You’re one of the first people who has said they needed cosplay in their lives. What does this community mean to you in terms of creativity and friendship?
The cosplay community actually saved me from depression. I was right out of college with a fashion/arts degree and wanted to go into costume design, but it was right around the time when the economy plummeted. I couldn’t find work ANYWHERE and was jobless for a long while.
I had started an art business, but it only got me so far and soon I wasn’t selling a single thing. I had understanding parents, but still. Living at home with no money and nothing to do with your life at that age when you have SO MUCH ambition is hard. I had no idea what to do, but one day I gave cosplay a try. We were attending a simple midnight movie premier, but it was so much fun and I lost myself in the character.
After I posted pictures on my Cosplay.com profile I got inquiries from people wanting to commission my costumes. It started slow, but eventually my sister encouraged me to list my costumes on Etsy. Since then I have made over 500 costumes for people all over the world and to promote myself and my business I cosplay and attend events as much as possible.
It lets me release the massive amounts of creativity I have stored up inside of me and in going to events I meet people with their own stories about how cosplay helped them. It brought me out of my shell and forged relationships that I’ll never forget. I am able to test myself and invent new ways to do things that even a fashion college couldn’t teach me.
I’ve discovered how to make props, armor, head dresses and how to use materials I didn’t even know existed. It gives me a full sense of accomplishment every day to do what I do, whether it’s for myself or for someone else. It’s a full-time job and hobby.
Has being on the business side of cosplay changed your view of it as a hobby?
I separate my cosplay crafts from the costumes I do for business. Personally, I LOVE costumes. It’s what I’ve wanted to work with my whole life. However, there are always the arguments that if you don’t make it yourself it isn’t real cosplay. I disagree.
I believe there are 2 sides to cosplay. There are the people who just like to have fun and show off their favorite fandoms and there are the ones who take pride in putting hours and days and weeks into their costumes and like the recognition they get for all their hard work. I am one of those people. I work hard to make the costumes I do and being able to share the process with other cosplayers is one of my favorite things about cosplay.
But I know there are people who want to dress up who can’t sew or craft. My business wouldn’t be what it is today if there weren’t people who needed to buy their costumes rather than make them. I appreciate both sides. I do, however, think that credit should be given accordingly, especially since word of mouth is such a big part of where I get my business.
Since so much of cosplay is made by the person wearing the costumes, when someone else makes your costumes it should be noted. I know from experience that hard work goes into every costume and having that work recognized is important in my opinion. Credit should be given where it’s due. Whether it’s a prop, photograph, makeup. This artistic community is filled with talent and without the different contributors, a lot of things wouldn’t work out the way they do.
Was learning the business of cosplay more difficult than some might imagine?
I fell into it. There was a point when things kind of exploded for me. Not that I am a popular cosplayer, but as far as cosplay being an actual living/job for me, it happened somewhat abruptly. My job is making costumes and when I dress up I am promoting myself.
As a business, it’s become much more competitive with the knowledge of cosplay growing so fast. There are TV shows about it now and conventions grow bigger every year. I got into it during a perfect time I feel so I think I kind of grew with it. I think that now days cosplay has become different from what it was years ago in that everyone has a fan page.
There are cosplay models now rather than crafters. A lot of controversy. Mostly things that have made cosplay more mainstream than it used to be. So I believe that it would be more difficult to get into the business side of it these days. I am just glad I stumbled into it when I did.
Tell us about the progress of your “Wonderland” series?
My Wonderland series was inspired when I read “The Looking Glass Wars” by Frank Beddor in 2010. I fell in love with the concept and decided, initially, to make a Redd Queen costume based off of what I imagined from the book. I did it on a whim, basically grabbing whatever random materials I had lying around to make a full costume. After meeting Frank at a convention in 2011 dressed as the Redd Queen, I decided to take my costume and invent my own Alice In Wonderland concept.
I came up with a story and from there I made an updated Red Queen costume as well as a couple other characters. In 2012 I met him again as the Red Queen and again was inspired to evolve my concept for the following year. I watched the full walk through for Alice: Madness Returns and created a concept where Alice was cursed with multiple personalities.
Each personality reflected a part of her, but the Red Queen character became iconic to me. I wanted her to be menacing and strong, so her purpose in Alice’s world was to be the strongest personality and to take over the others. I had the privilege of working with Eric from Bald Pirate Photography and we shot the entire story. It progressed through photographs where Alice battled against her more dangerous personalities in order to gain control of herself again.
It was so much fun! By 2013 I retired the group and decided to focus on other things, but the Wonderland project was one of my biggest inspirations when it came to challenging myself and pushing myself to do more with my cosplay.
You’re also a fashion designer, and did your first fashion show a few years back, have you ever thought about doing a cosplay fashion show?
I would love to! I’ve designed 2 fashion shows in the past couple years. Both of them were very high fashion, which is a fancy way of saying that people wouldn’t actually wear the outfits on a regular day. I was obligated to do fashion, but I made it so outrageous because internally my heart is always into costumes. I love designing my own outrageous clothes, but if I could make an event around costumes and see cosplay on a runway my life would be that much more complete. 90% of people who cosplay figure everything out on their own. It’s a completely unique art form and it would rock any show.
What fashion design are you most proud of?
My proudest original design is the Red Queen. She was a costume in 3 different forms as well as an outfit on the runway for one of my shows. I put a lot of work into developing her character and I loved being able to translate her into a fashion piece for Holiday RAWk in 2011. And…I was really proud of the hair
Scarlett Johansson and Christina Hendricks are in need of your services, what would you cosplay them as?
HA! Scarlett Johansson would be Rapunzel from Disney or Jill Valentine from Resident Evil 5. Christina Hendricks would be Poison Ivy or Jessica Rabbit.
We know cosplay and design is your life, but what type of things do you enjoy when you’re not working away?
WRITING!!! I have been writing my whole life with a side goal of getting published. When I was younger I actually would have loved to be a writer of science fiction and fantasy. I’ve written over 9 complete novels and have been working on an apocalyptic series for about 3 years now.
It’s a type of meditation for me. It calms me and helps me when I am stressed and I couldn’t live without it, much like costumes 😛 Aside from that, I miss living on a farm. I miss the country so going hiking or camping or horseback riding would be ideal things for me to do if I had the time these days. I’ve been waiting for the weather to cool down so I can escape to the country for a while.
I am not a city girl as much as I like my conventions. I was raised on an ostrich farm and born on an island that can’t even be seen unless the map is very detailed. I enjoy my solitude and reading and being able to consume myself in my world.
What TV series are you following now?
So many! The Walking Dead, Arrow, The Flash, Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Game of Thrones, Falling Skies, Gotham. Just to name a few
One thing that you probably shouldn’t tell us about yourself, but you’re going to anyway?
It’s REALLY hard to scare me or gross me out. Like…really hard. Living on a farm exposed me to a lot of things, like rotten emu eggs and scorpions and bloody injuries. Even now I work at a haunted attraction making gory zombies all night. BUT, one thing that will get me EVERY time is roaches. I developed a severe fear of them a few years back when one chased me around my room.
For years I was deathly afraid of them. As in I secretly cried in another room when my cousin brought a dead one up to me on a napkin. People used it against me for a while, but they underestimated the real level of fear and hatred I had for roaches. After a couple of years the fear developed and today I get struck with so much emotion when I see one that I actually go into a crazy murder mode.
I scream and cry and run around and tear things apart if I see one and I hunt it until it’s dead. It’s a very serious blood lust that could potentially put me in an institution one day if I’m caught in one of my rampages. JUST roaches…and ticks, but we don’t have ticks, so just roaches. HATE THEM WITH A SCARY PASSION.
And that folks is what you get when you have two writers writing to each other, a lot of writing. CLC is a pretty dynamic personality, and fairly accomplished being that she does this on a pretty full-time basis. There’s a handful of cosplayers that can call this their life’s work, but with her steadfast determination, and slight weirdness, Courtney Leigh has made a name for herself in this biz.
Dripping with creativity, cosplay provides a catharsis for Leigh that most outside of the community may not understand, but it has been a saving grace. Yes, it launched a career, but more importantly, it built life long friendships and her own little place in this world. Something we all strive to find.
PS-I hate roaches too. They’re too quick not to be up to something evil.