The way I work: Ivy Doomkitty

In the latest in our popular series the American cosplayer talks body confidence, learning to love flying and the relative merits of EVA over Worbla foam

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I took a short nap. The jet lag is hitting me hard right now. Energy drinks, Snickers bar, stuff to keep me awake – I got this. I’ve been going to comic book conventions for about 13 or 14 years and when I went to my first con I saw cosplay for the first time. I always loved the idea of being able to dress up as your favourite character. It was something I wanted to do but was afraid of. I thought that I’d get picked on because of my body type not being what was socially acceptable.

Before cosplay I was a professional cake decorator and baker. Prior to that I worked at a call centre. I never intended to do this for a living. Going pro happened completely by accident. For me the plan was always cake decorating but it just kind of transitioned.

I started getting invited to more conventions, I had more and more different products, autographs and signings, a calendar every year. That helped me in terms of offering myself
out more to conventions. In turn I got to judge higher calibre contests.

For me it’s important to talk to the community about body confidence and acceptance, how cosplay can build your self-esteem and can really change how you perceive yourself and others. When I started cosplaying no one was talking about this. I wish that there was. I think my quality of life and the way I perceived myself would have been significantly better years ago if there had been.

People now come to me and say: “Hey, I started cosplaying because I saw that you did it, and if you can do it, I can do it.” People like that want to be part of an amazing and accepting community. I find those experiences absolutely rewarding.

Any negative comments usually come from people outside of the community. When people have problems with the gender bends, cross plays or want people to stick to their own skin colour or physique, if it’s a comment on social media I delete it and I ban them or I report it. I don’t accept direct messages anymore because of the kind of pictures I get. They’re very unwanted. If I do see them, I usually send back a photo of a hotdog slicer.

I have a large young fan base so I’m very careful about how I put my stuff out there

It used to be something that affected me and I can still have an off day when those kind of comments can still bother me, but overall I’ve just tried to build as tough of a skin as I can, so it’s not something that stops me cosplaying. I only have maybe a handful of characters that are of Latin American descent. The majority of characters are white. If I stuck to characters of my skin colour or ethnic background I’d be severely limiting my options. I love dressing as characters regardless of where they come from,
male or female.

There isn’t a typical day for me. It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m at a convention the day usually starts the night before. I’ll prep my costume. If it’s armour you need check if you need to touch up anything or make any repairs. Usually there is, to some degree. Then get the costume ironed or pressed ready for morning.

The day of the con I get up early, shower and all that, put on makeup that works appropriately with the costume, put in contact lenses depending on the character. Only then do I actually get into costume, make sure I eat at some point and get to the convention before the floor opens at 9am. If I’m signing I’ll start as soon as it opens or sometimes I’ll do a panel. Generally my day consists of signing and one or two panels. They can be anything from cosplay 101 to the cospositive movement, cosplay is not consent or how to be more confident.

Then you’ve got photo ops. Most cons will organise a professional shoot where you take photos with fans. I do get the occasional person who puts their arm around you for a photo but then their hand starts to go lower than it should. Usually with a moment like that I’ll grab their hand and lift it back up and look them right in the eye and say: “No, we don’t do that.” They go red in the face and get embarrassed and apologetic. I take those moments as teaching this isn’t acceptable behaviour.

Also there’s the cosplay competition at some point. The ReedPop Crown Championships is one of the top costume competitions you can be a part of. Now it’s gone international. The contest also has pre-judging, which takes a couple of hours depending on how many contestants there are. There’s a lot to take into consideration – what happens on stage, does something from the costumes fall off, is there a malfunction, is the costume durable, stage presence, if they embody the character. It all affects the points that help make the final decision.

I travel a lot now. Prior to cosplay I’d never been on a plane. I was terrified. The first time I made sure I had a bit of liquid courage. Now I love flying. My sister didn’t even have a passport before she started coming with me. We’ve been able to experience a lot of different parts of the world because of cosplay. I’ve been to Dubai, New Zealand, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Australia, and here in Manchester. I’ve been able to travel to places I never thought I’d be able to. I like experiencing different parts of the world and it’s nice that I get to share that with my sister.

I have a Dropbox of photos that I take as we travel too. It’s everything that I can’t post on Instagram or Facebook because there’s just too much stuff. People can subscribe to it via my Patreon. I see it as a fan club for those diehard fans who want exclusive content, stuff that not everyone can get.

At San Diego Comic Con there was one guy who hung around the booth for 15-20 minutes. I spoke with him, then spoke to the next person, but every time I was talking to the next person he’d try to jump in. I live in a very small town. I don’t tell people where I actually live. That’s private. The guy was not from there and then he asked specifically how much would it cost, and what would it be like to live in my home town. That made me extremely uncomfortable.

There are issues like that. I have a police officer friend where I live who routinely drives around my neighbourhood just to make sure. Sometimes I go to the mall and get recognised. It’s weird when you’re out of costume and get recognised. When I’m in costume I can do anything – I embody what those characteristics are – but out of costume I can be very shy
and quiet.

Back at home the week for me can range anywhere from working on a costume to handling my social media, packing and shipping merchandise with my sister, calendars, prints, magazines, t-shirts. I do Twitch streams, podcasts. I’m a gamer so I’ll stream that too. People can watch for free or subscribe to my Twitch channel. I could be in my hotel room doing my makeup, do a Q&A or I have a setup with my heat gun and foam so can generally livestream my armour construction or such.

Making costumes starts with a lot of research. It depends on if it’s something I’m designing myself or if I’m working with another artist. I’ll Google images, select the components I like from different iterations of the character. Then if I’m collaborating I’ll take them to the artist and say: “Hey, I like these parts. Can you draw something?” Or if not I’ll do that on my end.

After that I start putting together all of the materials, going to the fabric district in downtown LA, going store to store finding the fabrics you want. If it’s armour-based I’ll order some Worbla [thermo-plastic] and foam online. Then in terms of the construction, for fabric I start from the layers underneath and work my way up. I have a dummy that I use for drafting my own patterns. If it’s armour-based I’ll draft the patterns on myself and then build upon that.

My cheapest costume was my redshirt [Star Trek], which cost about $45-$50 [£35-£39] for the boots, fabric and wig. My most expensive is probably Mantis from Guardians of the Galaxy. I commissioned a prosthetic with light-up antennae, the suit was air brushed, the wig was custom, everything was handmade. It cost about $3,000 (£2,350). Armour costs between $400 (£313) and $1,000 (£782) for the materials and takes about a week to make if I’m focused on it. I use a mix of Worbla and EVA foam. I like working with Worbla more, but I like the qualities of EVA. It’s easier to travel with because it’s significantly lighter and it’s not going to break as it’s more flexible.

I do have friends that do nudes, or “lewds”, as they like to call them, but I have a large young fan base so I’m very careful about how I put my stuff out there. I used to do a lot of boudoir and pin-up modelling but I always make sure it’s classy and not going to offend parents or kids. It’s not something you can do for the rest of your life and retire off – make wise decisions now because they’ll affect you later in life. I have friends who are struggling to do what they want to do now because there’s history on the internet.

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