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Just Cos

by Eric Ginsburg

It’s not easy to explain cosplay to a non-nerd, but Caitlin Rhyne is trying.

“People want to be a part of their own fandom,” she says. “I think it’s easier to understand if you’re a nerd. As an adult, you don’t get a chance to goof around that much.”

The easiest way for most adults to relate is through Halloween, she points out, the one day of the year that it’s widely acceptable for adults to dress up. Rhyne plans to be X-23 this year — a female clone of Wolverine from X-Men — if she can finish making the wardrobe in time, but costuming is a year-round venture for her.

Cosplay, short for costume play, embodies a combination of costuming and acting. People like Rhyne design and create their own costumes modeled after characters from a broad swath of the geek world, especially comic books, TV shows and movies.

It all began for Rhyne, a relatively new cosplayer who lives in Greensboro, at Acme Comics’ Free Comic Book Day two years ago when she donned a Power Girl cape. A self-described former theater kid, she’s long been interested in costuming. After obtaining a tourism degree and aiming for a career working in a resort by the sea somewhere, Rhyne quit a hotel job to nurture her artistic side. She spent a year dabbling in different media and trying to ascertain her passion until she eased into cosplay.

Rhyne gained other useful skills working at Disney World in college, where she dressed up as Princess Ariel and learned from other girls how to wear make-up and style her hair. Drawn to the job and the luxury hotel industry by her desire to work where people are having fun, Rhyne has been able to maintain that desired environment through cosplay.

The first costume she designed that really ignited her interest in cosplay was a Carrie Kelley Robin outfit. Last year, Rhyne made about 12 costumes for herself, addition to a significant trove for admirers of her work and a few pieces for friends, but the Robin suit is still her favorite.

She makes enough money from freelance costuming for other people to cover the cost of her own pieces, and it doesn’t hurt that Rhyne’s friend Austin Thompson shares his skills, space and tools with her. Rhyne, 26, plans to spend the next year collecting skills and sewing every day before applying for full-time costuming gigs, and in the meantime she’s enjoying a job at M’Couls.

There’s plenty more to learn — improving her corsetry work, focusing on embroidery, looking into body-painting, working with spandex and giant-robot fabrication — but Rhyne’s strong skills developed from internet tutorials and trial by error are already apparent in her work.

She can make armor, a dreadlock wig and patterns. With Thompson’s help and equipment, she defied what other cosplayers thought was possible and pioneered laser-cutting worbla, a thermoplastic, she said.

Greensboro-based filmmaker Blake Faucette featured Rhyne in his “Cosplayer Chronicles” series, and with encouragement from him and others, Rhyne decided to take her skills in the area more seriously. She created a Facebook page that now holds her accountable to keep creating, but it’s difficult to imagine anything standing in her way.

Her creations are more art than clothing, Rhyne said, given her tendency to go over the top like when she recently wove her own fabric for a “Game of Thrones” character outfit. There’s a modeling component too when she wears her work to places like DragonCon — the regional Mecca of fantasy and science fiction held annually in Atlanta — and Rhyne said she could be happy working as a company model or brand ambassador, too.

Her favorite component of designing and creating costumes is helping herself and other people become their dream, be it a man who aspired to play the role of Thor or her interest in emulating characters like Carrie Kelley that she can relate to and admire.

Depending on the piece, a given costume will take Rhyne about 100 hours to complete, though at this point she could knock out a Power Girl get-up in an afternoon. Despite plenty of failures, including a late-night battle with spandex last week, Rhyne’s eagerness to keep learning and pursuing her work professionally is apparent.

WANT TO SEE HER WORK? VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/CONTAGIOUSCOSTUMING

Blake Faucette is in awe of what cosplayers can do on their own, comparing the output to Hollywood-grade costumes. That’s no small compliment coming from a filmmaker and the former owner of College Hill Video, and it’s part of the reason he and his co-collaborators trained their cameras on cosplay.

Faucette, who produces videos with a small cohort of friends under several different names, put together the “Cosplay Chronicles” to give voice to participants and display their talent. Among those selected are Greensboro residents Rhyne and Andrew Comstock.

“For us it’s about showing the emotion behind it,” he said, adding that, like cosplay, for him filmmaking is all about having fun.

Most attempts to document cosplay rely on fluff and miss the reasons behind why people participate, he said. After shooting some video at conventions like DragonCon, he opted to dig in a little deeper with profile clips to bring out the untold story.

Most of the filmmaking he’s involved in may be more grounded in fantasy — making cosplay unsurprising subject matter — but the series isn’t the first time he’s forayed into documentary-style. Faucette and a friend created the “Often Awesome” series capturing Greensboro’s Tim LaFollette’s battle with ALS.

Faucette and his partners —film-school grads Micah Moore and Andy Coon — quickly tired of making featurelength films and trying to distribute them in the traditional way, as they did with Dogs of Chinatown. YouTube presented a solution, where they could interact more directly with fans and generate revenue with ads. Their “Modern War Gear Solid” series claims 10 million views, and their Beat Down Boogie channel boasts a quarter-million subscribers and more than 37 million views. Evenwithout new content posted, their work pulls in 50,000 views daily.

Faucette works between 60 and 80 hours a week, about 40 of it on freelance video work. Currently among that are two documentaries — one about pinball and another on cosplay. He started the cosplay filming for one of his YouTube channels, Distractotron, but it’s morphed into a full-length piece focused on why five primary people are so passionate about it. Faucette expects to release it next summer.

His daughter loves watching his cosplay footage and can be credited with getting him back into pinball, too. When Faucette leaves home to film for the cosplay documentary, like he did in September, he tells her that he’s headed to make her another video.

“She’s as much of a driving force behind everything as I am,” he said.

Maybe one day she’ll be featured in his “Cosplayer Chronicles” — after all, Rhyne is working on a cape for her now.

SEARCH FOR BEAT DOWN BOOGIE OR DISTRACTOTRON ON FACEBOOK OR YOUTUBE.

It’s not hard to believe Andrew Comstock when he says he’s always had a very active imagination. As a kid he used to dress up as Han Solo and other characters he idolized, a habit born out of necessity because few kids lived nearby. Though he’s still dressing up, Comstock’s skill evolved dramatically.

These days his inventions are decked out with flashing lights, speakers and built in fans to relieve some of the heat. Seeing Comstock in full robot regalia is impressive, but hearing it is mesmerizing.

After taking his friends’ advice and venturing to DragonCon a few years ago, Comstock was floored by the cosplayers he saw but noticed none of the costumes were interactive. Inspired, he created a Daft Punk robot costume with built in speakers that became a massive hit the following year. Comstock became the life of the party, leading a conga line from building to building and wowing countless convention goers.

He became the event.

Faucette captured part of the phenomenon on film, and incorporated the footage into his interview with Comstock.

It was a refreshing revelation for Comstock to discover a vibrant cosplay culture, where he could be a part of something bigger and indulge in his geeky fantasies. At first he utilized things that were laying around, and his costumes are dependent on the amount of money available at any given time.

The innovative robot suit and his version of Dig Dug are his two major works, and the recognition and acclaim he’s received for both have been overwhelming and rewarding. Still, he wants to revamp the robot suit, beginning from scratch to fix design mistakes, make it more comfortable and durable maybe add speakers to the back… you know, for all the people behind him in the conga line.

The suit isn’t just a hit at geek conventions — clubs and private event planners hired Comstock to liven up their activities. He’s learned that he much prefers being in the middle of a crowd than performing on a stage, but the goal really isn’t to make money.

Comstock is already satisfied with where he is professionally, living one of his other passions as the parts manager at BMW motorcycles. There’s a creativity and challenge to both, and Comstock describes his bike work as “functional art.”

He’s thankful for the openness and willingness to share ideas that he said is a hallmark of the cosplay community. It allowed him to learn from other designers, and Comstock pays it forward by diligently documenting his process so he can help other people overcome hurdles. One man in Canada expressed his admiration for Comstock’s work and after taking the instructions and remixing his own take on it, sent Comstock a video of the completed project. That’s what it’s all about, Comstock said.

Cosplay provides him with an opportunity to fulfill his compulsion to create, perform and be a big kid. Plus, the anonymity the robot helmet affords him allows Comstock to be uninhibited, enjoying a level of superhero or rock star status as he struts through a crowd blasting the beat.

VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/ARCTHEGUY TO SEE MORE OF HIS WORK.

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