SAY KONNICHIWA TO CONSTANTINE IN TOKYO
we set out to the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo we arranged some very cool interview with some outstanding cosplayers; one of which was Constatine In Tokyo; we were not only intrigued by her excellent cosplay but also her name so we asked her if she would sit down and do an interview. Constatine took time away from her very busy schedule and talked with us about everything from comics, to anime, manga and her ties to Japan.
Q: For those of us who may not be in the know, give us a brief insight of who Constantine is and what she is all about.
CIT: Haha! That’s a big first question! Aside from the obvious – that I’m a cosplayer – I spend a good deal of my time writing and watching film. I am a huge fan of Asian films – particularly Japanese classics – in addition to the horror and sci-fi genres. I have a lot of critical essays and film reviews on my blog – which you can see at ConstantineInTokyo.com – and I work as an Editor for the websites JapanCinema.net and TakoPop.com. I guess you can say I spend most of my time immersed in some of the more obscure aspects of ‘nerd-dom’ and basically exist as far away from the ‘real world’ as possible!
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your name “Constantine In Tokyo”?
CIT: Well, my name is Constantine and since the next question asks about how I lived in Japan…you can kinda put the two together, lol. But, hmm, it seems like most cosplayers use some sort of online pseudonym. Mine actually originates from my early days back on YouTube, when I was making videos and posting blogs about my experience working for the Japanese government. After spending so much time online under the name ‘Constantine In Tokyo’ it just sort of stuck and I continued to use it when I started becoming more heavily involved with cosplay and costuming. If I had to pick a new cosplay name today, it would undoubtedly be Hingle McCringleberry. Oh, I have so many regrets!
Q: We are guessing you have spent some time in Japan, if so how long did you spend there and do you ever get the chance to go back?
CIT: Yes! I moved to Japan after I graduated college. I lived on a small volcanic island off the coast of Tokyo where I worked as an English teacher for the JET Program for just under two years. While I haven’t been back to Japan since my return to the States, I will be back in the Kansai region in April 2013 – this is actually the first time I’ve mentioned this little fact anywhere online, but people can look forward to seeing new Japan-related videos, blogs, and pictures in April!
Q: We noticed on your Facebook profile that you have written in Japanese, do you speak in the language as well; if so, is it a difficult language to learn?
CIT: I learned Japanese in college and got quite good at speaking it when I was living in Japan. Of course, I haven’t used it in a few years and have probably gotten pretty awful at this point, lol. I think that conversational Japanese is a very easy language to pick up – it has very clearly defined rules that are easy to follow. Written Japanese – with hiragana, katakana, and most importantly KANJI – is much more difficult to learn with a high degree of fluency. But, like all foreign languages, it just takes a lot of determination and hard work to achieve fluency. If you are really passionate about a language, then you’ll learn how to speak it eventually.
Q: How were you introduced to comics, and what was the first comic you remember reading; what do you remember thinking after that first taste of comicdom?
CIT: Growing up, I was very interested in fantasy and sci-fi novels, in addition to cartoon films and TV shows. So, when I was very young, I spent most of my time reading novels, not comics. In Junior High, I became obsessed with Japanese manga and animation…which led to American comics. I think the best thing about comics is their ability to combine compelling characters, mature storylines, and beautiful artwork. I think in America, comics and cartoons have traditionally been considered a pastime for children. In Japan, people of all ages and both genders enjoy manga and I think that’s a sentiment that is becoming more prevalent in the US.
Q: When you were young what was your favorite comic book character and why?
CIT: In terms of American comics, the first character I felt a really strong connection to was Rogue from X-Men. She was very strong and quite abrasive – not necessarily an easy person to get to know. This is of course because she has a very complex back story and has constructed a lot of defense mechanisms to protect herself from getting too close to people and getting hurt. I related to these aspects of her character. As far as Japanese manga/anime is concerned, Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell has been a favorite of mine for years – again, a very strong, solitary figure who hides a delicate interior under a tough exterior.
Q: When did you begin cosplaying, and what gave you the idea to want to start?
CIT: I started attending anime conventions in high school and as someone who always loved Halloween, cosplay naturally appealed to me. My mother taught me how to sew growing up and I was very eager to make my own costumes. I really admired the work of other cosplayers online, though keep in mind at that time there were very few cosplayers who dedicated any substantial amount of time to posting cosplay pictures on the internet. If I remember correctly, I made my first costume back in 2001 or 2002.
Q: What was the first costume you created, what was it like to create a costume for the first time?
CIT: Probably something easy and it was probably frustrating because it was my first costume! Something that I do want to mention about my early involvement with cosplay was that, as a teenager, I really lacked the patience necessary to sit down and fully complete a costume. Thus, many of my early costumes were about 75% finished and never photographed. It was just something I did for fun and didn’t really pursue it as anything other than a casual cosplay. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve begun to pursue cosplay on a more serious fashion.
Q: How long does it take you to design and create a costume from start to finish?
CIT: This really depends on each individual costume. I have some costumes that take me no more than 3 hours to complete and there are few that I have been working on for a few months. At this point, I’ve gotten very good at constructing Marvel superhero costumes quickly and cleanly. But, I’m much less experienced with armor and props, so I’ve trying to improve my skills with that.
Q: What is the most complex costume you have created thus far, and what made it such a challenge?
CIT: The answer to this question will likely be different a month from now…as I’m working on several new costumes that are substantially more complex than anything else I’ve done. As of now, the most time-intensive costume that you can see on my Facebook is either Rogue – I spent a lot of time trying to get the details perfect – or Terra Branford from Final Fantasy Dissidia – which has a lot of appliqué, rhinestones and hand-painting on it.
Q: We have seen you in your Ms. Marvel costume; what drew you to ant to portray her and was the costume difficult to create?
CIT: Ms. Marvel is one of my ‘3 hour cosplays.’ I made it on a whim because I wanted a new costume for a convention I was attending in a few days…so it certainly wasn’t a difficult costume to make. I already had the materials necessary because I was planning on making Moonstone’s Ms. Marvel costume and I thought it would be fun to make the Ms. Marvel counterpart. Now that I have both costumes, I will be releasing some pretty cool photographs that feature both.
Q: What characters would you like to portray in the future and why would you like to portray them?
CIT: I obviously have a strong affinity for Marvel characters, so I will definitely be continuing to make Marvel costumes. I tend to prefer villains to heroes though and many of my new costumes will be bad guys. I’d also like to start making more videogame costumes with armor and large-scale props.
Q: When you search for a character to portray, do you select them because of the personality of the character or do you mainly make the decision because of the costume design?
CIT: In general, my costume choices are influenced by a mix of both character and aesthetics. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of cosplaying characters that don’t really match my appearance or personality. Sadly, I’m just not good enough at modeling or acting to portray characters that are substantially different that my own personality, so I need to pick characters that I can relate to on some level. Similarly, while I really strongly believe that people should cosplay whatever they want (regardless of body type, race, gender, or any other aspects of physical appearance), I personally like to choose characters and costume designs that I think I can ‘pull off.’
Q: What gives you the most joy when you wear your creations to a convention?
CIT: Conventions! This really hits the heart of why most people choose to cosplay! Conventions give me the opportunity to meet new people who share similar (and sometimes different!) interests and – if I’m lucky – those people will also appreciate the work I have put into a costume. I have to say, a huge motivation for me as a cosplayer is to just hear people say things like ‘You really brought the character to life’ or ‘I am really impressed by the work you put into this costume.’ Cosplayers are all just fans at heart and it means a lot to us to hear that other people out there also enjoy the ‘strange’ way we choose to express our admiration for a character or series!
Q: For those that are just starting out in cosplay, do you have advice for them on how to start out and any pointers on where to get materials and accessories?
CIT: Probably the biggest piece of advice I can give new cosplayers who are just starting to make their own costumes is to start with achievable goals. When I first started cosplaying, I had a bad habit of picking costumes that were too complicated…or starting work on too many costumes and not finishing any of them. As I mentioned before, when I was a teenager, I really lacked the patience necessary to see most of my costumes through to completion. So, for new cosplayers, I recommend selecting a character you feel very strongly about (which will give you the motivation to finish it) and carefully planning how you’re going to approach constructing it. Picking a costume that’s too far out out your skill level can be extremely frustrating and discouraging. Once you’ve started work on a costume – be patient and take the time you need to finish it. There’s nothing better than wearing a fully-finished costume that you are proud of to a convention!
Q: We know you are very busy, but when you get some down time what comics are you reading right now?
CIT: Yeah, I don’t have a ton of free time for reading right now (except for the new Haruki Murakami novel) but I am reading most of the new Marvel NOW! – Captain Marvel, All-New X-Men, Savage Wolverine etc etc etc.
Q: What comic book storylines have you been following and which ones have you on the edge of your seat and which ones has been a disappointment?
CIT: Hmmm, I’m not really feeling Captain Marvel right now, but I have to say that Indestructible Hulk is shockingly good (to me, I’ve not been a big Hulk fan traditionally).
Q: As a onetime comic book dealer and now publisher, on occasion I will get a complaint from people that the characters in comics are drawn too sexual and they don’t represent the true female form, what are your thoughts on this subject?
CIT: Hmm, I suppose this is a complicated issue, because everyone has a different opinion on it. For me personally, I don’t mind that female characters in comics are drawn in a sexual way or given sexy costumes – I do, after all, spend a lot of my time recreating these ‘sexy’ costumes and one of the things I like about cosplay is that it can be sexy. Yes, there are times when women seem to be objectified in comics – just as women are frequently objectified in all aspects of our society – and I hope that fans can use their critical thinking skills to delve into the deeper meaning behind such incidents. However, female comic book characters aren’t only ‘tits and ass.’ The vast majority of them are strong, powerful women who have well-developed back stories and possess a lot of depth. Even women that perhaps started out as shallow, undeveloped characters have evolved into much more complex people – if they weren’t interesting, then we wouldn’t want to read about them.
But I think another important thing to remember about comics and other forms of media (films, tv shows, etc) is that they provide us an opportunity to escape from the mundane reality of our own existence and plunge ourselves into a world that is much more fantastic and extreme. As a form of escapism, comics have characters that are ‘larger than life’ – they have abilities we can’t even dream of and they face conflicts that are much larger and more complex than we ever will. Yes, female comic book characters often have highly stylized bodies and very revealing costumes (I frequently joke that Marvel characters look like superheroes on the page and then look like hookers in real life), but that’s just another aspect of the fictional world of comics. If you’re going to complain that Emma Frost only wears lingerie or that Ms. Marvel can’t possibly fight in thigh high boots, then you also need to complain about the fact that Emma has psychic powers and can transform into a diamond or that Ms. Marvel has super strength and can fly – as they are all parts of the fantasy.
What makes fiction great – be it comics, movies, novels, or videogames – is that they give us that ‘escape’ but also create challenging storylines that force us to reexamine the world around us. Ghost in the Shell is an entertaining animated film, but it also tries to get the viewer to question our changing relationship with technology and how technology is going to influence the evolution of humanity. Similarly, X-Men often deals with complex themes like the rise of the nuclear age and how it will change our society…in addition to exploring the consequences of demonizing and persecuting minority groups.
This answer ended up being longer than I intended, but in sum, I don’t think people really want our superheroes and super villains to be average and normal. As a woman, I don’t realistically expect to look exactly like a comic book character – though as a cosplayer, I do feel pressure to try to emulate them as much as I can. But as a woman, I do love seeing female characters that are just as strong, smart and capable as male characters – in addition to being beautiful, sexy and comfortable with their bodies and their own sexuality – and that’s exactly why I WANT to cosplay as them. I think a bigger problem is the criticism cosplayers sometimes receive from other fans for wearing these costumes – that we only do it for attention. You can’t create characters that wear revealing costumes and expect people to want to read about them and then get MAD that there are fans who want to replicate the character as accurately as possible.
Q: Do you also read manga as well; if so what are you reading at this time?
CIT: Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I read a new manga series…I simply don’t have enough free time and I’m stubbornly ‘old school’ about the manga that I do like. Some titles that I would strongly recommend to people are ‘Blade of the Immortal’ and ‘NANA’ – one is an action-packed samurai manga with beautiful artwork and the other is a shoujo (girls) manga about the interconnected relationships and conflicts between a group of young people in Tokyo. Both are highly addictive.
Q: Why do you think that manga and also anime are popular in the United States?
CIT: First off, I think that the best export that has come out of Japan in the past two decades is their culture. Japanese pop culture in particular is interesting, because it is heavily influenced by both traditional Japanese culture as well as Western – due to Japan’s long and interesting relationship with the West (first with the Westernization that occurred during the Meiji period and then with the American occupation of Japan after WWII). As a result, Japanese pop culture is simultaneously familiar to us as Westerners and somehow strange and ‘foreign’ – not to mention the fact that it’s very cool. I think that this is intriguing to Westerners on a number of levels and has helped with the rise of anime and manga in the past 20 years – in addition to the fact that our technology now makes it extremely easy to learn and explore different cultures.
Second, I think that anime and manga are more appealing to young female readers. As I mentioned before, in Japan manga and anime are enjoyed by people of all ages and both genders. Because of this, there are manga and anime that are geared towards female readers specifically. If you can hook a girl on comics from a young age, then there’s a greater possibility she will continue to hold an interest in it into her later life. By importing titles that appealed to young girls as well as titles that are marketed towards boys, the anime and manga industry was able to connect to a huge amount of young people and I think that’s a big reason why it’s so popular today – because the market from anime and manga wasn’t automatically cut in half.
Q: Do you think that manga and anime have influenced to how both comics and animation are drawn today?
CIT: Well, we’re trapped in an interesting cultural feedback loop. Manga (which is the precursor to anime) was initially heavily influenced by Western animation – the ‘father’ of manga Osamu Tezuka based his characters off the Disney films he watched during his youth…and then infused it with the artistic style commonly found in Japanese woodblock printing to make something completely new. This is the foundation that continues to influence Japanese manga and anime to this day – large eyes, small mouths, and easily printable backgrounds with strong lines and high contrast. Now that manga and anime have become so popular in the West, you can absolutely see that stylistic influence in new comics and animation and there’s a new generation of American comic book artists that grew up with Japanese manga. That said, there are also a lot of Japanese artists who are becoming involved with American comics – if you look at the work of Sana Takeda, she has created something that is both Japanese and American. It will be interesting to see how both the Japanese and American comic industries continue to influence each other.
Q: This is a question that I always ask in all my interviews and I would like your insight; Women have come to the forefront in comic book, gaming and pop culture genres; do you think women have always been involved in what has been a primarily dominated culture but just didn’t feel comfortable about revealing the geek-side of themselves?
CIT: Well, I think making generalizations about ‘women’ can be pretty treacherous – women aren’t a homogenous group, so what’s true for me probably isn’t true for 90% of other women. I think women have been involved with fandom for just as long as men, though perhaps there were less of us or the media just didn’t fixate on us. I myself have always been a geek, it was never something I felt uncomfortable about or tried to hide because it is just an undeniable part of who I am. But, there are a lot of different KINDS of geeks out there – I don’t have an eidetic memory when it comes to a lot of American comic book series but I probably know more about military history than 99% of the population (I also use words like ‘eidetic,’ lol).
Something to keep in mind about American comics though is that they are rooted historically in WWII – particularly many of our most beloved superheroes. While not specifically ‘propaganda,’ American comics have definitely been used as a tool to disseminate Western, democratic values to the younger generation, and more precisely young boys. For example, if you look at early Captain America comics, this was a way to show young boys a hero who stood for justice, democracy, and that very American ‘do-it-yourself’ sense of individualism. He has a strong moral compass and beats the bad guys. I think that these historical roots clearly influenced that evolution of American comics and explain (to a certain extent) why comics have been predominantly consumed by men and boys.
That said, it’s pretty obvious that there have been a lot of changes to society in the past few decades. Gender roles and societal expectations have changed considerably (especially for women, but for men as well) and I think people are much more free to pursue the things that interest them. The internet has made it easier for people to discover and access many different aspects of fandom. The import of Japanese manga and anime also helped introduce a generation of female readers to the world of comics. In particular, titles like Sailor Moon introduced superheroes that were specifically designed to appeal to young girls and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that an interest in Japanese manga can lead to an interest in American comics.
Thanks to all of these factors, a huge group of people have been introduced to the ‘geek world’ – both men and women.
Q: The comic book industry has started into the digital age, comics are now available to download and motion comics that can be watched on mobile devices and computers; do you think that over time the traditional comic will be replaced?
CIT: I think that you see this happening to a certain extent – when I was in high school I needed to buy VHS or DVD copies of anime series if I wanted to watch them. Now, you can stream anime and cartoons online – sometimes within 24 hours of the original airdate and with English subtitles. Compared to my experience as a teenager (which caused me to be perpetually broke), it’s now shockingly easy to read comics or watch animation online and I think this has already influenced the way industries market products to fans – Viz lets you download manga onto your iPad now, for example.
Fortunately though, I think a big characteristic of a ‘nerd’ is the irrational desire to collect things – be it comic books, artwork, action figures, limited edition box sets, etc. I myself have spent more money than I care to admit on vinyl figures, which is not the coolest hobby for a 25 year old girl to have. So even as certain things become more accessible digitally, I think we’re going to see that fans are still motivated to purchase physical items as well.
Q: This is a hot button topic and a bit of a heavy question but I would like your insight as a woman and a journalist. With everything that has happened with guns over the last several months do you think that both the comic book industry and the gaming industry will rethink some of their products and their characters?
CIT: This seems to be a perennial issue that pops up every few years. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I don’t really expect to see much change after this most recent attack on violence in the media. More importantly, I think blaming the violence in our country on the violence in our films or comic books tries to offer a very simple explanation for a very complex problem. There are many circumstances that contribute to shootings – from gun control to the mental health care system in our country – and demonizing films, videogames, or comic books is like giving a cough drop to someone with lung cancer; it might make us feel better for a few minutes, but it’s not going to solve the problem.
Q: We read that you are a horror fan, what type of horror movies do you enjoy; and what are some of your all time favorite horror movies?
CIT: I have a pretty diverse interest in horror movies – I like everything from classic black-and-white horror films to 1970s slasher flicks to modern J-horror and French New Extreme. I have a lot of favorite horror films – but just to toss out three titles for you; Audition, Martyrs and The Descent .
Q: What do you enjoy about horror itself?
CIT: Well, on a superficial level, I have a weird fascination with violence, blood, and gore…to the extent that I probably need to go get some therapy. But, in addition to the violence and gore, I think that horror is an interesting psychological exploration of our anxieties. This varies from film to film – like questioning our perceptions and how we experience reality, the thin barrier between sanity and insanity, problems within families and societies, our relationship with religion…it’s really a very interesting genre that is capable of provoking serious thought when it’s done well.
Q: Do you get to attend many horror conventions or do you primarily attend comic book conventions?
CIT: There don’t seem to be as many horror conventions as there are comic and anime cons, but I do like to attend horror film festivals when I can or special late-night showings of classic horror films!
Q: There have been many remakes in horror films, do you think there have been any that have lived up to the original?
CIT: Remakes are interesting creatures…personally, I only feel that it’s appropriate to remake a film is there is still new territory to explore within the story. Just updating the graphics or up-ing the violence it’s enough to justify a remake and the results are usually very bad. It is interesting, however, to compare remakes to the originals. Not only on the level of ‘is it a good film’ but also looking at when each film was made, what changes were made, and what might have motivated these changes. It’s particularly fascinating to watch how the depiction of women in horror has evolved over time – even just comparing the remake of Last House on the Left to the original reveals some interesting changes in how women are represented in film.
Q: In the past critics thought that women were victimized in horror movies do you think this is still true today in horror movies?
CIT: Horror is typically regarded as the least ‘feminist’ genre of film; it’s a genre that routinely objectifies, sexualizes, tortures, rapes and murders women and girls. However, if viewed from a different angle, horror films often feature story lines that grant wronged women the power and agency (in life and sometimes death) to respond to the injustices done to them. When you look at classic American horror films – or the films from the 1970s – many of them have storylines that feature strong female characters that have a high level of agency, and it’s debatable whether or not audiences would have accepted these female characters if they were in films that didn’t also feature a certain amount of violence against women. So, while I feel that ‘victimization’ will always be present in the horror genre (it’s HORROR, after all), I think that we see plenty of very tough, and sometimes very nuanced, female characters in these films. Something that I find more disturbing than ‘victimization’ is the increasingly sexualized way that some films depict violence towards women – for example, depicting rape in a stylized and sexually gratifying way like the new remake of ‘I Spit on Your Grave.’ Additionally, the fact that the women cast in these films look younger and younger is something that concerns me…if you watch the original The Last House on the Left, the female lead undeniably has the body and temperament of a young woman who has gone through puberty. In contrast, the actress cast in the remake is still technically 17, but she looks considerably younger. While it might seem stupid to say ‘It’s ok when the actress looks 17 but not when she looks 14,’ I think it’s important to critically examine how these choices influence our attitudes towards violence, sex, and the representation of women in the media.
Q: Tell us something about your work with TakoPop and JapanCinema.
CIT: Well, I started writing for JapanCinema.net over a year ago – the owner Marcello Milteer approached me after finding my film reviews on YouTube, but I quickly started to focus on the cosplay interview section of the site (and this was a big reason why I became interested in pursuing my own costuming more seriously). Since then, we have launched a new website dedicated exclusively to cosplay and conventions called TakoPop.com, with the goal of showcasing cosplayers as well as producing editorials that strive to take a deeper look at the hobby. I highly recommend that people check out both websites and support TakoPop as it continues to grow!
Q: You are also an interviewer for C3 Convention Coverage, what is the most interesting interview you have conducted so far?
CIT: Interviewing for C3 has been a really great way to meet new cosplayers and chat with them about the hobby. I think the most unique interview I’ve done so far was with a Joker cosplayer. I sarcastically asked him how he got his scars and he launched into the full monologue from TDK. The dude was really in character and I wasn’t expecting to have a blade pressed against face, that’s for sure!
Q: Tell us something about the JET Program and why it’s so important to you.
CIT: Though flawed, the JET Program provides a really great opportunity for foreigners to experience life in Japan and is a truly unique program that emphasizes cultural exchange and understanding (more so than English language learning alone). Getting into the JET Program was a big goal of mine and achieving that goal was a major personal accomplishment for me. The experiences I had through the program really changed who I was as a person and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to live in a country I have admired since childhood.
Q: Where can fans follow you and what conventions will you be attending this year?
CIT: You can follow me on my website ConstantineInTokyo.com, my Facebook Page Facebook.com/ConstantineInTokyo, or Tweet me @NonStopToTokyo – in addition to TakoPop.com and JapanCinema.net. I have a lot of conventions and new costumes planned for 2013 – Wondercon, Fanime, Anime Expo, SDCC, and Dragon*Con are all on the list! If you see me at a convention, please come over and say hi!
Ms Marvel Photo – Eurobeat Kasumi Photography
Rogue Photo By – Eurobeat-Kasumi-Photograpy
Cheetara Photo – By Jonathon Courtot Shawn Bean
Dark Psylocke Photo By Jonathon Courtot
Kasumi from Dead or Alive Photo By – Jonathon Courtot
White Queen Photo By – Photo by Geri Kramer Photography