Calling all cosplayers and Blizzard fans: This interview is for you. At Boston Comic Con this past weekend the lovely Monika Lee was nice enough to host me in her booth for a sitdown chat about working for Blizzard, her love of gaming and of course cosplay. As a veteran of the cosplay scene Monika has a unique perspective on the community and lots of great stories to share.
AiPT!: Tell us a little about when you’re from and how you like to spend your time when you aren’t cosplaying.
Monika Lee: I’ve been cosplaying for a little over ten years now. I started in 2006 and things have changed a lot since then. I went to school at Georgia Tech and once I finished I got a job at Blizzard, where I work in consumer products. So I’ve got a lot of Blizzard swag and I get to play with products every day. Sometimes I’m like “This is my job?! They pay me?!” I used to live in Atlanta but I’m in California now. It’s weird because cosplay was my focus and school was on the side, but now my career is my focus and cosplay is on the side. Cosplay is fun and it’s my hobby, but my job is the most important thing for me right now.
AiPT!: All your costumes are exceptional; I was particularly impressed with your skill in leather working. Could you tell me about how you became comfortable working with a material a lot of cosplayers avoid, due to cost and the steep learning curve?
ML: I actually did a lot of leather working this past weekend because I’m doing the new Tomb Raider and she has all these leather holsters and stuff. I’m by no means an expert — there’s a lot of people out there who are so much better than me at it, but it’s just fun to work with something that’s so versatile. In the movies and video games leather is the material you see used with so many characters. I like to get as accurate as possible, so I’m going to work with it. The cool thing about the cosplay community though is it’s so easy to learn. You just google “how do I make a leather holster?” and all the resources appear in front of you. When I first started it was much harder to figure out than it is now. Leather is fun and it smells good too [laughs]. PETA hates me. Don’t tell them!
AiPT!: It’s clear cosplay is a big part of your life and you’re very passionate about it. I know you’ve said working for Blizzard is a huge passion for you as well. Is cosplay something that you’d like to turn into a career full-time or is it something you’d like to keep as a passionate hobby that stays to the side?
ML: I’ve always said it’s a hobby. That being said, I’ve been incredibly fortunate that cosplay helped pay my way through school. My parents were thankful for that too [laughs]. My parents have three daughters. Cosplay is an amazing jumping point for a lot of people and a lot of careers and without cosplay I wouldn’t have the knowledge of conventions and the geek world and I probably wouldn’t have the job that I have today. My creative abilities have helped me get where I am in the cosplay world, but it’s by no means the be all end for me. It’s a great platform and a great thing to leverage for other experiences and skills.
AiPT!: What exactly does an E-Commerce Associate on the Consumer Products Team for Blizzard do?
ML: The consumer products team actually used to be licensing. So in the licensing world if I make Superman, I’m going to go to Hasbro and say “Hey Hasbro I want to make some Superman toys,” so they leverage that brand to help make the products and then you get royalties. So that’s what our team started off as, but we’ve done a lot more since then with manufacturing our own products and selling through our direct channels. The Gear Store is our direct channel and it’s what I work on, as well as Blizzard events. The Blizzard gear booth was at PAX this year, Anime Expo and several comic cons. We have a team that manufactures products, designs them and also works with the license partners. Mostly though I’m in charge of stuff at the Gear Store, especially inventory because we have a lot of products. It’s kind of a weird job that I’ve fallen into but getting to make all this cool stuff and working with lots of different teams within Blizzard is really cool. I’m flush with swag now!
AiPT!: What’s your favorite piece of Blizzard swag?
ML: Oh my gosh. I have to think about that. Well we do a lot of cool statues. We have a line called Blizzard Collectibles. So we actually have sculptures in house and a creative development department. We just made this D.Va statue and she’s like 34 pounds. She’s bigger than a toddler!
AiPT!: There was a lot of controversy surrounding Heroes of Cosplay and how it presented the cosplay community. Would you agree that the show focused more on the drama of reality TV and not the spirit of what cosplay represents?
ML: It’s funny to me because all these people have opinions on it; they look at the show and say “That’s not what cosplay is”. But it could be what cosplay is sometimes. Who are these people to claim to be the grand arbiter of what cosplay is? When I first started cosplaying, I was really into competing. Every con I went to I went into the cosplay contest. I spent months working on my cosplay, solely for the competition and that’s what I was really into. I don’t do that anymore because it was very stressful and I’d waste my entire day on the contests.
A lot of people in the cosplay community like to preach how inclusive they are, until they see something that they don’t like and then they come out against it. It’s a good and a bad thing. It’s good that people can be so protective of what they love and make sure it’s being done the right way, but I think the cool thing about cosplay is you can do whatever the fuck you want with it. If that means dressing half naked and wearing a wig, you do you. For me cosplay is personal, I don’t like to think about what everyone else is doing or what they want me to do. I’m spending money on it, I’m making it. Why is someone else telling me what I’m doing is wrong? Or that I should be doing something else? If I’m happy with what I’m making and I’m proud of it, then at the end of the day that’s all that matters to me.
AiPT!: As you said earlier, you’ve been cosplaying now for over ten years. In all that time, all the conventions, events and people you’ve met, is there any experience that really sticks out as being truly special?
ML: Even though I didn’t go last year, Dragon Con was always that event for me. Being [from] Atlanta is of course a factor. I went to my first Dragon Con before I had even started cosplaying and I remember when I showed up I had this overwhelming sense of “these are my people!” I was a misfit in middle school so it felt like “oh these nerds get me.” Everyone there was so inclusive and cool and every time I went back it felt like I was home. That’s the cool thing about Dragon Con, they have so much programming and such a wide variety of things going on, that it’s whatever you make out of it. Some people do orgies and stuff! Some people do the parade and they have a lot of Star Trek and Anime events. It’s not just one thing. I think it’s so cool because it can appeal to everyone.
AiPT!: I’m sure you get this question all the time, but I have to know. What’s your favorite Blizzard game?
ML: I was never actually a PC gamer. I don’t think I would define myself as a PC gamer, even though I’m actually building a PC right now. What got me into video games was Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. As a lonely child those worlds and adventures were so cool and appealing to me. I’ve had Playstation 2, 3 and 4 and some of the Wiis, but for the most part I’ve always been playing games on my Playstation.
I discovered Diablo because they had it on Mac and I had a Mac being a design student. It was so much fun decorating my character and I loved the really dark style. Everything felt so badass — I had never discovered a game like it before. So Diablo was what got me into Blizzard games. I knew a little about Starcraft because my friends in high school would spend every lunch playing and talking about pylons and stuff [laughs]. I love The Heart of the Swarm story — Kerrigan is probably my dream costume. She’s so beautiful and badass! But I really do love Overwatch so much, I’m playing at work on all my lunch breaks and I’m playing at home with my sister constantly.
AiPT!: What’re you most looking forward to in what remains of 2017?
ML: Well Final Fantasy XII already came out! We have Blizzcon coming up which is so exciting for my team and is always really fun. Thanksgiving because of the food! I can’t think of anything else game wise and I know later I’m going to remember all the games coming out. Actually wait, new Shadows of Mordor and I think a new Assassin’s Creed!
Here’s where you can find Monika Lee online:
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook – London2191Cosplay
Instagram – @london2191
Twitter – @MnikaLee
Website – monikalee.net