Cosplayer and video game streamer Nerdtastic Mel, who doesn't use her real name online, has always filled her life with geeky things. As a child, her favorite films were the Harry Potter movies, The Fifth Element, and the Star Wars movies, though not the ones most assume. Mel was a teenager when George Lucas' often-maligned prequels hit theaters, and she loved them before having seen the original trilogy.
Now, Mel lives in Illinois and has banded together with Chicago cosplayers of color to create and promote costumes that celebrate that characters she loves. Her character looks run the gamut of animation, video games, science fiction, and fantasy, and she's dressed up as everyone from Toy Story's Woody to a gender-bent Invader Zim. She's also started inviting her son into geek culture, trying out "mommy and me" cosplay ideas when she has the time. Her dream is to launch a nerd-centric mommy blog and dive deeper into Chicago's nerd scene.
Mel spoke with SYFY WIRE about her costumes, her involvement in local geekery, and the relationship she's built with fans and creators through Instagram.
How did you first get into cosplay? Do you remember the first time you saw someone doing it?
A friend of mine invited me to my first anime convention a couple years ago. I remember being in awe at all the amazing costumes. There's just something so exciting about seeing your favorite characters brought to life.
My first cosplay was Serena from Pokémon. I bought a shirt similar to hers from Forever 21, and the skirt and thigh-high socks I bought on eBay.
Do you typically take your cosplay to conventions? What has the reception been like?
I do cosplay at conventions! I love if anyone gets excited about the character I'm cosplaying. I live in Illinois and the geek atmosphere is strong here! I am a part of a cosplay group called Chicago POC Cosplayers, and we meet up at conventions and do group cosplay together. We also have what we call "build days" when we get together and work on our looks for an upcoming con. I've learned so much from being apart of this group, and I've also made so many good friends. I'm specifically very grateful to Papabear, Geeks a gogo, and Shar Star for teaching me everything I know.
What has your experience in cosplay been like, as a woman of color? Have you dealt with harassment or racist/rude comments? Do you let it affect which characters you emulate?
It is def hard at times being a cosplayer of color. I've gotten my share of hateful, rude, racist comments. The one time I got a couple of negative comments was when I cosplay played Snow White. I got some horrible comments like, "you're black you can't cosplay her." "You are the wrong color." "Throw this cosplay away." Whenever I get comments like these I simply delete the comment and ban the person. I don't let hateful comments dictate who I'm going to cosplay or stop from cosplaying a character I love.
Cosplay is for everyone. No matter what size, gender or ethnicity you are. If I like the character, then it's going on my cosplay list.
What's your relationship with your Instagram followers like? Do you have boundaries (are people invited to DM you, or would you rather they not?)
I keep a fairly standard relationship with my Instagram followers. They are able to send me DMs. I do keep it very professional and never reply to any inappropriate comments. I've also made so many friends online through cosplay. One of my best friends, Leiracosplays, I met her online and I am so grateful because she is truly the nicest person and inspires me so much.
What's a pet peeve about cosplay or geek culture or comic conventions?
One of my pet peeves about cosplay is the elitist mindset. I don't like that sometimes people are made to feel like they're not real cosplayers just because they don't make their costumes — they purchase them. I think everyone has to start somewhere. You should do what you're comfortable with, and I don't think there's anything wrong with buying your costume.
My pet peeve about comic conventions is that not everyone understands cosplay is not consent. I I think that's very important for everyone to understand that no matter what the cosplayer is wearing, that doesn't give anyone a right to say or do anything inappropriate.