THE EVOLUTION OF AMBERUNMASKED
AMBER LOVE 29-JULY-2015 Iâ€™ve been experiencing an emotional hit after attending a local comic convention. The con was really cool in that I want to say it focused on comics, but without a doubt, cosplay was a close second for what defined the show. I was at the show and feltÂ a jumble of emotions: Upset. Invisible. Unimportant. Anxious.Â I feel the need to spell out who the hell I am in the nerd community, in case you didn’t know.
COSPLAYER VS CREATOR
A lot of creators hate cosplay. They arenâ€™t without their reasons. Some hate it just because theyâ€™re crotchety and hate everything. Others hate â€œwomen in tight costumesâ€ who arenâ€™t up to their standards (*cough* Tony Harris, Dave Dorman, Pat Broderick *cough*), but they have no problem seeing women who meet their beauty ideals and taking photos of them (or their butts). They try to build the argument that cosplay is ruining conventions. It created a problem in their comics economy where people are spending their money on costumes rather than comics/art; and also becoming headliners and spectacles that block the tables they paid for to do their jobs.
As someone who does everything except the art/lettering, I am exceptionally out of place and canâ€™t easily take sides in the arguments. Basically, cosplay is here to stay and you need to adapt as a creator if youâ€™re tabling at a con. If you hate it enough that you wonâ€™t accept an invitation to a con because they also have featured cosplay guests, well, go ahead and boycott it. Youâ€™ll find it nearly impossible to attend any convention in America and probably Canada too.
COSPLAYER VS COSPLAY ELITE
Iâ€™m not a fan of things like Heroes of Cosplay or any reality show. Why? Because I was filmed for one under the guise of the producers telling me it was a serious documentary about fandom and then they cut me out of it because I wouldn’t play along to their ideas of my weight being the subject of my on-screen character or lie about my feelings about NYCC. It was called Comic Store Heroes and to my knowledge, I was the only person putting in any hours at a comic shop (it’s on Netflix if you can find it). I also know that the contests in HoC were kind of shady; the producers knew who the winners would be. Whether or not they influenced that, I couldnâ€™t separate the rumors from honest information. So comic book fandom elitism can bite me. It’s TV even when it’s “comics” and you have to be beautiful/hot/have thousands of “fans”.
As someone who occasionally puts boobs on display because I enjoy it, I can still be annoyed when the only â€œfeatured guestsâ€ are those who fit into a rigid American beauty standard, usually with boobs out or giants ones covered by tight spandex. I brought the issue up to this local con when they only had hot women on their cosplay guest list. They added Ruby Rinekso and his wife Jennifer Rose so there would be a token guy. Otherwise, the only men were part of large troupes like the Mercs, The Finest, and the 501st. Quite the opposite of what was seen at Flame Con. Even then, queer events tend to be out popular “conforming” to beauty standards queer people.
After this long and having seen every type of comment and harassment, I have no problem calling shit out when Iâ€™m seeing it, even if that means Iâ€™m trying to do it nicely to organizers who are being sexist. When 10% of your featured creators are women, but all the cosplayers are hot chicksâ€¦ wellâ€¦ if thereâ€™s time before the con, you better bust your ass to resolve that.
DOING MORE THAN ONE CREATIVE THING
Iâ€™m more of a grassroots creator. I started blogging on LiveJournal using it as part personal dumping ground and part cosplay/fandom blog. When LJ started to be out of style, in 2008 I moved to Blogger/Blogspot to specifically have a place for nerdy things and cosplay. There are 484 posts there.
In May of 2008, I launched my own YouTube channel to do comic book reviews and include some cosplay features. I all but abandoned it when Windows no longer supplied Movie Maker. I have since found a cheap alternative, but itâ€™s difficult to use when you donâ€™t know what youâ€™re doing and teaching yourself. Now my coverage is less about cosplay and more about conventions and creating.
On Halloween in 2008, I uploaded a cosplay segment of me as Black Cat to enter into a Marvel online contest. It was one of my early costumes. I had only been sewing for two years at that point. So, it was probably like my third or fourth costume. I made it for Free Comic Book Day one year, but it took a while to upgrade the wig to go from that giant curly George Perez style to sleek Mark Brooks style.
The Black Cat video is one I have considered deleting MANY times. But Iâ€™ve worked on my website stats. I donâ€™t want to delete the video that has contributed 40,386 views to myÂ 315,260 count. Only half the people that watch it are doing so for any positive reason; the rest are critical trolls. And the video is old. My sewing has improved. People don’t even look at the dates of videos.
I took the plunge to pay for the AmberUnmasked.comÂ domain, which is a lot of money even on a shared server. I have written 842 posts of the 910 that are published. AmberUnmasked.com was meant to replace the old Hero Fashions on Blogger. It was going to be about cosplay and comic reviews. Instead, it became my catch all for nerdy things and personal things. I figured, why not? Itâ€™s my space and if I want to spend three thousand words talking about my panic attacks, then I will. The anxiety and depression I have are things other nerds have, so itâ€™s been a positive experience in that regard because the comments are from other sufferers or compassionate people who say they wish they could help. Itâ€™ll never stop trolls from writing â€œkill yourselfâ€ on cosplay videos though.
Iâ€™ve also seen the pros say you have to give up cosplay to be a creator taken seriously. Tell that Ming Doyle who dresses as Jubilee.
THE AMBER (R)EVOLUTION
What I wanted to talk about today is where this evolution has brought me. I have published a few indie comics, some with small press publishers, but others POD. I have the Patreon now to keep me going – and at the moment itâ€™s not enough to gas up the car, but itâ€™s a great start.
In other words, Iâ€™m not on Nerdist or The Mary Sue (not for lack of trying – Iâ€™ve pitched/applied to both); but, I have now been published by Women Write About Comics and Femsplain. Iâ€™ve gotten where I am because of my own need to createÂ and the support of family and friends who support meÂ when I need it. But I am the host, writer, producer, director, editor (of words, audio, and video) and the one responsible for the costumes I wear even if thatâ€™s a matter of putting together something from the closet and applying a full sleeve of fake tattoos I paint on by hand – with the only exceptions being hired cases like Dead Irons.
When Ashley left the site (and she contributed nearly 50 articles), itâ€™s been a slow build to get new contributors. Thereâ€™s Jesse Parrino, Gareth Hoskins, Kate Foil, and occasionally James Hannon. We were all friends anyway so I thought it was a great idea when they asked if I would post stuff for them. The site was upgraded to a more robust WordPress theme, so now, itâ€™s even better about showing the authors and topics. Iâ€™m still doing the formatting and editing of the posts, but itâ€™s a great having more voices on this platform.
The AmberUnmasked demographics have seen their first shift to having more female readers this year. It used to be a mere 12% and now it’s around 29%. I never understood why women weren’t reading the posts, looking at cosplay galleries, or listening to the show. I understand if cis het men are the only ones on the naked gallery pages. But that’s not all there is. However, women stay on the site three times longer per session. *Google only analyzes the binary gender assumptions.
Iâ€™ve been on a few comic con panels too, mostly recently at FlameCon in New York. It seems natural, to me, to have a podcaster (a person who is used to public speaking) on a panel, especially one familiar with making comics, cosplay, and writing. So was I upset that none of the NJ cons this year have asked me to participate or even ALLOWED bloggers/vloggers to have press passes? You bet I was. East Coast con, for example, doesn’t want anyone besides their inner cabal of Comic Book Men and Smodcast personalities. Their site actually says don’t bother asking. And remember this – being asked to be on a panel doesn’t mean any of my expenses traveling to NYC cons are covered. That’s still all me.
New Jersey shows areÂ willing to fly in cosplayers from around the country and put them up in hotels, but not ask an actual local person to be a guest.
When I only did cosplay and reviews, I guess I was more popular because the community was smaller. I was thinner and my signature character was Wonder Woman for charity events at Comic Fusion. Even thinner, I was still called a whale as you can see by the comments. I got to be our NJ Wonder Woman for Superhero Weekend (in various styles of her look as my comfort changed) for seven years; and then in 2014, it was the first time I did something else for both days. Usually Wondie was only one day so I could wear another outfit during the weekend. Weâ€™ve raised around $50,000 for charity through the art auction and raffles. Every year, I wonder if I should retire my tights and capes.
So again, I have no idea why NJ shows donâ€™t even have a clue who I am or what I do.
* Model for comic book artists
* Published author and comic writer