My love for comics and all things nerd really turned into a full blown obsession when I started working at a comic book store. It turns out one of the top cosplayers out there today has a similar story. I caught up with Jennifer Van Damsel at Boston Comic Con this past weekend and we shared our similar nerd origin stories, our love for comics, Magic: The Gathering, and of course cosplay.
AiPT!: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you like to spend your time when you aren’t cosplaying.
Jennifer Van Damsel: Well I’m kind of a workaholic so I’m pretty much always working. But I’ve kind of created my house to be the hangout house. There’s a pool table and I just bought a bocce ball set which I’m super excited about. So I’ll have all my friends over to watch a movie or use the pool table and I’ll be painting or something while this is going on. I guess I just enjoy cosplay so much that when I’m not working, I find myself wanting to go to the fabric store or design a new costume. It doesn’t seem like work because of how much I enjoy it.
I read a lot of comic books, manga and watch plenty of anime. Typical nerd stuff. I used to play Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer, but those are very expensive and time consuming hobbies. So unfortunately I had to give both of those to focus on cosplay since it’s my full-time job now.
AiPT!: I feel your pain with Magic: The Gathering. I used to work at a comic book store called Newbury Comics and the only reason I could afford Magic was because of the discount I received from working there. So after five years of working there I didn’t think of buying those cards without the discount being applied, leaving that job was a rude awakening to the actual costs of the hobby.
JVD: Me too! When I first started playing Magic it was because I worked at a store that sold it. My entire paycheck pretty much went to boxes and since I was in high school I didn’t really need for anything else at the money at the time. Then I started working at another similar store in college and once again my entire paycheck was going to boxes of Magic cards and comic books. Then I got into Warhammer and Warmachine, at the same time no less and man it was insanely expensive.
AiPT!: It’s clear you have a wide range of interests and hobbies. Is there a definitive moment you can remember, whether it was through video games, anime, comics, film, table top games, whatever, that cemented your love and passion for nerd/geek culture?
JVD: I wouldn’t say there’s a specific moment. None of my family is into comic books or sci-fi or anime. I’m definitely the weird one in the family. I kind of just discovered it by being online a lot, in chatrooms and such. Anime came through spending a lot of time talking to people online. So it was a really slow progression for me. I remember people being so blown away by the fact that I had never seen Star Trek. Typically your parents introduce you to that stuff early on and mine weren’t into Star Trek so it escaped me.
Comic books were definitely my first big nerd obsession though. I’ve always been a big Batman fan. From there I went into anime and manga through my love of comics. In high school I made a friend who played WoW [World of Warcraft], so of course I started playing with them and that was my first MMO. I got really addicted really quick. I hung out a lot on Ventrillo with my friends who played.
AiPT!: I saw on your Instagram that you meal prep and spend time each week with a personal trainer. Could you tell me about your journey there and how you got into healthy eating and fitness?
JVD: I always slowly progress through things. I started working with my trainer about two years ago and I guess I had a why not sort of attitude about it. I’ll try anything once. Wait, I shouldn’t say that! [laughs] I shouldn’t say that! But yeah I don’t really like working out or going to the gym, I had to pay a personal trainer to force me to go. I started working with them once a week and going to the gym every once in a while by myself. I tried several times to get into meal prep, but I really like eating so I never committed. So I’d say it wasn’t until 2-3 months ago that I got really serious about it.
Now I work with my trainer twice a week and I try to go at least once by myself. I’ve been consistent with meal prep for about two months. I finally got to the point where I feel guilty about not eating healthy food. It’s always an uphill battle until I get to a certain point where I accept and get used to what I’m trying to force myself to do. Now when I go to a con if I leave Thursday and don’t get back until Monday, that’s five days where I didn’t go to the gym and it’s so hard to eat healthy at cons. I cheated when I first got here. My first meal ever in Boston was a lobster roll because everyone talks about how good they are here. I haven’t had bread in like a month so I feel awful, but it was so worth it because it was so delicious.
AiPT!: You worked for a comic publisher Overground Comics for three years. Tell me about how that opportunity came your way, what you did there and how it changed your perception of the comic community.
JVD: I first started going to conventions and cosplaying just for fun. I had a friend that I saw at one who was set up at a table in artist alley. It was my first convention that I’d ever been to and I had no idea what was going on. My friend had a friend that he was sitting next to, John Hughes who wanted to start and would later own Overground Comics. So I became really good friends with him and started going to conventions for fun. Then he actually got an investor for the company, so he hired me and it took off from there. I did a lot of coloring, lettering, traveling, promoting and some bookkeeping. I have an accounting degree so that came in handy.
AiPT!: So you’re basically the Swiss army knife of the comic book world?
JVD: I kind of am! [laughs] I’m all over the place. Even with cosplay I’ve started learning photography and I’ve taken a few of my own shots now and sold them as prints. I’m using Photoshop and crazily enough, I learned that through my time working on comic books. It was a great skill transition.
The entire experience gave me a huge appreciation for the comic book industry. I met so many incredibly talented artists and writers.
AiPT!: What’re you reading for comics these days?
JVD: I’m currently reading Saga. I love Saga. Other than that I’ve taken a break from comics right now. I’m rereading a lot of manga that I haven’t read in a long time. So currently I’m rereading Berserk and Chobits.
AiPT!: You mention on your Patreon page that cosplay, streaming and modeling is now your full-time job. Anyone who looks at your work can see how passionate you are. Is this the place where you want your career to continue to grow and flourish or is there another destination you’re trying to get to through this launching pad?
JVD: This is really outside of my personality but I’m kind of trying to just go with the flow for whatever happens with my career right now. I’m not learning photography because I want to become a photographer when I’m done cosplaying, I just enjoy exploring art. I wish I could draw, I used to draw a lot in high school and I loved art. But if I’m not good at something immediately, I generally don’t like doing it anymore. We’ll see how long I want to do this for and how long it keeps being success. If I end up liking photography more I’m sure I’ll transition to doing that. We’ll see what happens.
AiPT!: You’ve become one of the most popular cosplayers in the scene. You’ve got one of the most active Patreons, a presence on Twitch and a huge social media following. This gives you a platform most people will never come close to. Do you feel any responsibility to use this platform to bring attention to charities or other causes that could use more exposure?
JVD: That’s kind of a hard question for me. It’s definitely something that I struggle with because I don’t want to isolate anyone and I don’t want to be polarizing. I know some people don’t mind it and some people do use their voice to promote certain things or their specific political view points. I try to focus on positivity more than anything. I feel like if people can be positive and good towards one another, that can translate to everything without being polarizing. I don’t ever post anything that’s political or controversial.
AiPT!: What’re you most looking forward to in what remains of 2017?
JVD: Honestly? A break. [laughs] I did a lot of conventions this year, more than I’ve ever done. I’m kind of burned out on cons right now; the traveling is rough and I do a lot of conventions by myself. I miss being home with my dogs and the more you travel the harder it is to produce content. I’m really looking forward to being home and getting to work on my creative projects. Conventions are a very social thing and I’m not generally the most social person. I work in an office by myself for ten to twelve hours every day. I don’t have employees or coworkers, I’m working for myself. I talk more during a three day convention then I’ll talk in a three week time period at home. So I’m really really looking forward to being home, making costumes and doing photoshoots.
Here’s where you can find Jennifer Van Damsel online:
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – http://www.jennifervandamsel.com/
Facebook – JenniferVanDamsel
Twitch – twitch.tv/jennifervandamsel
Twitter – @JennVanDamsel
Instagram – @jennifervandamsel
Pateron – patreon.com/jennifervandamsel