An interview with the cosplayer TaLynn Kel

What made you get into Cosplay modeling?
Initially, it was the fun of dressing up. I live in Atlanta and every year they have DragonCon, a huge pop culture convention. I’d already gotten back in to Halloween, but when I went to DragonCon, I saw endless possibilities for costumes. I’ve attended every DragonCon since that year and that was 2005.

What made you think of your cosplay name?

It’s a combo of my government name. I thought it sounded cool and kinda reminded me of Star Wars, so it worked for me.

Where do you live? How is the cosplay scene there?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m in Atlanta, which in a lot of ways feels like the cosplay capital of the U.S. There are cosplay events here all year, like conventions, photo parties, ice skating parties, cosplay formals, and charity events. And they all exist because so many DragonCon and MomoCon attendees live here and have expanded their cosplay love outside of the convention.

There’s also a very strong Black Speculative Fiction community in Atlanta that hosts a Steampunk ball called The Mahogany Masquerade. There are a LOT of cosplay events here.

 

How long have you modeled?

When I started, I didn’t consider myself a model. I still kinda don’t because people don’t pay me to do this…yet.

But I have been doing cosplay for almost 13 years. It’s become a huge facet of my life in a good way.

Who’s your favorite character to model?

It’s funny how for years Storm was my least favorite character to cosplay and now she is one of my favorites. I know it’s because I’ve put my own spin on the costumes that make it extra fun for me, but yeah, I gotta go with Storm – all the versions: punk, afro, and Asgardian…as well as casual cuz we all know she’s not in uniform ALL the time.

2nd favorite?
My second fave is Dark Phoenix. Or Typhoid Mary. Ok, I can’t choose between those two but it’s because of how these are women characters whose autonomy has been written as both mental illness and a threat. I find that to be a fascinating choice by the male writers, because what does that say about how they see women?

 

Do you buy outfits or do you make them yourself?
I do a combination. I like to say I curate the outfits. When I started cosplay, there weren’t any commercial cosplay stores or lot of plus size clothing stores. I would often have to find items and then alter them to make the costume look. I don’t sew and as a result, there’s a lot of fabric glue and iron on stuff. But over the years, as I wanted to do more complicated items, I had to innovate and figure out how to make it happen. I still don’t sew, but I’ve learned how to work with leather, foam, thermoplastics, fabric paint, etc to make different parts of my outfits. Most often, I find a piece of clothing and then cut it up and glue it up to get the look I want. I don’t feel the need to make everything from scratch.

What was your first major project and how did you achieve it?

Hellboy. Back in 2007, I decided I wanted to cosplay Hellboy and I wanted my fingers to move in the Right Hand of Doom. I’d see people make the hand using boxing gloves, hockey gloves…now you can buy a big mitt cut to look like the hand. But at the time, that didn’t exist.

I’m a creative problem-solver, so I went to craft stores and Walmart looking for something I could use to make the hand. While wandering, I found some green foam, the kind they use for artificial plants to make them stand up. It was a huge 12inx cube and some smaller 6in cubes. I loved the texture cuz it looked close to stone to me. This predates the faux stone spray paint finishes that are available now. I decided to bring it home and carve it into a giant hand.

For 2 weeks I sat in the living room carving foam with a battery operated pumpkin carver I’d bought off the clearance rack for no reason the previous year. My roommate was pissed cuz there were green foam shavings EVERYWHERE and I opted not to clean them up till I was done carving. I cobbled the entire thing together, painted it red, and rocked it. It’s one of my favorite projects and most iconic cosplays to this day.

When were you first introduced to Black Panther?
I was first introduced through cosplay. We’d have the Marvel shoots at DragonCon and there would be the occasional Black Panther cosplayer. I got interested. Black Panther also came up a lot when white people wanted to talk about reverse racism – you know, as an example of why white characters should always be white. *eye roll*

What is an invaluable resource for someone who is starting to cosplay?
Adaptability and online groups. Adaptability because things are always going to go in unexpected directions. Even if you do everything right, something as simple as the weather can cause unexpected results and you have to be able to adjust accordingly. Online groups can be very helpful because these are communities of people creating items that don’t actually exist. It’s helpful to have people to discuss this with and help encourage you because you will get discouraged. Like I said, things have a way of going sideways unexpectedly.

Who’s your favorite character to play?
I love powerful characters. Usually overpowered characters. Dark Phoenix is a particular fave of mine. She speaks to my emotional awakening and the struggles that come with that.

What do you feel about the presence of (or lack thereof) POC in the Cosplay scene?
For the mainstream cosplay scene, it’s institutional and intentional. This scene formed around mainstream properties that are entrenched in white supremacy. They are easy to access and readily available due to mass marketing. And people like to cosplay characters other people know. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

 

The independent comic scene provides more characters and opportunities to cosplay characters that aren’t steeped in whiteness. But these properties aren’t as well known, so when we cosplay those characters, people don’t have any idea who we’re dressed as and you don’t have the same community available to you.

The thing is, cosplay requires an audience and your audience shrinks exponentially when people don’t know who you’re dressed as. This is one of the reasons why the movies are so iconic. Movies are instant accessibility to a large audience, but as with every industry in america, that access is restricted to a specific demographic.

What are your favorite Cosplay events to attend?
It really depends on why I’m attending. I love Hair of the Dragon because it’s a photography event where I am introduced to a bunch of specific photographers and get to practice my posing and looks. I love DragonCon because it’s a convergence of cosplayers from around the world and the spectacle is amazing. I love smaller Black-focused conventions because they often introduce children and non-comic focused audiences to the carefree fun of cosplay. I’ve done a modeling event at Apache Café in Atlanta last year. That was fun, too. I’d never done live modeling before. I messed it up, but it was a fantastic experience that I’d love to repeat one day.

Are you watching any dope animes or any shows with Cosplay worthy characters?

Right now, I’m completely into Star Trek Discovery. They have done some really different things with this series and I love it. I’m sad that the greatest costumes were worn by space nazis from an alternate universe, because they were sexy.

As far as anime goes, I haven’t had time to get into anything new, lately. It’s something I plan to rectify soon, but I’ve been working on new projects and they have taken up a lot of my time.

What are your top 3 favorite animes?

The Devil is a Part-Timer

Attack on Titan

Nana

I honestly didn’t realize the variety of anime content out there until a couple of years ago. I liked the ridiculousness of The Devil is a Part Timer, the horrific hopelessness of Attack on Titan, and the romantic drama of Nana.

Who was the photographer of your submitted photos?

Andrew Michael Phillips of The AMP Image. He’s a local Atlanta photographer who takes a high fashion approach to cosplay photography. The PhotoShop work was done by Avery Byrd of Acdramon’s Cosplay Cavern. Avery is a talented cosplayer and digital artist based out of New Jersey. He’s my first choice for any photo manipulation.

Can you tell us anything about them? Maybe why you dig them as a photographer or a cool story about you two?

I initially met Andrew at DragonCon in 2008 while dressed as Hellboy. He gave me his contact information and I emailed him the next week. He initially responded but then dropped off the face of the earth. Since then, I saw photos he’d done of other cosplayers and loved them. I basically started following his work in hopes of working with him eventually. I ran into him at a friend’s birthday party (the cosplay world has a lot of overlap) and I mentioned how I’ve wanted to work with him, but he didn’t find me interesting enough. He proceeded to list almost every cosplay I’d ever done by that point. Apparently, he’d been following me, too. According to him, I never wrote to him, but I have receipts, so he’s wrong. It was interesting to learn that he did remember me, though. I guess we were not assertive enough about our interest in working together.

I’ve shot with him several times. He’s on my shortlist of cosplay photographers whose work I love because he just knows how to make images pop. He makes it look easy and genuinely loves what he does.

 

Is there anything you want your fans and the fans of PUNK BLACK to know?

I love that you are creating your own space and developing the content you want to see. Keep doing you! It’s important and will continue to grow.