When I go to a Museum I go to see works of art. I see pictures on the walls, statues and sculptures on pedestals. Each work has its own story; each work creates a different feeling in me. When I see a cosplayer I’m looking at a work of art that walks, who also has its own story to be told and who also has its own impression to make in me. But there is a cosplayer that goes beyond telling a story and making an impression.
I am speaking of Melina Barbosa, a woman and cosplayer unique in its kind that permeates everything she does with a combination of passion, perfectionism and love that I had never seen before. Each cosplay that she’s worn has become clear proof of her attention to detail at every stage of their preparation. Each presentation in cosplay that she makes is a lesson in self-discipline and complete domain of her body language. Each gaze that she makes every time she strikes a pose for the cameras she makes it with the most expressive and beautiful eyes that can be found in this part of the Western Hemisphere, eyes that are a lethal weapon in the possession of such an accomplished cosplayer as she is and that together with her perfect smile they can turn the hardest heart to a powder finer than ash.
As if what I just mentioned was too little, young Melina is the protagonist of a singular trajectory filled with many accomplishments. Let me list them:
- She has made a minimum of 30 personal cosplays.
- Melina has been making cosplay commissions since 2003, first under the name Neko’s Cosplay, and then expanding to Force Threads, which specializes in tunics of Star Wars.
- Several of her commissioned cosplays of have won awards among the top 3 in several conventions, including two that are Melina’s personal cosplays (Peach and Rapunzel).
- She helped implement a campaign of Rules of Etiquette for Conventions, in addition to being the “poster girl” of such program for the Kaisen Convention.
- Melina founded the PopJam magazine along with her companion and photographer Ernesto Javier Flores, and fellow cosplayers Ivelisse Padilla and Daniel Román.
You just need to look her in the eyes once and you’ll being in the land of the mortals because you’ll be transported to another world where you’ll be surrounded by characters from the worlds of fantasy, science fiction, and heroism. Princesses, heroines and adventurers, all of them with the same face and all of them saying together “Welcome to Melinalandia”.
I invite you now to enjoy a unique interview with Melina Barbosa.
When did you discover the hobby called cosplay?
This is complicated for me, because if we go by the literal, the first time that I consciously embodied a character, was 20 years ago. For my birthday, I always wanted to dress me as a character that I admired, act like him, and I remember that I dressed myself as Jasmine, from the movie Aladdin, I even did a “skit” for my guests. At that time I had no idea that this was called cosplay. But having discovered the cosplay (the term) as something that was used in the conventions, I would say was about 13 years ago.
What is it that motivates you to practice this hobby, or why do you do it?
Have you ever wanted to be able to disappear for a moment, or, more specifically, stop being you? Cosplay gives us that opportunity to transform us into someone else. It is the opportunity to embody that character you so much admire. It is also, for me, the perfect way to use my creative talents to the fullest.
Are you a fan of some area of entertainment in particular (comics, anime, video games)?
I am a fan of all the areas actually, if I had to put them a range based on my interest, serious; movies, video games, comics and then the anime. Same, in all those areas I am most fanatical of the classic; I tend to divert myself of new things.
Do you remember who was the first character that inspired you to make a cosplay?
I remember very well, it was about 12-13 years ago, while living in Texas, and I got a job in a shop selling anime figures, games and films imported from Japan. As part of the work, I took one trip to another of the cities in Texas, I believe that San Antonio, to a sci-fi Convention. It was there that I saw cosplayers and fans for the first time. I also saw Peter Mayhew (who plays Star Wars Chewbacca in the series). I came back to my house after that, with an insatiable curiosity, I asked my boss to recommend me an anime. It was then that I saw the Escaflowne series, and thus, my first cosplay, Merle, the girl cat.
Do you build your costumes you alone or with help?
I would be lying if I say that I do them “alone”, because, although I’ve been sewing since 20 years ago (of course, first only doll clothes, then as I increased my knowledge, so did increase the difficulty of the piece) I find that there is always room for improvement and that I don’t know everything. I have no shame in turning to others for opinions, advice on method or suggestions for the construction of a pattern that haven’t been done before. And sometimes, when I’ve taken much more work than I can do alone, I have received help from friends or family, whether sewing ties or buttons in while I focus on the larger pieces. And yes, I am extremely perfectionist and when it comes to machine sewing or cutting the material, I do not allow anyone to help me, in that part I don’t budge.
But, yes, I build my own cosplays. It is my personal opinion, that all good cosplayers should play their part in the construction of their cosplay, let us be clear, not everybody has the gift of sewing and/or crafting and you can’t penalize them for that reason, but the creation of a cosplay is much in part due to them, and they always should contribute something. A good cosplay is nothing if the one who wears it didn’t sweat, bleed I bleed or even past endless hours searching photos or supervising, to ensure that the cosplay is as best as possible (I wish to clarify that my recent interpretation of Power Girl, is not of my creation, although modified by me. Any following version of the character, if it will be done by me).
Which do you think has been your most challenging cosplay to do?
Among the cosplays that I have made for myself, without a doubt, Princess Peach. It took me two years to complete it, sometimes because I would leave it for months stashed, afraid to finish it, because it had to be perfect. So much work I put that until the day before using it for the first time, yet I was finding details on the costume that needed attention. When it comes to commissions, it would be the 7 Sailors (from the series Sailor Moon, Eternal version), among those whose construction caused me anxiety in such a way, since I have a stomach stress-related condition. Or, any of the cosplays that I make for my favorite client, Anjanis, which are always a challenge, because the girl is just as perfectionist as me and never chooses something simple, which I love!
How did you feel the first time that you put your first cosplay?
If we talk about the first time I used a cosplay for a Convention, I was incredibly nervous, I didn’t know how to react to the people who wanted to take photos of me, and much less how to handle the praise, although anyway, being as I am, I thought that what I was wearing was a mess, and I wasn’t aware of the attention they gave me. One adapts slowly to have cameras on you, and creates a type of shell, or bubble and the nervousness recedes.
Do you feel that you express something of your personality in your cosplays?
Definitively. More often than not, I tend to choose the character that I am going to interpret, because I identify with them in some aspect, making it much easier to transform into them. The one who knows me well knows that I am a reserved person, and so most of my cosplays are characters that do not tend to smile much. But, I’ve done a lot of cosplay characters who smiles, especially recently. I think that it has a lot to do with my state of mind at the time of choosing it, my current situation in that moment.
When did you do your first appearance in cosplay?
Here in Puerto Rico, my first appearance at a Convention was at the DCC Collector’s Convention, where I used the first version of my cosplay of Kei Yuki from Captain Harlock.
If you have made appearances cosplaying in local or American, conventions in which you’ve appeared?
I have not had the privilege of attending any event in the continental U.S.A. yet, apart from the first Convention I attended, but I was not disguised. Here in Puerto Rico, I have gone to DCC, Kaisen, PRCC, CFF, everything. And belonging to the groups of the Rebel Legion and the Justice League of Puerto Rico, also I’ve made appearances on sites like Metro Comics in their Free Comic Book Day, special events for children in various premises, shopping centers, etc.
Do you use services of professional photographers?
Yes, I have the joy of using two of the best photographers in this island. First of all my partner in crime, director of photography and co-founder of our online magazine, PopJam; Ernesto Javier Flores. And my second photographer, acquired recently, the same talented, tremendous friend and also cosplayer; Eduardo Corax Meléndez, ParLit Photography.
Do you have experience participating in professional meetings of “photo-shoot”?
I think I would say that I have too much, I’m at a level that when I arrive for a shoot, I can get ready all by myself and I stand against the backdrop and everything flows so naturally. I think that my photographers would agree that their need to direct me is minimal, but already this has much more to do with being sure of yourself and being well aware of your body, eyes and expressions. And more than anything, having studied the character and their poses. In the photo-shoot is where you truly know how much you know both about yourself, as much as the character. If she smiles or not, if it stops in such a way, and even when we improvise a pose for the character, it has to be one that agrees with your personality. I don’t support at all the person who makes his/her cosplay for by doing so, the one who’s unfamiliar with his/her character, the who does not take the time to pay homage where is due.
What has been the response from the public towards your cosplays?
Because it has always been a very positive response, perhaps with the exception of one other person, as those who dislike crossplay or perhaps expected it I cover my tattoos. They are things that do not bother me, really. I have received so much support and recognition. I am very grateful for those who manage to see my effort and dedication in the construction and personification of my characters.
Have you been the subject of criticism, mockery or discrimination for being cosplayer?
Definitively, and any cosplayer that has not gone through this yet, should fasten his/her seatbelt, because we all get some of that. Unfortunately the envy and ignorance is something that we cannot undo with a magic wand. There is always someone who does not have anything else to do and decides to taunt and mock us, to such a level that many of us have been “burned” publicly, especially by social networks and sites such as 4chan or Puertochan. And the biggest problem is when they decide to use personal themes for this, and take away our privacy and right to keep certain things private. This invasion and disrespect reaches such end on occasions that achieves up to break circles of friendships. It is sad, very sad, but after so much time in this environment, I for my part I have created a shell to do this, and on occasions I’ve removed partly to get away from the drama, because it definitely drains you. We are not stone, we can ignore many things, but sometimes it reaches a point where we cannot bear more and all that crap manages to penetrate our shields, and affects us.
One thing is that a particular individual comes and attacks you; you can separate that one from the heap as an envious one. But now we have come to the point where are we have been flouted publicly, in a radio station, of all things. That is pure ignorance. They have no idea of how healthy and constructive is to be a cosplayer, especially for those who are like me, that we belong to groups where our aim is to bring joy to people, children specifically. And as it is, that we, having this hobby, we are less likely to attend social activities that incur in violent environment, criminal behavior or controlled substances.
Do you feel that your life has changed, that you’ve changed since you started to do cosplay?
Cosplay for me has been a therapy, an escape. I have no shame in saying that at a point in my life, I was very lost. I went from being a marijuana user, drinking alcohol in excess and being on a path of self-destruction, to find so much pleasure in a much healthier lifestyle. I concentrate in using my artistic abilities, and put all my attributes to work for me, to maximum capacity.
One of the first people I met when I entered this world of cosplay was Ivelisse Padilla (Neko Chan) and her group of friends. I remember my first impression, one that today I take it all back; I thought “But, what is wrong with this people, is this how they pass the time, seriously?” I am grateful today for having changed my mind, because nowadays, I see my life altered, where participating in this environment, fills me completely in so many aspects.
Popular Culture, those are my topics of study now. I can use so much of me, put my talents into use to the fullest. All that thanks to people like Ivelisse, and my most recent group of friends, and of course, to my clientele. Likewise, I also have been able to integrate new people into this little world. Recent addition is my husband Xerak, who can testify to how much it changes you being a part of this. Honestly, it is something rewarding, between the experiences, the people we meet and everything that is learned. For the first time in my life I’m proud to be who I am, 100% Geek.
Those interested in following the path of Melina Barbosa can go to its page on Facebook called NEKO’S COSPLAY/FORCE THREADS..