Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cosplay Shennanigans: Creating Brother Warth, Forgetting Arnim Zola, and Red Tornado to the Rescue! By John Garcia

I’ve been cosplaying for a couple of years, and it has gotten to the point that making and focusing on 1-2 new costumes per year had racked up quite a number of costumes. I used to plan it so that Anime Expo was the focal point of my “Cosplay Year,” but since the mid 2000s, I started going to San Diego Comic Con, and it has become the focal point instead.  Anime Expo became a “Trial Run” for whatever big project of a costume I’m working on.  

It's gonna be one of those years I never forget... Get it?  Because I'm am elephant, and apparently have to explain my really obvious jokes :-) (This is why we pay him peanuts. -Ed)
The 2014 “Cosplay Year” to me is not that different.  Usually, it consists of 1-2 new costumes, 1-2 comfortable costumes for shopping days, and whatever days are left filled by older/ previous years’ costumes.

This year, the plan was:

Thursday:  Russell From Up, an oldie but goodie since 2011

- A very comfortable and easy costume to wear, perfect for shopping/swag-collecting day, especially since the costume already involves a backpack, and things like water canteens and poster tubes can be easily attached to it.  This costume was the “surprise” favorite costume when I debuted it in 2011.  I did not think an 80% from-the-closet costume would be liked so much.  Since its original debut, I had improved on the “merit badges,”  getting rid of mere pins and adding Geek-oriented symbols, making Russell actually a variant “Convention-Going Russell.”  I also found another pair of shorts that matched the color of my sash. 

Friday: Arnim Zola from Marvel Comics would make his debut!

- Friday in SDCC has traditionally been my “Wear the Venture Brothers Henchman 21” Day since the Venture Brothers Panel, group photo shoot, and other things occur on Friday.  However,  despite having so much fun last year (I even won the “Best Henchman 21 Contest” at the panel),  my picture ended up on the Venture Brother’s twitter, FB pages, and official website, and the general public is just merciless to a big guy, even though his name is Two-Ton 21! I’m afraid I had to take a break from being 21 for this year. 

Photo thanks to Benedict Choy
Then, what is left?  There’s a big Star Wars and Marvel Photo shoot on Friday.  I did plan on making an Admiral Trench or Arnim Zola, and decided on Arnim Zola because it’s a fairly new type of costume, one that integrates a bit more electronics.  Heck, it even has a really large portable battery for it. 

Saturday: Brother Warth from DC Comics would debut

- New materials and more complexity was the lure for this costume.  Maaaaaaaybe, I’m still proverbially licking my self-esteem’s wounds from being fatshamed as being too fat to be a character named Two-Ton 21, so my character chose had a bit of “Path of Least Resistance” built in as well.  I do hope that my motivation was the challenge of new materials, the LED ring, and the spandex-skinned elephant.. 

Photo thanks to Alex Halcyon

Friday: Golden Age Red Tornado would return from Wondercon 2014

Photo thanks to
 - This is a new costume. I did improve upon the gloves, so it’s actual spandex gloves instead of oven mitts (the mitts are more accurate, but made it much more difficult to do things).  It’s also a fairly comfortable costume, despite the foam bucket head.  It was really the utility belt and polyester head sock that made this costume awesome.  The utility belt worked, so despite having no backpack,, I had room for the important things.  The polyester  head sock was amazing in wicking all the sweat I had from that very closed-off foam helmet, and keeping it out of my face.  At the same time, it facilitated cooling when I had the mask off. 

… but what is that saying?  I think it’s from one of Robert Burn’s poems that we get “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.”

Go awry it did. 

By Anime Expo, which was less than a month away from SDCC, I had all the fabric for both new costumes, Arnim Zola and Brother Warth.  All I needed to make were the difficult parts: Arnim Zola’s Screenface chest armor, and Brother Warth’s head and armor pieces. 

Yup, that's all i was able to get done for Arnim Zola. 

Zola would have been perfect, except the portable screen I was using for Zola’s face did not arrive until 2 days before I left for SDCC, even though it was supposed to arrive right after Anime Expo.  So that whole costume was out.

I like my costumes to light up!

I REALLY like my costumes to light up

I discovered “Retroreflective” material during this time.  My previous problems with my past light-up costumes were that their lights were only apparent in the dark, or if you have a specifically-dark parts of the costume to light up (like the eye holes).  There was also the problem of those LEDs being almost useless when there’s sunlight or the photographer uses a flash.  This retroreflective material glows very bright when a photographer has  to use flash.  I then ordered a roll of wide blue vinyl, wide white vinyl, and a smaller roll of traditional retroreflective tape (the size of regular 2-inch tapes) in case there are minor snafus that need to be covered or repaired.  

The Retroreflective Blue Vinyl I was going to use for Brother Warth’s chest armor originally seemed to adhere smoothly on smooth surfaces, but I only did my initial tests using small strips of it, so as not to waste it.  The unforeseen problem was a lot of bubbles and wrinkles forming even when you are very careful in adhering it. This was also another material I had to order from the internet, so when the first two tries were too wrinkled, I had to stick with it. 

This is why my arm guards were not made of the same reflective material; my extra blue vinyl ran out, and it would be too late to order it from the internet.  I was also supposed to have a blue stripe down Brother Warth’s midsection, but there was not enough vinyl for that one, too; the first two trials on the chest armor ate up those extra feet of vinyl. 

As for the rest of the costume, from the neck down it's just clothes I already own, or can easily purchase.

For the black parts of the clothing, I already had them for previous costumes.  He wore a black tanktop/muscle shirt, which I had, and very baggy black pants.  For someone my size, finding something significantly baggy is a challenge.  It’s a good thing that I had the same pants from my Auron costume, which is black scrub pants that are two sizes larger than me.  By the way, scrubs and scrub pants are AMAZING for cosplay.  Not only are they available in so many different colors, but they come in many different sizes too, and specific ones at that, taking into consideration not just waistline, but length of the inseam as well. 

For the elephant “skin” on Brother Warth’s exposed arms, and feet  I knew I was NOT going to wear bodypaint, and a bodysuit would have been a little late to order, especially since I would be a custom fit.  There were these light gray toe socks that I wore to show his “bare feet.”  Then I added a light gray Underarmour long-sleeve shirt.  I also got some spandex gloves from the same place I got Red Tornado’s purple spandex gloves, but their “light gray” is significantly or noticeably darker than the almost-matching light grays of the toe socks and the shirt.  I suppose this is why I should have had a bodysuit or something. 

After the light gray stuff arrived, I went to a local Jo-Ann’s fabric store to match which shade of gray spandex I would be using.  Thankfully, there was a match.  I also got some blue fabric on sale for his belt.  Since things were not going well already, I decided to get a couple more yards of this light blue vinyl in case I had to make a non-reflective version of the blue armor from it.  Originally, I was just going to make arm guards from the blue vinyl (which I did), but there’s over a yard and a half of blue vinyl for that armor. 

The light coming from the retroreflective surface. 

The light coming from the blue LED.

For the light-up ring, my earlier search for highly-reflective materials lead me to the local auto store.  I could not find  large wide rolls of the reflective vinyl that I ended up ordering online.  I did fine, however, the aisle next to the reflective stuff, which is the aisle for decorative LEDs.  The amazing thing about some of these LEDs is that they use the same reflective micro mirrors that the brightest (uncolored/white) retroreflective tape uses, so the ring would be able to light up in the dark, AND reflect any flash or sunlight, either way creating a glowing effect.  I found the smallest “String,” which is 2-LEDs, complete with a “Try Me” button and batteries. I only had to have the LEDs re-sothered to strengthen it, and I had my light-up Blue Lantern Ring!

And now, I’ll form the head.

I thought that I have developed my skills in making these monstrous heads from EVA  foam ($10 for a 4 ‘ X 4’ mat at Harbor Freight, which is a steal).  I had Rocksteady 2.0, Clayface, and Poison Ivy’s plant, with the latter two also utilizing the stretched spandex skin look.  The construction of the face involved using a safety netted face shield, so I can see outwards, but no one on the outside can see in to my face. I used the glue gun friendly EVA foam, and some  zip ties to keep some parts curved.  I also used craft foam as a type of inner skin on top of the EVA foam musculature, so the rough bumps of the EVA foam layers would not be seen.  

The final touches included finding a place under the costume (which is unseen from the outside)to anchor the spandex skin, glue gunning it (spandex also works and sticks very well to glue from a glue gun and EVA foam, but it leaves the spandex looking a shade darker, so I keep those glued parts out of sight).  I also covered the horns with white reflective vinyl.  His earrings were some cheap brass rings I saw at Joann’s for some other purpose, but it was on clearance. 

Photo thanks to Alex Halcyon
Finally, I was able to make his eyes and face tattoos, since they were smaller, from the retroreflective tape, which had those little mirrors.  This made these parts highly reflective, in effect making Brother Warth’s eyes and tattoos glow.  Well, his tattoos don’t glow, but I liked that effect when I watched that episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, when they watched the play and the actress playing Aang had practical effects that made his airbending tattoos glow. 

But, oh wait!

By the time I had finished the head, it was time to go to San Diego already, so I figured I would just finish the arm guards, belt and the Blue lantern symbol on his belt buckle in the hotel. 

Again, things go Awry!

The grommets I was using, for some reason, were not setting.  I used the setter before, and it worked perfectly.  It might also be the fact that I was at a hotel without any heavy-duty work table that I couldn't get a lot of force behind my hammer.  I had to improvise and use some glue form the glue gun to secure the grommets that worked to tighten my arm guards.  It was not the best choice, since glue does not really adhere  to vinyl.  It at least adhered to the metal on the grommets, and it worked surprisingly well.  

If you look at my arm, there were supposed to be more grommets to hold the armguard together. That, or I just wanna show my picture next to a very lovely Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman and Photo thanks to Krazia Cosplay
The fun part was the Blue Lantern belt.  I did not have time to re-shop for a nice round tupperwear to make into the belt buckle, so I had to take one from my old stock of rejected tupperwear.  The thing was 4 inches in diameter, but also 2.5 inches thick, and when I would turn sideways, or walk in the buss, it would  snag on things.  The Blue Lantern Symbol was also done by hand, so it’s all sorts of uneven.  This part, I will definitely have to redo before the next time I wear this outfit. 

And now, for the convention! 

Since my Arnim Zola was no longer an option, I had changed my SDCC costume lineup with Russel for Thursday, Brother Warth for Friday and Saturday, and Golden Age Red Tornado on Sunday.  I was fortunate enough to have thought I would use Brother Warth for a night event, so I had an extra underarmour undershirt, and toe socks. 

When Friday came, the aforementioned snagging onto things was starting to trouble me, but thankfully, that only happened in the shuttle.  As I got off the shuttle, I realized the other more important problem I had not thought of…. pockets!  Sure, the black scrubs have a pocket for my wallet, camera, and cell phone, but my water bottle, which I needed since I was sweating profusely in that foam elephant head, had nowhere to go.  I also had a hard time taking pictures and talking on the phone as my camera and phone were in an inner layer of the costume, covered by the blue cloth for the belt. 

I went through the day pretty good despite everything, but one time, after I took a break, my light-up ring, which had a circuit that connected to a button on my palm BROKE!  That was it, I cannot do the costume until I fix things.

I still spent a couple of hours with my broken ring, and that’s why the picture I actually have does not have me showing off the light-up ring.  When I got back to the hotel, I realized it was no use to bring this costume to the nighttime party I was attending, so instead I enlisted the Red Tornado’s help, and used that one instead. Thankfully, I had an extra undershirt for that one, too - always plan ahead, kids.

 This was the "People who don't belong to any team or group." Photo thanks to!
I came home very late that Friday night, and that fatigue was compounded by having to do laundry, since I already used up the extra stuff for Red Tornado.  It’s ok, I reached the point that evening/dawn where I probably would not be able to sleep and get revitalized anyway, so I just stayed up.  I was able to wear the Red Tornado for Saturday for the DC Photoshoot instead.

Despite the problems that plagued my costume creations, I think the convention went really well. Thank god I was prepared to fix my costumes on the fly, and had enough costumes that if one failed, I wasn't stuck with it for the rest of the con.

John Garcia is a college professor of English, Literature, and Popular Culture. He has been going to conventions since 1998, and cosplaying since 2001.  

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