Megan explains why she's the first one to curse on The Justin Lab Report (ok not really), in addition to explaining how Yu Yu Hakusho got her into cosplay.
It’s always good to interview people in the fandom, and cosplayers are very big part of anime fandom. I definitely knew who I had in mind to interview as the first cosplayer. Let’s say I actually know her in real life. Megan, known across the internet as SpPandaaa, has been cosplaying since high school. That’s a LONG time. And she’s not stopping anytime soon. She explains why, along with the true way to say SpPandaaa, in this week’s Justin Lab Report.

Note: yes, there’s swearing! Just not from me, honest!

Megan

Justin: Hello Megan.

Megan: Hellloooo! *laughs*

Right, Megan, and also, I wanna make sure I get this right…SpPandaaa? Am I saying this right?

All right, so, a lot of people say that way. It’s actually pronounced Special Panda, but a lot of people say it that way *laughs*

Special Panda? Is there a reason you have this name?

So, like…my super old old old handle on the internet was loveanime18–*laughs* and oh my god—

Oh. That sounds great.

Yeah those are some weeb ass days oh my god! And I was just like, I want a new handle. I’m beyond this right now. So I was deep into my Hetalia days and I cosplayed China a lot back then, and it kindled this love of pandas. And so I decided I wanted something with pandas, and well I’m a special person, and there we go! I didn’t want to write special panda out, because that’s really long. So I was like, “hey, they abbreviate special as SP, and I think one A at the end of the special panda is boring…let’s just make it 3! And that’s how that handle came to be!

Did people figure out that’s what SP meant? *laughs*

No, most people ask me! They’re just like, “is that what it meant???” And I was like, yes, yes it is. So most people do not know. Very few people have gotten that.

Before we get into the cosplay stuff, I’m curious: have you gotten into anime the same way other people have gotten into anime? “Oh I’ve watched Sailor Moon on TV, Dragon Ball Z, there you go!”

Well, I always knew about anime because of Sailor Moon and DBZ and stuff like that, but I didn’t actively get into anime and be like, “yeah, this is anime, I’m super into it!” until about 7th Grade I think. I got super into Yu Yu Hakusho, and my best friend at the time was into Inuyasha, and she’s like, “Oh, this is like, anime, and this is like, fandom,” and I was like, “Oh my god, this is the greatest thing ever!”

When I was younger I wrote like Pokemon fanfics and stuff like that, which will never see the light of day, but I started writing fanfics and then slowly over time got into cosplay and all this other stuff, so Yu Yu Hakusho is what done me in.

Was there a particular anime that made you decide you wanted to cosplay or did something else get you to cosplay?

Back in high school, I went to an all girls Catholic School, and in that Catholic School I made some friends, and they’re like, “hey, at AnimeNEXT we’re gonna cosplay, so let’s cosplay RO (Ragnarok Online) together.” I didn’t play RO. The designs are cute enough, so I was like, “Cool, let’s do that then.” But then me and one of the girls had a super bad fallout, and I thought about not cosplaying for a little bit. But then I was like, “you know what? Fuck it, I’m gonna do it!” because it sounded like something fun, so I went and did it later that year for Halloween and I cosplayed Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho. That was a huge mistake because here I am, 10 years later, still doing this thing.

You’re saying it’s a mistake? It was not a mistake!

*laughs* No it’s not. Overall I’m happy that I’m still doing it, and I’ve made all my closest friends at this point are all because of cosplay. The connections I’ve made because of cosplay, even if they’re not necessarily people who cosplay themselves either, but cosplay has brought me so many amazing people so I don’t regret a single moment of it.

So you remember how your first cosplay went…how do you think that compares to your last cosplay at Otakon?

Oh my god. So Hiei, that’s just a hot mess. This was the prime example of Babu’s first cosplay is complete and utter shit. I decided that I was gonna cross play, but I did not know anything about binding, so I was unbound. I didn’t have a wig, what I used in the end was essentially an art cardboard. So I cut that out, put in Hiei’s white streak in it, and attached it by like, a cloth and tied it around my head. I had this really crappy seams that ripped off the sleeves, and I sown that down and just brought martial arts pants from Chinatown.

So yeah, that was a hot mess, and I’m really surprised from there that I can do the things I do now. I wore Chibi Moon for Otakon, and I technically had it done for AX but due to complications I didn’t go. Someone else wore the outfit for me to work at the Sailor Moon events, but then I finally got to wear my stuff at Otakon, and it was great. I’m using a sewing machine now, I’m using a surger, all these seams are really nice – it’s just the construction of my costumes has improved immensely since that first costume that I made that sometimes I think, “Wow, I’m really impressed with myself.”

Like, a lot of my friends are better than me, but I came a long way. Like these seams are so beautiful and so nice. This construction is pretty decent. So I’ve come a long way. I think that’s all I can really say about that.

You basically been cosplaying since high school. That is a long freakin’ time. I can only imagine how many things are different since that time, but what do you think has been the biggest change for you when it comes to working on cosplay?

One of the biggest things – I used to churn out costumes really fast. Like back in 2009 I was just churning them out. It was when I super into Hetalia so it’s just like, cranking out those Hetalia costumes and now it’s just like a struggle to get me to finish a costume in like, a month. It’s not so much that I slow down, but it’s more I care now about how things look, because I think starting around 2009 that’s when I really started to improve my costumes and construction, so since then I’ve slowed down to pay more attention to these things.

But I think a lot of things have changed aside from the amount of time they take in making the costume. It’s just seeing how things has progressed in the past 10 years or so because if you talk to anyone who’s been cosplaying as long as I have or even longer, we can all tell you how like, “Oh, back when we were starting cosplay, wigs didn’t come in these assortment of colors that they do now.” Like Arda, Epic, all these brands weren’t a thing back then. It was a struggle to come and do a lot of these things. But now things like Arda exist, and Yaya’s cosplay fabrics at Jo-Ann’s exist. Things that weren’t readily available in the past are now, and it’s amazing, it’s made cosplay a lot simpler.

How simple? I bet you’ve had to work on characters that were kind of challenging to cosplay huh?

Yeah I suppose so. I’ve definitely expanded on characters that I’ll do, which I feel in the past it would have been more challenging. When I first started cosplay, all I did was guys. I would only crossplay – essentially all my favorite characters were guys and I was like, “I don’t really like being “kira-kira” or anything,” which is hilarious because people know me now and know how like “kira-kira” and idol (not sure- Ed’s note) and I’m absolutely in love with and I love cosplaying.

So I’ve expanded upon it, I don’t feel as uncomfortable doing a lot of things that in the past I wouldn’t have done. Which is good, A+! You should definitely go beyond your scope of what you feel is your norm and kind of experiment ‘cause I feel like you can have a lot of fun and you can learn a lot of things. Not only about costumes but adds yourself to it, and it broadening your horizons, so that’s pretty cool.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done so far as a cosplayer?

I don’t know. I feel like, because I have such amazing friends that cosplay, they’ll talk about how they’ve hand-beated stuff for like, 80 hours, or they talk about how they sewed this entire costume for 60 hours straight, and like all these other crazy things and I’m like, “Oh my god. I haven’t done any of this stuff!” *laughs*

So I’m not really sure what I’ve done that’s crazy. I feel like there probably is. Like I’m holding myself up to a standard, like some of my friends are absolutely ridiculous and I’m just like, “Naw man, that ain’t for me. I am too lazy for that shit.” *laughs*

Maybe it’s just me deciding to sow essentially an entire costume the day before an event and be apparently done with it as I want it to be done. There was this Christmas shoot at Peddler’s Village last year that I went to. It was a rather last minute decision to go because I was not sure if I was going to go or not. So my friend Barracuda got me the fabric to do a Christmas Makoto/Miki costumes from Idolm@ster and I was like, “Ok, I guess I’m gonna do this!”

I essentially then made the entire outfit from before I left to going down to Barra’s place, then got to her place, continued sowing, sowed the next day when we were doing the shoot, was literally sowing into the car, up to being pulled up to the event. And I sowed on the last pom-pom and I’m like, “Guys I’m ready!” And getting up to the event, like Barri, Alison, they were all like, “Megan, look at yourself. What are you doing? Stop, just stop Megan! You brought another costume for just in case, you really stop and just wear that,” instead I was just, “Naw man, I gotta do this. I gotta be fuckin’ Christmas!”

They were telling me I was crazy but then they were like, “Now that you’re done I’m really impressed that you did this.” I was like, “I’m really impressed too!” Like I honestly did not expect to finish this but here we are.

Doesn’t sound very lazy to me to be sowing while the car is going—

*laughs* See, the laziness wasn’t as I was sowing. It was leading up to the sowing because I could’ve started much sooner and I was like, “It’s ok, we’re gonna start later.” I have a really horrible procrastination issue.

sppandaaa

So you’ve taken your cosplays to conventions and stuff like that – what genuinely surprises you when you go to them and you’re dressed as a character?

Sometimes I guess I don’t expect to be recognized, whether as myself or my character. Obviously I expect some characters to be recognized. Like if I’m Chibi Moon, I expect you’d recognize it because Sailor Moon is such an iconic anime series so it’s just like, if somebody stopped me as Chibi Moon I’d just be, “Ok, whatever, that’s bound to happen.” But sometimes I cosplay things and I’m like, “Wow. I’m really impressed you recognized me!” And then I get really impressed when people recognize me or stop me, “Oh, I like follow you on your Facebook or Youtube,” or something like that.So that’s always really impressive and it’s really nice because I honestly don’t expect to be stopped for anything really. Maybe the occasional, “I like your character because you’re cosplaying Chibi Moon or something else that’s kind of popular,” but being stopped for any other reason, I always get floored with because I don’t expect it. I have friends who are super amazing and talented and I’m just like, “Pay attention to them! Don’t pay attention to me! I’m really dumb. Just please go over and find some quality elsewhere.” *laughs*

Well it sounds like all that hard work you put into costumes and your work, to get recognized by a fan who knows your name – that’s cool isn’t it?

Oh it’s cool! I’m not saying it’s not cool. It’s incredibly cool, and I’m very humbled and honored every time it happens because I did actually get stopped a couple of times at Otakon, and I was like, “Oh my god I’m gonna cry.” So yeah, it’s an incredible experience and I’m really grateful for it.

What would say has been the best part of cosplaying?

The friends I’ve made. I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today without cosplay, and it’s such a strange thing to fathom, that if it wasn’t for cosplay I’d be a completely different person. But that’s honestly very true because a lot of my friends were completely intertwined with the fact that I’ve cosplayed, whether they cosplayed or not. If I didn’t get into cosplay, I wouldn’t have made some of the friends I’ve made who got me into other series they like. I wouldn’t have gotten into that.

Like I probably would have never picked up Tales (of) if it wasn’t for some of my friends who cosplayed, and a lot of my closest friends are from the Tales fandom. Not necessarily all of them cosplay, but they wouldn’t be part of my life right now if wasn’t the fact that I made this friend from years ago for cosplaying Hetalia or something like that. So it’s incredibly amazing. The world that I live in now, or the horoscope that I live in, is just because of cosplay. It’s honestly really life-changing.

What’s been the worst part?

Besides the endless amount of stress it can cause me? *laughs*

Sometimes you can really stress yourself out with cosplay so I put that out there as one of the things that I hate about cosplay. But in retrospect, in the opposite of the amazing friends that I’ve made  from cosplay it also really hurts when you lose a friend over what I feel is really dumb and petty because of things that pertain to cosplay. I’ve lost friends, not necessarily because of cosplay, but they were cosplay friends and then we’re not friends anymore because of dumb reasons, x, y, z.

That’s not to say that every friend I’ve lost in cosplay I’ve never rekindled friendships with because I’ve definitely have. I’ve lost friends that back in the day it was that really dumb Hetalia/Homestuck feud thing. It wasn’t like I actively hated Homestuck, but I had friend who kind of left Hetalia, went to Homestuck, and then it was just like, we couldn’t see eye to eye anymore, I guess? And then they talked shit about Hetalia and I’d be like, “Hey guys this is not like how we met and shit,” and I still follow Hetalia and stuff. We stopped being friends, but then after a while we came back together, we talked, and just realized we were kind of over with it and were done, and we’re all friends again. That’s really cool.

But there’s also people I’ve lost and I’m just not friends with anymore and will probably never be friends with anymore. That’s sad and unfortunate yes, but at the same time I’m just gonna stop being friends with you for dumb, petty reasons, or things that I feel are dumb, petty reasons, and I’m probably better off without them in my life anyway.

But yeah, I’d say losing friendships has been the most upsetting thing about cosplay, but again, not all of that pertains to cosplay. Some of it does because some of them will stop being friends with you over shit like, “Oh you didn’t finish this costume in time,” and usually that is someone who is a known offender to doing that and you kind of get done with dealing with someone not being reliable, so I can understand to some extent.

But…yeah, I think it’s losing your friends – there is a whole onslaught of things that are terrible within the cosplay community because there are so many issues within it. Usually a lot of the time I just remove myself from that stuff, there’s just a lot of stuff that goes on and I just don’t talk about it at all on my social media because I don’t want to open up that can of worms.

You’ve been cosplaying for a long time. Have you received any advice that was good, advice that was bad?

I think out there you’ll always gonna find people who are going to give you really solid advice and give you some shitty advice. I think the advice that’s been passed off to me is “you do you!” I think that is honestly the best way to sum up any good sense of advice I’ve gotten from anyone. You should cosplay, you should do the things you want to do, and do what you feel comfortable with.

Don’t let anyone try to persuade you to doing anything else because at the end of the day, it’s you, and you should be happy with what you’re doing. Anyone who alternatively tells you that you’re too fat, skinny, short, stubby, whatever, or sayings people like to tell you that is just hateful on the internet: don’t listen to them. Those are not things you should really be considering in what you want to do because cosplaying at the end of the day is about you. You should be doing things you like because when you really come down and think about it, we’re just a bunch of nerds dressing up as fictional characters and saying that this is a good time.

…Like we’re spending hundreds of dollars at points cosplaying or dressing up as someone who does not exist most of the time. And we find that fun. So don’t listen to anyone who’s gonna give you negative feedback or things that’s just not gonna make you feel good as a person because there’s a difference between constructive criticism and outright hateful slander.

So take everything that people say with, honestly, a grain of salt. Do the things that you want to do. I think that’s the best advice anyone can give you in the cosplay community as far as it goes in cosplay in general because obviously there’s tons of advice someone can give to you regarding construction, being in character, and all that. But at the end of the day it really comes down to what’s going to make cosplay a good hobby or something that one should want to be in or keep doing is the overall feel and the things that you like about cosplay as a whole and not as much as the smaller details of construction and acting things out.

Ok, true story: I should let people know that I actually kind of know you. *laughs* And I remember the first time I remembered seeing you at NYCC. Was just on line and I think you just randomly talked to me and I’m just looking at you like, “O…k?” Then I saw you again and I’m like, “Wait…I know—I recognize you!”

*laughs*

“You’re working for this company? What is this???” So I guess at some point you would go and cosplay with a group and stuff like that, but then companies started contacting you?

I did breeze and talked a little about it earlier, but basically I am a cosplay volunteer for America Cosplay Paradise. I started working for them back in 2009, so I’ve been doing this for a very long time. They’ll like refer to us as the ACP Veterans and stuff like that. Basically, when I was first recruited was based on the fact that I said I was going to NYCC. And they sent me an email and was just like, “Hey, we saw that you were going to NYCC. Would you be interested in working for FUNimation, we’re looking for these series, and if you have a costume and you can do it, that’d be great!”

The original email that they sent me for that event kind of fell through. I was still working for FUNimation and I did Shin-Chan. So they provided me the costumes and I was running around the floor as Shin-Chan, so that was fun, and that was the beginning of me meeting my dear…close to my heart friends of ACP.

It has changed a lot since then because as I said before I just put that I was going to this convention, they send out emails to some people that they saw that could fit in doing it, and now it’s different because now they have an actual events section, they’ll post about the event, the requirements of what’ll be for the weekend, the costumes that they’re looking for, and from there people will apply and then they’ll make decisions based on the applications they get and based on looking at your costumes and seeing the construction and all this other stuff. And then they’ll send out an email if you’re selected and stuff.

That’s essentially what I do now, I just apply like everyone else, so even if I’m a veteran, I still apply like everyone else. It’s very possible for me to get rejected from an event because it has actually happened before *laughs* It was just miscommunication, they didn’t realize my cosplay was done so they picked something else type of thing. It was fine because in the end I worked for the Sailor Moon event which was one of the Viz wranglers, so that was A-OK. I’m ok I didn’t work at the Kill la Kill event and end up working for Sailor Moon because Sailor Moon is a lot more important to me than Kill la Kill. So it all worked out in the end.

So yeah, it’s just…honestly when someone asks me, “How did you get this gig?” First off I have to correct them and tell them it’s not a gig – technically it is, but I don’t consider it a gig, I consider it as work. It is volunteer work, it’s basically something I do on the side besides from my normal job. I will volunteer, I will make a costume, and I will work at this event.

You are standing for hours, you’re possibly running around like a chicken with its head cut off, going from panel room to panel room, you could also be doing autograph lines, promotional skits, and back in the day with Hetalia we did the Hetamons. So it can take up a lot of your time. Like the Sailor Moon event takes up probably about 20 or so hours of the weekend. Potentially. Like the Hetalia event, the first year took about 24 hours of the weekend and that’s an insane amount of hours of con time. I’d count maybe 2 booth work sessions a day at times, and then I’d set up an autograph signing, and then I’d do like the Hetamon stuff— it’s really crazy, but it’s really rewarding in the end.

So if you can handle the work I’d encourage people to apply and do it, but don’t apply for big events like Sailor Moon at first because that is a high demand event and that’s why a lot of new people, or back when the Sailor Moon events was announced and stuff like that, it was like a blood bath. I just observed people saying they’ll give their first born child to be selected—

*laughs*

And I was like, “This is too much for me,” and that’s why I didn’t apply for the Sailor Moon event in the end for the first year. It’s just such high demand work, and that’s why they went with people that they knew they can trust, that’s why they go with veterans. A lot of people complain about ACP about playing favorites when it’s not playing favorites, it’s picking people who they have worked with in the past who are reliable.

So when you are going to apply for a big event like Sailor Moon and you’ve never worked with ACP before, you can probably guess you won’t be selected. There’s a chance, I’m not saying you won’t. It’s definitely happened before where we’ve had new people apply who’s never worked before and it’s fine. For Otakon we had a bunch of new people. But at that point we’ve done this event so many times for Sailor Moon it’s kind of like the same system, that you can bring on new people.

But honestly if you want to get into working for companies like Viz, Daisuki, Crunchyroll, or whatever other companies ACP works with, it’s always better to go with smaller events, events that just say, “Hey, it’s literally just booth work, you’re just standing there and you’re probably handing out promotional items.” Like literally that’s all you have to do. I think that’s a good starting event for anyone because it’s very chill. You’re standing around for a bit, handing stuff out, having a good time making small chat with any other con goer. It’s not high demanding, so honestly it’s a really good first event.