Hasslein Blog: Getting Into Character, Part Three: Darlena Marie Blander


Hasslein Blog

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Getting Into Character, Part Three: Darlena Marie Blander

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. You can read the other interviews here

Cosplayer: Darlena Marie Blander

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

DARLENA MARIE BLANDER: I've been costuming for eight years now. I started out with Star Trek and Renaissance, then branched off into steam-punk and comic characters. Since I was in elementary school, I've always been involved in performing in school plays, and then, as I got older, community theatre, so wearing costumes has always been a fun avenue to express creativity and fantasy!

Darlena as The X-men's Storm
(photo courtesy Carlos A. Smith)

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

BLANDER: I make most of my costumes, and sometimes, for more intricate aspects, I'll call on help from some of my seamstress friends. So far, most costumes take between two to four weeks to make. I have to shop for fabric, make a body pattern, buy all the detailed trim, glue, spray paint, wigs, make-up, etc., study the image really well, and then start the process. Then, for fun, I pose like the character and test it out before wearing it to a con!

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

BLANDER: It's a serious form of escape into a different world where I can be someone else and have a different life, where I can live out another aspect of my nature and character. Loads of fun, and I love the way people react to how well you cosplay a certain character, or create a certain costume look, as with, say, period clothing. As far as characters, I've always cosplayed good guys because I'm a decent, thoughtful person, but recently I've been playing around with evil characters, and I've been told I'm good at the ones I've been cosplaying, so I'll think I'll be doing more villains. It's a challenge!

...and going where no one has gone before...

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?

BLANDER: Yes, when I talk to folks who've been cosplaying longer than I have, they also have told me how there were so few cosplayers in their early days of con-going. I think the appeal is the ability to live out a fantasy, and when you see others doing it and getting positive feedback, then that only the more encourages one to go for something they've probably always wanted to do, but were unsure about how others would react. Also, the popularity of comic films and sci-fi shows helps, as these markets make money and capture so much attention and excitement. I also think recent generations of young people have a real sense of just being free and living life without limits.

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?

BLANDER: In some respects, I think since the comic book industry has always been a more male-dominated, male-read industry, and since so many of the women characters are scantily clad, some men probably think women get into cosplaying characters for attention, and not because they really care or know about the characters. I've only encountered one situation where someone tried to "test" me to see if I was a true fan of who I was cosplaying. I was walking past a couple, and the woman said how beautiful I looked in my Scarlet Witch costume, and the husband preceded to ask me questions to see if I really knew about my character, or was just wearing the costume for attention. I explained to him I understand fully why he is questioning me and I found it offensive, since I'm sure no one is asking him questions for him to answer to prove he is worthy to be at a comic convention. His wife laughed and he just apologized, then asked someone to take a picture of all three of us!

It's this type of challenge that must take place, and it has, to some degree, made an impact on the comic industry, thus the reason for more women comic writers coming on the scene, some changes in the costume design of a lot of popular women characters, and an increase in comic readership, and convention attendance amongst the women population. So much of comics are like "soft porn." This can be another reason why women cosplayers suffer a hard time, and are subjected to "un-gentlemanly" behavior. I had a guy tell me, at one point, comics was so male-dominated that seeing more and more women get into them, in a way, "invades" the old boys' club.

But many men welcome the influx of women comic fans. Once, when going up the stairs at a popular comic book shop, I heard a young man tell his friend how it was nice to see more and more women hanging out in the comic book stores. This increased interest will influence and affect the comic book industry as a whole. Story content, costume design, increased diversity in characters, will all continue to be positively affected as the industry begins to realize that more and more women, and people of color, are comic readers, and they will make it known what appeals to them.

Now I want to bring up another point: people of color who cosplay. There have been some issues with that floating around, and I've read, witnessed, and have had said to me some not so nice statements. Again, the more folks stand their ground and do not duck and run when faced with anything negative while cosplaying, the more these issues will become null and void and of no consequence, and folks can come to a con, have fun, cosplay who the hell they want, not get touched, not be interrogated, and all will eventually be right as rain.

...and as the Scarlet Witch
(photo courtesy Carlos A. Smith)

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?

BLANDER: I think mainstream media has picked up on the fact that the comic/sci-fi crowd is a most sought-after demographic, despite the negative connotation the word "geek" once had; notice I say "once had… let's face it, this demographic has good careers, are computer-savvy, free-spirited, and thus Hollywood is zeroing in on them! Because they are a well-sought-after group, this means what they like and cherish is going to be exposed, and as with all situations where negativity is attached to a certain cultural lifestyle, when people proudly challenge long-held views, perceptions are going to change.

When the "geek" is that handsome, well-dressed man or sophisticated, educated and accomplished, well-dressed woman, then the word takes on a new image. This is when you see folks start to come out from hiding. They no longer fear backlash. I use to get teased also, but never let it affect me. I was proud to be amongst the different and non-mundane! Now I have people admitting how they respect my cosplay, and how amazing the comic industry and movies are.

Cosplayers help to bring attention to the comic characters portrayed in various movies/comics. This eventually garnishes excitement about seeing this character in a movie or book. This is why my group has been asked to cosplay in front of certain theaters on opening day of a comic-based movie, or in front of comic stores at the appearance of a certain writer promoting the latest comic for a popular character, and why marketing reps have contacted us for free tickets or screening passes with the request that we come in costume.

Hollywood also enjoys seeing, as we do, the reaction of people when they see their favorite characters realistically and beautifully bought to life. Even when I see a cosplayer posing, speaking, and wonderfully wearing the costume of one of my favorite characters, I smile like a child! We see joy, whereas Hollywood sees dollars, so yes, I won't be surprised as they start to bring the art of cosplay into their marketing schemes. It's cool, as long as they pay cosplayers, or at least give them some great perks!

Stay tuned, as additional installments of the "Getting Into Character" series will be posted this and next 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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At October 12, 2013 at 10:30 PM , Blogger Nina Star said...


At October 12, 2013 at 10:30 PM , Blogger Nina Star said...

<3 :)


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