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SYFY WIRE Interviews

How cosplayer Karina Cordova creates couture anime looks

By Emily Gaudette
Punk Sailor Neptune - Christina Grande

For several years, Karina Cordova kept her cosplaying career secret from colleagues at her day job. Known around the office for being pleasant but understated, the 23-year-old event marketer assumed her coworkers would never find out about her fantasy weapon crafting habit. But everything changed in an instant when a coworker shared a photo of her cosplay, which they had spotted online. She had posed for a photographer at a comic con, and now everyone knew.

"Coworkers who now know I cosplay seem either impressed or really shocked," Cordova told SYFY WIRE. "No one expects it from me, ever." She's been cosplaying for six years on top of running a fashion blog and collaborating with a sisterhood of local creators. Recently, Cordova joined a cosplay group organized by Livicolecosplay — together, the girls created a punk version of the Sailor Senshi. Cordova appeared as the studious, green-haired musician Sailor Neptune, though she wore a distressed denim vest to stay on theme.

Cordova, who goes by OkarinaofTime online, sat down with SYFY WIRE to discuss her personal aesthetic, geeky interests, and how all of her passions come together. She is many things at once — a blogger, a cosplayer, a first-generation Latinx American, and a born and bred New Yorker. Thanks to her mother and grandmother, she's been creating and crafting since she was a child.

Can you describe the first cosplay you ever constructed?

I've loved costumes and making them since I was as young as 6. My first cosplay was the TARDIS from Doctor Who. I made myself a Lolita-inspired apron dress. The top of the dress had a bow tie, my belt had "Police Public Call Box" written out on it, and the skirt portion of the dress had the TARDIS's windows.

It was the first "nerdy" costume I had ever made.

Captain America - Grace and Shine

Do you remember the first time you saw cosplay?

I had seen some cosplays on TV and on the subway for New York Comic Con, but what really got me interested was actually SYFY's TV show Heroes of Cosplay. It came out the summer before I started college in 2013, and I was completely inspired by Yaya Han and Jessica Negri. So inspired, actually, that I started planning my first cosplay that Halloween. The year after, I went to New York Comic Con for the first time and cosplayed the TARDIS and Gwen Stacy.

Elsa- Grace and Shine

What "geeky" movies/TV/anime/video games were you into as a kid? Are you still into those properties now?

There are too many to name! I was completely obsessed with Pokémon and would occasionally try to communicate with my mom just by saying "pika." Sailor Moon was a huge part of my childhood and is still a huge part of my life as an adult.

Every day on Toon Disney, now Disney XD, I would watch all the animated series: Justice League, Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man. Growing up, I loved the Legend of Zelda games, which is why my screen name is Okarina of Time.

What has been your most challenging cosplay look to date? How did you get around it?

Definitely Jinx from League of Legends. She was difficult because I had never done anything like her outfit before: the bra, the shorts, the accessories, just all of it was really overwhelming. I got a lot of fabric from my local fabric store and JOANN to just practice and redo it if I messed up.

The whole costume took about three months, including the prop, which my friend mostly built, though I helped a bit and painted it myself. I was still putting it together the morning I was going to wear it. It was the first cosplay where I really challenged myself.

Do you have any formal education or training in costume construction, makeup or design? If not, are you self taught? How did you figure out all these processes?

I learned how to hand-sew when I was really young, maybe 4 or 5. My grandma, Mama Tona, taught me. She would sit at her sewing machine hemming clothing and I would "help" her by getting pieces of scrap fabric with needle and thread. I would make these small little trinkets that looked horrible, but my grandma swore I was doing an amazing job.

When I was about 8, I would help my mom make my Halloween costumes with any hand-stitching I could do. I didn't learn to sew on a machine until I was 15, and was I taught all those skills by my mom ... and YouTube.

My makeup training was more of a hybrid between YouTube, already knowing how to draw and paint, and just getting bored and messing around with the makeup my mom and I had. Makeup is actually my favorite part of cosplay, and I'll use any excuse to paint myself pink, blue, or green.

What's the geek scene like in New York? What cons do you like to attend, and why?

The New York Tri-State cosplay community is very big, but still tight-knit. Everyone knows each other or knows of each other. The majority of the people I've met through cosplay have been great, genuine people who want to build each other up. Because the scene is so huge, you have a lot of people to do group cosplays with, and you build these relationships with people who have common interests.

I love attending cons outside of New York City because I can treat a convention as a mini-vacation with my friends. They also have better locations for photoshoots. At NYCC and AnimeNYC, you're really limited to a concrete wall or a large expo hall with people in the background for photos.

In general, I tend to go to more anime conventions because they are more cosplay-heavy. My favorite parts about conventions are being inspired by other cosplayers and getting to see my cosplay and photographer friends.

Can you tell me more about the punk Sailor Senshi group?

My friend Olivia organized the group. She goes by Livicolecosplay on Instagram. She posted online about getting a group together and said she needed girls to participate. It has always been a dream of mine to be part of a Sailor Senshi group, so I jumped on the opportunity.

What I loved about the shoot was none of us were trying to recreate any fan art or be totally canon. We all just created our own looks that mixed our characters with the theme. We all looked so unique, but still somehow cohesive.

Group cosplays are always my favorite because I get to cosplay with my friends and meet new people. I've found that it also helps keep me accountable to finish a cosplay on time.

If you had unlimited time and resources, what would your dream cosplay be?

I'd recreate a completely canon original: Princess Zelda in the purple and white dress. She is my dream cosplay and I hold her very near and dear to my heart, but I haven't had the courage to tackle her dress and accessories.

What do friends/family/colleagues tend to think about cosplay?

My mom helps me with my costumes and is one of my biggest supporters. She keeps it 100 percent real with me, and she's the first to tell me if my cosplays look off. That's actually very helpful because I'd rather her tell me than have the internet freak out about small details. The internet loves pointing out the smallest flaws.