Like many cosplayers, Elizabeth Lau, also known as Kittie Cosplay (@kittiecosplay), still remembers the first Halloween costume she ever made. Bored with the predictable annual parade of witches, ghosts and pirates, Lau made a costume of Reptile from the 1992 Mortal Kombat video game. Despite the fact that it would be years before she learned the term "cosplay," Lau was hooked. She wore costumes to concerts and sporting events, threw themed parties—any excuse to wear a costume.
“So I guess I was cosplaying before I even heard of the term, cosplay,” Lau said. “I didn't even learn of the word until 2013, which is also the year I went to my first comic convention and learned that there was a whole entire community of people just like me! Ever since then, I've been hitting the cosplay scene at full force, well, at the capacity that time and budget will allow me, anyways.”
Following her discovery of a like-minded community, Lau threw herself into cosplay. She attended the usual conventions but also went to concerts, sporting events, charity events, parades and private costume parties. Within a five-month period, Lau attended more than 20 events leading to the realization that she needed to pace herself.
Currently, she averages between 12-15 events and 10 new costumes per year. Living in San Francisco, there's no shortage of opportunities to cosplay. Giants and 49ers games are often themed, and Lau is only too happy to play. One year, she made a Wonder Woman costume but switched the WW logo for SF. She created a Katana from Suicide Squad cosplay, switching out the red color elements for Giants' orange and including a Giants' logo on the jacket sleeve.
Lau has cosplayed as Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels, Edna Mode from The Incredibles, Jubilee from the X-Men, a female Two-Face from Batman, Jean Grey from X-Men, a ghostbuster, Marvel's Hela, Marvel's Sinara, Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China, the yellow ranger from Power Rangers, Ayla from Chrono Trigger, an Ewok, a punk interpretation of Sailor Mercury and Kubo's mother from Kubo and the Two Strings, and that's the short list. Mashup characters are Lau's specialty. Her cosplay resume boasts Lilo Fett (Lilo from Lilo & Stitch + Boba Fett from Star Wars), Sailor Mulan (Sailor Scout from Sailor Moon + Mulan) Jedi Alice (Jedi from Star Wars + Alice from Alice in Wonderland) and Kitty Pool (Hello Kitty + Deadpool).
“I especially enjoy the creative process in designing them. Combining characters is so much fun,” Lau explained. “But a mashup needs to be well balanced. You don't want one character to overwhelm the other. A random person needs to be able to see your cosplay and instantly understand the two characters you are combining.”
Along the way, Lau has learned a number of skills that are particularly useful when building costumes including working with craft foam, EVA foam, Sintra® PVC Foam, Bondo putty, Worbla thermoplastics, pink insulation and expanding foam. Spray paint poses a logistical nightmare to a cosplayer in San Francisco. The year-round conditions are cold, damp and windy, resulting in weather that Lau calls “a nightmare for spray painting.” In fact, on more than one occasion, poor spray painting conditions forced Lau to put a cosplay on hold.
Lau's sewing skills have seen a dramatic improvement over the years and buying a sewing machine upped her cosplay game considerably, creating more opportunities to construct costumes from scratch. As to the other skills she's acquired, Lau is not content to stick to a limited skillset.
“I find myself getting bored of using just one material and before I can perfect the use of that one, I find myself wanting to discover and learn about something new. I used to only use craft foam for armor, then I discovered Worbla, then I was introduced to Sintra (PVC foam) and bondo for better durability, then EVA foam and pink insulation foam and expanding foam … My knowledge of available material has grown and now I have more options to choose from when creating a cosplay.”
When it comes to choosing new characters to cosplay, Lau tends to steer toward characters marked by nostalgia, emerging from the woodwork of her childhood. But her favorite cosplays are the ones that elicit a joyful response from children who see her.
“My Yellow Ranger and Sabine Wren cosplays are favorites among kids. Having a child run up, hug you and say you are their hero is the most amazing feeling in the world. I'll admit that there were a few times I got teary-eyed under my helmet … I've gotten messages from parents weeks later after wearing one of these cosplays, thanking me for doing what I do … I've even heard a child, after giving me a hug, tell their parents that it's like being at Disneyland. I mean, if you can get a child to feel like they are at the happiest place on earth, why would you not want to wear these cosplays?”
In 2017, Lau happened to bump into McThor at a convention. Although she'd seen him at previous conventions, it was the first time she'd ever seen him with other McVengers. Lau was impressed with the quality of their costumes and, being a seasoned mashup cosplayer herself, she wanted in.
“I ran right up to them and without even thinking I yelled out, ‘I want to make a JolliWasp!'” she remembers.
Although she hadn't given the mashup consideration before blurting it out, the combination made a lot of sense. Jollibee was Lau's favorite fast food brand and the leap from the company's bee mascot to Marvel's Wasp wasn't that far. In January of 2018, McThor reached out to Lau and her husband (who now cosplays as Grimos) with the invitation every mashup-loving cosplayer dreams of: join the McVengers.
Then came the time to bring JolliWasp to life. Lau decided to use the movie version of the Wasp since the other McVengers were inspired by the movies rather than the comics. At that point, Ant-Man and the Wasp wasn't yet out in theaters and Lau found herself scouring the internet for a glimpse of the Wasp's new costume. From scouring the internet, she found herself scouring craft stores and warehouses searching for the exact red fabric she needed for her suit. Unable to find the fabric she needed and running out of time before the next convention, Lau commissioned a custom-designed suit and turned her attention to the elaborate helmet and wings.
The decision to commission her suit from a fellow cosplayer supports Lau's belief that there's no wrong to cosplay. “Cosplay is for all, no matter what skill level you are,” she said. “You can buy a costume, alter existing clothing or make something completely from scratch. It doesn't matter. As long as you are wearing a costume, have a passion for the character and are having fun doing it, that is cosplay.”
For the helmet, Lau turned to the go-to material used by cosplayers to create everything from helmets to weapons to armor: EVA foam. Some cosplayers utilize templates, but Lau prefers the trial and error approach, building her helmet one foam piece at a time. Once the basic structure was established, she sealed the foam with three layers of Mod Podge, colored the helmet with acrylic paint and added Jollibee logos she had pulled from Jollibee cups. She added air holes in the helmet's snout, ensuring she can breathe comfortably while wearing the costume. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the lens from fogging up when it's hot outside, limiting JolliWasp's visibility. But the experienced cosplayer simply applies a layer of liquid soap to eliminate fogging. She also ensured that the face mask is easy to remove and secure in place with magnets so she can wipe off the lens or get some air without having to remove the entire helmet.
The backpack was built utilizing roughly the same materials—EVA foam and Jollibee food packaging. Lau cut the wings out of a clear plastic vinyl she happened to have around the house, and added silver acrylic paint for the details. Knowing that her first convention would have limited space, Lau decided to make her wings retractable to prevent any harm befalling either the wings or people who came into contact with her wings. She is, however, in the process of making another set of extended wings she plans to debut at a convention or event with sufficient space. The Wasp's wrist stingers became gauntlets made from Jollibee mango pie containers and craft foam.
“And as for the shoes, forget about finding yellow ones! I ended up using Angelus leather shoe paint and painting shoes yellow,” Lau concluded.
On June 9, 2018, JolliWasp made her McVengers debut at San Francisco Comic Con and, more specifically, the Oakland Convention Center. She was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.
“I knew it would not be as well known as the other fast food chains on the McVengers' team and was afraid knowledge of the restaurant would only be limited to the Filipino community,” she explained. “But to my surprise, JolliWasp was a hit! I even had multiple people come up to me thanking me for choosing a restaurant to represent the Filipino community. Not only am I extremely proud to be a member of the McVengers, but I am proud to represent my heritage and community through cosplay.”
Lau understands the value of representation from her own experiences as a young Asian woman growing up obsessed with pop culture. One of her favorite cosplays is the Yellow Ranger from Power Rangers. She shared what the Yellow Ranger meant to her on Instagram as she developed her Yellow Ranger cosplay. This is what she said:
“On Sept 3, 2001, we had the tragedy of losing Thuy Trang, best known as Trini Kwan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Being Asian, growing up we had very little representation in film, and Thuy was one of the less than a handful of Asian-Americans on screen that I looked up to. I was 13 years old when @powerrangers debuted in the US. Just beginning high school myself, I was so ecstatic to see a show of teenage superheroes AND with a character that looked like me! I know that Thuy's career in film was short, but I've wondered, especially with the recent success of @crazyrichasians, that if she was still with us, what her role and impact in film would be today. I know for myself, the impact she had on me will forever be instilled in my heart.”
Elizabeth's Cosplay Dictionary
Cosplay WIP: Cosplay work in progress. Sometimes cosplayers like to post a picture or video of their WIP, to show people what they are working on and their progress.
CosPlans: What you plan to wear to a specific event.
Cosplay Lineup: Finalizing your cosplans, and announcing what you decided to wear and on what particular days to a specific event.
Kragle: Krazy glue. This term was adapted from The LEGO Movie from other cosplay friends. I loved the term and it stuck!
ConCrunch: All-night crafting sessions, cramming to finish your cosplay to have it finished to debut by a certain deadline. Often ConCrunch will happen all the way up to the day, even hours before it needs to be debuted.
Worbla: A self-adhesive thermoplastic, made moldable and pliable with a heat gun.
Elizabeth's Advice to First-Time CosplayersDon't be afraid to ask questions. Most cosplayers are extremely friendly and enjoy talking about their craft and offering advice. YouTube is also a great way to learn about cosplay and crafting techniques. Remember to stay true to yourself and cosplay for you, not for other people. And most important … have fun! That's why it's called, cosPLAY!