(Originally Published October 8, 2019)
Every now and then an interviewer feels extremely privileged. He/She feels privileged that he/she thought of the interview subject. ‘That the subject said yes. ‘That he/she was inspired with good questions and the subject was inspired with great answers. Sometimes everthing all comes together, and a simple conversation can become something that takes some masters years to produce: a work of art.
The cosplayer and subject of this interview is an old school veteran of cosplay and a geek for the ages. Like so many gifted and dedicated masters, cosplay has served more than a means of expression. Sometimes it has been therapy. Sometimes a coping mechanism. Sometimes it has even been a means to give back to people that may feel that Life has short-changed.
In the time that he has set aside from his very busy and giving schedule, he has given us true pearls of knowledge and wisdom, plucked from his very bittersweet Life experiences.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am extremely pleased to publish this interview I had with The True Aquaman.
Arkhamesque Cosplay suggested that you would be perfect for our Up and Coming Cosplayer series. You are only the second character cosplayer that we have interviewed in this series, or at all. Why did you become a character cosplayer? Why did you choose Aquaman?
Unlike the majority of people who cosplay today, I became involved in the Cosplay scene through a tragic turn of events, but given the way it turned out, although still heartbreaking, I have made the best of it. I did not choose cosplay. Cosplay chose me. I will go into greater detail of my beginnings later, but I have been an active cosplayer since 2005. I dabbled in costuming like a lot of people do for Halloween, as it was my favorite holiday, but today I joke with many of my fellow cosplayers, that Halloween is now considered “Amateur Night” to the cosplay community.
Just like cosplay, I did not actually choose to be Aquaman. In fact, I fought the idea for almost a year. When the idea was first brought up, I was cosplaying with a group of people who would do large group cosplays such as Resident Evil, Marvel X-Men, Road Warrior, etc. I was cosplaying Iron Man in an 85 lbs armored suit as was incredibly popular at conventions, as the Marvel film had come out the year before. It was really awesome being in the limelight with my fellow cosplay friends who were currently doing the Avengers characters from both comic book and movie versions. After a while, the group decided to change things up and try doing DC characters. This person jumped on Batman and Superman. This girl picked Wonder Woman, and another Black Canary. Then several of them turned to me and said I had to be Aquaman. I was not interested. I was getting a lot of convention love as Iron Man, and now these people wanted me to become a 2nd string Superhero that everyone likes to make fun of because of the cartoon Super Friends. It took about a year of constant badgering before I gave in and had a very talented seamstress who worked for Sea World, make me the classic costume. I even made sure that it was totally usable in the water. This was about 11 years ago, before Flashpoint and the New 52 reboot of most of the DC characters. So as I walked around the conventions, I got a LOT of people asking me if I was Mermaid Man from SpongeBob Squarepants. That was painful as it happened a lot. Or if our group was doing a group photo, the photographer would line up Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman and then I would get, “Ok Aquaman, I guess you can be in the picture too.” I stuck it out for a couple of years until one faithful day at MegaCon in Orlando, changed everything.
I was leaving the main floor of the convention to help a friend back to their hotel room as they were not feeling well, and was stopped by an old lady who asked if I would take a photo with her husband, I kindly obliged. I did a few hero poses next to the older gentleman as his wife used a disposable camera to take a few shots. As I went to walk away, the old man gently grabbed my arm and told me I was exactly how he imagined Aquaman would look. I thanked him and went to walk away again, he again grabbed my arm and explained that I was the living embodiment of his imagination. I told him I was humbled by his words and that I took great pride in bringing this character to life. He then asked me if I knew who he was, and I replied that I didn’t. That was when he told me he was Nick Cardy, the man responsible for the character design of Aquaman. His wife was escorting him to a panel for the Golden Age of Comic Book Artists, with Stan Lee, George Perez, and several others, when he saw me and had to have a picture. He then told me that he was in awe of how much I looked like the idea he had in his mind’s eye all those decades ago, and that I was “The True Aquaman” he envisioned, and that was how I got the cosplay name of The True Aquaman. That day forward, I took on becoming the best Aquaman cosplayer I could. Shortly after that event, DC released the series Flashpoint and followed it up with the New 52 Reboot that changed Aquaman from continuing to be a joke character as seen in the Super Friends, to a fierce and noble character of the Justice League, and a well-respected standalone comic book hero.
What other characters do you cosplay as? About how many variations of Aquaman do you think you’ve costumed?
I currently have over 40 different cosplay costumes in my various wardrobes and closets. I have various Star Wars characters, several Marvel cosplays, TV show characters, video game interpretations, and movie heroes like James Bond and Resident Evil Special Operations Soldier. Iron Man has always been dear to my heart, as I love the story of tragedy reshaping the mindset of the hero, as I can relate in a very personal way. As for Aquaman, I currently have 11 variations on the costumes, and am currently working on 2 new versions that I hope to reveal later this year.
You are actually more than the average character cosplayer. You have a lot of fandoms that you cosplay in. You’re a Trekker. You’re a Star Wars fanboy. You even dabble in…*gasp*…Marvel..!!! With all of those cosplay in all of those, and other, fandoms, can we still call you a character cosplayer?
I do dabble in a lot of different Fandoms because I am a true Geek at Heart. My first comic book hero cosplay was actually Angel from the X-Men. I had this beautiful set of giant white wings custom made, and developed a harness system inside a black X-Men movie leather biker style suit. It was impressive, but very difficult to maneuver inside of a convention. Even though my true start in Cosplay was Star Wars related, I have always been a fan of both the Star Wars and Star Trek worlds. Not only am I a geek, I am a total closet science nerd as well, so Star Trek feeds my nerdy side as the technology and science on the show is much more possible to believe. I grew up watching G.I. Joe, and so I have done a couple of those characters, with one being a direct farce from Robot Chicken’s character Fumbles/Trouser Snake. I am an avid video game player with FPS being my favorites, and so I have done Assassin’s Creed Ezio from Revelations, and several characters from the franchise of Fallout. People say I have a resemblance to Daniel Craig (I personally don’t see it), so I have cosplayed his version of James Bond for several photo shoots. The list goes on and on, but I have been referred to as “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and I am extremely humbled by that title, as it is a reference to one of my favorite books by author, Joseph Campbell.
I am certainly a character Cosplayer. No matter who I cosplay these days outside of my Aquaman costumes, I am constantly asked, “Aren’t you that Aquaman guy?” I am always “That Aquaman Guy,” in or out of cosplay. It’s like being a firefighter (by which I was for 6 years). When you’re a firefighter, you are always a firefighter in or out of uniform, on or off duty; you are that persona. That is what it is like for me today. I am always Aquaman.
Looking at some of the younger and newer cosplayers coming up on the scene, would you say that there are different kinds of cosplayers? Are there different types, maybe even classes of cosplayers? What kind of cosplayer would you consider yourself?
‘Most defiantly. The new and younger cosplayers have access to technology and materials that have changed the whole face of costume construction. When I started, vacuum forming and mold making were the cutting edge. Today, 3D printing, and EVA foam & thermalplastics have made costumes that would have cost thousands of dollars and weighed a ton. (Costumes) now weigh next to nothing and cost a fraction of the cost. The newer cosplayers also have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips with YouTube videos that explain countless ways to overcome any cosplay construction problem, where 8-10 years ago, you had to search forums in hopes of finding someone who had experienced the same issue and was willing to share their solutions. The other side of the newer and younger cosplayers on the scene is their attraction to characters from the Asian animation series and video game characters vs. Pop Culture comic book characters. The exception to this is if the character is in a recent blockbuster movie or TV show, and is the popular cosplay flavor of the month.
In my belief, there are several types of people who wear costumes. The first type is the fan of a fandom who wears a costume to show their love of a character or fandom. This is usually not a well-fitted or accurate costume, but allows the person to align with others that are fans such as themselves. The next is a costumer, this is the person who wears an outfit because they think they look good in it, but have no deep affiliation to the particular fandom. They tend to not know much about the character or it’s particular fandom. These have become even more prevalent since the popularity in the boom of superhero movies and TV shows. People want to be considered part of the “Cool Kid Club,” so they dress up like a movie or TV character to fit in at comic book conventions. The last is a true Cosplayer. The Cosplayer is the person who looks and acts the part of the particular character that they portray. If asked a detail question about their particular fandom, the Cosplayer can answer it, and do so as if they are actually the character. This is an actor-like representation of a character while you are in costume. That is my definition of a Cosplayer.
I consider myself a professional cosplayer. I don’t make a living at being a cosplayer, nor do I make a lot of money at all, but I do get all my costs for attending a convention covered and am expected to be at the events for a set amount of time like a job, so that makes me a professional. There are very few cosplayers that can make a living as a professional cosplayer unless they are also doing outside of convention means like Patreon, or as a commissioned seamstress/prop builder.
I am most certainly a Cosplayer. When I am in costume, I become the character in every way possible to make the other convention attendees believe they are meeting a real superhero.
With the DCU revamping Aquaman’s image, it adds a new sexiness to him, but in my opinion, takes away part of his old charm. What do you think? How has it affected your cosplay game with Aquaman?
WOW! This is a real hot topic for me. The DCMU casting for Aquaman did so much to make people’s understanding of Aquaman more than a little convoluted. By changing every aspect of the character’s iconic look and changing so many of the details of his origin story, fans are left having to go through great lengths to explain why the movie version is a farce to the almost 80 year legacy of what Aquaman is really like. I am beyond disappointed in what Snyder has done to the entire DCMU with his poor casting and deplorable execution of several of the films leading up to the release of Aquaman. So instead of a regal and deep character from decades of comics, the non-comic book reading masses, who only have seen the movies, believe Aquaman is a shallow beer guzzling and brawling barbarian-like character who is the butt of most of the movie’s onscreen jokes, and if you go through any toy isle and look at the DC figures, you have to ask yourself why there is blond haired and blue eyed Aquaman action figure, and another action figure calling itself Aquaman that looks like a barbarian. I understand the reason Snyder chose the person he did, as financially getting women to see a shirtless version of a person they loved in the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” would increase box office sales, but in doing so, he crapped on the iconic nature of the artists that worked on making Aquaman an amazing and extremely complex comic book character for decades. My perfect casting for an onscreen actor for the part of Aquaman would have been Charles Hunnam from the series “Sons of Anarchy.” He has the natural look and build as well as the character acting skill necessary to pull off a regal, yet deeply conflicted character like Aquaman.
Princess Nova “The True Wonder Woman” as Mera
It has been a bit of a game changer in some ways and a hidden blessing in others. As I walk through conventions now, I get a lot more recognition from true fans that point me out to their friends and family as they tell them “That is what Aquaman is supposed to look like!” It has made Mera a popular character for females to cosplay, and so I now get a lot more opportunities to shoot with some amazing people while I am in one of my many incarnations of Aquaman. I have been asked if I would ever do a Momoa version of Aquaman, and I refuse to lower myself to that, but I have worn a movie version of the costume, but as a blonde haired and blue eyed traditional Aquaman look, and this has proven to be very favorable with fans. Those that know a little about Aquaman often call me out as “OG Aquaman” or “Classic Aquaman” when they pass me. I am okay with that. I congratulate any cosplayers I see who are cosplaying as Momoa, as it is a hot commodity due to the movie, but that’s just it, they are cosplaying a person, Momoa, and not truly Aquaman, because if they were true fans of the iconic character, they would not try to look like the movie. If you saw the film “Into the Spider-Verse”, there was a character called “Spider Ham.” This character is a real character in the multiverse of the Spider-Man characters, but is considered more of a joke then a serious version of Spider-Man. This is the same classification I give to Momoa. His is a farce version of Aquaman in the DC Multiverse. I know that my opinion is not always a popular one, especially with people who think the Sun rises and sets on Momoa because they are highly attracted to him, but I have a bias against his portrayal out of years of following the Comic book character, and learning every detail about Aquaman’s actual back stories.
You cosplay as lots of cosplays other than Aquaman. You even cosplay with heavier armour builds. What types of materials and techniques do you like to use in your crafting?
I craft in a lot of different mediums, and I am always looking to get into using new techniques, like 3D printing and thermalplastics. It is fun to learn new things through trial and error, but I am a perfectionist, so I will not display any of my builds until I believe it is the very best portrayal I can bring to the convention floor.
Arkhamesque Cosplay said that she met you during a school function for the kids. Looking at your Facebook, I can see that you donate a lot of time to charity. Do you know how many hours on average you donate a year?
I have been a part of Cosplay Charity work since my induction into Cosplay almost 14 years ago. Each year varies, as it depends on the opportunities that present themselves. I easily do more than a 100 hours a year donating my time and efforts to helping charities while I am in Cosplay.
Charity is very important to you. Could you please give our readers a glimpse into what motivates you to give so much?
Bringing happiness and smiles and children and those who are kids at heart is a major motivation to my life as a cosplayer. There is no dollar amount that can compare to the value of the smiles and the joy in the eyes of people in the photos taken with me in character. For some of those I visit and do charity work for, a smile is hard to come by due to their medical conditions or environmental situations, so the moments I get to spend with these individuals, I make the most of it by giving them my heart and soul so they know a true superhero cares about them in their time of need.
Are there any charities work with regularly? What are some of the more memorable charities that you have worked with? Are there any that hold a special place in your heart?
Camp Challenge is a particularly special one as they hold two Christmas events a year (one in the Summer and one in Dec). The reason they throw two a year is that some of the children in attendance will not live long enough to see Christmas, so it is important to make a big deal about the holiday events. The children are always so grateful to the presence of all the cosplay characters, and we are always turning on the charm and good times to make each event one of the child’s greatest memories.
I don’t want to bring up anything too painful, but as a journalist I ask things that I think the people would like to know, or that guests might want to share for a bigger picture. Would you like to talk about your son, and what geek he was; just like his father?
My son is the sole reason I became a cosplayer in the first place. I will not go into the whole story, as it is a book length in itself. In summary, My Son, Christian, was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was 7 years old. While going through treatment in the hospital, he became a huge Star Wars fan and believed his cancer battle was actually his Jedi Trials. I played into his belief by becoming his Jedi Master in full-on Cosplay fashion. About a year later, upon his death, I was introduced to the cosplay charity groups “The 501st Legion” & “Rebel Legion.” These dedicated cosplayers served as my Son’s Honor Guard during his Celebration of Life Ceremony. Three months later, I finished my first 501st approved costume and attended my first charity cosplay event in Miami, and that in turn, launched my life into the world of being a Bona fide Cosplayer.
Do you have a crew of like-minded cosplayers that you like to cosplay with? ‘Perhaps classic Super Friends, or cosplayers that donate a lot of time to causes?
Over the years, I have been a part of lots of different groups that were both just cosplay related and charity based. As I now travel so much for conventions all over the country and internationally, having a crew has become very difficult to maintain, as they hardly ever have the means to go to all the same conventions that I attend. Now, if I have the time at some of the larger conventions, if I see a posting for a DC group photoshoot, I try to break away from my booth to get in on the event. As for charity work, I was part of several groups, but in-fighting and egos made it an uncomfortable environment to want to do charity events in, so now I do a lot of private invite level charity events where an individual or an organization reaches out to me personally, and asks me to be there for their events. This has been a lot more fulfilling, and has given me a lot more great personal opportunities then I had with just about any group I was once affiliated with.
I see you like to hit movie screenings in cosplay, a lot. What kind of non-convention events do you like to go to just for fun? How often to you hit up random geek events?
Movie premiers are always a fun time as the fan base gets an added thrill to their movie experience when then find out that a character from the film is in the lobby for a fun photo opportunity. I am always booked at one, if not more stores for events like Free Comic Book Day or Comic Book Holiday events, and of course, charity events and personal meet and greets are highest on my list of things to do that are non-convention related.
Several times a year I will see something geek related that will be going on that is within comfortable driving range, and take time out of my schedule to go have some geek level fun and entertainment. Case in point, there was an event at the beginning of July up in St. Augustine, FL. There was a Creature from the Black Lagoon triple event at an art film theater. Those that know me, know I am a HUGE!!! Creature from the Black Lagoon fan, so much so, that I hope to Cosplay and do a major photo shoot as the creature at some point in the future. The event was a showing of the original movie, a performance by my good friend “The Kilted Creature,” followed by a showing of “Return of the Creature.” I have also been known to show up at Fringe Festival here in Orlando in my Aquaman outfits, and just have random fun with festival goers.
Are there any last thoughts that you would like to share with our readers, for this interview?
Being a cosplayer for the last 14 years has exposed me to some of the most amazing people and opportunities, but it has also shown me some of the meanest and most evil people in the world that use cosplay as a means to hide their true ugliness. I have had to turn the other cheek more times then I care to discuss. This community is supposed to be about the love of fandoms, and celebrating each other’s love of being a geek in an environment that is open to all walks of life. The number one rule of the cosplay and geek community needs to be “Don’t Be a Dick!” I got into this world under a very traumatic ordeal in my life, and so I try to make the most of every day I get the opportunity to be apart of, and help others enjoy it as well. A quote I often tell people about my involvement as a cosplayer is this: “My Son never got to grow up, so I have decided neither will I” I will forever be a big kid who enjoys playing dress-up as a means of my own coping therapy for the loss I have had to endure, so each and every smile I bring to the face of someone in my company while I am in cosplay is currency with a value that will be forever unimaginably precious.