Ivy Doomkitty's Spidey sense should be tingling — she's being watched. The entire time the uber-popular cosplayer talks with me at New York Comic Con, dressed in a skin-tight superhero suit that looks painted onto her body, a small man sits nearby, staring.
At least, I think he's staring. The huge blank eyes on his Spider-Man costume make it unclear what he's looking at. He fumbles with his smartphone and two large bags of merchandise, clearly waiting for his moment to ask for a photo with Doomkitty, but she doesn't see him.
"Doomkitty" is a stage name, of course. For years, fans have tried to track down Ivy's real surname, her exact measurements, and details about her home life, but she's kept all her identifying information under wraps. It's a delicate balance, Doomkitty says, exposing certain parts of herself to a camera while keeping other parts of her life private.
Doomkitty occupies two worlds at the moment, so she maintains two separate sets of rules for subsections of her vast following. For kids who attend fan conventions, she's a real-life plus-size superhero who's proud of her body and wants little girls to feel proud of theirs. For her 132 supporters on Patreon, she's a boudoir and pin-up model, though she never poses nude or even uses implied nudity in her shoots.
"That's just a line I have for myself, but don't me wrong," Doomkitty says, her eyes lighting up, "so many of my friends, cosplayers and models, love doing nude photoshoots. If fans ask me for naked shots, I tell them, 'Sorry, I don't do that,' but then I give them a list of talented people who do!"
For $10 a month, her followers get access to an exclusive blog, behind-the-scenes photos, videos from Doomkitty's photoshoots, and regular selfies from on the road. At different price points, she also offers trading cards, stickers, special dropbox files of photos, signed Polaroids, Google hangouts, and access to her private Snapchat.
She says she doesn't develop a cosplay look unless she feels connected to the character she's portraying. "There's no point in spending all the time and energy I spend on cosplay if it's something I don't personally care for or gravitate toward." It's not just about taking a character for a spin for a couple hours; Doomkitty says she takes weeks to put together really intricate looks, working with collaborators and deciding how each look will appear on her.
"Aside from corsets, which I commission from Castle Corsetry, the construction of a look comes down to just me," she says. "If it's an armor build or fabrics, I do all of that. Sometimes I'll get a company that wants to work with me to promote their branding. This one," she says, indicating her astounding Spidey suit, "is a dice-up from RPC Studio and Brandon Gilbert. I reached out to them to begin that relationship."
When Doomkitty gears up as a superheroine, she's often the first person with dramatic curves to inhabit the suit. That fact excites her fans, many of whom wish women with bodies like Doomkitty's could land roles in Marvel or DC films.
Doomkitty says her fans are far more often appreciative and celebratory than they are demanding. When I ask if her regular patrons show up to cons to meet her in person, she nods and says, "Yes, always. There are some who have followed me since the very beginning. Someone told me today they had met me at my first con in 2013."
If her followers want to see even more of her, they can tune in to her Twitch channel, where she plays Skyrim, does chores around the house, and takes fan questions. "I engage with Patreon followers daily, but when I'm on the road like I am now, working on costumes and going to cons, my Patreon becomes more of a travel blog than anything else. I try to keep it as exclusive as I can."
As she slinks into the future, Doomkitty says she has several goals for her cosplay career. "I would love to one day work with a major company. I've seen friends work with Blizzard or Marvel, and I've been approached by video game companies in the past, but scheduling didn't work out. But I'd love to transition into working in the entertainment industry, whether that's sponsored cosplay or handling guests on the back end of an event."
She's also been bowled over by the positive response she gets from mothers and daughters, and she wants to keep booking public speaking gigs on the subject of body positivity. "The idea that you can love your body, that doesn't have to stop in this geek cosplay space," Doomkitty says. "I think I can deliver that message to any group, no matter what they're into."