Interview: Cosplayer Izabel Mar
Silk, Death, and Femme: Izabel Mar and her Hapa Cosplay
By Melissa Slaughter
For the next few months, all across the country, comic book conventions will be held in hotel lobbies, warehouse buildings, and convention halls. Hundreds of thousands will gather to celebrate their fandoms: Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Black Panther, the list goes on and on. And many of those fans will be dressed to the hilt in costumes, some handmade, some bought online. All worn with love and pride.
Nerd culture has had its scuffles with women and people of color in its communities. Gamergate comes to mind, though calling that a scuffle seems like an understatement. But as time has gone on and society has progressed, more and more marginalized groups have taken over mainstream nerd culture. Look no further than the success of Wonder Woman and Black Panther. Or the much-loved animated shows Steven Universe and The Legend of Korra. Greg Pak writes Totally Awesome Hulk. Iron Man is a little black girl. More diversity in the comic and film world means more diversity in the cosplay world.
Enter Izabel Mar of Zombie Panda. I’ve known Izzy for years, since my time in the Seattle theatre scene. A creative soul at heart, Izzy opened up to us about her love of cosplay and performance and discussed how her Hapa identity informs both.
How did you get started with cosplay? Were there particular comics that inspired you?
When I went to Comic-Con for the first time, about 8 or 9 years ago, I saw all these amazing cosplayers and thought, “I want to do that.” But I didn’t for another year or so because, at the time in 2010 or so, cosplay was just becoming mainstream. There were a couple people who were really the face of the cosplay community: Yaya Han and Jessica Nigri... and I looked nothing like them. And the cosplay they did wasn’t cosplay 12-year-old me was comfortable doing.
Because that was the only mainstream cosplay media at the time, I thought couldn’t cosplay if I wasn’t like them. I was wrong though, absolutely. There’s one cosplayer actually that showed me that I don’t have to be a particular type to cosplay, and that is Dahlia Cortez. These cosplayers are completely unashamed of themselves and create beautiful art out of costumes. I also met Yaya Han at NYCC last year, and she was the most awesome human. Both her and Jessica Nigri are.
How do you create your costumes and how do you decide who to cosplay as?
I’m a seamstress and I studied costume creation for four years in high school. So most of my cosplays are made from scratch and are textile based; although, some of my cosplays are bought and cobbled together. Thrift shops are my best friends. As for choosing cosplays, I tend to gravitate towards characters who I identify with, or who inspire me. For instance, Silk from the Marvel Spider-verse. That’s the Spider-Man and all related characters universe. Actually there are multiple Spider-verses and multiple Spider-people. It’s confusing.
Silk is a Hapa young adult living in NYC, and she has to balance being an intern and fighting crime. One quote from her comic is, “I’m not a master anything. Other than disaster. Is it too late to change my name to Master Disaster?” And I love that. Silk is admittedly a mess, but she wakes up each day and does her absolute best. And she’s funny on top of it.
Has your Hapa identity influenced who you chose to cosplay as, and how to go about it?
Absolutely. I definitely look for characters that are Hapa or Asian. It’s one of the reasons I love Silk so much actually. She’s Hapa! She’s my girl. And I’m really protective of them and who cosplays them. It’s important to me that Hapa and Asian characters are accurately represented in cosplay… and in media altogether, but that’s another conversation.
And this was actually a conversation my cosplay wife and I had recently. We were discussing cosplaying Korra and Asami from Legend of Korra. The problem with this is that they are fully Asian. Korra is Southeast Asian and dark skinned and Asami is East Asian and light skinned. And Helen is white and I’m, well, half East Asian, but clearly mixed. But we love these characters that helped shape us as people and personally identify with them and their individual journeys. But we feel as if it would be considered misrepresentation and we’re not comfortable with that.
So we’ve talked and talked about doing it for almost two years now. We sort of came up with a solution. In every photo we post we would add a caption along the lines of: “we understand we are not the best or most accurate representation of these characters. Some cosplayers who capture and represent these characters in ways we cannot are @riansynth and etc...”
But honestly, my instagram is below. If you have another idea or thoughts about this, please reach out. I really would like to know what people think.
You’ve recently started posting about your relationship with fellow cosplayer @nofoxgiven. How did you decide to make that public? And how has that influenced your cosplay?
MY WIFE. This question is funny to me because I end up talking about this a ton. Helen and I aren’t in a romantic relationship. But she is my partner in cosplay and in life. And, full disclosure, it was the fact that I was totally in love with her for awhile last year that made me realize and fully face the fact that I am totally queer. I’m not a label kind of girl so I haven’t fully defined it yet, but definitely not straight. Helen has been my rock at Cons and has made me realize that I deserve friends who are gonna support me and even join me in what I want to do. We push each other to go outside our comfort zone with our cosplay. We definitely do our best to be shippy and cute, and rep cute female-identifying relationships.
I’ve known you for years as an actor. What is it that draws you to acting? What are your favorite roles/dream roles?
I like becoming other people and living through experiences I wouldn’t have in everyday life. I mean, acting is merely living truthfully under extraordinary circumstances. It’s the same for why I love cosplay so much. I love becoming other people, but they’re not separate from me. They’re just a different part of me than the part I project every day. Dream role is Cindy Moon Silk in a TV show or movie, or Death in an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (I also cosplay her).
What Cons will you be attending this year and what projects are you working on?
I’ll be attending NYCC for sure. I was part of the photo promotional campaign last year so they gave me tickets! I’m working on a Rey from The Last Jedi cosplay currently, and I’m working on updating my Raven from Teen Titans. I also just got a new Silk suit so that’s exciting! And I’m trying to get a Scott Pilgrim cosplay group together so if you know anybody...
How can people find you?
END OF INTERVIEW
Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdopiles and On Stage Blog. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.