Is there any phrase in all the world that better captures the spirit of the Golden State than “hella In-N-Out”? Bay Area cosplayer Bastian O'Dair (@crylo.gwen) undeniably struck gold with her McVengers mashup merging Marvel's Asgardian Goddess of Death with the California-based fast food chain that popularized the Double Double, Animal Style, of course.
When McThor initially approached O'Dair about joining the McVengers, he proposed that she could permanently assume the mantle of Lady McSif which had been temporarily cosplayed by several different people. But O'Dair had other ideas. Specifically, she wanted to be a villain.
“As someone from the Bay Area, ‘hella' is probably the third most common word that comes out of my mouth on the daily and In-N-Out is so Californian I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to do the mashup once I'd thought of it,” she explained.
O'Dair captured her vision for the character in a master design before reaching out to El Macho Design & Cosplay, requesting a digital pattern for a Hela body suit. She took those designs and commissioned ZentaiZone.com to print and sew the bodysuit. O'Dair then turned her attention to her elaborate headdress, which she designed and made with help from her boyfriend Yaudiel Flores—known as Burger Loking among the McVengers. The base of the headdress was made using EVA foam, which is not O'Dair's favorite material to work with. In fact, she calls working with the material “the most difficult” skill she's worked to acquire since she started cosplaying in 2014.
The Animal Style fries emblazoned on the front of her helmet were made from thin scraps of foam, tacky glue, acrylic paint and foam shavings. O'Dair also produced two different red satin capes to accessorize her costume. With less than a month to pull the entire costume together, Hela In-N-Out made her McVengers debut at 2018 WonderCon in March.
O'Dair's love for cosplay began in the spring of 2014—her senior year of high school—when her friends decided to attend FanimeCon in San Jose. O'Dair decided to tag along, throwing together a last-minute Princess Ai costume from Courtney Love and Stuart Levy's manga series.
In the years since, O'Dair has worked to master wig styling, makeup application, prop making and alterations to existing garments. There are times when O'Dair doubts herself, wondering how much she's truly evolved as a cosplayer. Then she looks at photos of her earliest cosplays and recognizes the difference, proving that four years of experience has taught her something, even if there's always something new to learn. Like many of her fellow McVengers, O'Dair has encountered fallacies about the cosplay community, as well as cosplayers who attempt to police the community.
“Misconceptions about cosplay would be that you have to make your own cosplays, etc. to be considered a ‘real' cosplayer, that it's super/too expensive and that you have to be or do xyz to cosplay xyz character,” O'Dair explained. “Nope! Cosplay is for everyone!”
Like several of her fellow McVengers, O'Dair loves cosplaying a good mashup character. Her first was Kylo Gwen, combining a space-inspired version of Gwen's spider suit with a variation of Kylo Ren's helmet and accessorized with an embellished tulle cape and a pink light saber. This character would inspire O'Dair's online handle, @crylo.gwen. This was followed by Negwen—a mashup of Spider-Gwen and Negan from The Walking Dead. She's also working on a new cosplay combining Spider-Gwen and a Mandalorian. While she's already made some props for the latter, she wants to develop her foam smith skills before tackling the entire costume.
“I love mashups because it's an opportunity to express my creativity and because I love watching people try to figure out what, exactly, they're seeing,” O'Dair explained.
You might have the impression that Spider-Gwen is O'Dair's all-time favorite character but there is one Marvel superhero standing in Gwen's way. O'Dair's uncle introduced her to Jean Grey alias Marvel Girl alias Phoenix alias Dark Phoenix through comics and O'Dair immediately developed a preference for the character. But the timing was off. Jean Grey had already lived and died several times over while O'Dair was still a kid. Then Marvel introduced All-New X-Men in 2012 and O'Dair finally “got to grow up with her in the same way that I imagine people had when the X-Men comics first came out."
“It truly made me fall in love with her all over again,” O'Dair explained. “Jean Grey has managed to come back from everything the world threw at her, and that's been inspirational to me.” To date, O'Dair has done eight variations of a Jean Grey cosplay and, not surprisingly, she cites Marvel, X-Men and Star Wars as her favorite fandoms.
On average, O'Dair estimates that she completes three to four new cosplays each year, with the amount of time devoted to each varying based on difficulty level and how challenging it is to source the materials. Like many cosplayers, O'Dair struggles to achieve the ideal cosplay-work-life balance. In addition to cosplaying, O'Dair models, studies creative writing at San Francisco State and works as a cake decorator. She's not alone in the struggle, acknowledging that many of her friends who cosplay endure the same challenges, working to balance school, work and the hobby that fires their imagination and inspires their creativity.
While many—if not most—cosplayers share triumphs and struggles, forming a community that supports and inspires, this isn't always the case. Some cosplayers allow their judgmental natures to get the better of them. And when that happens, O'Dair, and many of her fellow McVengers, step up to advocate for inclusivity. And when the McVengers step up, they channel the fierceness, courage and nobility of their Avenger counterparts.
On March 9, O'Dair had the following to say on Instagram:
“Yesterday, a handful of you tagged me in your #InspirationalWomen stories and posts, and had so many kind things to say. There's a lot of love to be shared throughout the cosplay community, and you all continue to inspire and impress me every single day, too.
“But, there's a darker, more toxic side to the community as well ... Today, @mcthor_cosplay nominated me to speak about bullying in the cosplay community. I've experienced it—I can't think of anyone who hasn't. I catch a lot of flack for doing mash-ups/crossovers, for (constantly) diverging from ‘canon' cosplays, doing pin-up versions of character and for (and this is my personal favorite) not making my own costumes. Not to mention sometimes getting quizzed on my knowledge of certain things ...
“Like @mcthor_cosplay said, a lot of this comes from the ‘Cosplay Police.' Cosplaying doesn't have any rules—not in any form, and not at any level. Cosplay is a display of love for a character/fandom, and how accurate, intricate or detailed, or whatever, shouldn't matter/affect that. Your cosplay choices, whatever they may be, don't make you any more or less valid as a cosplayer (or fan). It's more important to have fun and enjoy yourself than it is to be ‘perfect.'
“Yesterday, a lot of you said the confidence I display was inspirational. I don't always feel confident doing certain things. I especially don't feel confident when I hear unsolicited (and frankly, rude) criticisms or commentaries on my projects. I do them for fun—that's why you don't see me entering contests. But, I'll let you guys in on a secret: I don't cosplay for anyone but myself. I don't hold myself to anyone else's standards. And I certainly don't let those negative comments stop me from going down the path I love.
“YOUR reception of your cosplay is the one that should be important. Let your sparkle shine, because you're just as valid as every other cosplayer out there, no matter what you're doing.”
Bastian O'Dair's Cosplay Dictionary
"Cosplay is Not Consent" is the phrase that comes to mind. This phrase deals with consent in the cosplay community and refers to etiquette and appropriate behavior. Cosplayers are sometimes treated like objects rather than actual human beings, and this phrase reminds people to take a step back and not act as though the cosplayer is the actual character. It also deals with the role of the photographer within the community and the idea of disclosure and permission.
Bastian O'Dair's Advice to First-Time Cosplayers
The best advice I can give to someone is to have fun cosplaying. It's so important that you're enjoying yourself and expressing your love for a character or a fandom in your own way. And don't let people try to police how you cosplay—there is NO right or wrong way. Cosplay is for EVERYONE.