I used to think “cosplay” was code for “weirdo.” Turns out I was completely right – in the best way possible. Because these weirdos are, more often that not, bold, funny, sassy, brassy, smart, dedicated, fun-loving, creative folks who give zero fucks about what the world at large thinks of them. And I can’t think of a better representative of the art and craft of cosplay than Miss Ivy Doomkitty — she uses a pseudonym due to past experiences with negative online and offline attention, something to which a lot of public women can undoubtedly relate. A thoughtful, insightful dame, she’s cool as hell and easy on the eyes, to boot. We recently chatted via Skype from our respective headquarters in Los Angeles (her) and Brooklyn (me) and talked about her journey from a bullied young girl to a sought-after sex symbol and spokesperson for body acceptance.
Growing up in Los Angeles, was the concept of performance something that came naturally to you?
No way. I would say I’m more of a wallflower. At least growing up, I was very antisocial. I didn’t have many friends. I dressed dorky. People would always make fun of me. I’d get picked on at school for my weight.
When did that start?
I’d say it was as early as first grade onward. It was always an issue. I never really played with other kids in school… Everything was academic. So I focused on bettering myself from an academic standpoint because I was made fun of because I was “a nerd” as it were. But then also I was into a lot of things that other girls my age weren’t. I grew up watching the X-Men cartoons and Batman: The Animated Series and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And it was weird, in that time, for girls to like those things. It wasn’t considered normal.
Did you read comics at that time?
I watched the cartoons and I played a lot of video games — my first console was a Super Nintendo. I was five or six years old when my dad took me to go get it. So I was gaming from an early age. I was into all of those things. No one really liked me because of it… I mean, it sucked.
And once I hit maybe 16 or 17 I started picking up on comics and actually reading them. I didn’t know that comics even existed…all I knew is that I loved Magneto ‘cause he was a badass on the cartoon. And I loved Batman because he had all of these different facets to himself.
But you didn’t know that there was this community of people just waiting to embrace you?
Oh God, no.
When did you find out?
When I went to my very first Con, nine, maybe 10 years ago.
So you went through adolescence not knowing you could be a part of this huge world that would love you.
Absolutely. The typical loner, nerd person that has no friends that no one hangs out with who’s home playing video games when everyone else is out and dating and doing this and that… I lived that stereotype. And when I went to my first convention, it was just insane. Just being able to see all of those things that I grew up all in one place. It was definitely overwhelming, and I was immediately hooked. I went back home and said, “What other shows are there? I’m going to more, 'cause this is amazing. And these are my people.”
When did you become aware that cosplay existed?
I believe it was a Mystique and a Storm that I saw at that [first] Con. And for me it was, “Oh my God, my favorite characters are being brought to life. This is awesome. I wanna do this.” But as much as I wanted to do it, I was very much afraid. Because one, I felt like I did not have the skill set to bring any of these characters to life, and two, I felt that I would be made fun because of my body type. At that point in my life, I had a lot of self-esteem issues. At the end of the day I was just afraid of being ridiculed for the way I looked, physically. And not in the terms of, “Oh, she’s wearing a costume,” but in the sense of, “Oh my God, look at her. She is this huge person that should not be wearing a costume.”
What is it that really made you finally do it?
About five or six years ago, Frank Cho, my favorite comic book artist, reached out to me. Mind you, throughout the years I would bump into him at conventions. He e-mailed me and asked me if I would be interested in doing figure modeling for him at a convention.
I immediately jumped on this and was super excited because one, it’s my favorite comic book artist, and two, he’d asked me to be in a costume for the figure modeling at a convention. So it was a bunch of really awesome things all rolled into one. And I think he called me two weeks before the show [to ask] if I could do it. So a friend and I put together a Miss Marvel costume. And I wore it for the first time during the modeling session. But I wouldn’t say that I would call that cosplay, per se, because it was a modeling thing. But I remember being terrified and nervous as I was walking in that room. Then he has my do my pose, and he was instructing the class on how to draw women the way he does — and the way he draws women, they’re very voluptuous. They’re very hour-glassy and I can identify with the way that he draws women which is why I’m so attracted to his art style. So it was just awesome. I had a lot of fun. But then afterward, I immediately removed the costume because I was afraid of anyone seeing me outside of that panel room and making fun of me because I wasn’t the ideal. And he asked me to do it again the following year. After that, I decided to go ahead and just make a costume for San Diego Comic-Con. And it was one of his characters, Brandy from Liberty Meadows wearing a red shirt from Star Trek: The Original Series. So I went to San Diego, wore the costume — and it was such a positive experience. Fans of his character loved the fact that I brought his character to life. Or they were fans of Star Trek. I had an amazing time. And after that, I said, “I’m gonna make more costumes because I’m having so much fun. And this is the complete opposite of what I was expecting to get.”
It sounds like you walked in primed for the same kind of bullshit you had dealt with as a kid, like your hackles were up, so to speak. You were almost in fight or flight mode. You were ready for bad stuff to happen.
Exactly. But then that night my photo pops up online for the very first time. And there’s a lot of positive comments, but then there were also some really negative ones. And the negative ones, they were really bad. They were horrible things that no person in their right mind should ever say to anybody. It hurt me a lot, and I did cry about it. And then somebody told me, “For every one negative comment that you have on there, you have about 20 or 30 positive comments. So why are you letting the negative comments outweigh all the positive ones?” And that really sat with me. I said, “You know what? You’re right.”
I’ve been having a blast just making costume after costume. But I will say that – if it wasn’t for me doing the modeling gig that Frank had asked me to do, there’s no way I would’ve built up enough confidence in myself to be able to even put on a costume.
How did you choose the name Ivy Doomkitty?
Ivy is my nickname. Doomkitty was actually my gamer tag from when the very first Xbox console came out. [Kitty was because] I’m a huge fan of cats. And Doom came from just – I like the bad guy. I always favor the bad guy like in comics, games, things like that: Wesker from Resident Evil, Dr. Doom, Magneto. I just always gravitated towards the villain. A lot of the costumes that I’m currently working on, they’re all bad guys. Misunderstood individuals because the things that they went through in life shaped them to become that way.
You’ve done a million interviews. You do press. You’ve done TV. You have this built in really strong fan base now that’s growing and growing. If you could say something to your seventh grade self, feeling awful and bullied and shitty and awkward, what would you tell her?
I would tell her, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.” I don’t wish for anyone to get bullied, especially as a child. It’s horrible. But at the same time, I think because I was bullied at an early age and continued to be bullied, I feel that it taught me how to…like it made me work on myself. It made me work on my personality as an individual versus being concerned with everything else. It made me grow as a human being.
To see more cosplay, check out videos and pics here.
Sara Benincasa is a comedian and the author of Great and Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. She tweets @sarajbenincasa and is currently on tour: dates are at SaraBenincasa.com/shows.