NYCC Cosplay Spotlight – PepperMonster
A couple of weeks ago NYCC held its Cosplay Championships, showcasing some incredibly talented cosplayers armed with their most impressive costumes. We had the chance to interview some of these champions, starting with PepperMonster, who won First Place in the Comic Book division and Second Place Over-all with her Angela of Asgard cosplay.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello! I’m Sarah Jean Maefs, known online as Pepper or PepperMonster. I am a 30-year-old nerd and cosplayer based out of Western NY and when I’m not cosplaying I am working part time at Kmart and working as a house cleaner/maid. Not exactly the most glamorous life, but bills, man.
When and why did you first get into cosplay?
I got into “cosplay” officially about 3 years ago. I went to see the first Hobbit movie release at my local theater and I of course went dressed as an Elf. I ran into a girl who was also dressed as an elf and she and I became BFFs. She asked me if I went to Comicons and I admitted I never had (because I had a very media controlled and therefore negative opinion of cosplay conventions due to how television and entertainment portrayed the events) and she assured me they were great. So she took me to my first convention and I was blown away by how amazing it was. So many fans wearing costumes, or nerdy t-shirts. And all the vendors! All the stuff! It was amazing. My first “cosplay” made specifically for cosplay was Thor, but I had effectively been cosplaying for years, as I said, though unknowingly, when I dressed up for the Star Wars movies as a Jedi, or in school robes for the Harry Potter film and book releases. I have been cosplaying my whole life, I just didn’t know that that was what it was called.
How long did this cosplay take to make? What materials did you use?
Angela was about a year in planning, about four months in actual construction time. I was supposed to wear her last NYCC in 2014 but money was tight, I had lost my job, and so I just went with my Thor cosplay and put off Angela for the time being. This year I wasn’t going to let her get away again, so I started doing some serious online research into what her armor was, what it was made of, finding her design sketches which required me to harass Joe Quesada on twitter for months (a very nice man, very kind) and I started saving.
What is my cosplay made out of? Money. All of my money. But more specifically I started with foam. I wanted to make her armor out of Worbla’s Finest Art, and for that you have to have a base, and I chose foam because it’s weight and flexibility was ideal for what I was trying to build. Thin sheets of craft foam cut and heated were what made up my breastplate, my boots, and my two shoulders. The thicker EVA foam was used on my gauntlet, belt buckle, and arm rings. Each of those things were then covered in worbla, smoothed, and painted. My headdress was made of resin. I made a foam replica of my headdress, made a silicone mold of that, flat cast it in five pieces in resin, and heat formed it around my head, screwed all the pieces together, and painted it. It is not the cheapest route to take, but I had an opportunity to do something more and different for my project, so of course I jumped on it. My belt I made of leather and is actually just a functioning giant belt. No gimmick there. I dyed the leather myself and hammered in all the metal studs. I wanted that authenticity. My skirt was actually made out of curtains, because that’s cheaper than buying yards of fabric. I spent hours and hours of time making almost 30 feet of her ribbons too. Had to cut and iron on every last detail onto the front and back of the ribbons. It was worth it, but man it was tedious.
What made you decide to tackle this character?
For me it was about wanting to be the character more than seeing a difficult costume and wanting to do it. I do characters I like, or admire, or am inspired by. If that means making a simple jumpsuit or a complex piece of armor, that’s fine. I was doing Angela because I loved her, but I decided to compete with her because I realized “wow, this is a really complex costume, I bet it’s high enough level to compete with” because she was more technically advanced and challenging than anything I had done before. She was certainly very intimidating, but less for what the costume IS and more for what the costume WASN’T and that was covering. That costume doesn’t cover much. That was the scariest part of that cosplay, having to wear so little. I haven’t even worn a swimsuit in ten years.
There are two MASSIVE weapons for the character and you decided to make both. Tell us a bit about how you made them.
Then there are the weapons. Massive is one way to describe them! When patterning them out they didn’t SEEM that large. Then I started carving the foam and I was like, “whoa”. The base for them all was purple insulation foam as found in hardware stores. I carved the sword and the glaives out of the foam, and heated worbla (carefully) over them. The handles were wrapped in leather – again, looking for that authenticity and aesthetic. This was also my first LED project, so I had to learn how to do that. That was really scary for me. It was math, and science. I didn’t sign up for math and science! Another thing that I was new to was using a PVC pipe and joints to make my glaives break in two to dual wield them. I was terrified that that would fail and I would look silly on stage. But thankfully I seemed to have done that right because it worked! I haven’t measured either weapon, but the glaive was well over 9 feet long in production. The sword had a 33-inch blade and the handle is at least 18 inches. Double handed grip. Traveling with them was certainly interesting.
What was the most difficult part of this cosplay?
The boob cups! People would expect me to say the boots. But those weren’t difficult, just time consuming. The boobs were the hardest part. I don’t actually have boobs. None. And I had to make it look like I did because Angela has Powergirl level boob action going on in the comics. So I had to create these large empty boob-cups that sat flush against my ribs that would look like boobs, but wouldn’t gap when I moved and give away that there was nothing going on IN there. It took two tries to make the breast pate. The first attempt was a complete failure. I learned from that, however, and breastplate 2.0 was the success you saw on stage. The challenge was also in staying comic book accurate. The breastplate in the comics has no straps holding it up, and actually doesn’t even meet in the back. There is a 3-4 inch gap over her spine between her shoulder blades where her breastplate just stops. Apparently Asgardian boob magic holds it up? I got nothing. I used lacing to hold the breastplate together and maintain that gap. And through sheer force of will I kept the breastplate from falling down and becoming a belt, as all strapless bras dream to be.
You’ve done quite a few versions of Asgardian armour. What do you like about these types of characters?
Everything! If you think I’m done, you are wrong! I’m just getting started! More Thor, more Angela, doing Valkyrie, doing Amora, doing Sif. I love the fantasy mixed with lore, mixed with Marvel superheroes. Are they Gods? Are they aliens? I love the number of canon designs the characters have, but also how much freedom you have with a character such as a Viking, to just go off and do your own thing. I love too that the Thor comics have always had a plethora of strong female characters. Bad writing aside (because that happens to every character at some point or another in their long history) the ladies in the Thor pantheon have been strong, independent, and sexy while also being allowed to be flawed and strong bodied. I loved Angela for being damn sexy, but muscular and unapologetically dominant and abrasive. She wasn’t ever painted over at Marvel to be a love interest or damsel. There are so many layers to the characters, I could peel them away for hours and talk at length about each of these women, but then this would just become a book about how badass Asgardian women are!
What was it like being a part of the championships?
Nerve-wracking! I was so scared! I walked in there half naked, feeling very sick that day, and seeing all those amazing cosplays and I thought to myself “welp, I’m not going to win. Where are my friends (who were also competing) I have to congratulate them for beating me because this is nuts!” I am not a very confident person. I saw people on stilts, I saw amazing make-up and prosthetics. I saw LEDs and giant weapons, I saw sexy women, and strapping men. There were all these amazing pieces of wearable art, and I suddenly felt very small, and very incompetent. Here I was with some ribbons I ironed together and red lipstick liner on my face, and I felt very silly. Nearly everyone competing though is so nice! We all Facebook friend each other, we hug, we take selfies, we find each other’s Instagrams, and so losing to them once you have them as friends isn’t so bad! But then, unbelievably, I not only won my category of Comic Books, but I placed second over-all!
To quote Quicksilver, I didn’t see that coming. I couldn’t believe it! I still can’t believe it! I worked really hard, I made my whole costume by myself in my mother-in-law’s living room in the evening and into the night after everyone had gone to bed. I don’t have a workspace, garage, attic, or basement. I have a 40-year-old sewing machine on the floor that I use. I never thought, working five jobs over the summer to save up for my worbla, and buying my crafting supplies at Walmart, that I was the caliber to win at NYCC. But that goes to show that some of us really are just nerds who really wanna be the characters, who just try really hard and in the end sometimes we are rewarded for it! A pound of passion is worth more than a pound of production staff any day, just look at the cosplayers who nail Apocalypse cosplays while the whole internet complains about Fox’s production of the same character? Cosplay is magic. I feel honored, and actually more humbled to have won. I feel I was recognized for my work, but also for my passion. My family is certainly over the moon!
What does cosplay and the community mean to you?
Oh it’s everything! It’s a creative community! Even if people are buying cosplays and not craftsmen themselves, they are still dreaming up cosplays they want, and supporting those who do craft by buying their work, so everyone is contributing to this ever-growing community of costumers and prop-builders and artists! Fan artists are designing new looks for characters. People are requesting those costumes. People are making those cosplays. People are going to Comicon as original designs or concepts! It’s moved far beyond seeing 200 Slave Leias and it is such an honor to be a part of the community. I am forever startled and humbled by the level of creativity and skill I face every time I set foot in a con, or log into my Instagram. I feel a lot of pressure to do something bigger/better/faster/harder, and I have to remind myself that I’m here to have fun, and that my friends have my back and will always help me google a million ways to try and make a set of wings or something for a cosplay dream of mine. Because we are a community. We are friends. And we want to help each other, even knowing that we might go head to head at a competition someday. Friendship is magic, and it’s what fuels cosplay for me.