BEHIND THE MASK – A WORD ON COSPLAY…
When most of us think of cosplay, we think about the opportunity to meet and greet our favourite characters and stocking up on profile photo material for the foreseeable future.
This new series aims to shift the spotlight to the creative genius behind the masks.
The trials, tribulations, blood sweat and tears that goes into creating these masterpieces.
This is a written segment. The video feature is available above.
Justin Walter (Gamma Blast Cosplay) is a creative genius who hails from Durban. We had a chance to catch up with him to get an insight into his cosplay journey.
What really stood out to us is that cosplay as a whole is an integral part o his bond with his family with many of his costumes featuring his lovely wife or young daughter as well.
A high spirited and down to earth character, it was no easy feat peeling back the layers of his exuberance to get a peek behind his masks…
How did you arrive at your cosplay nickname?
It’s a reference to my favourite Marvel character the Incredible Hulk who was also the first character I ever cosplayed 10 years ago -long before I even knew what the word cosplay even meant!
So the way the story goes as many of you already know, exposure to gamma rays from an experimental bomb blast transformed Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk so I thought it would be fitting for me to base my handle on a reference to the first cosplay that started it all for me.
That’s crazy awesome – so wait how exactly did you get to that stage?
I’ve always loved geek culture starting way back in my younger years watching the Marvel animated series of the 90s, Star Wars, aliens etc but I didn’t start cosplaying until my 20s.
I took a working holiday in the UK for two years back in 2007/8 with my now wife Angela (Banwalt) and over there they take dressing up to a whole different level. Fandom and geek culture was just so much bigger there than it was back home in South Africa and I was inspired.
Besides Halloween in Durbs there didn’t seem like many major events to dress up for but returning to SA in 2009 I heard about a dress up Pub crawl in Durban called Sissy Hankshaw pan Galactic Gargle blaster tour (yes it’s a mouthful) where upward of 100 people would dress up in teams of two and hitchhike from pub to pub dressed in crazy outfits.
I wore an inflatable Hulk outfit I bought in London and Angela went as She Hulk. It was such a blast running around in character and we even won first place in the dress up competition!
We were hooked and ever since then I’ve wanted to make my own outfits and up my game as the competition intensifies each year. I just love making outfits for my wife and daughter and I based on our favourite characters.
Sissy Hankshaw has always been the biggest cosplay event we’ve attended (before CCA) and its been running for over 15 years with us participated in over 10 tours. We’ve even taken over organising the event, this year May being the first time we’ve managed it!
Like I said, it’s been a long road but it just keeps getting better!
What has been the response or reaction to you as a cosplayer?
Amazing! It’s always worth the effort and putting in the long hours making a costumes when you get to see people’s reactions.
There’s always such positive feedback and excitement that it generates. I love playing up as the characters and getting people to smile and laugh.
My favourite reactions so far is to the larger than life Groot! People couldn’t seem to believe their eyes looking at this 2.5m tall cosplayer!
It’s not all fun and games though, so have you had an unpleasant experience you can share or something that’s made you want to give it up?
I think the worst thing is building a cosplay that you pour hours and hours into but don’t achieve the result you wanted.
It’s a big sacrifice finding the time needed to pull off a technical cosplay with many early mornings waking up to get a few decent hours in before attending to family responsibilities and day job duties.
It’s a balancing act.
But if you really want to do something you can always somehow find the time to make it work.
So then in contrast I have to ask, what have been the best or most character defining moments for you as a cosplayer?
There are a number of things over the years that have continued to drive me forward.
We posted a video on YouTube back in 2011 of our transforming transformer outfits that is now sitting at over 2.5 million views!
This even led us to be invited to a resort in Malaysia to make the same transformer outfits for the resorts stage show. We even won a trip to the Seychelles at Splashy fen music festival with our Batman and Wonder Woman outfits.
But the most character defining moment happened more recently at Comic Con Africa a few months ago.
It was my first con ever and my first time being judged to such a high standard in the cosplay competition.
Seeing the Masters Division entrants and their level of dedication and detail to their cosplays made me realise just how much I want to improve my craft and up my game next year.
Also seeing so many people at CCA cosplaying whether they were competing or not showed me how much bigger the cosplay community is in SA than I thought previously.
I’m more fired up and inspired than ever!
Yes, the fan reaction to a cosplay is something else… On that note, if there were something you could say to people who are witnessing cosplay what would that be?
When you see someone in cosplay and would like to chat to them and take a picture with them by all means feel free to ask.
But don’t get offended or take a personally if you are turned down.
Being in an often uncomfortable hot cosplay can take its toll over time on anyone and even super heroes need to take a break sometimes!
That’s the sad reality I guess, but as the days go by I see that people are becoming more reasonable in that regard. Last one before we jet – if there were something to say to aspiring cosplayers what would that be?
If you want to do something start small and be prepared to put in the hours if you want to do it right.
With the wealth of info and tutorials available on the internet anyone can be capable of building anything.
If things don’t pan out first time you try just keep at it and don’t give up. At the end there’s no better feeling than pulling off a cosplay that you’ve made yourself and you are proud of. Some of the best experiences of my life have been while wearing a costume.
WHAT DID YOU THINK?
Getting into cosplay?
Have a question or two you would like us to answer?
Have suggestions for reviews/ features you would like us to investigate?
Feel free to hit us up and let’s get the dialogue going!
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