Cosplay Spotlight: Mia Ballistic

Published on December 7th, 2012

The “Cosplay Girl Feature” is popular on many comics websites (including our own!), but I thought this time that I’d like to put a twist on the formula. One of my dearest friends is a gorgeous geek gal named Mia Ballistic, and over the years of knowing her and sewing with her, I have come to respect her wisdom in all things costuming – because not only does she dress in costumes for fun, she dresses other people in costumes for a living!

(An example of Mia’s work: Actors in costume for Titus Andronicus, performed at Impact Theatre. Photo by Cheshire  Isaacs.)

So this month, I interviewed her with some of the questions I’ve always wanted to ask about being both a cosplayer and a professional costume designer. Without further ado, here’s Mia Ballistic!

Roxanna Meta: When did you become a costume designer, and when did you become a cosplayer?

Mia Ballistic: I took a costume design course in college at UC Berkeley, to satisfy a requirement for my theater major. My course professor was impressed with my work in class and encouraged me to continue with the design trek. I began assisting in the department’s costume shop and designed my first show, a grad student’s experimental dance piece based on Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the following semester. I assisted and designed several shows over the next few years and learned all the basics of sewing while working in the shop. I started designing shows in the California Bay Area by my final semester in school and have been working in the field ever since.

I started cosplaying my senior year of college because of the Batman as American Mythology class I taught with LTC America, in which I replaced Catherine Pow as teacher, and which I had originally taken at the encouragement of Seth Thygesen, United Underworld’s Batman (whoa, right?). There is a traditional prank day every semester in the class, where we would put on a short skit. The previous Batman was no longer available and so, I volunteered Seth to be the new Batman and I helped him build a Batsuit.

It was my first foray into superhero costuming and I slowly inched my way into spandex myself. Well actually, I believe later that year, Cat and you, Roxanna, shoved me into Cat’s Domino costume for a photo shoot. The rest is ~history~.

(Mia’s first spandex, with Catherine Pow, Roxanna Meta and Tallest Silver. Photo by Eurobeat Kasumi.)

RM: Did your decision to become one inform/inspire your decision to become the other?

MB: Definitely. As I gained skills in designing, I began to fantasize building awesome costumes. I was super hesitant to actually be in costume myself until I realized how much fun it would be.

RM: Some people who dress up as their favorite characters dislike the term “cosplay,” considering it specific to anime. A lot of them prefer the term “costumer.” What does being a costumer mean to you? What do you think of their new use of that word?

MB: I’m amused that there’s a movement to use the more general “costumer” since I think “cosplay” is such an appropriate term for all character costuming. I love the word because I feel like it really supports the spirit of this hobby: costume play. I generally think of the word “costumer” in the same vein as “seamstress” or “draper”, a more generic definition of someone involved in the trade of costume creation.

RM: Tell us a misconception, or something you think people don’t know, about being a theatrical costume designer.

MB: “Oh, you’re a costume designer! HOW FUN! You must get to create fun stuff all of the time!”

Yeah…not all the time. I personally am more often styling a show with modern fashion than I am building corsets and fairy wings. I think there’s a misconception that all theater is incredibly full of whimsy and fantasy. Just like with film, theater has varied genres and those genres require different types of costuming. As an up-and-coming designer, I tend to work on smaller productions with modest budgets and no assistants. I avoid taking on shows where there would be an incredible amount of building from scratch because I simply do not have the time or manpower necessary to do so. Most of the time, as a costume designer, I am working with an incredibly truncated schedule of four to five weeks to dress anywhere from three to fifteen people. It’s often a balance of trying to work on shows that I am passionate about and am confident that I can both devote time to and create a product that I feel proud of. There’s plenty of fun and creative parts to being a costume designer, but there’s a lot more business to juggle and there’s also a great deal of creative compromise which must be made for the sake of the production as a whole. I may not be satisfied with using cheaper fabrics or skimping of details, but as the saying goes, the show must go on and that means I must get the product out, whether it’s perfect or not.

She does special effects, too! Mia as Harvey Dent. Photo by AmericanComicCon.

Mia as Harvey Dent. Photo by AmericanComicCon.

RM: Your job and your hobby seem so similar! Do you ever run out of energy to cosplay because you work hard at your job? Or are they different enough?

MB: Oh, I’m a masochist. There’s so many times when I simply back out of doing a personal costume because I just can’t muster the energy (or funds) for it. The reason I do it is because it DOES give me the opportunity to be as creative as I want to be and to have complete creative control over a project. It’s also gives me an excuse to practice certain skills I want to sharpen. I do have the problem of being completely frugal with even my own projects and have a hard time justifying purchasing something more luxurious.

RM: Tell us about a time that something you learned while cosplaying helped solve a “real-world” costuming problem.

MB: Hmmm, actually I think the most important lesson that I’ve learned from cosplay is to be flexible with your vision. When I first started costuming, it would be so easy to get wrapped up with my sketch or image research and become frustrated that I couldn’t make the garment, be it the color or cut, look good on my actor. I learned that what is more important than being photo-accurate, is that you find a way to make the intent and idea of the costume suit the body you have in front of you. All bodies have the ability to look sexy, strong, scary, unattractive, youthful, aged, and so forth—it’s about looking at your canvas and understanding what is possible.

RM: What is your dream cosplay?

MB: Too many and too fickle! A few:  Classic ’80s Rogue, Blood Seras from Hellsing, Ami-Comi Huntress, mermaids in all forms.

RM: What is your dream stage show to design?

MB: It has, forever been, The Tempest.

RM: Theatre has a long, grand tradition, much of it inherently unchanging. But cosplay is a new “art.” What do you see as the future of cosplay?

MB: On a literal level, I think the future will be a continued innovation of the usage of materials to create more and more fantastical elements of costumes.

On a philisophical level, I hope it will be a continuing breaking of barriers of the idea of “correctness and accuracy” being necessity. Trends like genderbending, cross-genre costuming, historical and pop culturally inspired costuming will continue to become visible and warmly received. I hope that there is more and more of the recognition that this hobby doesn’t need to only be legitimate when it is a perfection recreation, but also when it is a fantastic reinterpretation.

Roxanna Meta