown in popularity is a performance art known as costume play, or "cosplaying." Costumers wear outfits and accessories befitting a fictional character, concept, creature or machine. Some incorporate role-playing into the hobby, to not just look the part, but also act and speak like the characters being emulated.

Cosplayers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities, and their outfits demonstrate talent, hard work and dedication. Despite the media's tendency to focus on sex appeal (or to mock those not fitting the "sexy" image), there is more to the hobby than exhibitionism—it's about passionate fans expressing enjoyment of their favorite franchises. Cosplaying has provided geek culture with a source of pride, fun and community—both for the costumers and for those admiring their work.

The growing emergence of costuming has helped to usher comics, once stigmatized as a hobby for socially awkward males, into the mainstream. Comic-based blockbuster films have been hugely successful, comic-related series have become a television mainstay, and reading comics has emerged as something the "cool crowd"—and even celebrities—are no longer embarrassed to admit they do. Nicolas Cage, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton, Kristin Bell, Jerry Seinfeld, Seth Green, Rosario Dawson, Simon Pegg, Patrick Stewart and even Barack Obama are all self-proclaimed comic fans. And these days, they're not afraid to admit it.

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 hit stands this past week, 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.

Cosplayer: Becka Noel

Web sites: beckanoel.com, facebook.com/OfficialBeckaNoel

RICH HANDLEY: How long have you been cosplaying, and what first drew you to the hobby?

BECKA NOEL: I've only been "cosplaying" for four years but I've been making costumes for much longer. I've always been very artistic, attending Pratt Institute to study art and design and continuing to pursue the arts through sculpture, prop making, and cosplay. I got into costuming when I participated in Pratt's annual fashion show (though I wasn't even a fashion major!). I loved it and was hooked! Gaming culture has been a part of my entire life as I grew up with two older brothers and almost every gaming console you could imagine. As I got older and into things like World of Warcraft, putting the two pastimes together was bound to happen!

Becka Noel as Batman's Harley Quinn
Photo credit: Senén Llanos (SenenCito)

HANDLEY: Do you create your own costumes or purchase them—and if you create them, what goes into making a typical getup?

NOEL: I never purchase my costumes. I may purchase certain elements which might be very difficult to make (usually shoes/boots to use as a base). It really depends on what the costume is, but on average I will spend anywhere from a week to months created one. For instance, the Commander Shepard I made for my finacé last year took me a week because I rushed to finish it for NYCC. In contrast, I spent a month making my Harley Quinn costume.

A breakdown of how Becka made the spikes for a Hawkgirl
mace, using a malleable thermoplastic known as Worbla

Before I start any costume, I research the hell out of it. I'll gather a lot of references, maybe an action figure, and samples of materials I might use. I'll then make a few sketches on paper (front, sides, back, details, etc.). From here comes the most difficult and important part: patterning it out. I'll usually start a pattern by taping around the subject (typically myself) and draw the costume details in permanent marker. Then I cut this out and create a nice clean version on stock paper and/or craft foam. Once I have the pattern, the rest is cake!

For my Harley Quinn, which is made entirely out of duct tape, I used this method, but omitted the paper part and used the tape as my final pattern. It was a lot of duct tape "fabric" (real fabric and covered in a layer of tape) and then cut to the desired shape. For other more complicated costumes like my Femshep, the paper pattern is really important since I used it to trace the shapes onto Worbla and foam (which is what the whole thing is made out of). After the pieces were cut out, they were glued together, sealed, primed, painted and varnished. I spent two months making Femshep. And as I said before, the longest, hardest, most important step is getting the patterns right. If they aren't right, things won't fit together properly and could be potentially painful...

Photo credit: Dhareza Maramis

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

NOEL: Hmm, cosplaying is like a way to escape being you for a day. Not that I don't like being me, but it's a fun way to be somebody else for a change. And the whole process of picking a character, researching and creating the costume to finally seeing all of your hard work is AMAZING. It gives me a rush actually, when I finally get to put the costume on that I've worked so hard on.

Well, obviously I love Harley Quinn. I've cosplayed her twice and plan on doing a few more. She's definitely one of my favorite characters because she's smart, sexy and very, very mischievous. I love World of Warcraft and armor, so those are also favorites. This year I plan on making some priest tier cosplays and a death knight. If I had a choice, I would choose to live inside WoW or Lord of the Rings, so it's safe to say, fantasy is my absolute favorite!

Becka as Harley at New York Comic Con, 
with Hasslein Books' Paul C. Giachetti

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?

NOEL: Going to cons and being immersed in the culture while dressed up as a character that someone has loved is almost like being a mini celebrity! I think that at first, people may have been apprehensive about "dressing up" as a favorite comic hero or anime toon because in our society, it's considered something children do or is only okay on Halloween. But in recent years it's become more accepted and getting very popular! Just look at the movie industry. The comic book hero was totally revamped when Christopher Nolan updated Batman. He opened the door and said it's okay for people to come out with their love of comics and fandom. And let's be honest, there is a little geek in almost all of us. Cosplaying is fun. It's a rush. You get to be your idol for a day or two with hundreds or thousands of other people who share your same love. Once you go cosplay, you won't go back.

Becka portraying Mass Effect's Commander Shepard
Photo credit: Dhareza Maramis

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?

NOEL: As a female in the "geek world," I'm already different because there just aren't as many of us girls as dudes. And since it's human nature to react sometimes negatively to things that are different, I have on some occasions received unwanted attention or disrespect. But living in NYC for the last 10 years has helped me develop a pretty thick skin and that kind of attention no longer has an effect on me really. When I do receive negative attention, I will either ignore it or kill it with some honey, i.e., say something between sarcasm and making them feel bad. Ninety percent of the time, you can't really help those people. They are going to be jerks because they are, and you're not responsible for their low self-esteem. There is a cosplayer from last year that received some pretty nasty attention at NYCC. She wrote an interesting response on her tumblr, The Grind Haus.

Females have almost always been seen as figures for male pleasure in our world. And the geek world is no different. Just look at the way female characters have been designed and drawn. And then we all get upset at that "fake geek girl" for dressing up EXACTLY as "Power Girl" or "Red Sonja" was drawn. These are the characters that we have to cosplay, so why get all upset about girls dressing up as them? And there are plenty of other females that have a little more fabric to choose from that girls do cosplay, they just aren't talked about as much. I actually love that girls who aren't real "geeks" are cosplaying. It means that our culture is expanding to reach more people that are into different things. We should all be happy about that!

The only way that we will be treated more fairly is if we don't give into the "geek bullying." If you stand up, are confident and proud of yourself, then other people will feel that and believe it, too. Also, girls like Jessica Nigri. She gets a lot of flak for "sexualizing" her cosplays, but that girl has some thick skin! She takes a lot of crap from people but I respect her for continuing to cosplay as she does because she loves it. Why should she/we stop just because some guy is offended from seeing a little more cleavage...

Photo credit: Dhareza Maramis

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?

NOEL: Comics and cosplay go hand in hand. As relating to my previous answer, cosplay is a mixture of costuming and a love for geek/comic/anime culture. Since all of these things closely relate to popular culture (TV, movies, etc.) I think that cosplay can only bring good things to the industry. People get inspired by costumes in movies and the movie industry may even be inspired by cosplayers! Everybody loves to dress up because everybody has something they are a fan of. Cosplaying is like having Halloween around all year long. It allows us all to be kids again and in a place where everybody else is dressed up too. When somebody dresses up as a con and owns it, nobody is laughing. They are ALL loving it with them. I like to think of cosplay as the Nutella between the two slices of bread, bringing Hollywood and the comic book industry together. Who doesn't love seeing Batman in person? It's Batman!

Becka's latest creation, still in progress: Red Riding Hood

Stay tuned, as additional installments of the "Getting Into Character" series will be posted this week. As each new interview is uploaded, you'll find it listed here, along with the other articles in this series.

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