Warrior Life exclusive: Let’s role-play
April 20, 2016
With one hand defiantly cocked on her hip, Clara Becka scowls down at the man in the wheelchair in front of her. Dressed in an outlandish attire of bright yellow and hazard orange, with matching purple gloves, boots, stockings and cowl, Becka slowly raises one gloved hand and insolently flips the wheelchair user “the bird”.
Rather than be upset however, the man’s face lights up at the obscene gesture, and he begins to eagerly snap photos of the sneering girl. When the man is finished, he turns the camera to show Becka the photo, and the two share a friendly, if quick hug. Moments later, the man is gone, melting into the milling crowd of eager attendees outside of the Long Beach Comic Expo.
The scene is actually pretty normal here, if the word normal can be used in a place where a pair of Deadpool’s play hackey-sack with the severed head of a third (a stuffed prop), tucked between a LGBT stormtrooper legion’s booth and a wide-eyed 6-year-old Dr. Who. To the many fans in the convention center, Becka is no 22-year-old EC student, but the character she’s dressed as; The Pro, an unconventional, foul-mouthed heroine with a seedy past.
“The best thing is when I go to a convention and there’s somebody who sees me, who really loves the series or character, and they are…they are just so excited!” gushes Becka, her eyes widening as she pantomimes swooning excitement.
Several weeks before the expo, Becka looks nothing like the swaggering blonde heroine she will be dressing as. Wearing a simple blue sweater and black top, her scowl is replaced with a slightly anxious but eager smile. Her long black hair contrasts strongly with her pale skin and scarlet lipstick. She moves constantly as she talks, fidgeting slightly on a bench in the EC Music Building’s courtyard, often punctuating her words with nervous laughter.
“A lot of people are into cosplay for like, the fame or whatever” Becka said, wrinkling her nose slightly, “and I don’t really get that. For me the satisfaction is in making my own costumes, and paying tribute to something that I really love”.
It’s clear that Becka’s love for cosplay is no passing fad. A freelance seamstress and magician’s assistant, Becka has been cosplaying since she was 16, though her interest in costume design took root much earlier.
“When I was in the third grade I found out what a costume designer was. I was actually watching the DVD of “Uptown Girls”” Becka laughs softly, looking downward. “They had a special feature about the costume design, and it was like the first time it had even occurred to me that that was even a job.”
While many of us develop interests at a young age, few dedicate themselves so fully to their craft. Originally teaching herself to sew in order to make Halloween costumes, Becka now includes painting, makeup, and even some metal and wood working into her costume designing repertoire, taking time outside of classes to learn first hand how to create her own props.
Of course, Becka doesn’t expect anyone to help her for free. After chatting in the Music Building’s courtyard, it’s off to the wood and metal shops on campus to show her appreciation to the instructors there, twin boxes of hand made snickerdoodles under one arm.
“I came here last week to pick their brains about stuff, and they drilled a few holes for me that I couldn’t do at home,” She explains with a bashful laugh. “After just one afternoon, I feel like I’ve learned so much from them”.
As Becka distributes her cinnamon-coated cookies to a group of gleeful shop staff, it’s hard not to notice the same passion in her voice as these significantly older men as they discuss prop design.
“I think in general, about Cosplay….people think it’s cool, or it’s fun, and it is,” Becka shares afterward, now cookie-less and all smiles. “You won’t realize the kind of people who’d be into the thing you’re doing. You might mention that you’re making something, like the chainsaw from “The Evil Dead”, and suddenly the least likely person will be like ‘Oh my god the arm? I love that movie!'”
Of course, creating her costumes is only one half of the fun for Becka, who’s cosplayed as a wide variety of characters, such as DC comic’s Zatanna, Kiki from “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, Go-Go Yubari from “Kill Bill”, and even real life stars such as Freddy Mercury.
“For me, well, I’m really awkward,”Becka shares with a soft laugh, before adding, “When going to conventions in costume I get to be somebody else. That’s why cosplay is fun for me, it’s like getting to escape from how I am normally.”
Clara isn’t alone in her love of cosplay, however, as she shares the hobby with her boyfriend Florencio Vasquez, 24.
Back at the Long Beach Comic Expo, Vasquez, dressed as the blood and soot smeared, bare footed John McClane of “Die Hard” fame, casually leans against a wall. A prop cigarette clenched between his teeth, he coolly watches a stream of eager fans approach Becka, each eager to take her photograph or pick her brain on how she created her costume.
“We actually met each other at Comikaze (an LA comic event), about 3 years ago”, Vasquez explains. “We talked for a while, and then one year I worked up the courage to ask her out, and we really hit it off” the shoe-less cosplayer says with an obvious note of pride in his voice. “We’ve been going to conventions together ever since”.
While Becka seems pleased by the amount of fan recognition for her relatively obscure character the Pro, it’s not completely surprising, as Becka chose this character specifically for the day. One of the headliners of the day will be Amanda Connor, the Pro’s creator.
“When I found out that Amanda Connor was going to be at this convention, I was just like, ‘I’m gonna wear this!'” Becka bubbles. “It’s not going to be something a lot of people will recognize, so the real satisfaction is going to be when she (Connor) sees it”.
However, when Becka and Vasquez finally make their way through the crowd of fans to find Connor’s booth, the purple hooded cosplayer’s eyes go wide, and her smile droops. A line of fans starts at the front of Connor’s booth, and winds somewhere around a corner more than 200 feet away, every one of them waiting for their chance to speak to the comic illustrator.
“I guess we’ll go somewhere else for now, hopefully the line will shrink a bit by then,” Becka says dejectedly.
The huge amount of fans and cosplayers isn’t a surprise to Jeremy Atkins, the media contact for MAD Event management, the group that organizes the Long Beach Comic Expo. While Atkins wasn’t allowed by company policy to share the exact number of attendees, he was able to say that attendance had consistently grown by 25 percent every year of it’s 7 year history.
Numbers have increased so much, in fact, that the event now requires two full halls of the Long Beach Convention Center to contain everyone. “To put this in perspective, in Feb 2015 we had 76,000 sq ft. This recent show in February 2016 was 133,000 sq ft. So 57% increase in exhibit floor from Feb 15 to Feb 16,” Atkins said.
Still, for a fan as dedicated as Becka, the growth of her hobby is little consolation. As professional cosplayer Alexandria the Red, another headliner of the convention, explains, creating a costume such as Becka’s is no small investment for a college student.
“It depends on the costume, but a costume can take anywhere from an hour to….well, 250 and up” Alexandria said solemnly. Described by Becka as “the sweetest person who ever lived”, the professional cosplayer added that some costumes could run as much as $500, a steep price for a young college student.
“It’s not something you get a lot of money back for” Becka says about her hobby. Despite that, Becka’s work is good enough to afford her opportunities to make some money on the side.
“I’ve been paid by the Nerdist (An electronic media group specializing in geek culture) to rent out one of my costumes for one of their videos” Becka admits, “As well as to pose for life drawing classes in costume. But for the majority of cosplayers it’s nowhere near the amount of money they put out”.
As Becka turns to walk away from Connor’s booth though, yet another fan stops Becka to ask her to pose for a photo, this time holding a copy of the very comic Connor illustrated. Becka, always a good sport, puts on her character’s signature scowl and poses for the photo. Before she can leave, yet another person taps on her shoulder.
When Becka turns however, there’s no thought of scowling whatsoever. Amanda Connor, the artist she had hoped more than anyone else would see her costume, is standing right beside her, having left her booth and it’s line after catching a glimpse of Becka’s distinctive yellow and purple costume.
While she can’t sign a copy of “The Pro” for Becka right then, Connor asks for a chance to take a photo with the fan dressed as her character, and Becka grins from ear to ear. The two hug tightly, and then pose for a picture, with Becka giggling the entire time.
With a massive line winding around the convention center however, the moment can only last so long, and Connors has to return to her booth. For a star struck Becka however, the moment is enough.
“I thought, that if I get her to see this, and have her appreciate this, it’d be the end all be all, and it totally was,” a giddy Becka explains. “It was…it was surreal. Totally surreal. Like amazing!” Becka laughs, holding a hand over her chest. “Honestly, I’m still shaking. It was like a dream.”