For graphic designer Judy Chen, fandom is a family affair. She and her husband create meticulous cosplay for themselves and their baby daughter, Nila, and they don't just stop at taking photos at conventions.
Chen uses photos of Nila to make webtoons, which that often toss the round-cheeked baby into the plot of her parents' favorite movies. She's part-baby-cosplayer, part-actress, and part-web-comic star, and her patience for the proceedings has only driven her parents to create more fan-art about her. The hope is to pass on their love of stories to their young daughter.
"Buffy Summers normalized my high school angst. Eleven and his Tardis helped me see through the sadness of my grandmother passing," Chen said. "I dropped my book and punched the air when Molly Weasley ended Bellatrix Lestrange. There are so many ups and downs in life where the perfect companion is a good story. Cosplaying is fun and creative but it also makes me feel more a part of something, and I want that for Nila. I hope Nila finds in fantasy what I have found: friends, role models, lessons learned the not-so-hard way, strategy, diversity, acceptance, struggle, and an open mind."
Chen told SYFY WIRE about her family's fandom, and how cosplay and photography have brought them closer together. Her first pro tip? If you're going to SDCC at nine months pregnant, a Mario Kart cosplay is a really good way to drive around while resting your feet.
Do you have any training making comics and webtoons, or did you just start with experimentation?
My husband has a traditionally aesthetic eye. He uses a DSLR that is not on the auto setting, and he understands light and throws around fancy photography terms. His Instagram page is beautifully curated with all the traditional shots that parents are supposed to check off their list.
Nila's comics started when I was flipping through his outtakes and found a series of shots that captured a funny moment. I knew I wanted to remember all the moments in between the perfect shots. This generation will have their whole lives documented and I wanted to make sure Nila's documentary would not just be milestones, but that it would also include seemingly mundane moments that arguably bring us more joy but that we end up forgetting over time. Capturing how much she giggles during bath time and what a sample-glutton she is at our weekly Costco runs are just as important to me as documenting her first Christmas, so I started using my husband's outtakes and eventually my own, less-refined phone pictures to make Nila's comics.
I have always been creative but have had no formal training. Most of Nila's comics are made using a variety of photo apps that I have collected over the years. My favorite app is no longer available in the app store and I refuse to update my operating system for fear of losing it.
How did you realize Nila was going to be such an expressive little model? Do you remember the first time you put her in costume?
She was two months old her first Halloween. I had already been playing around with gender role reversal costumes for my husband and I, but I was still recovering from my C-section and not up to my normal level of enthusiasm, so I made the costume for Nila instead. She was Shark-Head Maui and my husband was Moana.
They had so much fun with their costumes that I didn't want to be left out, so I made a family costume for all of us. Nila was a shrimp sushi, I was a bottle of soy sauce, and Husband was a sushi chef. That first Halloween was the gateway to my baby cosplay craze.
What's it like taking a cosplaying baby to SDCC? Does she get overwhelmed with all the people?
This year was my 10th year at Comic-Con. Last year I was nine months pregnant, dressed as Mario Kart on an electric scooter. It was a good practice round for taking an infant because you get a taste of what it is like attending the Con with a limited agenda.
With Nila, we can hit the Con floor for about an hour at a time and then we have to find a relatively quiet, air-conditioned lobby for her to nurse and walk around and play. We took a slower pace, re-discovered our love of people watching, and had fun in whole sections of kid-geared activities and booths that we had previously glossed over.
What kind of geeky things do you and your husband bond over? Do you remember finding out he was geeky too?
Right now we're both into Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix. We have a baby, so our binge-watching days are over. Even though we are both dying to watch more, I think we are only on the third episode of the new season. My husband collects Q-Figs and Kotobukiya figurines and I am all about Tokidoki Unicorno blind boxes but we both have very modern home décor tastes so it is a constant battle trying to make sure our home does not look like a Comic-Con booth.
I cannot stress enough how genuinely wonderful it is to build a life with a fellow geek, we have regular ups and downs in our relationship but having a good time together has always been effortless.
What has been your most difficult costume to put together so far?
Nila's Ursula costume for Comic-Con was so tedious! Previously, I had always copied an existing idea and I had no experience designing a costume from scratch, the learning curve was dramatic. Eight is a lot of legs and she was growing so fast that I needed to design something that could possibly fit a bigger baby without changing the look of the costume. I needed to factor in the heat of the Con floor and have easy access for diaper changes. For such a simple costume, there were a lot of considerations to be made.