Michael Fitzgerald Troy: How did you enter the wonderful world of cosplay?
Chris Riley: I've always held a special place in my heart for superheroes. Growing up in Los Angeles, I am no stranger to the world of acting where putting on a costume and being someone else is all part of the job. It was only natural for me to fall in love with cosplaying. I wanted to make a splash when I entered the convention scene, so I sought out a diverse group of like-minded friends and created an original fictional team of Hollywood-based superheroes called "The Legends." We debuted at San Diego International Comic-Con, and I've been known as a cosplayer ever since.
MFT: Some of your outfits are almost as racy as some of the ones worn by female cosplayers (Good for you, by the way!), what kind of reaction do you get?
CR: The reactions are all across the board, and they are loud. I've been cat called, name called, groped, ridiculed, and gushed over with accolades. Outside the bubble of acceptance and security that a convention provides, it can be unpredictable and scary, but when girls and guys *squee* with delight and geek out over the character with me, it makes it all worthwhile. Artist Shaun "Spanky" Piela hilariously recreated a scene of me walking through San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter in our Lucky Legendary web comic.
MFT: Your recent gender-bending White Queen outfit seemed to be a big hit. What was the genius inspiration behind that?
CR: I grew up in the church and attended small religious schools. Other kids sensed I was gay, and I was severely bullied day in and day out. It didn't help that my family wasn't at all accepting at the time. I hid who I was to protect them from the torture I had to endure. In doing so, I became desexualized, repressed, and sunk deep into depression. Junior high school was the worst. My only joy in life came from reading dime bin comic books and watching television series featuring strong female lead characters such as Xena, Buffy, and the Pink Power Ranger. They proved time and time again that they were good, if not better, at what they did in a vocation that is thought to be hyper masculine. I was obsessed with the Marvel Masterpiece Series 1 trading card collection. My dad even bought me a comic book of the artwork. I would take it to school and found a place of serenity while drawing the characters and imagining their epic battles. Above them all, I was fascinated by Emma Frost from the X-Men. In my eyes, her image was one of pure beauty. Not only could she read and control people's minds, but she wasn't afraid or ashamed of her sexuality. She flaunted it, reveled in it, and it was a source of power for her. One day in class, I was tuning out my tormentors by attempting to draw her. Since the bullies weren't getting a rise out of me, one of the girls reported me to the teacher and had me sent to the principal's office by lying and saying she felt harassed by the image I was drawing.
I sat in the principal's office for an hour while he analyzed the Marvel Masterpiece artwork and preached to me how comic book superheroes were evil and created "false idols." He contemplated calling my parents, but I couldn't let that happen. I couldn't bear the thought of them discovering my constant struggles. He asked what a suitable punishment for me would be and I replied, "The worst thing you could ever do to me is take away my comic book." He tossed it in the garbage and then dismissed me. I was off the hook, but, internally, I was condemned to Hell. I took one last look at Emma staring back up at me from the trash bin and said goodbye to one thing that was helping me survive. I didn't touch another comic book until after I was in college, around the time Marvel's Civil War came out.
Recently, I was moving apartments and found a small box buried in my belongings that I hadn't seen in ages. The first thing I saw when I opened it was the unfinished drawing of Emma I did from that day. At the time, I was trying to figure out what cosplay I was going to do next. It had to be her. I contacted my friend, Perry Meek, who is a famous designer that does costumes for many of my favorite popstars including Lady Gaga, Cher, and The Spice Girls. My vision was to have something created that paid homage to Emma in a provocatively masculine way. Perry is a rockstar when it comes to costuming. I told him my story, and he was able to whip up something shockingly eye catching. I felt like Cinderfella going to the ball, and I will forever be thankful for him. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I wore the shame I carried for so many years, and I was celebrated for it by my peers and in the media. It didn't hit me until a week later just how incredibly empowering and cathartic that experience was.
MFT: Any chance we'll be seeing the diamond-skinned version?
CR: I would LOVE to do that! The task wouldn't be easy, though. I would need a team of artists to do my body makeup and hair. Plus, they would need to be local to the con or already going to the con. Words cannot express the level of epic awesome I would feel in doing this. The image I have in my head is so beautiful. It would be a glorious achievement not only for me but also for the makeup artist I would be blessed to work with.
MFT: Who are some of your favorite characters you have played?
CR: The characters I portray are all my favorite. That's why I choose to dress as them. My most enjoyable cosplay experiences tend to be the ones where I can relax and let my gut hang out so to speak. For example, when I cosplayed as Fry from Futurama. I'm a big fan of the show, and my friends think my personality is very "Fry like." It was a great fit for me, and I was able to walk around the convention with relative ease and be the goofball that I am. I was even escorted to the Bongo Comics booth and was introduced to the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, Matt Groening himself! My nerdgasms were out of control that day.
MFT: In addition to the characters you play, you do a superhero of your own called Captain Lucky? Can you tell us a little about the character?
CR: Highly energetic, often naive, clumsily hilarious, and loyal to a fault. He throws himself into every battle hoping his odd luck will win out. That's the Captain in a nutshell. He is the leader of a team and stops at nothing to help his friends (even if they behave like manic misfits). When people see the character, they think S&M and a huge package which serves as social commentary on how female heroes are viewed as sex objects with giant breasts. I've had so much fun writing/portraying him. As the Captain, I've been able to help with charity fundraisers, walk celebrity red carpets, participate in national anti-drug campaigns, and appear in a countless number of YouTube videos.
At the time I created Captain Lucky (way back when MySpace was king), gays in comic books were treated harshly and in the convention world LGBT cosplayers were a scarcity. My hope was that by showing the industry that an obviously gay young man can be loved and accepted as a leader by a team of diverse straight superheroes, then maybe it would help make a change for the better. So, I summoned all of my bravery and put on my package-hugging booty shorts. My "Legends" who came from all walks of life, stood by my side, and defended me against verbal attacks. I also had a lot of support from Prism Comics which is a non-profit organization that helps promote LGBT creators. For years, I paraded around with my group in front of executives and creators, showing them our love and camaraderie. I don't know if what I did had any effect at all, but fast forward to today and the world of LGBT inclusion and acceptance that I envisioned and craved for has become a reality. In comics, gays are getting married, have their own mainstream titles, and live 3-dimensional enriched lives. Gay cosplayers all over the world are out there expressing their love for pop culture characters and realistic strong female heroes are no longer being pushed aside or underestimated. Women and the LGBT community still have a LONG way to go, but I am thrilled by the direction we are headed.
MFT: Who haven't you done yet that you would like to?
CR: I was raised as a Disney kid, so the brand is imprinted on my brain for life. To this day there is no other Disney character that I connected with on such a deep emotional level as I did with Elsa from Frozen. Watching her, I felt like her story was an analogy for the journey I've had in life. Elsa is one of the biggest cosplay trends of the year for both men and women. I won't be doing a traditional crossplayed Elsa, but rather a unique version that is creatively fulfilling for me. I also want to explore the dark side and give some twisted villains a shot.
MFT: I don't know if you take requests, but I think you could rock a male Power Girl.
CR: Ahh, the infamous "boob" window. I've seen gender-bent Powergirl cosplayed quite successfully in the past. I'm always trying to push boundaries, evolve, and express myself in unique ways. If I were to do a Powerboy, then the "window" I would have in mind would get me arrested.
MFT: Any other projects in the works you'd like to tell us about?
CR: In addition to the ongoing adventures of Captain Lucky in the Lucky Legendary universe, I'm also working on several additional web comics. Out now is Wolvie's Budz which is a horrifically cute parody on pop culture character story mashups using dolls. Coming soon is Cosplay Chris which is about a fairy godmother who grants a fictional "me" the wish of cosplay superpowers. It incorporates audience participation and gives readers a chance to make guest appearances in the comic. On top of that, I'm in the process of developing content for my YouTube channel and prepping for some epic cosplay photo shoots.
Learn more about Chris Riley at the following links:
*Emmet Frost Photo credit: Molly McIsaac