During my wanderings at NYCC 2014 I met some truly fantastic cosplayers. While at the booth, I saw a spectacular Assassin’s Creed costume pass by – and called out to “CONNOR!” as he passed. To my nerdshame, it was actually a mind-blowing Edward Kenway done by Justin Aucoin.
Doesn’t matter – still got him to stop! And to my credit, I only saw the blue and white from behind as he passed.
As it turns out – Justin and his fiancée, Kate are experienced cosplayers, SCA participants, and general nerd enthusiasts who were happy to talk to us for our first NYCC cosplay feature interview. Here we go!
1. What made you decide that you needed to make your first costume?
My fiancée, Kate, and I have always been huge fans of Halloween and costumes, in general. Kate’s actually a part-time costumer, so when we decided to make NYCC our first con, it seemed pretty obvious that we needed to go in costume. Any excuse to play dress up is a good excuse for us.
So we went as Gambit & Rogue one day, and the other I went as Sir Didymus and Kate went as Sarah. I got a lot more attention with the Gambit cosplay, but the folks who got the Sir Didymus got it and were really excited. It’s a fun costume to wear, but a pain in the butt to eat with that fake mustache.
2. How did you get started in cosplay and costume making? What was the moment when you decided that it was something you wanted to do? What costume helped you come to that decision?
I got into costuming through Kate and my love for historical clothing. I’m a huge Three Musketeers fan, and I also fence in the SCA, so I wanted clothing that would work for that. Kate taught me sewing basics and the first items I made were a doublet and a wool cassock. I’ve been sewing and learning new techniques ever since. So we came at it from a more historical interest. We only got into cosplaying, really, when we decided to go to NYCC for the first time a few years ago.
I don’t think I ever consciously thought, “I’m going to be a cosplayer.” I just always loved dressing up in costumes, even as a kid, and Halloween being once a year wasn’t enough for me. But there are tons of cons everywhere it seems, so there’s no lack of opportunity to make costumes, toss them on, and take lots of cool pictures with people.
3. How long have you been doing cosplay?
About three years or so now. I’m just a cosplay toddler. ☺
4. What was the hardest (so far) step in the build process? Do you anticipate any additional challenges
Other than “How am I going to afford this?” I think the hardest part drafting the patterns. My Edward Kenway (Assassin’s Creed IV) cosplay was partly patterned from scratch and partly patterned after modified historical patterns. Modding a pattern can be tricky and when I need to do that I get a lot of help from Kate. She’s the more experienced and talented one of us, and it’s nice to have a second brain to bounce ideas off of. Creating your own patterns is also tricky, just in different ways. To help with that we made a stuffed body form of myself. It makes fitting and pattern drafting a lot easier.
Each costume has its own set of challenges and that’s part of the fun. Figuring out how to overcome it and possibly learn some new skill-sets along the way.
5. Did you have the full skill-set you needed to build your costumes at the onset – or did you learn along the way?
A little bit of both. I had basic fabric sewing skills already from my historical costuming, but I definitely learned and picked up new skills along the way. When I decided to do the Edward Kenway cosplay, I knew I would have to work with leather. I had never done any leather work before, so it was a new experience. I had to learn how to set rivets, and chisel holes in the leather, and basic leather hand sewing techniques. It was ton a lot of fun – I find leather work therapeutic in some ways — and I’m hoping to do more leather work, be it for cosplay or my historical costuming.
Last year I unveiled my armored/(Prac)Tactical Nightwing costume. For that I had to learn how to mold, seal, and paint EVA foam. And right now I’m also working on a Winter Soldier cosplay, so I’ll get to revisit leather working there, but it’s also letting me learn how to work with Worbla. Thankfully Worlba is a pretty forgiving material, so you can play around and make mistakes and then fix it very easily. Lot more room for experimentation, which is always nice.
6. How did you learn these skills? Self-taught, school, trial and error?
I learned a ton from my fiancée Kate. She had been doing costuming for a few years by the time we first started dating, so she taught me the basics and some intermediate stuff. She’s still my second brain when I work on things. Everything else – like leather working and Worbla — was self-taught by trial and error or looking up tutorials online.
Basically, if you thought about it, someone on the Internet has already done it, so you can probably find help with a few quick searches.
7. How did you make the transition from “normal life” into costuming and cosplay?
For me it’s all one and the same. It’s a hobby of mine and a part of who I am, as much as my fencing is, my writing, and playing hockey. There’s no transition.
8. What is the most expensive costume you have ever done?
Edward Kenway from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, by far. The leather alone cost $200 and that was on sale. I don’t remember what I dropped on the linen for the shirt, pants, doublet and skirts. Plus the costume has a ton of accessories, some of which I made (the belt and baldric) and some I bought (the hidden daggers). The boots I wear go for $300, but I already had those for my SCA fencing, years before I started cosplaying. So the final amount varies depending on how you look at it. But yea, any way you slice it, ACIV was my most expensive one. It’s also my best costume.
9. Are you able to make a living with cosplay? If not, what is your dream job?
Honestly, I haven’t tried. Haven’t had much of an interest in being a professional cosplayer. I’ve had folks interested in commission work from me, but that’s about it. I suppose it would be cool to make a paycheck off making costumes for yourself and others all day, though, but it’s not in the cards for me at the moment.
My dream job is to be a full-time fiction writer. I already have several short stories, and a swashbuckling collection out. And I just finished a full-length adventure novel that’s due out this winter, so I’m well on my way to reaching that goal. But the paycheck isn’t at a living wage… yet. One day it will, though.
10.Do you have a costume that keeps falling apart at the last minute or do they always execute perfectly?
So far I haven’t had anything die on me. I use good fabric and materials, things that breathe well and hold up to a beating, so con malfunctions don’t happen. Sure poly and poly-blends are cheaper, but you’ll roast in them and they’ll rip easy. Sometimes putting a little extra money into the project from the start will save you a lot of cash and heartache down the road. It’ll also look a lot better.
11. What would you say is the amount of time involved in the costume from inception to unveiling?
I guess it depends on the costume. Gambit was a summer long process, even though it’s mostly put together from items I found or bought.
Sir Didymus was a few week process even though it’s a bit more complicated. I based that costume off my 1630s doublet pattern, so it wasn’t too difficult to conjure.
My armored Nightwing was about a year-long project. There was a lot of research into the type of fabric the Chris Nolan Batman suit used, tracking that down, drafting the pattern, and then creating a pattern for all the EVA foam armor and molding.
And the Edward Kenway cosplay was a summer-long project, too. Version 1 I used fake leather for the vest, shoulder armor and bracers, but during the winter I upgraded to real leather – there’s also more things I want to alter to make it more screen accurate, so that’s still a work-in-progress even though I wear it all the time at shows now.
12. Do you make the pieces from scratch or do you commission your costumes?
Almost everything I wear, I make from scratch. The only things I’ll commission out are accessories (Nightwing’s mask, the Assassin’s Creed hidden blades & prop swords, a walking cane for Sir Didymus, etc.). I rather learn and make it by hand myself but when I do commission something out I try to go to my costumer friends and other mom and pop shops. Support small business!
13. What is your all-time favorite costume?
At the moment it’s my Edward Kenway. It’s the most complicated one I’ve made and the most impressive costume I made. It looks great and is comfortable to wear. But I’m sure whenever I finish my next costume that’ll become my favorite. And then the next one after that… And the next one after that… ☺
14. What changes have you seen in the cosplay community over the years you have been participating? Are they good changes or bad changes? How has technology affected the fabrics/ideas/designs?
I’m still pretty new, so I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of changes. For me, the community is great. Everyone I’ve meet at cons have been super nice and love to talk shop. I’ve made a lot of new, cool nerdy friends because of cosplay. People I wouldn’t have met otherwise. So it’s great.
The Internet, however, is a different beast, and it seems to breed the worst of mankind at times. Go to any woman cosplayer’s page and the comment section reads like trashy convos at a stripclub. It’s awful. Never see that crap on a guy cosplayer’s page. I’m honestly amazed any woman cosplayer keeps a public fan page running for more than a month or two with all the BS that gets written freely and openly on their pictures. I feel like to be a woman cosplayer you have to have a ridiculous BS tolerance level, use the block button liberally, or just ignore the comment section all together (which is a good rule of thumb for any Internet forum, really). It shouldn’t be that way, though. It’d be nice if people could just admire the photos for the craftsmanship of the costume and the photography, and not act like the cartoon wolf from Looney Tunes. So that’s definitely in the negative column…
Of course, the Internet is also a great resource for learning new skills, techniques, research and the like. So it’s not all trash, and I’d like to think the majority of people aren’t nitwits, so hopefully the good is outweighing the trash.
15. How many Cons do you attend a year?
I go to anywhere between three or five a year, all in the New England and northeast region so far. I’d like to go to more and travel outside of the northeast, but it’s a money issue.
16. Any advice for novices?
I’d say, “start small and easy” but that’s not how I got into costuming. I wanted a 17th Century doublet and cassock and, by golly, those were the first two things I ever made. Same thing with leather. It was suggested I make something small like a pouch or a bottle holder, but instead I jumped into the deep end and made the Kenway vest.
So I guess my advice is pick a character you love and make it how you want to make it. If you want to go simple to start, go simple to start. If you want it super detailed, go for it. Just keep your skill level in mind but be sure to push those boundaries, too.
Do as much research as you need, be willing to learn new skills and screw up from time to time (crying with a seam ripper is a pastime), and have fun. Upgrading over time is perfectly acceptable and allows you to see your skills and costume improve.
If for some reason costuming is feeling more like a chore than fun, take a break, do something else and try again the next day. At the end of the day, cosplaying is a hobby for most people and that’s what hobbies are all about — having fun.
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