Cosplayer of the week – Angi Viper

angi coverI interviewed Angi Viper, sweet and sassy cosplayer from California. Angi shares her love for Elsa from Frozen, her experience of ‘cosplay bullying’ and views on the change of cosplay culture.

angi viper 05When and how did you get involved with cosplay?
I initially started cosplaying when I was in high school.  I was heavily into anime culture and decided to start dressing up to attend our local anime/sci-fi/fantasy convention.  My mum helped me make my first costume and fully encouraged the hobby.  I took a hiatus for a few years in college because I didn’t have the money or resources to make costumes.  A few years ago, I was struggling to find myself and decided to rejoin the cosplay community.  I started making costumes for my friends and I for Halloween, movie premieres and film shoots until I was invited to join a friend at San Diego Comic Con in 2012.  I was completely overwhelmed and inspired by how dramatically cosplay had changed since my initial experience and it drove me to continue learning new techniques so one day I can compare to the amazing pieces I saw there.

What future cosplay have you got in store for us in 2014?
I have a flash drive that I carry with me where I keep my list of cosplay ideas and it’s almost full.  I have so many characters I want to cosplay and I’m constantly changing my mind based on what’s inspiring me at the time.  I know for sure you will be seeing a new version or two of my two favourite characters, a few groups with my best friends and one character I’ve been dreaming of cosplaying since I started all the way back in the early noughties.

angi viper 04I love your Elsa cosplay, why did you choose to cosplay her?
Thank you!  I’ve always been a Disney nut and since I aspire to work at the studio some day, I try to stay on top of what the studio is working on.  Throughout college, I read about Disney’s plans to bring my favourite fairy tale “The Snow Queen” to life and followed it fervently as the project worked towards getting the green light.  Finally, right after graduation, it happened and was officially announced.  I knew deep down I would wind up cosplaying the snow queen and waited for an image to be released.  As information was released, my connection to the character grew as I realized how perfectly the story mirrored my relationship with my own sister.  The moment an image was released, I started my costume and debuted it at San Diego Comic Con 2013.

What was the hardest part of making the cosplay?
I’d say the hardest thing has been that I initially made the costume based on fan art and leaked images so I’ve had to make alterations as better resources have been released.  Elsa is the first character I’ve put this much work and alteration into because I want it to be better than perfect and it’s been difficult and stressful at times, but very rewarding.  I’m currently on the third version of my Snow Queen dress and the wigs for both that and my coronation dress have been restyled countless times.  I’ve put more into Elsa than I’ve put into any other cosplay – not just at the sewing machine, but researching images, watching the movie, practicing her personality and poses, singing Let It Go, really striving to bring her to life.  My goal is to completely embody her presence in person and image.  Honestly the hardest part has been that I see so much of myself in Elsa and I want to represent her properly so badly that I push myself to the limit and I may be making alterations for the rest of my life.

angi viper 09What has been the public’s reaction to her?
I was very excited to find that the reaction to both Elsa the character and my cosplay have been overwhelmingly positive.  I think a lot of people can relate to Elsa and her journey in addition to admiring her beautiful design.

What is your opinion of the Frozen film?
I thought it was absolutely perfect.  The film is a rollercoaster of emotions for me as I essentially watch my life through my sister’s eyes.  It brought a new understanding to what she went through when we were kids and I pushed her away and inspired me to fight on through adversity to become the person I want to be.  To me, Frozen is a completely new and unique children’s film.  It provides very real, relatable characters who are positive role models for children and adults and a story with twists and turns, constantly playing on your expectations from a Disney movie.  I think Frozen is the beginning of a new phase of Disney animated films and I cannot wait to see what they do next.

angi viper 06When you’re not cosplaying or at a convention what can we find you doing?
For starters I work full time as a receptionist so most of my time is spent at the office.  When I’m home I’m normally working on costumes and watching movies or TV.  Entertainment is a major passion of mine so I’m constantly trying to stay on top of what’s new in the industry.  Film and TV inspire me and keep me motivated so there’s not really a moment where I’m not playing something on the TV.  However, when the TV isn’t on, I’m listening to music and/or singing.  My family has always had hands in the music industry so music is in my blood.

Have you been to the UK before? Do you have any plans to go to a UK convention?
I’ve actually never been outside the US except for a trip to the Canada Niagara Falls in 2000-something.  I’d love to attend a UK con and have a very good friend who would offer me refuge but unfortunately cosplay is a very costly hobby in addition to the regular expenses of living in California so I don’t know that it would happen unless I were invited as a guest.

angi viper 02What is your perception of the difference between cosplay culture in the UK and America?
I don’t know that I could make a real comparison having never been to a UK con, however I have heard that there are subtle differences from friends who have experienced both.  I will say the level of craftsmanship I’ve seen from some foreign cosplayers is astounding and I would give anything to see some of their work in person.

What changes have you seen in the cosplay community over the years you have been participating?
Well for one, interviews like this were non-existant when I started.  When I finally returned to the cosplay community last year after taking such a long hiatus I was floored by the dramatic differences.  When I started in the early noughties, cosplay was still new.  There were only a handful of anime, video game or comic book cosplayers who went to the cons I did.  I remember dreaming of Big Apple Anime Fest and San Diego Comic Con where I heard there were cosplayers as far as the eye could see.  Image sharing on the internet was very different back then as well so there were very few cosplayers who had been able to expand their reach past their local conventions.  Back then I remember hearing about Yaya Han, Ruby Rocket and Vampy and that was about it.  Now everybody has fan pages and professional photos, there is even specialised “cosplay photographers”.  It’s become a business and while I love that it’s become so widespread and accepted, I do miss the days when cosplay was just a hobby.  I hate to admit it, but I feel like the direction the cosplay community is moving in has invited a lot of negativity and antagonism – both from members of the community and our audience.  When I started, it didn’t matter how good your costume was or how many likes your page had.  You didn’t have to market or advertise yourself, you just had to show up in a costume and people would flip.  Cosplay has always been about sharing your fandom with others through costuming and while the majority of the community is overwhelmingly supportive, there are those who would rather tear others down than support their bravery and craftsmanship.  I love the cosplay community and I can’t imagine dedicating my time and energy to anything else, but I do miss when all you had to worry about was putting on a costume and having fun with some friends.

angi viper 03What are your feelings towards ‘sexy cosplays’?
Cosplay is a means of expressing yourself and your fandom.  Different people are going to express themselves differently.  It’s the whole draw of cosplay – to be yourself while being someone else who you’ve always wished you could be.  There’s a certain level of sexuality that goes into most of the costumes we make and you kindof have to accept that it’s something you’re going to see.  Some cosplayers are more comfortable with their bodies than others and are willing to expose more and at the end of the day, the major market for comics, anime and video games is men and men like boobs.  It’s an aspect of the community that you kind of just have to accept if you’re going to try to put yourself out there as a cosplayer.  I do have to admit that it’s frustrating at times to see so many struggling so hard and investing so much into accurately portraying a character just to have another who cut the stomach and tits out get all the attention.  I’ve seen countless incredible costumers who create stunningly beautiful pieces of artwork get overlooked in favour of T&A and it does disappoint me.  However, I do respect every cosplayer for having the courage to step out of their door dressed as their favourite character and will always fight for their right to be who they want to be.

angi viper 08There is the current campaign of cosplay doesn’t equal consent, have you ever had a related negative experience at a convention?
I’ve been lucky enough to not have anything too traumatic happen to me in costume, however I do know people who have.  I’ve been kissed, picked up, asked lewd questions and had plenty of conversations with people seemingly unaware that I have a face, but I know many more who’ve been full-on groped, ass-slapped, asked if they could be motor-boated, filmed from behind and worse.  These situations are an unfortunate risk we all take wearing skin-tight, chest-revealing costumes of nerdy fantasies to a public space full of horny people who have fantasized about these characters their whole lives.  It’s sometimes difficult for people to separate the excitement  and fantasy of seeing their favourite character in person from the knowledge that it’s just a person and fellow fan, and while that doesn’t make it ok it’s up to each and every one of us to keep an eye out for potentially dangerous situations and stand up for ourselves (and each other) when something questionable happens.  If we all keep letting it happen because we “don’t know what to do” then it’s just going to continue happening and become acceptable behaviour.  You don’t have to accept every photo or video request and you don’t have to just stand there and take it.  If you’re uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is just walk away.  You don’t even have to say anything.  Just walk away.  If necessary, find a convention staff member and report it.

angi viper 10There is the growing concern of ‘cosplay bullying’ have you experienced this?
I’m sad to say I have experienced this firsthand.  There are some hateful people in the world who’s only joy in life is to tear others down and they are particularly drawn to creative and artistic people.  It’s difficult when it’s happening to see things that way and all you can do is feel hurt.  You start to question your art and wonder if they’re right.  I have been hurt by comments on the internet made by anonymous posters and I’ve seen even worse done to others.  It makes me sad that there are people out there who think this is acceptable behaviour.  The thing I think a lot of people are trying to ignore is that a lot of this also comes from within the cosplay community itself.  I’ve been in many situations where I’ve overheard cosplayers bashing someone else’s costume.  There are cosplayers who will trash talk other cosplayers for their body type or costume construction and there are photographers/videographers who will refuse to shoot cosplayers who they think aren’t up to par.  It’s sad that we allow this to happen within our own community because it just makes it ok for others to do the same.  At the end of the day, we’re all fans of these characters and it’s natural to be disappointed when we see a character we love represented poorly, but that doesn’t mean you have to say something.  You don’t have to love every costume you see, but keep it to yourself.  I’m not saying I’m 100% guilt free, but I have seen these issues and am making a conscious effort to turn it around.  The best way to change the internet’s attitude is to change our own.  Rather than commenting on things we don’t like or just hitting “like” on a photo or telling a friend we like something, why not say something to the cosplayer?  Let someone know when you like what they’ve done and suddenly you’ll see “cosplay bullying” turn into “cosplay encouragement” and it won’t seem like bullies are the only audience anymore.  We could change the attitude towards cosplayers from tearing creativity down to inspiring and encouraging each other to keep doing what makes us happy.  We could see new cosplayers excited to share their work with the world rather than hiding out, afraid of the potential backlash.

angi viper 11What advice would you give to those who have?
The best advice I can give is to take those comments with a grain of salt.  The people who say hateful things about cosplay are usually people who don’t have the courage to put themselves in the same position so they need to tear you down to make themselves feel better.  Some are intimidated by you and feel they have to protect themselves by tearing you down.  It’s disgusting and sad, but know for every bully, there are 2-3 people who love what you do and may be too afraid to say anything.  The best thing to do is just avoid looking at or posting to notorious bashing sites like Reddit, 4chan, etc.  You need to decide for yourself why you cosplay.  I cosplay because I love it and I’m proud of each and every costume I create so comments on my work don’t affect me because I made them for me and no one else.

 angi viper 12What advice would you give a first time con-goer at a convention?
If you’re going to cosplay, make sure it’s a character you love.  You’ll have a lot more fun cosplaying a character you’re passionate about than one you aren’t.  Consider going one day out of costume.  It’s tempting to wear costumes every day, but being in costume can make it difficult to maneuver the con floor and you can get stopped a lot for photo requests so if there’s a day with a lot of panels you want to attend or you want to make sure you see all of the sales floor, I recommend sacrificing a day for comfort and maneuverability.  Go with friends if you can.  Having company makes the initial shock of the con experience less intimidating and downtime more fun.  Plus it’s good to have backup if you’re in a revealing costume.  Be prepared for a culture shock.  Conventions are unlike anything else.  They’re a lot of fun, but it can be overwhelming the first time.  There is a lot to take in from cosplayers to artists to vendors to panels to photographers and everything in-between.  I felt like my head was spinning at the first con I ever attended.  I loved every second of it, but I missed a lot because I was so unprepared for how much would be going on.  Figure out what panels you want to go to beforehand and get there early.  Lines form for many panels and you can miss out on something you really wanted to see if you delay.  Take some time to check out artist alley.  Many of these conventions started as opportunities for artists to showcase their work and make connections that could forward their artistic careers and you’ll find amazing pieces and incredible artists you may never have found otherwise.  Don’t be afraid to talk to other people cosplaying things you like.  You never know when you might make a new friend.  They may also be able to give you suggestions or pointers on making your own costumes.  Most importantly, just have fun.  Do what you want to do and what makes you happy and you’ll have an amazing time.

angi viper 13Thank you for a great interview!

Keep updated will all of Angi Viper’s news and cosplay on Facebook here
and follow her on Twitter @AngiViper

Photo Credits Elsa Frozen photos by Eurobeat Kasumi Photography York In A Box , Megra and Viper by Jonathon Courtot, Black Widow by James Ward, Ariel by The One and Only APE, Catwoman by Cesar Vivid, Queen Elsa and Hydra by Geri Kramer