Cosplayer Interview

Cosplayer of the week : Troy Whigham

Before we get into the questions, I’d like to say that cosplaying draws some of the best people in the world. Before I got into it, I associated grown adults wearing costumes as some sort of deviant lifestyle; like how much must their life suck if they have to pretend to be someone else? Then I fell into it, and I realized that it can be a powerful tool to brighten up the life of a child who may not have much going right; or be a momentary enjoyment to someone who’s life has been knocked down. It’s not easy to explain until you’ve done it. There’s a gift there for the artists that can do it, and do it well. Not everyone can afford a theme park ticket, but they can go to a con at the local library for free, or go to a community event at the sheriff sub-station, and meet Chewbacca and Darth Vader and Stormtroopers and Rey. To see a kid’s reaction is really special. It might be the only time that child will get so close to a hero that they see on tv, and I think of that when I do events.
I remember fondly a response that Don Spiers gave to a local news reporter along the lines of “within the four walls of a con, anything can happen, and dreams can be realized. It’s the only place in the world where that can happen.”
Leo Nocedo : How did you discover cosplaying?
Troy Whigham : I was a WW2 reenactor sitting bored in my office one day (the usual requisite before spending a lot of money and filling my house with a lot of stuff I don’t need) when I started looking for something to fill the down-time during the WW2 reenactor off-season. I found Necronomicon and became interested in sitting in on some of its creative writing panels. I didn’t want to go alone, so I roped my reenactor buddy, who had his Bachelors in Literature, and we went dressed as WW2 pilots. We got a lot of “Love your costume! What character are you?” questions so we started making up a backstory as we went along: ghosts from the B-25 “Lady Be Good”, video game characters from “Call of Duty”, sidekicks to “Captain America”, and such. After that, I decided I should probably invest in a real sci-fi costume, and we both enjoyed “Game of Thrones” for its parallels to actual historical events, so we went down that rabbit hole. We met a lot of great people at the next con who were also GoT fans and we swapped information and Facebook tags and pretty soon we had a whole new social circle.
Leo Nocedo : What was your first cosplay?
Troy Whigham :  Technically, you could say our WW2 pilot uniforms, but our true dedicated cosplay would be “Game of Thrones” as Ser Jorah.
Leo Nocedo : What are your next 3 cosplay plans?
Troy Whigham :  I’m a member of the 501st and Rebel Legions here in Florida, so my next plan is to finally assemble my Resistance X-wing pilot costume. I already have the ANH Rebel pilot, TIE pilot, Jedi, and Scariff Rebel Soldier completed and approved. I just need to get the Resistance Pilot pieces measured and trimmed to fit, and get the flight suit tailored.
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever been in a cosplay contest?
Troy Whigham :  Only a few times, and only with a group. I’m not anybody special. I’m not trying to promote myself as an individual; I prefer to support those who can do a much better job with their costumes than I can. I prefer to be the shoulders that someone else stands on to achieve their own measure of greatness.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer sewing, armor making, or wig working?
Troy Whigham :   My background actually comes from building scale models as a kid. I can sew (most reenactors are forced to learn eventually), but right now I only sew by hand (I have a 1950’s Singer machine, but I haven’t learned how to use it). So, I prefer to work with hard pieces, like armor or helmets or props. If I sew, it’s to modify something I’ve bought off-the-shelf or something that absolutely can’t be obtained somewhere else.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer to do photoshoots at cons or at specific locations?
Troy Whigham :   I’ve done both. Con photoshoots are great for convenience and for meeting other costumers, but I enjoy dedicated location shoots for the party that goes along with it. My Star Wars groups do an annual photo shoot where we all come together and do a pot luck picnic in Pinellas County while shooting pictures for trading cards. My GoT group does a similar thing at Bok Tower. For my Ghostbuster and SHIELD groups, we literally get into some cars, either an Ecto or my SHIELD Xterra with a support vehicle, and convoy to different spots. Cons tend to be a bit more rushed, because everyone has other things scheduled. Location shoots tend to be more dedicated and relaxed, and who doesn’t enjoy a good road trip?
Leo Nocedo : Is there a type of character you cosplay frequently?
Troy Whigham :  Rarely will I do a “title character”, like Batman or Iron Man or a main character from a show. I prefer costumes where you can have multiples and the more you have, the better it looks. For example, you can have 1 Ghostbuster, and it’s a good Ghostbuster. You have multiple Ghostbusters, and it becomes a show. So, most of my costumes are characters that you can have multiples of.
Leo Nocedo : Do you have any favorite cosplayers?
Troy Whigham :   I do. I’m going to blame the guy that threw me down the Marvel superhero rabbit hole. David Mansfield of Super Dave Cosplay has built a full-on hard-shell armor-plated Iron Man suit. The thing is amazing; missiles pop out, laser beams come out, it’s just fantastic. The problem is, he has to be buckled and screwed into it, and with the suit on, he has limited mobility and limited vision. Because I’d worked with Stormtroopers and Darth Vader cosplayers through my involvement with the 501st, I offered to be his handler to keep things under control while he was “on-stage”. I didn’t want to just walk out in a t-shirt and shorts; I wanted to look somewhat official and related to him, but I didn’t want to drop a lot of money on something that I might wear only once. So, I reached into my closet and pulled out a business suit, added some sunglasses and a $20 ID badge and boom, I was Tony Stark’s SHIELD security man for his first public appearance. As soon as we walked out onto the show floor, people went nuts. The crowd reaction was amazing. I’d seen how people react to Chewbacca and Vader, but the reaction to Iron Man was a whole different level of “wow-ness”. Kids stopped in their tracks. Parents were amazed by the engineering. We couldn’t move; it was picture after picture after picture. I don’t think Dave was really prepared for the response and the mob we generated, so it was good that he had me there to keep things chill. At the end of the day, as we were exhaling, we looked at each other and nodded “yeah, we gotta do this again.”
Funny story about that Iron Man suit. We were at SyFy Bartow and Dave had entered into the costume contest as Iron Man. In the process of being assembled into the suit, he managed to snap a servo that allowed the mask to lift up and down. For him, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was always having to fix something on the suit; loose wires, broken plastic, unglued Velcro, chipped paint. It was constantly under repair. So he was ready to just toss the whole thing in the garbage and get on with his life. Fortunately, he was talked out of it (not by me) and glued it together just long enough to walk across the stage for judging. He ended up winning 1st Place in it. So, now I give him a hard time about winning a contest while wearing a costume he pulled out of the trash can.
Leo Nocedo : What’s the most detailed cosplay you’ve ever done?
Troy Whigham :    For my Star Wars costumes, everything has to be made to a standard, so I can’t really take credit for any of those. I’m constantly adding bits and pieces of bling to my Night’s Watch and my SHIELD costumes, so probably my most detailed would be one of those.
Leo Nocedo : What are your top 3 craftsmanship tips?
Troy Whigham :    1. Look for advice on YouTube. There’s a lot of great crafting videos on there, some better than others. 2. Look for advice from those that have been there, done that. 501st and Rebel Legion (and the Mando Mercs) are great for giving advice to those trying to build up to the approval standards, and a lot of that advice can carry over into other cosplays. The radio I wear for SHIELD is actually my TIE pilot intercom system, right down to the radio chatter. 3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You learn more through failure than you do through success.
Leo Nocedo : What is your favorite cosplay you’ve done?
Troy Whigham :    SHIELD. Absolutely SHIELD. I can do as little or as much as I want. Business suit and a badge = SHIELD agent. Jeans and a t-shirt and a $15 hat = SHIELD agent. Tactical boots, pants, vest, radio, patches, cuffs, weapons = SHIELD agent. I can customize to suit the environment; warm weather, cold weather, marching or just standing. For people that don’t have a lot of money, or need something that they can also use in everyday life, I recommend doing a SHIELD cosplay. You can be tactical, you can be science, you can be technology. SHIELD does all of it. And with the MCU chugging along, SHIELD will be chugging along, too.
Leo Nocedo : What is your worst cosplay “horror” story?
Troy Whigham :  I’ve never had anything important break or rip or snap, so I’m luckier than most.
Leo Nocedo : What’s your funniest cosplay story?
Troy Whigham :    Our GoT group had gotten quite large at a con once; almost 18 people. Because GoT is an ensemble show, there were a lot of different character options and we had managed to get an almost complete set of the key characters just by bumping into people as we wandered around. Everybody was still getting to know each other, but we just gelled right away as a group, and would frequently get stuck with picture after picture after picture. The space between the two escalators at the Tampa Convention Center became our deathtrap. We couldn’t get away! Just as we finished photos for one group of people, a fresh batch would come down and ask for some, too. We learned that if we peeled away in batches of 3 or 4, and then reconvened at a new spot, we could move about a con a lot better. So, that afternoon we were in the process of reconvening, walking single-file down the back hallway to register for the costume contest and the hall was packed with people. The men would hold up their swords as beacons for the others to follow behind. As we were coming up to a cut-out, a lady, phone in hand, started to take the picture of our character in front. Then she saw the next one, then the next one. “Hey, it’s … and there’s…. and it’s… and he has…!” She was so excited that she couldn’t form a complete sentence. By the time I got up to her, she was shaking – seriously shaking – as if we were rock stars. That’s when I realized the power that a good costume, and a good group, could have on someone. Its powerful stuff and something I respect.
Leo Nocedo : What’s the best in-character interaction you’ve ever had?
Troy Whigham :  Our SHIELD group was in the DragonCon parade, which is massive. The people of Atlanta really turn out for it; just huge groups of people 5-deep standing on the curbs waiting and watching and having a great time. Kids to grandmas, they all turn out. I love marching on the sidelines interacting with the people, dancing and giving high-fives the entire way. There aren’t any barricades. You just walk right up to someone and give a high-five. Well, ahead of us was a mixed group of superhero costumes. Clair Bauer, as she’s known presently, was dressed as Wonder Woman (and an excellent one at that). A little girl bolted from the side and ran right up to her, because here was a real live Wonder Woman and the little girl couldn’t believe that she was real. In that instant Clair realized what was going on, and what her responsibility was. Clair smiled at the girl, gave her a quick hug, then gently guided her back to the curb so that she wouldn’t get run over. As cosplayers we have to remember that to some people, we are the character we represent. Clair did that, and I was fortunate enough to witness it.
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever cosplayed with a family member?
Troy Whigham :  No, but my sister and niece were impressed that I got so much recognition as a member of the 501st when we went to Disney one weekend.
Leo Nocedo : What is your favorite cosplay photo of yourself?
Troy Whigham :    I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t photograph well. That said, there are photographers that do manage to put lipstick on a pig and make it look pretty, so there are photographers that I’ll invite to shoots specifically because they do good work, and they’re good to work with. Leo Nocedo is one of them. Joe Tomasone, Bri Kupfer, Travis Kirk, Greg Rice, and Michael Trefry are others. Susan Schaller dabbles in both cosplay and photography. One of my favorite photos came about randomly. It’s just a simple shot of me as SHIELD walking along in my first DragonCon parade, taken by a stranger. Someone I know saw it, tagged me, and it came across my feed. I found the photographer that took it and thanked her for the picture; that it was one of my favorites from the weekend. It blew her mind that a random stranger would take the time to PM her directly to thank her for a photo she snapped almost on instinct; she totally didn’t expect it. If someone manages to take a good picture of me, I take the time to acknowledge their talent. They put lipstick on a pig and made it pretty.
Leo Nocedo : What are your go-to stores for cosplay materials/full cosplays?
Troy Whigham :  Every cosplayer eventually finds something at thrift stores. You don’t need to drop $400 on a business suit if you can find one that fits well for $25 second-hand. But, with a suit you have to know what to look for, like sticking with natural fibers – wool, cotton, silk – and how to accessorize it. Polyester fabric doesn’t hold shape. A black suit can be used for so many costumes: Blues Brothers, John Wick, SHIELD agent, Men in Black. There’s a lot of stuff that can be purchased cheap and re-purposed for props. I’ve seen VCRs be converted into remote-controlled machine gun turrets. Eventually you develop an artist’s eye for things.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer to buy pre-styled wigs or style your own?
Troy Whigham :  SHIELD doesn’t have time for wigs. That’s why we wear hats.
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever had someone mistake you for a different character?
Troy Whigham :  All the time. When I do my GoT Night’s Watch, everybody assumes that everyone with a black cape is John Snow. In the 501st, TIE pilots are called Darth Vader on a regular basis. We take it in stride. At least they try. I never correct the person; I just go with it.
Leo Nocedo : List all the cosplays you’ve done.
Troy Whigham : WW2 pilot, X-wing pilot, Ser Jorah, Night’s Watch, TIE pilot, Scariff Rebel Soldier, SHIELD agent, 17th century Royal Navy sailor, Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s dad), Muldoon from “Jurassic Park”, random ACU guy from “Jurassic World”, and WW2 infantryman (I talked some of my reenactor friends into coming to a con in a costume, so we dressed as WW2 infantry and got pictures with all of the WW2 themed superheroes – Wonder Woman, Captain America, Batman, Catwoman, Superman; we even got a picture with Colonel Sanders and a Desert Shield Eagle!).
Leo Nocedo : What’s the biggest con you’ve cosplayed at?
Troy Whigham :    DragonCon. Hand’s down. We do a panel for kids called the Junior Agents of SHIELD where kids have to solve a puzzle to earn their SHIELD badge and ID card, then they go through a path to get autographs and pictures with Avengers characters. At the end, they get their picture with Director Fury and Tony Stark. The first year we did it, we had to turn families away. We’ve been invited back every year ever since.
I’m going to reiterate how cosplayers are the best people in the world. The first year we went to DragonCon, Dave and I went to Atlanta sweating about whether we’d find enough characters for our panel. We met a few at the parade, and a few just walking the hotels. We’d explain what we were doing and that we needed help, and people jumped in. On the morning of the panel, a few backed out with family and business obligations, but we sent Directory Fury, whom we’d known for all of a day, up to the main level and he came back with some excellent people to fill spots for the panel. Every year we’ve managed to find some really great people, and even though we only see them once a year, it’s like we just saw them yesterday.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer cosplaying characters with props, or characters that you don’t need to carry a prop around all day?
Troy Whigham :  A good prop can go a long way. It draws attention. At some cons, you’ll see a lot of the same character, but if you’re that character with a good prop, you’ll get noticed a lot more. That said, props can get heavy. They can be bulky. You have to go through weapons check, which is another delay to getting on the show floor. It’s all about your priorities.
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever lost a cosplay piece at a con?
Troy Whigham :  Once is all it takes. Fortunately I was able to get it back. Volunteer staff don’t get the credit they deserve, so I’m giving it now. Thank you volunteers! Unpaid, unrecognized, but very much appreciated!
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever bought a cosplay piece at a con?
Troy Whigham :  Yes. Badges, pins, IDs, patches are usually easy to find. One time I found a resin-cast Maltese Falcon for a Humphrey Bogart cosplay I want to do.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer to cosplay solo or in a group?
Troy Whigham : Groups. I’m in it for the social interaction and the opportunity to meet different people. Cons are good places for that, because you can walk right up to someone dressed in the same theme as you and make an instant connection. I’ve met a lot of great people that way. If you want to go to a con but you can’t find anyone to come with you, just come in costume and you’ll have friends within an hour.
Leo Nocedo : If you had a chance to meet your all-time favorite cosplayer, what would you say to them?
Troy Whigham : I’d tell him that his cosplay is weak, if only he was taller, and to get off my coattails. He knows who he is, and right now our mutual friends are laughing.
Leo Nocedo : Have you ever done a cosplay panel?
Troy Whigham :  Yes. I would encourage everyone who gets into this hobby to do it at least once. I know public speaking is a scary thing, but it’s also a good way to exchange information, and in a convention setting there’s a lot more freedom without judgement. Inside the four walls of a convention, dreams can come true. It’s a good place to get experience because at some point in your business life, you’re going to have to give a presentation to people that aren’t as open and forgiving as attendees at a sci-fi con. The great thing is, at a con, you don’t even have to be yourself. You may lack self-confidence, but does Tony Stark? Bruce Wayne? Natasha Romanoff? If making yourself a starship captain gives you the strength you need to give a one-hour presentation, then go for it. Inside those four walls, dreams can come true.
Leo Nocedo : Do you prefer to buy or make cosplays?
Troy Whigham :  Coming from a reenactor background, where the uniforms and equipment are all bought from cottage industry shops, I have no qualms about buying a piece from a store and customizing it. Amazon has become my go-to for medieval and tactical gear, simply because of the selection available. Etsy is a good place for specific designs, and eBay (love it or hate it) is also an option if you don’t mind correcting things. What usually happens is I’ll get one piece here, another piece there, make a piece myself, and then hit the thrift store for something to use as a prop.
Leo Nocedo : If you could tell your past self anything about cosplay, what would you say?
Troy Whigham :   I should’ve been doing this sooner. The balance of male to female is about 50-50; much more preferable for dating than reenacting where it’s almost 80% men to 20% women. It’s also open to creativity, and is a great way to meet good people.
Leo Nocedo : What is your ultimate dream cosplay?
Troy Whigham :  Oof. Tough question. I’ve already hit my dream cosplays. I think I’d make a good Skipper from Gilligan’s Island if I can find a group of people to do the other characters. I already have the stuff to dress. I’d also like to do a Sheriff Buford T. Justice cosplay someday, and finally catch that sumbitch Bandit.
Leo Nocedo : What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever done? (Craftsmanship, wearing of, ect)
Troy Whigham :   X-wing pilot. I built the helmet myself, which was initially more challenging than I imagined, then I had to modify the extraction straps to fit my short, fat body. It was my first serious costume and it took me a couple of years to finish it.
Leo Nocedo : What’s the most difficult character makeup you’ve done?
Troy Whigham :  Never tried.
Leo Nocedo : What, in your opinion, makes a cosplayer a “pro” cosplayer?
Troy Whigham :   People that can make money at it. I think being a pro cosplayer is a modern invention; people weren’t doing this at this volume twenty years ago and getting paid for it. Look at “GalaxyQuest” for a representation of what the scene was like. That said, I know cosplayers that aren’t pro, that could make money at it, but prefer to do it for fun because they find it rewarding in and of itself.
Leo Nocedo : What is your favorite part of cosplaying?
Troy Whigham :  The reaction from people when I do it right. I don’t mean that I expect accolades, but when kids faces light up, or someone laughs because they’re having fun, or people just simply give a compliment, that’s the best feeling in the world. No matter what other problems are going on in my life outside the four walls of the con, getting that validation inside of it makes all the effort worthwhile.
Leo Nocedo : Make up your own question!
Troy Whigham : If you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. When I walked into my first con in costume, I didn’t know what to expect, but I had a good quality costume. Quality attracts quality, and if you’re bringing your “A” game, you’ll get noticed by other “A” level cosplayers; they will come up to you and start chatting and pretty soon you’re in a good circle of people and having a great time.
Case in point: A lot of Deadpool costumers thought Deadpool was all about being a clown and a jerk. No, no he’s not. The best Deadpool cosplayers know when to strike a funny pose for a picture, and when to be cool with other characters. Deadpool lampoons stereotypes. You have to know who the Deadpool character is; what his perspective on reality is. Otherwise, you’re just a guy in a spandex onesie ruining the con experience for everybody else. Don’t be that guy. Be that guy who brings the right props, plays with others well, and is open to suggestions on improvements and fresh ideas for the character. You’d be surprised at how many friends you can make that way.
If you’re going to your first con and don’t want to drop a lot of money, you can go as a zombie hunter. Some jeans, a t-shirt, and a re-painted Nerf gun from a thrift store. Total cost: the $4 you spent on the gun and the $4 you spent repainting it with spraycan truck bed liner. Bloody it up if you want. Or don’t. You’re your own muse. You’re bound to meet Umbrella Corp, or The Walking Dead, or other random zombie lovers. Have fun with it. That’s what it’s all about.


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