Mention the name Yaya and cosplayers get excited. Yaya is Yaya Han, and not only is she one of the pioneers of Costume Play (aka cosplay), but she continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with costuming. Yaya is one of the “heroes” of Syfy's docu-series Heroes of Cosplay, which follows nine cosplayers around the world as they cosplay and complete in costume competitions at comic-book and genre conventions for prizes and costuming glory.
“It's a creative expression. It's an art form,” said Han, who is a costume designer, model and cosplay entertainer. “It's not just alternative modeling. It's not just Halloween. For me, it definitely takes a lot of dedication to make a costume. I think you'll see a similar level of dedication with each cast member, but I think you'll see a difference in quality in the costumes that they produce, because everybody comes from a different experience level.”
“The episodes are very documentary-style. We have nine cast members total. However, each episode will not feature all nine cast members. So we're only following a few of our stories in each episode, but we all intersect with each other. You get to know who we are as individuals. You get to know the people who support us, our boyfriends, our girlfriends, or mothers, or whoever is around to help us or oppose what we do,” said Han.
“Everybody comes from a different point in life. They do cosplay with as much passion as each other, but for each of us, it means something different. Like for me, it's my career, it's my lifestyle. I'm very focused on craftsmanship, but I'm also a personality. I have to put my faith out there. I have to be aware of my reputation and of my standing in the community. I've been doing this for so long that people look to me for inspiration. They look to me for guidance. For someone else, they're a newcomer. They're just trying to get known. They're just trying to make something that will get attention and will get people talking about them. ... So I think that's very interesting. We have a very diverse cast.”
Since discovering cosplay at Anime Expo in 1999, Han has created more than 250 costumes in anime/manga, comic books, videogames and sci-fi genres, many her own designs. Her lavish creations have won awards and acclaim, and she's been invited to appear as a judge, performer, guest panelist and host at more than 100 events around the world.
“I've been doing cosplay for over a decade. It really is a hobbyist community first and foremost. It really is something that people do for fun. It's a creative pastime. But in the last I would say maybe three to four years, it actually has started to become an emerging industry where people have chances to make money with making costumes. It's a very interesting community that is changing with time and really turning into an industry. I think that's very interesting, to go from something that's very hobby-related into something that people can use as a career, as a profession,” said Han.
“It's very much an unpaved path. For me, I've been the one that has been paving this path over the last several years. I quit my day job as a technical analyst at a software company. I actually quit that back in 2005, and I've been doing cosplay and supporting myself with cosplay since then. So now it's gotten to the point where this is my career, this is something that I'm doing for a living. I have a business. So the show will follow my day-to-day operations between me, my fiance,” and the others in her company as she creates costumes, prepares for conventions and strives to take cosplay to new levels.
“For me, it is artistic challenge. What can I learn if I choose to make this costume? Is it going to force me to learn a new technique, which I love? Is it going to force me to think outside the box? Is it going to force me to do something I've never done before, or put me in an outfit that looks different than I've ever looked before? It's the artistic, creative challenge. And then it's also the escapism. What kind of fantasy do I want to be today? What kind of hero do I want to be today? And so for me, because I've done so many different outfits, I'm always looking for something new, something I've never done before. Maybe today I want to be a villain, or maybe today I want to be a vixen,” she said.
“This is something that we love to do on our weekends. It's something that we do year-round. Because of how successful superhero blockbusters have been in the last few years and how far of a reach videogames have gotten in the last few years. ... I mean, the geek industry is huge. Costuming and cosplaying is just an extension of that community. I think a lot of people want to be a part of that. They play the games, they watch the movies. Now here's the cosplay. You can actually be the characters in the movies or you can be the character in the videogame for a day. How cool is that? Who would not want to be a superhero for a day?” said Han.
Check out the gallery below for some of her favorite costumes.