Four years ago, Brandon Isaacson came up with the ultimate mashup: Marvel's Thor, god of thunder, and McDonald's Ronald McDonald. Within two years, Isaacson was actively recruiting cosplayers—including Steve Lau (@bananasteve.cosplay)—to join the McVengers. Isaacson suggested that Lau consider Thanos for the Marvel half of his mashup and Lau immediately knew that Grimace was the other half of the equation, calling the pair “a fit made in cosplay mashup heaven.”
But bringing an enormous purple fast food villain to life wasn't going to happen overnight. Lau was still working out the logistics—with help from Kittie Cosplay, who plays JolliWasp in the McVengers—when Avengers: Infinity War was released in April 2018. The moment Star-Lord called Thanos Grimace, Lau knew he was going to have to work faster.
It's pretty common to see multiple cosplays of popular characters at conventions but if Lau encountered a well-executed Thanos/Grimace mashup before he could finish his costume, there was a decent chance he'd lose his motivation to finish the cosplay. That's what happened to his dream cosplay, Gambit of X-Men fame. “He's such a complex character and his look is so cool and mysterious,” he explained. “I've seen some really good cosplay Gambits so I gave up attempting that one. Once you see someone do a cosplay that good you throw up your hands in surrender.”
Two months after Thanos destroyed half the universe, Lau debuted Grimos at Monterey Comic Con. But a lot of work happened in between. Planning and research took Lau longer than the actual construction because he was committed to building a cosplay that would be light and flexible while holding its shape, not an easy feat. Fortunately, Lau is part of a cosplay community that is happy to share ideas.
Mark Dreo—who cosplays as The Incredible Panda Express with the McVengers—had made a Pickle Rick costume utilizing a technique Lau thought would work for the head of his costume. And Adam Savage's incredible Totoro costume provided the inspiration for Grimos' body. Lau improvised as well, using reed where Savage used rattan. Finding the purple fleece that made up the majority of the costume proved challenging as well, and Lau ultimately visited multiple fabric stores before finding exactly what he needed.
Being based in San Francisco is an undeniable advantage for a cosplayer. Sure, the rainy weather and moisture limit opportunities to paint outside. But cosplayers in San Francisco have a wealth in material resources and supplies. “Even though we have chain retail businesses, we have the advantage of small mom and pop craft shops and fabric stores in the Bay Area, which can be gold mines for that one piece you need,” Lau said. “We hear horror stories of other cosplayers having to order or drive very far to get basic supplies or they have to improvise with what they can get their hands on, which is always a benefit of adapting to one's environment. You make it work because you have to McGyver it.”
In total, Lau estimates that constructing his Grimos cosplay took about two and a half weeks. There's no hard and fast rule about how long it takes a cosplayer to put a costume together. Factors like skill level, the type of costume and how much time the cosplayer can devote to the effort on a daily basis result in build times that vary substantially. Some cosplays—such as Lau's Mandalorian costume—require official club approval and can take more than a month to complete. When he's in con crunch mode, Lau estimates that he can complete a costume in two to three days. There's always some give and take between a desire to make something perfect and the need to finish a project on time so Lau follows the 30x30 rule which dictates that a costume should look good for 30 seconds from 30 feet away.
Given that Lau began his cosplay journey pretending to be Voltron, defender of the universe, by wearing cardboard that he pretended was armor, he's come a long way. Like many cosplayers, he cites EVA foam as a material that he frequently works with although he insists that he's not yet a foamsmith master like some of the cosplayers in his community. And he's beginning to dabble in LEDs to give his work an additional pop. It's not easy. There's almost always a significant learning curve when a cosplayer begins working with a new material or technique. But you watch the tutorials, request advice in the online forums and eventually it gets easier. Lau plans to purchase a 3D printer and work with latex, casting and molding.
Grimos was Lau's first cosplay mashup and he could not be more delighted by the experience despite, or perhaps because of, the added challenge. “The best part of mashups is combining two loves and figuring out what aspects of both characters need to be represented on the costume in a balanced manner. People need to understand what the mashup is and the mashup needs to make sense. It's a calculated balancing act to get it right.”
For Lau, making the costume is far from the end of the journey. He favors characters that he feels particularly passionate about, characters that he admires and enjoys and he wants the people he meets at conventions to enjoy and appreciate them as well. Lau's favorite cosplay is a character he calls BananaPool, which is simply Deadpool in a banana suit.
“Deadpool alone is fun because he is so random, crazy and weird but at the same time smart, witty and a little bit of a jerk. But when you add a banana suit, magic happens. Every time I cosplay BananaPool, kids love it and want to take a picture. Kids might not know a character or are too young to know which character is being cosplayed but everyone knows what a banana is and kids love to yell ‘banana!' No matter how over the top and silly I act, people love it and it always brings joy to kids. That's why I love cosplaying as BananaPool.”
As far as Lau is concerned, if he's wearing a costume he has a responsibility to bring that character to life—whether it's BananaPool, Grimos, Bruce Lee, Matt the radar technician from SNL or David Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. What makes Lau's Instagram feed stand out from the crowd is that he always looks like he's having the absolute best time.
“Another part of cosplay is becoming the character,” he explained. “Getting into the mood and mindset of that character is as much a part of the costume so studying up on quotes and catchphrases and being creative with your interactions with people. Know your fandom and be ready for random questions by people so you're prepared as a character. If someone is going to make a quick joke or statement about my costume/character, I better be prepared with a witty and clever come back. It all plays into the costume and the fun of cosplay; that's why it's called Cos-PLAY.”
Steve's Cosplay Dictionary
Cannon: Screen accurate or to the universe. An accurate depiction of an item, story, theme, or character from a particular universe.
Kragle: Crazy glue. A term used in The Lego Movie for Krazy Glue.
Greebles: Random accent items added to a prop to make it more accurate to the universe.
30-30: The costume needs to look good for 30 second from 30 feet away.
ConCrunch: Cramming to finish something due to limited time before a con, the internal battle between accuracy and the fact that it needs to be done.
Handler: Someone assisting the cosplayer at an event. Handlers are important for the survival and success of a cosplay(er). Thank you to all the handlers.
Screen Accurate: Something that is made to be an exact replica of what was used in the media (movie, TV, cartoon, comic, etc.)
Steve's Advice to First-Time Cosplayers
Do what you love and do your research. There's plenty of resources out there and you can find a group for ANY cosplay or nerdom. If you wanna cosplay Robin, there's a community of Robin cosplayers that might have some tips or advice. YouTube has a lot of videos that can help. Check if there are forums. There's plenty of groups and clubs out there for different fandoms so reach out to them; we're all friendly.
Know that Cosplay is like any other hobby and it costs money for the joy. You can spend $50 on an Iron Man suit from a retail store or $1,200 on a screen accurate one. It's all up to you on how much you want to put into your cosplays. Finally, HAVE FUN! The whole point is to have fun and enjoy what you're doing. You're sharing your fandom of someone or something visually, so don't get bogged down by stress and the negativity of others. Stay focused and have fun.