I was fortunate enough during my visit to New York Comic Con to score an interview with one of the stars of the cosplay scene, Lisa Lou Who! After discussing our mutual addiction/love/obsession (it’s all the same really) for Overwatch and World of Warcraft’s new expansion Legion, we dove into cosplay.
AiPT!: How long have you been cosplaying?
Lisa: Four years. Almost four years to the day actually. My second con ever was New York Comic Con a little over four years ago.
AiPT!: Cool what a nice anniversary!
Lisa: It was actually a horrible experience. It was my first time doing a big con and I was wearing a more revealing cosplay and I got the full amount possible of bad attention. It got to the point where I said to myself “OK I feel like an object. This is not what I want!”. So from that point on I realized what I did want, which was represent the community in maybe a sex appeal way–because I have the curves and the body to do it–but at the same time, represent it well and do it the right way.
AiPT!: I’m glad you mentioned that, it leads me into a my next question. In cosplay right now sex appeal is a very hot topic. I’ve spoken with a lot of female cosplayers and unfortunately most of them mention the high amount of negative attention they receive. So on the topic of revealing and promiscuous costumes, do you think they can be admired for what they are? As in the character they represent, without people having to sexualize them?
Lisa: For me it’s very interesting. I’m actually asexual, so with me being asexual I don’t do it for the sex appeal or the sexual attention. I don’t want it or care for it, I’m me. So with that, I tend to actually market to that type of fan base that also doesn’t care. If I do wear revealing stuff, it’s never with a sexy pose or to be “oh yeah look at my body!” type of thing. It’s more about representing the character properly. If the character does that, the sexy poses that is, I’ll do that for the character.
In that way I think there’s for me personally, because of how I’ve branded myself, there’s a respect for revealing nature without it being about sex appeal. I have a large fan base and I don’t get those nasty comments anymore because I’ve banned all the people who were nasty [laughs]. When they do come along now there’s very few of them. I’ve worked so hard for the last four years to build a really great fan base that respects me as a person. That’s a lot harder to do than to just do the sexy cosplay without regard. So when I wear a cosplay with sex appeal I try to tell people there’s a lot more to this than sex appeal, there’s a lot of hard work involved in branding yourself as yes sexy, but also a human being.
AiPT!: What was your first cosplay?
Lisa: My first cosplay ever that I actually made all by myself was Ty Lee from Avatar: the Last Airbender. I love Avatar, it’s kind of my obsession. I’ve cosplayed Ty Lee, Azula, Korra, Ming-Hua and uh Toph!
AiPT!: Wow you weren’t kidding!
Lisa: I want to [get] Avatar tatts. I want a whole sleeve dedicated to Avatar. It’s kind of my love.
AiPT!: All my favorite books are basically tattooed all over me so I hear you.
Lisa: Exactly! There are very few things in my life when it comes to media that have affected me like Disney princesses, Jasmine and Avatar have, to the point that I want them on me. I’ve been wanting to have a Harry Potter tattoo forever.
AiPT!: I’m with you there!
AiPT!: What was the first convention you went to?
Lisa: Dragoncon! I went big right away. Dragoncon, New York Comic Con and then Katsucon. I went all around because I live in Minnesota and we don’t really have cons there. So I travel and go out everywhere.
AiPT!: How would you rate you first experience at New York Comic Con compared to how things are functioning for you at cons nowadays?
Lisa: It’s really interesting to see the change. I was wearing Injustice Catwoman at that con and I couldn’t walk around. I would have a crowd of people surrounding me, taking my picture in this costume that honestly wasn’t that good. I spent two weeks on it using craft foam, it didn’t fit me well. Nowadays I walk around in my Victorian Harley Quinn, a costume that was probably my most famous from a few years ago and no one cares. And you know what? That’s great because cosplay has evolved.
Cosplay is so much more now. I have to as a cosplayer, who’s you know, up there–up my game if I want people to really care. That to me is just so cool. It’s just really interesting how cosplay has changed. Here people come up to me now with respect and that’s really cool. I’m less of an object now because people know who I am and what I represent. I wear cosplays that don’t garnish the objectified attention.
AiPT!: Of all the cosplays you’ve done which is your favorite?
Lisa: I would say Firelord Azula is probably my favorite because of the personal connection to the character that I have. I love evil bitches [laughs]. So I love her to death.
AiPT!: So you love Cersei then?
Lisa: Yes! Mad Queen Cersei is on my list. I want to do it for Katsucon this year but we’ll see. It’s on the list.
AiPT!: Out of all the costumes you’ve made, has there ever been one that was so frustrating that you gave up? Or you didn’t want to wear because it was so uncomfortable? Does it get to a point with costumes where you’ll sacrifice accuracy for comfort or will you force yourself to be uncomfortable to get that extra bit of accuracy?
Lisa: As it goes along, I’ve started to do that a lot more. Sylvanas recently, when I wore it the first time I hadn’t tried it on beforehand so I wore it right at the con without having ever tried it on. That’s a full armor suit, I’d never done a full armor costume. I realized things were falling down in certain places to make me really unflattering. So it wasn’t a matter of it falling apart, it stayed together, but me being a curvier girl it made me so sad that I felt like I didn’t properly represent a character I love so much. Everyone said I looked great but it was still upsetting because of how much I love the character to death. So because of that the next time I wore it I altered it so that the belt stayed up for sure and that the top was pulled up and really ensured it fit me well.
I’ve also had cosplays that have fallen apart. Do not use hot glue on everything! It doesn’t work on everything. You have to use it on specific things that are meant for hot glue. I learned my lesson the hard way [laughs].
AiPT!: When you are cosplaying a character like Sylvanas that you have such affection for, how far into the character do you get? Are you Lisa playing Sylvanas or do you try to fully embody Sylvanas the character?
Lisa: I’m Lisa playing Sylvanas. I do so many badass bitches that if I walked around acting like them the whole time people would think I was mean. Instead I do a thing where when I pose I’m Sylvanas, you know really sexy and sassy. But then the minute I’m out of that pose I’m back to Lisa and interacting normally.
AiPT!: Have you ever designed cosplays for someone else?
Lisa: Yeah actually, Meg Turney just this weekend wore a Murloc costume that I made her. Jess owns a few costumes that I’ve made, Jessica Nigri. She’s a sweety. She actually sometimes takes my old costumes as we’re the same size.
AiPT!: Is that something you could see yourself doing professionally like Yaya Han? Selling and designing costumes? Or is it more something you enjoy doing between friends?
Lisa: Between friends. When you do commission work people have expectations that I don’t think they realize fabric can’t live up to in real life. So it’s just better if it’s a friend because it’s easier to explain that I’m making it as if I were making it for myself.
AiPT!: What advice would have you for someone that has no experience with crafts, sewing or costume making whatsoever?
Lisa: Luckily cosplay nowadays is so freaking main stream. You can go to Jo-Ann Fabrics and find patterns on literally the exact costume you want. I just saw an Assassin’s Creed one by simplicity. I thought “wow I’m going to pick that up” I might want to make an Assassin’s Creed costume one day. So you have patterns, you have Google where you can find tutorials on anything, you’ve got all these amazing artists like Punished Props and Kamui Cosplay. You’ve got Yaya Han selling worbla for you and you can even go on Amazon and get pretty decent wigs and costumes for cheap. You can get into cosplay any way you want. If you want to buy it, if you want to make it – it’s just so great. Google is your friend.
AiPT!: If you could reach the entire comic con community with one message that they could come to understand about cosplay, what would that be?
Lisa: I think the biggest misconception is that because of the sex appeal people think that cosplay is only for attention. I don’t want to be negative about attention, everyone loves attention, attention is a healthy thing – it also is about love for a character. If someone is sitting down, or if they’re looking like they don’t want to take a picture and they say no, don’t be disrespectful – because they’re there for themselves too. Cosplay can be a selfish thing for some people and that’s okay too because it’s a form of artistic expression. I think that’s what makes cosplay so fun, some people do it for artistic expression, some people do it for the attention, some people do it to be silly and have fun. Respect that as an art, that’s what I try and bring, cosplay is more than just being a character. It’s an art form.
AiPT!: With the amount of followers you have now and all the fans, have you had any opportunities to meet celebrities doing cosplay? If so, which was your favorite encounter?
Lisa: Ummm I actually don’t know. That’s the thing, I don’t know what’s considered a celebrity. I don’t know [laughs]. I’ve met so many awesome people and made so many great friends. I would have considered Jessica Nigri a celebrity five years ago and now she’s one of my really good friends. So I don’t know what’s a celebrity [laughs]. [At] San Diego Comic Con I ran into Orlando Bloom once and I waved at him. He was my crush when I was 13, so, hello Orlando Bloom, I love you.
Thank you to Lisa Lou Who for taking the time to speak with us, creating amazing cosplays and for being a positive influence on the cosplay community!
You can find Lisa online at:
Sylvanas – Infinity Spiral Photography @infinityspiralphotography
McCree – Carlos G Photos @carlosgphotos
Faye – Alive Alf Photography @alive_alf
Harley Quinn – Martin Wong Photography @martinwongphoto