I want to introduce to the readers here on Amazing Stories, someone who I think is a phenomenal cosplayer and costumer. Since we can’t meet in person currently, or have any real comic cons to attend, we settled for some open-ended questions and lots of photos to convey the scope of his talents. My first question was “tell my readers a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, what you do outside of cosplay, anything you’d like to share.” Everything just sort of progressed from there and here is his story.
The Start of my Journey
My name is Toby (or “TJC Cosplays”) and I am from Harlow in Essex. Outside of cosplay I am a Wing Chun Kung Fu practitioner and have been training since July 2016. I also play 6-a-side football as a goalkeeper and I’m a semi-regular gym goer. I hold a first class Bachelors of Arts degree from the University of Hertfordshire for Interactive Media Design. Moreover, I used to be a freelance creative designer and photo retoucher (one of my niches was repairing old B&W photos and even colourising them.) Since acclimating into the cosplay community I have become an anti-bullying ambassador for GoGeek and even now run my own support group for cosplayers and creatives called “TJC CommUnity”. From an early age I have been subjected to bullying which triggered a lot of my mental health problems later in life; so I take my experiences to fight against it with others and help people who find themselves in a similar situation.
My first ever comic-con was in May 2017. However I didn’t truly begin my cosplay journey until a year later. I have always loved fancy dress, particularly making costumes. My very first ever costume build was when I was 10 I ripped apart an old school uniform and made a Kane costume. My next costume after that was 6 years later I created a Scarface/Antonio Montana costume which was to attend one of my oldest friends’ birthday party. I would always enjoy Halloween and her parties the most above all else.
When I was 17 I discovered Smallville, which was the catalyst to get me back into geeky media. From Smallville I started picking up comics, watching cartoons, films etc. and re-found my love for superheroes and even discovered that in America they had conventions for people like me. I had no idea comic-cons were even a thing in England so I wanted to set up my own; so I started planning one and even made a Link costume (from the legend of Zelda) when I was at University, but those plans were short lived and the costume was subsequently abandoned.
In May 2017 my friend Emma told me about MCM Comic-Con and invited me to come along. I was so excited. I ended up making a Red Hood costume and I absolutely loved the whole experience. The event was quite daunting at first and when I saw other Red Hood cosplayers they kind of looked down their noses at me because my costume wasn’t at the same level; but I didn’t let it spoil my day! Especially because I got to meet Donnie Yen who was the reason I got into Wing Chun the year before! Thinking at the time that this was only an annual event I started planning for next year!
Towards the end of 2017 I went through a huge depression which was only made worse when I nearly lost my Dad. As a way to cheer me up my best friend Sarah drew my portrait. Moreover this was the year I became obsessed with Wonder Woman, so the portrait she drew was me as Wonder Woman. We got talking about cosplay and she made a lot of sense in regards to dressing up: “why avoid cosplaying a character you love, admire and consider a positive role model just because of your gender?” So in May 2018 at MCM Comic-Con I did my first ever crossplay, I shaved my beard for the first time in 8 years, plucked my eyebrows, attempted make-up etc. and gave it a go!
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk)
In excitement (and poor experience researching) I ended up ordering too much cosplay stuff so I had to sell what I didn’t need and somehow met another crossplayer on eBay who told me about The Geek Asylum on Facebook. I joined this group to gauge the reaction of other people whilst dressed as Wonder Woman and the response was overwhelming for me. I used to have very low self-esteem and no confidence because of my years of being bullied so I was shocked and given so much confidence by 100’s of strangers giving me uplifting and supportive comments. These comments gave me the drive I needed to go ahead with not only revealing my costume to friends and family but to go through with going to comic-con like it. The event day came and I was far more terrified than the year before: I was often on my own, I didn’t wear the right footwear so I got blisters immediately, I got a chemical burn from one of my costume accessories, I wasn’t pragmatic with what I took and being in public for the first time cross dressed threw me miles out of my comfort zone. I was on the verge of a breakdown but I met several people that nurtured me and supported me at one of my most vulnerable points in life. Meeting these people gave me the confidence to pick myself up and try again. It was in fact my second Comic-Con of 2018 (when I was Daredevil) where I officially caught cosplay and convention bug. It was such the perfect event, which gave me such a surge of confidence and I made new friendships that will last a lifetime.
Meeting new and extraordinary people allowed me to learn about other events and I ended up doing 7 events that year. This includes guest appearances with SQUAD UK of whom I ended up partly running with a small team for two years before moving on to where I am now!
As previously mentioned my second Comic-Con cosplay was a female cosplay so I kind of always did both. I used to try and balance it out with equal amounts of male and female cosplays. However as I got more and more into the feeling of empowerment, liberation and fell in love with the art of masquerading my gender; I began planning more female costumes. The truth is: in the beginning I threw myself into the deep end far too soon and I was barely treading water. This was almost enough to make me quit crossplaying altogether. But Harley Quinn happened. This was because a friend offered to get me an 18 Year Old Bottle of Glenfiddich if I cosplayed Harley Quinn (which without this I probably would have stopped at Wonder Woman).
Cosplaying Harley Quinn makes me an entirely different person, I don’t care what people think of me when I’m Harley, I can have immense fun goofing about, I feel my most confident as her and she has helped me through a lot of my mental health in recent years. Fast-forward to now I guess I can safely say I prefer female costumes; for many reasons! Firstly is Harley Quinn… as previously mentioned cosplaying her aids in my wellbeing and she has an unlimited selection of outfits (I myself am currently on 39 with many more to come still!) Secondly I am a bald man, finding women’s wigs (or wigs that are adaptable) is so easy and affordable. But in contrast men’s wigs are near on impossible to find decent ones without spending a small fortune! Thirdly women’s costumes (in my own personal opinion) are easier to make and to budget for; for instance I have found in many cases that to one male costume I could probably craft or afford three female ones. Fourthly for me it’s more rewarding because crossplays are far trickier and I love that challenging aspect. By this I mean I have to change my diet and training regime to slim down, I have to thin my eyebrows, hide my beard-line with make-up, wear heavy duty corsets (and other under-suit shapers/clinchers etc.), wearing high heels often and basically completely changing myself; it normally takes two hours to get ready even for the simplest of crossplays. Lastly a lot of my favourite characters just happen to be female.
Don’t get me wrong Male cosplays are also rewarding and normally for comic-con’s they’re like a special treat for me to wear because naturally I am far more comfortable without my waist being clinched or walking in heels plus I always feel most confident with my beard intact! Moreover, I need only stick to my normal training, I don’t require shaving and on average it literally takes me 10-15 minutes to get ready! I love the convenience; especially when usually I’ve had to spend more hard work on them! Likewise as well there is a feeling of empowerment and a surge of confidence in my male cosplays; but to a different degree!
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk)
In conclusion, I love both but I guess nowadays I get more enjoyment out of female cosplays: especially Harley Quinn!
Do I genderbend? I love and respect those who do, but it doesn’t personally appeal to me; I would much rather cosplay a character as they are rather than change them to suit me. But I am always in awe when I see people do it because of the level of creativity behind adapting the characters is incredibly clever!
Crafting / Research
Each cosplay is different, some are very straight forward, some are deceivingly challenging and others you have to extensively and extremely plan for. So the length of time varies; some cosplays you need only make a prop and source everything else out, however sourcing the right clothing could take weeks of sourcing. Whereas my Thor, Wonder Woman or Christmas Harley (costumes I made completely myself) varied between a week and a couple of months of work. Much the same with everything it always depends on your available time and how much of that time you can devote to that project. My advice is to start way ahead of your deadline as I have had too many “con crunch” moments!
I try to be pragmatic nowadays with all my cosplays; so to start with I run through a system of questions in my head for each costume that tickles my fancy.
- Is it cheaper for me to make or buy?
- If cheaper to buy am I satisfied enough with the quality?
- Is it adaptable?
- Will it look more accurate if I buy it or make it?
- If the costume is expensive; will I feel confident or comfortable enough to make use out of it?
- What do I need or already have?
This is usually my decision process first and foremost. Then comes extensive research, for instance two of my newest cosplays are the Arkham series Harley Quinn’s. To get every small detail I played the games; unlocked the character trophies to see the outfit from all angles. I discovered in Arkham Asylum for instance the game designer misspelt Warden Sharp’s name on his ID badge that Harley wears, so I designed my ID badge to match the same mistake. Usually I buy the comics, or watch the films etc. first and take screen grabs! Or I try to find source photos on the internet using googles HD tools or reverse image searching. Often now because I have formed a huge group of friends (which in this kind of community creates a “Hive Mind”) I can often reach out to gain information faster through them on character’s costumes! With all cosplays I tend to create a Dropbox folder filled with source photos so I can not only attempt to replicate the small details but to match make up!
Building/crafting a costume
I was fortunate enough to attend one convention this year (London Spring Comic-Con) which has taken the sting out of not having any other cons this year, a little. I suppose conventions are the cosplayers’ ultimate goal predominately (not exclusively) so without them it is difficult to find that motivation to craft.
The worldwide situation has changed that end goal for me. It’s no longer just one end goal, for starters I was filming videos for children stuck in quarantine either by reading stories, wishing happy birthday, setting up games or just sending a supportive message. This helped me deal with my own mental health whilst shielding and even helped motivate me back into being creative. My first personal project was to document all of my cosplays into a short video collage. I started off with my current cosplays and even repaired/enhanced some in this process (this project is still ongoing). This got the fire going underneath me again. From my own personal project I started setting up group projects suchlike “The Cosplay CUCChallenge” which was a group fight video where cosplayers transition by reacting to the last person and attacking the camera. Or even the Funko challenge which was to match your cosplay to a Funko Pop. These projects enabled me to get other people cosplaying again.
Without conventions and by getting refunds on my 2020 events I had the income to work on new costumes to keep me busy in a social distanced world. So after exploring other avenues with cosplay I had motivation to work on some of my new costume projects again. After the first lockdown I was able to even model a lot of these new cosplays (and even some old) in photoshoots. I discovered in myself that photoshoots are probably my favourite aspect of cosplay. Conventions are incredible for the social aspect but when you can’t do that: photoshoots became my ultimate end goal. It feels more rewarding in a sense because the end goal is for you as instead of for the benefit of a convention.
Another thing during covid was the rise of Zoom (and other video calling services.) I was missing my cosplay friends so when it was my Birthday I set up a zoom event named “TJC Comic-Con” where I encouraged everyone to dress up and go on zoom. It was a masterpiece, I got to see friends I’ve not seen in months (or some since even the year before as they couldn’t make London Spring). The first event for my birthday saw 65 people in one call; which sounds chaotic but it worked. This grew into a regular occurrence and even became all day events so people can filter in and out at their leisure. Setting up such events became tricky so I created a Facebook group. This was simply made to post details of the upcoming events to the relevant people but suddenly a community started to form.
This community grew and grew into what it is now; we still do our zoom calls but it’s become a safe space and geeky hub for people to open up and meet like-minded creatives. We have the backing of GoGeek and are even scheduled to guest at comic events when they return. TJC CommUnity has been a blessing to me and a huge quantity of its members.
To answer your question of my first convention cosplay when events return; I have smashed out so many outfits I have absolutely no idea what my first cosplay will be when con’s start again, I may need to do multiple changes haha. I have ticked off one of my dream costumes in lockdown and even started working on my ultimate dream costume so potentially either Arkham City Harley Quinn or Arkham Knight Batman!
My advice to new cosplayers is to join reputable groups suchlike The Geek Asylum (or TJC CommUnity *cough* *cough*) because first and foremost it is the utter most important thing to assert yourself into a community with people like yourself. In these groups don’t be afraid to ask questions, post to the whole group “Can someone help me I need help with . . .” and these communities have a “Hive Mind” and you will almost always get your answers. So finding your audience is the first thing and secondly always be inquisitive, most cosplayers follow the notion that cosplay = solidarity and not competition. Contrary to what some people may lead you to believe: cosplay doesn’t have a hierarchy; we all share in this beautiful hobby together.
When cosplaying: think of yourself as opposed to your audience, cosplaying is an extension of our love and interests so by cosplaying our favourite characters we express that in our mannerisms. Don’t cosplay to satisfy other people’s wants or needs. Do what’s right for you! Be whoever you want to be and your passion for that character will shine through and you will look amazing! Prior to my first convention as Wonder Woman I took a bunch of selfies and shared them in the aforementioned The Geek Asylum; as a result I made several online friends and even arranged to meet a couple of cosplay groups. So when you’re ready share your photos!
Another key thing to remember is everyone has to start somewhere! Plus the goal of cosplay isn’t to be an exact copy of the person you’re masquerading as (if everyone looked the same cosplay would be boring, that’s the truth!) Often I hear people say “I can’t do that character because I’m too big.” Or “I can’t do that character because they’re female.” And so on. There are no variables stopping you from being who you want to be. Which is the beauty of cosplay – you CAN be whomever you want with little to no judgment, those who do judge aren’t important enough people to concern yourself with – as long as the important people in your life support your decisions who does anyone else matter?
Cosplay itself is a journey, I started off not knowing how to apply make-up or how to sew or how to craft with foam etc. But I learnt over time, there is no need to put immense pressure on yourself to reach your full potential right away, enjoy the journey and learning experience!
Oh, and a couple of words of advice through my own experience: when buying from wholesalers suchlike AliExpress don’t take anything at face value, always buy from sellers that have photo reviews so you can see the genuine product. And if you’re using Worbla to make masks don’t apply straight to your face after heating it up!
My overall advice to anyone reading this is to be your true self. Anyone opposing that doesn’t deserve you! The ones that do deserve you will gravitate to you in time and you will form your own support network! Never be afraid to experiment and try new things! Most importantly though stay strong and stay true to yourself, because you’re never alone!
Finally and most importantly have fun, because what would costume play be if it wasn’t fun?
Photo Credit (@emmalita.x)
Photo Credit (@lc2350photography)
Photo Credit (@panzerboi1990)
Q & A’s
What’s your first male cosplay you’ve done? My first male cosplay in terms of Comic-Con settings was Red Hood. Ever; it was Batman and Robin.
What’s your favourite male cosplay you’ve done? It’s difficult, it always used to be Daredevil, which still now holds a special place in my heart. But often now I love being the Iron Fist more. Ah it’s too difficult to choose; on the spot now I will say Iron Fist and then change my mind after you publish this article haha!
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk)
What’s your favourite female cosplay? My favourite again is difficult, up until recently it was without a doubt the classic Batman: The Animated Series’ Harley Quinn, but now I have my Arkham City Harley… the classic may have some competition!
What was your most expensive cosplay? Truthfully I don’t know it could be my Barry Allen Flash or with all the screen accurate stuff I sourced out it could be more likely to be my Suicide Squad Harley…plus the upkeep of buying tattoo paper and printer ink etc. however by next year it will most likely be my Batman cosplay that ends up being my most expensive!
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk) Photo Credit (@samuel_triggs_photography)
What is your most economical cosplay? Daredevil in terms of how much wear it has had it has been a great value for money. But in terms of cheapest costume; probably my Poison Ivy as I managed to find the bodysuit super cheap and I already had a wig.
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk)
Have you ever met any of the actors/actresses that portray any of the characters you do? I know it would probably be too much, but if you did, were you in the cosplay of their particular character? Twice in fact! I met Charlie Cox whilst I was dressed as Daredevil and the first thing he said to me was “wow you look incredible, can you see out of that mask?” This was at Wales Comic-Con. The second time was meeting Finn Jones whilst I was dressed as the Iron Fist. I shook his hand and went to introduce myself and he said “wait, a strong handshake, a dragon on your chest, no you don’t need to tell me who you are, it’s obvious you must be the Immortal Iron Fist!”
I am basically just a guy who cosplays my favourite characters. I learnt early on that: gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, body type etc. are amongst an endless list of variables that doesn’t come into cosplay… it’s literally for everyone at any juncture. So I don’t let my gender or my body-type prevent me from being characters I find inspiring. I encourage everyone to do what makes them happy, in cosplay especially. For instance I’m male, I look nothing like Gal Gadot, I’m broad and the list of variables goes on; however I cosplay Wonder Woman because she is one of my favourite characters. Moreover I believe her to be a huge role model to young women: as a figure of empowerment, truth and love. When I cosplay as Wonder Woman I exude confidence because I’m being someone I admire. So I always believe you should cosplay whoever you want!
In today’s society crossdressing (even in terms of masquerade) is greatly more accepted. When I first costumed as a woman; complete strangers in cosplay groups gave me 95% positive feedback. Friends and family were a little more perplexed but overall understanding. But in the grand scheme of things it was mostly positive! Nowadays negativity is extremely rare and when it occurs I easily brush it aside because I follow this Philosophy: “if someone doesn’t mean anything to me, then their words/opinions mean nothing to me.” Following this Philosophy has essentially given me the tool to deal with trolls. There are challenges with crossplay between the people who don’t understand consent and the stigma that comes from old fashioned viewpoints linked to male chauvinism. But because of what I do there is still a perplexity, some people will try to objectify you, others will leap straight to aggression or just make presumptions based on nothing; it is an oddity to me that I can effect complete strangers by doing something that shouldn’t affect them in any way. From the more passive onlooker I often get asked all the typical questions; are you trans/gay/confused? (Which are all fine; I’m happy to answer curiosity.) The simple answer is that Cosplay is an art form which allows for escapism and doing so in this way is majorly empowering! Most never guess I do this; for all intents and purposes, I’m a “stereotypical guy”. Clothing does not have a supernatural ability to dictate ones sexuality or gender nor does it make someone confused. I’m a heterosexual cisgender Male and I explore my identity by taking on the identity of my favourite characters!
Since crossplaying I have changed significantly as a person. I’m more confident, I now have self- esteem, popularity and a sense of belonging somewhere aside from the comfort of family. As mentioned above I run a community group with 6 other people where we actually make a difference by providing a safe space and set up events to get people interacting with each other even during these hard times. Cosplay in general has been a big entity in my life. Without it I wouldn’t be able to cope with my mental health as well as I do. I wouldn’t have this creative outlet to deal with my emotions. ALSO I have this huge support network now. I feel I’m a better and stronger person because of all this. I’m even becoming less of a recluse when my mental health is bad because now I am able to rely on people to help pull me through rather than fear of being a burden, losing them and having to rely on myself. Furthermore if it wasn’t for the vast amount of people who showed me support I wouldn’t be writing this article now. In my opinion if people need support I feel we can’t neglect that, I feel it’s our duty in his community to look out for one another. That’s what I try to do now; I vigilantly try to support those around me as others supported me.
Photo Credit (@cosplayacademyuk)
The cosplay community is exactly that, it is a community of incredibly gifted and loving people!
You can follow Toby @ https://www.facebook.com/tjccosplays
My previous article on crossplay/genderbending
And on costuming/cosplay