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How gender-bending cosplayer Chris Villain keeps fans watching
When cosplayer, YouTuber, drag artist, and vocalist Chris Villain was a teenager, he played competitive sports and only admired artistic performance and geek culture from afar. The life of a high school athlete doesn't leave much wiggle room for watching cartoons, making cosplay props, and going to cons between classes, training, and sleep.
"I just never had an opportunity to explore that fascination," he says. "It wouldn't be until after I graduated high school that I got to fully indulge myself in cosplay. That being said, I was and still am a fan of Pokémon and also any Nickelodeon cartoon!"
Villain is now 26 years old and splits his time between Orange County, California and New York City. He's taken his inventive cosplays to Wonder Con and Blizzcon, both of which he prefers to the "hectic" San Diego Comic Con. At a smaller con, he tells SYFY WIRE, "you still get the same vibes as you would at something like SDCC without having a panic attack or feeling like you're going to get trampled."
He needs the space when he's debuting a really ambitious cosplay, like his homage to the Yeti inside Disneyland's Matterhorn coaster. The costume was so large that Villain and a friend had to operate it together. "We included three-foot stilts, glowing LED eyes, hand-laid Yak hair and a hand sculpted foam latex face," he explains. "It cost us way too much money but we won first place that year in the D23 costume contest and they sent us to Hawaii for a vacation. It was worth it."
How did you get started as a cosplayer?
I actually started my cosplay career unknowingly on Youtube before I even knew what cosplay was! I would dress up as Disney and cartoon characters and do music covers in costume. Then from there, I slowly discovered what cosplay was and attended my first convention with a friend.
Do you have formal training or education in costume design, makeup design, or art? Are you self-taught in using any materials?
I wish! I'm self-taught in costume design and makeup design. I'm very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented friends and professionals so I've done a lot of observing and I've asked them a lot of questions.
How do you choose the characters you want to portray?
I usually choose characters that have a similar personality type to mine. I can be a very quirky, humorous, and outgoing kind of person, so any character that fits that description is fair game to me. I also like to cosplay characters that have intricate designs — I use characters like that to challenge myself.
How do you play with gender presentation in your cosplay? Why, for instance, switch the Daddy's Lil Monster shirt on your Harley to Mommy's Little Monster? What do you think it does to the Joker/Harley dynamic if it's gender-swapped?
Gender-swapping or "gender-bending" is one of my favorite things to do in cosplay. Not only is it fun to re-imagine characters in a new way and put your own spin on them, but I think it also helps to open people's eyes on the character design and concept itself!
For my gender-swapped Harley, who I call Charley, I wanted to do a complete 180 in all aspects of the design, which would include changing "Daddy's Lil Monster" to "Mommy's Lil Monster." I really looked at every detail and tried to put a masculine twist on Harley without stripping the character of anything recognizable. Instead of a "Puddin" choker, I changed it to a "Puddin" chain. Instead of sequin "booty shorts," I went for hand dyed shorts with sequin suspenders. I also added and changed a lot of other small details to make this new version of Harley as believable as possible.
As far as the Joker/Harley dynamic, I would argue that it becomes even more interesting when gender-swapped. In our society, men are typically portrayed in a more "in power" or dominant position in relationships. I think it would be very interesting to explore the opposite!
If you had unlimited time and resources, what's a dream cosplay you'd like to put together?
This is such a difficult question for me to answer because it changes all the time, but I always come back to something or someone that's heavily armored. Creating armor is an aspect of cosplay I haven't yet delved into but I'm very fascinated by it! Maybe I'd end up doing a crazy looking character from World of Warcraft.