Cosplay has become a pretty big deal; now more than ever, it’s common to see hundreds or even thousand of people in costume at large conventions. Whether their costumes are homemade or bought from a craftsman or store, more and more people have come to embrace becoming the characters they see on screen and play in games. I sat down with a local cosplay craftsman, Michael Hankamer of Mystilynn Arms, for a brief conversation about the growing popularity of cosplay, the process of making costumes, and what it was like first getting into the hobby.
WeTheNerdy: Alright. So, to start things off, how long have you been cosplaying?
Michael Hankamer: About 5 years.
WTN: When you first started cosplaying, did you make your own costumes, or did you ever buy from others before getting into designing your own? What was your first costume?
MH: My first costume was the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, and it was done piecemeal. I bought parts off of Ebay and Amazon, I made parts, and I had one part custom made for me.
WTN: Do you still use that method now, or do you tend to take a more ‘from scratch’ approach?
MH: Depends on what the costume is, what is involved in the making of it. Some outfits I make completely, others I can buy this or that to make assembly easier, or the crafting is beyond my current skills.
WTN: What made you first get into craftsmanship? Was it cosplay-related, or did you already have an interest in making props and clothing?
MH: My family is full of artists. Painting, sewing, crafts in general. I have always been very interested in acting, plays and the like all the time growing up. In cub scouts we used to make our props and costumes out of cardboard or felt. I began making chainmaille because I wanted a suit of armor to dress up at the renaissance faire. This was developed from a love of the old Knights in Shining armor style movies and plays I would see.
WTN: What inspired you to start selling your creations? Was it a simple matter of your supply exceeding your personal needs, or did you set out with a specific intent to try and make something of a business out of it?
MH: I had made two outfits, one for myself and one for a friend. We were at a comic convention and I was asked if I sold my work. At the time I had not considered it, but the person wanted a chainmaille hauberk made and offered to buy it. At that point it dawned on me that I might just be able to make some money doing this.
WTN: Can you walk us through the process of making a costume? What makes you decide what your next project will be, and how do you take it from concept to completion?
MH: Some costumes come from a desire to dress like a beloved character. Others are because someone else wants something specific. And yet others are a complete accident! Once you have your concept, you have to figure out your budget for that outfit, then take stock on what you have and what you need. You also have to consider cost-effectiveness. Sometimes it is more cost-effective to buy a piece from another cosplayer rather than craft it yourself, or vice versa. Some things like a Jedi robe are so easy to get a good quality off a website, and it’s not smart to make one yourself. I have access to a 3D printer and can often print the parts I need at an extremely low cost. Then I use a little sanding filler and paint and viola.
WTN: It feels like these days, cosplay’s in the public eye a lot more. Over the last few years, it’s gone from a niche hobby into a growing industry, with some conventions packed full of thousands of people in costume. What do you think led to the increasing popularity of cosplaying?
MH: There are a lot more open minds when it comes to cosplay these days. In the past, it was “just a bunch of geeks”, but with the modern day special effects in the movies making them more and more popular, it brings out the characters us “geeks” have loved for years. Disney has had a lot to do with it; I do not think it was their plan, but it is certainly a good side effect. Their purchase of Marvel led them to start making the Avengers and supporting movies like Thor and Iron Man. More recently, Lucas Arts and the release of all the new and upcoming Star Wars movies has helped too. We’re much more in the public eye, with people learning that we are not crazy and are having a lot of fun doing what we love.
WTN: If someone wanted to get into cosplay, but had never tried it before, what advice would you give them?
MH: Have fun with it. It doesn’t matter if you build your costume with your own hands or buy it in a store. Cosplay is the expression of our love for the character we are dressed as. Cosplayers in general are willing to help each other out, either by telling you how to do something, or showing you how to do it. I would also tell them what their limitations are. I would say this: “You are limited by only one thing. Your own mind. If you believe you can build it, then you can, or you can find someone that is willing to either help you or build it for you. But your own imagination is what makes you soar, or stops you.” At the end of the day or the end of the Con, if you had fun, then you are doing it right. Never judge your work or costume by the quality of another, and never judge theirs.
Michael Hankamer is an independent craftsman working out of southeast Texas.
If you’re interested in checking out his goods or requesting a custom order, you can e-mail him at: http://Mystilynnarms@gmail.com
His website can be found at http://mystilynnarms.wix.com/mystilynnarms
Writer’s Note: All pictures present are the property of Mitch Johnson with Soulwire Photography, and were previously misattributed to Mystilynn Arms. This is an error on WTN’s part and we apologize for any inconvenience.