This summer I competed with Peekaboo Cosplay at Montreal ComicCon's masquerade and we settled on our most ambitious goal to date: we wanted to take home Best in Show, the highest award that the masquerade offers. What should we compete in? I was itching to do Ursula, and so she agreed to do a mermaid to accompany me.
The build was a month and a half of extreme cosplay insanity, and although everything went really well, the sheer monstrous size of the project was overwhelming at times, and I really shouldn't have taken on something of that size with the time that I had. But by far, the most interesting stories came out of the Saturday we wore these costumes and competed together. After the convention, I shared the story on my Facebook page in snippets, but I've published the whole thing here, along with the absolutely stunning photography from our photoshoot, done by Jennifer Rapkins Photography.
I woke up at 8am that morning and worked on my makeup for about an hour before eating and leaving for the convention. We had to rush to get there for about 9:45, so that we could line up to sign up for the Masquerade. There is no pre-registration, so it is first-come-first-serve. This is obviously pretty stressful for those of us who have worked so hard to finish a costume just for this event. We got there in time and got signed up. After that was done, OS Cosplay and I left Peekaboo in the cosplay lounge and went to collect Ursula from the truck that was parked in the convention centre parking.
This was my first sign that things were not going to go as planned - There were 9 garbage bags of tentacles, and the 9 frame pieces. Although we managed to get it all up in one trip, there was some pretty tricky rigging of the tentacle frames and a very tired Harkonnen when we got back to the cosplay lounge.
After pausing to catch my breath, it was time to finish makeup and start suiting up.
A shoutout to the lounge organizers - while I was finishing my makeup they had a quick look for other locations for me to get ready (so I wasn't quite so much in the way) but I ended up getting assembled in the cosplay lounge anyway. Another shoutout to Lady Maryoku Cosplay and especially Bridget Claire for helping me assemble the tentacles - the silicone outer needed to be slid onto the rigging and it was some effort to do so.
I'm guessing between makeup and assembly of the costume the entire process in the cosplay lounge was at least an hour and a half. I missed the "Business of Cosplay" panel by Lady Maryoku, OS Cosplay and Lexa Lefay Cosplay because I was still getting ready.
They got out just as I was doing my first walking tests. Those went badly, because the entire upper floor was carpet, and caused enormous resistance against the tentacles. I was originally planning to wear rollerblades to give a very undulating motion but couldn't do it because the weight and resistance was so much. I switched to my backup heels, and then did a whole bunch of adjusting so that the front two tentacles didn't look stupid.
My other original plan had been to strap the front two tentacles to my legs, to get them off the ground and so that they moved with me - that ALSO failed. I basically tied them to the crinoline frame in order to keep them partially off the ground, and hold them in place since they wouldn't be held to my legs.
I could walk, but not well. I had to go really slowly, as I dragged all my tentacles, and so that I could step forward properly inside of the frame made by the two front tentacles lashed to the crinoline.
A quick note: I was being relatively straightforward about MY experience of tying my tentacles to the frame, and it didn't cause me that much stress - but my handler, OS Cosplay notes that it caused HIM a lot of stress. He was there, lashing things together, and because I knew that he was handling it, I wasn't as worried as he clearly was about making sure it worked. Just wanted y'all to know - more than one person used up a ton of spoons that day. Onward!
Because the front two tentacles were lashed to each other and the frame and not my legs, it meant that they didn't move in time with my steps. It also meant that the beautiful padding I'd added was off kilter enough that unless I stepped in exactly the right way, there was the potential of my leg hitting pex pipe (even EXPOSED ENDS of pex pipe) rather than the padding. GUESS WHAT I DID LOTS OF!?!?!?!
Today's story starts at the entrance to the cosplay lounge, and it is time to move to the shoot location. Remember, I can take only small steps and my costume is heavy and there is the chance of hurting my legs with each step. But I'm a trooper and I want good photos and I want Ursula to be seen so I'm dealing with it.
While we were lashing my tentacles together, OS Cosplay asks our photographer, Jennifer Rapkins Photography, to scout out her location and make sure there is a clear way to get there. He asks at least twice.
That is when my beloved Jennifer Rapkins Photography does something that adds stress to my life. And I will pause here to remind you that the reason I'm telling you this story is that I want to dispel the myth that everything happens perfectly and just the way we want it to and that communication is flawless - which it isn't - that's real life. I chose Jennifer because I see such amazing potential in her as a photographer, even if she needed experience - and holy hell I gave her a trial by fire.
She decides to take us to a location that she hasn't seen and that neither of us is sure where it is on the advice of a friend. Photographers, DO NOT DO THIS. She made this decision because she was new to the location and the convention, and was nervous about the shoot.
I know that I can't move well, and that there will be a major cost to me in getting to whatever location we pick, and that I'm going to be paying that cost without even knowing if the location is worth this effort! I was freaking out inside but doing my best to appear calm.
And then he tells us it is downstairs.
Okay. I'm a trooper. Let's go downstairs.
And I mean literally, down stairs. We went from the fifth floor, where the cosplay lounge is, down to the second floor, where the dealer room is, using the curved stairs at the far right of the mezzanine. It probably took us almost 20 minutes, and no-one else could use the stairs while I was going down, and it took 4 people to keep people off the stairs and my tentacles while we did so. The entire time I need OS Cosplay to guide me to make sure I don't catch my longest tentacles on anything. To top it all off, one of my tentacles ripped on one of the stairs as I went down. Like, badly. Like, a 2-foot gash badly.
And then he tells us no no, it is actually on the main level.
I put my foot down. Nope, nope I cannot do any more stairs. We are going to go to the cement wall over there with the yellow light and that's what you get.
The photoshoot officially begins! Jennifer Rapkins Photography kindly started with me, because I was already in position, and was definitely the harder one to move around. I did my best, and I love being a model, but let me tell you, the stress of getting down there did not put me in a great place to take pictures. However, I have had enough practice that I could pull out poses that I knew would work with the character and my body, and slowly relaxed as I got into it.
Poor Jennifer had the much harder job, as people would crowd around taking pictures while she was working. Thankfully, OS Cosplay was doing his amazing handler thing at this point and was both announcing Peekaboo Cosplay and I and letting attendees know to respect the official photographer as she worked. SO. BRILLIANT.
Even still, there were many photographers who didn’t do this. If you are a photographer, and someone is literally telling you that another photographer is actively doing a shoot and therefore has priority over you, GIVE THEM PRIORITY. I made a point of always focusing my eye contact on Jennifer, and waiting for her as she worked her way around people.
Then, Peekaboo jumped in, and we did some together shots. Now that I know better how the tentacles behave I’d like to do another shoot, as they forced us to stand further apart than I’d wanted. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know?
Some hardcore wrangling from OS Cosplay and I was moved to the side so that Peekaboo could do her individual poses. And now, a note for convention attendees: DO NOT TOUCH A COSPLAYER OR TOUCH THEIR COSTUME WITHOUT PERMISSION. EVER. LIKE, EVER EVER. OS Cosplay was facing a sea of people from every angle, reaching out to see if my shiny silicone tentacles felt exactly how they looked, without even making eye contact, let alone asking permission. We even had a kid reach from behind Bridget Claire’s legs to try and touch one. She was doing an amazing job blocking, preventing people from walking on them. But seriously, to reach between her legs?!?!
OK. Photoshoot done. Onward!
Peekaboo Cosplay and I really wanted to be seen, so we decided that, now that the photoshoot was done, we’d move to a slightly more visible (but still very spacious) location. OS Cosplay moved us from the photoshoot spot which was just off the dealer room, to the convention atrium (under protest).
He positioned us as far back in the atrium as possible, with some seating on one half and him on the other, so he could continue blocking for my tentacles. Even still, people tried to cut behind me by, I kid you not, jumping over them. Like, do you know how stressful that is for the cosplayer who made them?!?!? What if you miss?!?!?!
We spent about an hour or an hour and a half here, and didn’t move once we were in place. People would come in waves and take pictures. Every now and then, we’d have someone ask to take a photo with us. I had made the executive decision long before this point that no, we weren’t doing photos with attendees. There was just way too much risk of my tentacles being stepped on. Occasionally, for someone who REALLY wanted it, we’d let their kid stand roughly 6 feet in front of me to take the picture, but this was rare and I was closely guarded by OS Cosplay.
But even there, we hit the point where we’d reached our limit, and it was time to head back to the cosplay lounge for a break before the Masquerade started. This was going to be a big challenge - I'd gone DOWN stairs, but not UP. And we were going up 3 flights. We headed towards the only stairs that were nearby - they were right next to the escalator (which for obvious reasons I could not take) and started up the steps.
We had gotten up the first of four sets, when I felt something tug in a really bad way. And then, my tentacles slumped off me onto the stairs.
I was a quarter of the way up the stairs that led to the cosplay lounge, and had just had a catastrophic costume failure. I couldn’t see exactly what had gone wrong, except that a bunch of straps that held my crinoline in place had severed somehow, and several key structural elements looked bent or broken. In this state, my costume was completely unwearable.
There was nothing for it - I stepped out of the now-damaged frame. OS Cosplay, in a moment of “let’s deal with this but not here” scooped the tentacles up in his arms and began trying to carry them up the stairs. Quickly realizing that he was about to trip on a tentacle, I dove in behind and grabbed all the ends, hoisting them up.
You know when your handler needs a handler that the costume is too big.
We hauled her up the stairs in a superhuman feat of adrenaline and shock, and dumped her in the cosplay lounge. I had a million thoughts going through my head. What if she was irreparably damaged? How would I compete in the Masquerade? Could I compete in the masquerade? The green room time would be starting soon - if she could even be fixed, could I even fix her in time? I didn’t want to let Peekaboo down after all our hard work.
This is the point where the day caught up to me. Everything that had happened up to this point, plus the costume malfunction* just hit me in a big wave. I left Ursula where she lay and sat in one of the cosplay lounge chairs with my friends around me. OS Cosplay put a granola bar and some water in my hands, and I assume I ate it. I just sat for about 45 minutes, before I was calm enough to go back to her and assess the damage.
Also note: I was mildly too stressed** to think of taking pictures for the next few parts of the story, so I will be posting more beautiful photos from Jennifer Rapkins Photography instead.
*costume malfunction is a gross euphemism for holy fuck sweet jezus mother of god effing #!*$#*&$%&#$*#
It was time to repair Ursula.
Peekaboo Cosplay describes this moment as, “Jessica, with no warning, and stone-faced, just got up and started moving stuff and asking people to give her space. She grabbed the tentacles and hauled them over to a different spot in the cosplay lounge to begin assessing the damage. I kept waiting for her to break down or explode or... something.”
Five straps had ripped where they were sewn onto the crinoline, no small feat considering I’d made them four layers thick. I believe that the fabric I had used would normally have been fine, but it was from the depths of my fabric bin so it was likely too old. They could all be hand-sewn back into place, but were fraying so the repair wouldn’t last more than the weekend. The pipe had popped apart at the seam because of the weight imbalance when the straps ripped and could be put back together. I thought that I had lost the inner piece that held the pipe together, (which was irreplaceable) but it was still wedged in one side, held there by some tape.
The large gash in the tentacle could be hot-glued back in place, and while the tear line would show, it would be largely invisible because it was near the bottom. There were a few other small rips on the tentacles (probably from being stepped on) that I could hot glue in the same way.
On this closer, calmer inspection, the damage was extreme but, incredibly surprisingly, repairable in the time I had. Peekaboo Cosplay kindly helped me sew the straps back in place, and provided the needles and extra-strength thread from her repair kit. In order to do all these repairs I’d also had to cut out the lashing that OS Cosplay added earlier in the day, so I had to repeat it - this time I used zip ties. I trimmed the ends of the ties down and wrapped them in duct tape to prevent scratching.
I reached the point where I had salvaged her to roughly where she was before all this started. I had a bit of time before the green room time started. I then decided to sew the skirt piece to the top of the tentacles. This was a good decision, as it kept everything together until the end of the day - but it ended up taking longer than we had until our green room check-in.
Peekaboo Cosplay and OS Cosplay bought me time. They went and checked in without me, and came back. They brought a bag or two, and came back. Peekaboo changed into her costume. She got the director to show her the route to the stage. OS Cosplay organized stuff so that there would be space for my costume when I arrived. All this time, I was furiously sewing the skirt piece to the tentacles. Finally it was complete!
In other words, minus the 45 minutes of decompressing time, I spent the entire time in the cosplay lounge, and some of the green room time, fixing my costume.
But I made it. On to the green room!
It is now almost 6pm. I am finally in the green room. I have a space the equivalent to 10 cosplayers to myself, and am sitting on a stool that OS Cosplay brought because I cannot sit on a chair with a back. I will be suited up until after our stage performance. We are #7 in the performance list, which means that will be in about two and a half hours. We have the following things to accomplish:
1. Visit the photo studio for a professional photo
2. Get judged for workmanship
3. Confirm our audio
4. Take a quick reference photo
5. Confirm what ninjas we need for our stage performance
Anything that I do needs to factor how bloody long it takes me to move around and the fact that OS Cosplay needs to help me with my tentacles. OS Cosplay and Peekaboo Cosplay did a lot of this - they signed us in at the beginning, she confirmed our audio, and he made sure I was taken care of for everything else.
We got the first two out of the way real fast (super lovely) because the studio space was set up right next to the judging, so we finished one and then waited for a space at the other. Our judge was so sweet and kind and let us talk non-stop really fast about everything we’d done until we ran out of time. (My apologies to the other cosplayers who were bumped out of order for us 😭😭😭)
The others happened slower, and after we’d released OS Cosplay to go enjoy the con at all. (Lol. But not lol. You know what I mean.)
Peekaboo and I rested from our labours and discussed the stage performance, which needed adjustments given how difficult it was for me to move, and confirmed the timing we wanted with our music.
After that we rested, ate a bit more, and OS Cosplay brought me a bagel, bless him.
This was also the bit where he made clear in no uncertain terms that I was not wearing this on Sunday. In my mildly insane adrenaline state I’m pretty sure I said something to the effect of, “Well maybe I will wear it for an hour or so...” He very politely and in extremely strong language, forbid it. Later, I would agree with him, but I can say firmly that my delirious self at the time didn't want to.
This was it. We were finally here. All the insanity, all the waiting, all the re-jigging of the performance so that I could do it in my highly mobility-challenged state, and it was almost time.
The coordinators let me start walking to the stage about 5 minutes in advance of the rest of our group so that I could make sure that I was there in time. Thankfully the way was very wide and clear. We waited backstage, getting increasingly nervous the way we always do.
I was most nervous about hauling myself up the ramp to the stage, with my tired feet and calves. But once I was up, it went great! I looked evil and scary and undulating and octopus-y, and FELT evil and scary and undulating and octopus-y. Peekaboo Cosplay looked tiny and pink and sweet and cute, and when she did the costume change onstage, it went flawlessly. If there was anything I’d note as a problem, it was that the ninjas forgot that they needed 4 people to carry me off stage, not just 3. I just carried on being imperious and they pulled it together. With all they have to remember, I was happy to work with what they gave, and made it part of my show.
We oozed our way back to the green room (well I did) and we both stripped our costumes off instantly. We snuck into the audience, to watch the rest of the Masquerade. I have not watched an entire masquerade from the audience, and I got most of one, so that was pretty fun!
The relaxation of watching the other performances was lovely, but looming in the back of my mind was getting Ursula to the truck.
Getting Ursula to the truck was a challenge*.
My dear sweet lover had come to meet us, since the two of us both needed a quiet dinner together after this insane day.
They kindly took OS Cosplay’s tentacle-wrangling job so that he could carry everything else and guide us. I suited back up, because the easiest way to carry Ursula was to wear her. With me holding the front four and my lover holding the back four tentacles, we made good time but my calves paid a steep price (as you saw on day 3). OS Cosplay led us the sneaky back way so that we were not facing the challenge of carpet and also to avoid as many people as possible.
Because we had no other choice, we discovered that you could in fact fit me in an elevator. Watching me get through the door looked a lot like watching a real octopus squishing through a small space - but since judging was over, I didn’t really care anymore if anything broke (of course at this point nothing did, it *had* to be earlier.)
OS Cosplay used his charisma points in several places to get us in and out of spaces really quick in ways that normal people might not, and I’m really grateful.
It was definitely not the careful packing job of Thursday night - the tentacles were unceremoniously dumped, in one piece (remember it is still sewn together now), into the back of the truck, and all the rest of our stuff was positioned wherever there were holes or space. (The truck was in convention parking, or this would have been insane/impossible.)
Peekaboo Cosplay came with us mostly ‘cause she wanted to see this actually happen. I have to admit, I’d have been super curious myself too.
Then, I said goodbye to my comrades and goodbye to the tentacles, and left to spend some time with my lover.
*Challenge is a gross euphemism for "holy fuck that was super difficult oh god so tired what am I doing ugh I don’t want to wear this tomorrow, I seriously need to rethink my life."
After Ursula was deposited safely in the truck, my lover and I went for some noodles in Chinatown. We both tried to decompress, and didn’t do a great job - but that was understandable. If I hadn’t seen them after this awful a day, I can’t guarantee what would’ve happened, but I think we were both hoping for something sweeter and more calming.
I also saw a few friends - Lexa Lefay Cosplay and Cosplay Boyfriend, along with Lady Maryoku Cosplay had come by the hotel room to hang out with OS Cosplay, Bridget Claire, and Lilithia Dark. I saw them for a bit before they left to find food, and they have no idea how much they cheered me up. I also got a preview of the photos from the day and holy hell did that help - they were awesome.
I also had the second best shower in my life that night.
Was this costume and this day all made worth it by the Best in Show that Peekaboo Cosplay and I won the next day? Personally, I don’t think so. Things went wrong and we were able to make the best of it and look awesome while doing so, but this amount of stress is not something I can do again. I want to practice happy, fulfilling cosplay and that is not what the day brought me. That is not what the month beforehand brought me.
I’ll be taking a cosplay-building break for the next couple months, as I spend time thinking about how I participate in this hobby, and what I want it to do for me. I love that I won this award, but I want to see if I can do so with projects that I can enjoy all aspects of, and that I don’t have to stress about last-minute or day-of.
Ursula was one of my top 10 cosplays that I wanted to do EVER, and I can’t look at her right now. I don’t want to feel this way about something that I love so much. I, by my choices, made myself feel this about something that I love so much.
So, I will likely share a few of the results of spending some time rethinking my hobby, and will be posting WIP pictures to the Ursula album when I get to repairing her, but for now - I hope to see you soon, and will be posting more pretty pictures as I can.
I love you all, thank you for joining me on this crazy behind-the-scenes journey.