Meet Merly. She is a five-year-old Blue Heeler/Border Collie mix who cosplays with her human companion Amanda Vanderbeek. Vanderbeek, 25, might be crafting her and Merly's cosplay for their next con as we speak. It hasn't been long since the dynamic duo started making custom-fitting threads inspired by her favorite comic book characters, but, since their inaugural con, Vanderbeek has hand-stitched 40 different custom outfits for her comfort companion.
Vanderbeek was inspired to begin after attending her first con at Comicpalooza in 2016. She cosplayed as her favorite character Magneto from X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Merly went as Deadpool to Alamo City Con the same year. "I fell in love with how people liked to get pictures of her," Vanderbeek said.
Vanderbeek was kind enough to talk to SYFY WIRE about her love for the craft and what she gets out of cosplaying with her adorable, tail-wagging pal Merly.
What's your relationship with Merly, and how did you meet?
I rescued Merly in May of 2015. She was at the Houston SPCA. She hugged me, so I knew she was the one for me. We have a powerful bond. She knows when I'm having psychological or physiological issues and will come to me or perform her required tasks.
How did you find out that Merly would like to cosplay?
I did not know if she would like it. But when I was making her first costume, she posed for me during the fitting process. I had to put it on and take it off probably a dozen times for fitting. She did not mind at all and liked to get treats after anyway, so she started to enjoy it.
It is interesting to me, though, how she enjoys putting the clothes on. The base costume (consisting of the body, arms, and neck) she gets excited to put on. I know Merly doesn't mind — but I do not like to leave them on too long because heck, even masks bother people when cosplaying! She does really like posing for pictures for con-goers and loves the subtle attention — even though they can't pet her when she's working. Merly seems to enjoy when we have a guest booth because people can give her more attention and check out her prints and baseball cards.
What's your process when you put a together a costume for Merly?
Honestly, I wing everything that we make, especially if it is a new concept. When I first started, I just made a base pattern for the body pieces. Over time, I have modified, edited, and added to specific patterns for new or different cosplays. But working with leather or pleather has to be the most difficult, because it does not stretch or give leeway for error. I have to make the arm parts correctly so Merly can walk in them. Foam armor is a bit of the same issue — but we have gotten the masks, gauntlets, and neck armor down quite well. Wings are a whole different story.
What was the most satisfying feeling when taking Merly and your cosplay to a con?
I enjoy the attention that Merly gets the most. It isn't me that people pay attention to, which is honestly fantastic on my end, because I do not like to be the center of attention to avoid a panic attack. But I love to see people smiling, pointing, and admiring Merly in her cute costumes.
What was it like to be on AMC's Comic Book Men? What was it like to see Merly on national television?
It was nerve-wracking for me, since I do not do too well in public situations. But Merly stayed calm the whole time and performed very well on the show. We had fun, and Merly even placed in the top three. It was surreal to watch the show when it aired.
Favorite celebrity experience at a convention or signing?
I have a few, honestly! My favorite wasn't even at a convention. I met Michael Fassbender at COTA in Austin. He was extremely friendly, genuine, and had a full conversation with my fiance and myself. He even signed my replica Magneto helmet. But for a convention experience, I think I enjoyed meeting Ben McKenzie the most — he was charming and said that Merly was "so clutch" when he saw her change to Dogpool from Batman for her picture with his wife, Morena.
But I think Merly's personal favorites have to be Tom Holland and Drew Powell. They loved her and gave her so much attention. Holland even got in trouble during a photo op for petting her too long and holding up the line some.
If you're lucky, you might get to meet Merly at a convention near you. Click here to follow her busy schedule.