At Otakon 2017, Stella Chuu chats with TheOASG about cosplaying, which also includes roping in her anime club members...
If you’ve been going to conventions long enough there’s a good chance you’ve seen Stella Chuu cosplaying one of the biggest titles of the season. If you’ve also been on the internet long enough you’ll have also seen her in many of her favorite costumes for a lot of audiences.
As she let me know being in D.C was not a new experience, quitting her full-time job was definitely new to her. But in the interview at Otakon, she explains why devoting her time to cosplay and her upbringing has helped her in a time where cosplay has become mainstream.
TheOASG: What exactly, as much as you can remember, about your very first cosplay?
Stella Chuu: When I was in high school I ran the anime club and…*laughs* I wanted everyone to cosplay for our school’s Halloween party. So I got everyone in my club to dress up as characters from Naruto. Like Naruto just came out so I was just super excited about it.
…No one else knew what it was *laughs* so I made everyone in my anime club dress up. My one friend I made him wear an orange t-shirt and whiskers on his face so he’d look like Naruto. I dressed up in a Chinese dress and put a headband on that was made with tinfoil and a choke marker on my forehead., so that was really fun!
So somewhere around 2003, 2004, somewhere around there for Naruto….
Yeah, and I think maybe 2003…
Yeah haha from then to today how has cosplay changed?
It’s completely different now — for one I’m not making things out of tinfoil anymore! But it’s great that cosplay is completely mainstream now and everything that I talk about, people know what it is *laughs* not just this crazy weeb girl…being weird! Like my nickname back in high school was like anime girl or something that people called me —
Like one of those AIM usernames.
*laughs* yeah, well my AIM username was animecrazyfreak–
I don’t even know why I subjected myself to that *laughs* so it’s completely different now. It’s commercialized, which is great. It’s nationally known, people know what the word cosplay is, and everyone cosplays. Like they think that even dressing up for Halloween is called cosplay. There’s even TV shows about it.
It’s basically what you do for a living.
Yeah! So I started doing cosplay full-time about a year and a half ago. Before that I had my nice, cushy corporate job with a 401k and I decided to abandon it so I can do this full time! *laughs*
Considering you have been doing this full-time how busy can your year really be?
I would say I work 16 hour days. I sleep for eight hours so it is a full-time job for me and I’m always thinking about it. It’s my bread and butter. I literally work seven days a week, 16 hours days. I do not take breaks. The only time I’m able to take a break is if I’ve already finished all my costumes and then I can go to the ball *laughs* you know?!?
Right. As you mentioned, cosplay is commercialized and people know what it is, but even today what would you say is the biggest challenge for cosplayers today?
…Finding time? *laughs* Because there’s so much opportunity out there now! Anyone can become a professional cosplayer, anyone can be known as a cosplayer — the most difficult thing is to build your own costumes and put yourself out there because there’s so many outlets available. There’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch — these are all things that make it possible to get noticed. Then there’s Patreon which allows people to get paid to do all this. It’s a completely new game for us now and it’s really great.
Now you said you had an anime club, showed them Naruto — when did you find out about anime?
It’s always been a part of my life even as a young kid because in Chinese culture you are always watching cartoons that were made from a different country — like have you ever watched Panda! Go Panda!? This is before My Neighbor Totoro, it was the thing Studio Ghibli made 30 years ago. And this was cartoons we watched when we were little kids. I remember watching, and it wasn’t Ninja Scroll it was something similar, like similar violence and ninjas and stuff, and I think I watched that when I was seven years old. I remember watching Shadow Skill on HBO. Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z was always a part of my Saturday morning cartoons, so it was never a new thing for me. Being an Asian-American, we’re exposed to other things that Asia has made. So I seriously cannot tell you what my first anime was because I’ve always been watching it. It’s the same as watching Blue’s Clues or Spongebob on TV.
I once read an interview where you’ve gotten artists to commission some of your costumes.
Yeah, so way back in the day before I taught myself how to sew properly I commissioned a lot of my costumes from like actual seamstresses to make for me and prop makers and stuff. Even to this day I’ll hire some of my friends to build some of this stuff for me because I either don’t have the time or they have better skills than I do.
But as of late I would probably say I make 90% of my costumes in a year, and I make about 20 to 30 costumes in a year.
I know you get asked a lot about how to get into cosplay or what advice you’d give them, so I’m gonna kinda reverse it — have you been given advice or a tip that has spurred you on to continue cosplaying?
Whoa…hmm….I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten specific advice…
But, watching Yaya Han, VampyBitMe, Jessica Nigri — they’re basically the three pillars of cosplay. Watching them and their work ethic and seeing how they navigate this whole world is my learning. That’s my school, I go to them and look at how they do things to figure out what it means for me and learn how to navigate my own world.
So they’re my senpai’s whether they know it or not. They’re my role models.