Dressing up in crazy costumes, traveling the world, posing for photos -- and getting paid to do it.
Welcome to the life of a professional “cosplay” character. A mix between “costume” and “play,” this is what 31-year-old Linda Le does for a living.
Known as “Vampy” by her fans, Le is hired by various comic, gaming and toy companies to dress up as her favorite characters and show up at conventions around the globe.
Le has always loved comics and video games, but her real passion is crafting costumes. She started attending events like Comic Con in full costume when she was 14. As she made a name for herself among the comic community, companies began reaching out to her for work. And at age 24, she left her job as a makeup artist and stylist to become a full-time cosplayer.
Le is now a fan favorite, and depending on the year she can make over six-figures. But there’s a lot of work involved. She spends $200 to $4,000 to make her costumes and can spend up to 600 hours working on particularly intricate ones. Her job also means attending at least 50 events per year. In just one week, she went to shows in Tokyo, the Philippines, Seattle and New York.
At this month's New York Comic Con, Le dressed up as comic book villain Deathstroke, decking herself out in head-to-toe armor.
Here are journal entries from a day in her life:
I’ve been up all night working on my costume, so I finally try to go to sleep. My body is still on Asia time from touring at shows in Japan and the Philippines. I got into New York last night, so I literally had only 12 hours between landing and the show starting.
Get up, drink a strawberry banana Naked Juice, then start working on getting the costume together to wear. I made the costume, so it took a ton of carbon fiber, corrugated plastic, and a ton of prep on sizing so it can be accurate. The strapping is made from fake leather, which I sewed together.
Take a shower and start styling the wig. Put some makeup on my face. I don't wear much during cosplay -- only around my eyes. But since I had an eye patch I only had to put a lot of eyeliner on one eye. Score!
I start getting the buckles on the armor ready and hand sew some pieces to make sure things stay in place below the waist since the heaviest armor is on the legs.
Putting on the leg pieces. It’s my first time putting on this costume so it’s difficult. I usually have assistance from my boyfriend or a friend when putting on so much armor, but I had to do it myself this show. And although I really love New York, the hotels are small so it's hard to make sure all my pieces were there and easy to see.
Next are the thighs. I reference photos on my iPad to help me figure out where everything goes. Generally the costumes I select teach me a new technique, and I’m really getting into armor right now.
Put on my wig, then the stomach and chest armor. I generally choose male characters and dress up as the female versions of them. Some people dress up as the sexy version of the character, but I usually go the art route -- I try to make an ode to the creator of a specific character.
Place the eye patch over one of my eyes. I am not used to being heavily armored, and only being able to see out of one eye makes it kind of hard to put myself together. But I like challenges in costumes so I accept this as one of my challenges of the day.
I put on the shoulder pieces. As the time goes by, I’m starting to feel the jetlag, and the amount of work involved getting the armor on by myself is stressing me out. I’m not sure if everything will stay on due to the humidity and also the weight of the shoulder armor. When they’re in video games they seem to work, but in reality sometimes costumes like this don’t make sense.
Finally leave the hotel and try to hail a cab. Some people actually know the character and get excited. Others don’t know what cosplay is and just stare. One woman asks to take a photo with me on a street corner. The pictures start before Comic Con even begins!
When I finally get a cab to stop, I make sure I’m sitting carefully to not mess my costume up.
Arrive at the convention! I’m escorted in by the CEO of Triforce (the company that hired me for this Comic Con). He was blown away by the costume. As I start walking to the Triforce booth, everyone immediately stops talking to take a look at the armor, and people freak out when I get to the booth.
I immediately start doing interviews with the press.
I take photos with fans. Many of the fans that come by are people I’ve already met at other events, and some are new fans who like that that my costume does justice to the character without over-sexualizing it.
I make sure to stay in character every time I dress up. If a character never smiles, I’m never going to smile. If a character is cute, I’m cute all day. My character in this case is a bad ass, so I will not be smiling for fans today.
Costume glitch. My back and shoulder armor starts falling off because I didn’t have assistance in the morning to make sure the costume was properly secured. This is when I really think about needing an assistant. I start to feel tired, and I’m thinking about food.
I finally eat lunch. Triforce brought me a tuna sandwich. But it’s so big that I worry about losing my eye patch if I open my mouth too wide. So I only eat a couple bites.
I go back out with fans. I leave my booth to walk around the convention. I see some men dressed up as Deathstroke like me and they ask to take some pictures with me which feels good.
Pictures are taken of my costume nonstop all day. I always find it quite sweet when people say I inspired their work, which makes me happy to do what I do more often. You definitely have to be a little crazy to say, ‘hey, I want to walk around as my favorite character’ -- you have to love the characters and love learning. But it’s very rewarding.
My shoulders keep coming off, so I decide to just take all of it off a few minutes early to be able to relax. Generally armor like this should only be worn a few hours at a time and not all day, so that you can breathe, eat properly, and avoid malfunctions.
I finally catch a cab and head back to the hotel. I was dreading coming back to the hotel because I left such a mess with all the costume parts and scraps everywhere, but room service had already come in to clean up while I was gone.
I shower and go straight to sleep. My time clock is obviously off, so instead of going out and hanging out with my boyfriend or going to an after party (which are popular at these kinds of events), I want to actually sleep more than four hours tonight.
As I lie there, I think about how much I miss my bed at home in California. I’m usually gone three to four weeks out of a month, and this month I saw my bed only once.
I sleep all the way until the morning.