Talking Cosplay with Lena Leather
I first talked to Lena back in like 2012 or so. Lena was part of an alternative model group that I knew some of the members. As I observed, I saw Lena tend to always gravitate more towards the cosplay field and I’ve seen her do some really cool costumes and take part in quite a few comic cons and such. I thought chatting about cosplay would be fun so we got to connect recently for this tattoo community project.
Ricky - So today, we're talking with Lena Leather. I've sort of known Lena since like 2012 I think it was. Lena was an alternative model based out of Knoxville, but she has always had more of hand in cosplay. She's really put out some killer work and her daughter even does some insane cos-play stuff. How did you get focused on cosplay?
Lena - Well I’ve been attending conventions since I was about 15/16 starting with the big one San Diego Comic Con. However cosplay wasn’t nearly as big back then so I was able to watch it grow and see the art into and well one day I bought my first costume. The costume felt like it was almost made for me and I just knew it was something that I needed in my life.
Ricky - Wow, that's pretty freaking cool. Starting off convention life with SDCC? What's your favorite memory from it? What was your first costume?
Lena - Honestly it was all work back then. My dad had about three different booths I would work one and have to run back and forth from the others when supplies ran out. If I’m being honest it’s one of my least favorite conventions. They really lost the meaning of the whole Comic convention it’s like the Walmart of cons, over crowded and everyone is rude. I found my first costume at Mega Con in Florida. It was the Arkham City Harley Quinn. It was on display for a costumer but surprisingly in my exact measurements so it felt like fate.
Ricky - I can definitely see what you're saying. I've mainly been to tattoo conventions, but in the past year or so I've paid more attention to the big comic cons because of doing toy photography too, and SDCC has so many exclusives that come out. The hype in the collectibles community and even in mainstream media with shows like Big Bang Theory. I could see where that type of atmosphere could blossom. That is killer that the Harley was in your perfect measurements and everything. I've seen some debates in cosplay, between making your own costume and buying it. Do you do both?
Lena - I do both but I lean more into buy pieces and customizing what I can. I like to put my own spin on things and my sewing skills are lacking. So some stuff I make, some stuff I buy. I don't want cosplay to be a job, I want it fun so if I can find the right pieces to portray the character, be comfortable, and have fun then I 100% will do that every time.
Ricky - I think that's the best way. It's nice to be able to have things that we do for just the sake of having fun. How do you pick characters?
Lena - I always go with what I love. Occasional I will do a costume that a friend suggests but I normally just base it on what characters I love and have a connection with.
Ricky - What are some characters that you gravitate towards? What would be your ultimate character you want to do in the future?
Lena - I gravitate towards the stuff I loved as a child. A lot of older disney characters call to me. I think if I could do any character however it would be a tie between a Baseball Furies from The Warriors, or maybe humanized Bianca from The Rescuers.
RIcky - Dude that would be sick. I could def see you nailing a Bianca. So finally a question about tattoos. You and I were talking when we were shooting and you talked about not having as many tattoos as some of the other alt models back in the day. You still have several. With your tattoos, and then your piercings, how does being alt fit into the cosplay scene? Do you worry with trying to cover up your ink and remove piercings for certain characters?
Lena - In the beginning when I first ventured into it for a lot of the DC stuff I did it was fine. I didn't worry till I put on my Tinkerbell and thought wow I'm going get crap for this. Eventually I just said who cares and I realized the only bad comments I ever get are the occasional rogue d-bag on the internet. Children love my Disney costumes and they don't notice the tattoos, they just see Tinkerbell and it made me stress less.
Ricky - It's pretty freaking cool how kids see things man. It would be so nice to be able to have grown ups with kids eyes and their acceptance. Speaking of kids, you've got a little cosplayer on your hands don't you?
Lena - Yea she took a turn with it I never expect and couldn't be prouder. I started picking her outfits at first with Deadpool and Hit Girl. Those ended up bigger than expected. Then she started picking princesses and Star Wars characters. Then the fateful day she watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it all went to Horror from there.
Ricky - Ahahaha. Well geez Ma, she can have a lot more fun with horror. You were telling me about her Leatherface dance at our shoot. What's the next thing you guys are gonna be doing cos-play wise?
Lena - Well I have a guest spot at Marble City in Knoxville coming up then Ill attend Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. I think I'm going with Catwoman for at least one and if I'm lucky Mad Madame Mim. Maybe bring back Roxanne since its one of my personal favorites.
Emberlin however is going to be Ash from the Evil Dead. Hopefully I can talk her into her Carrie also.
Ricky - That's so cool. What's it like getting to connect with your kiddo with doing cosplay?
Lena - Its amazing. You get people who come up to you and say "wow I love your costume" then you see their view pan down and it automatically goes to "OH MY GOODNESS I LOVE YOUR COSTUME THAT IS SO AMAZING" and of course she eats it up. It helps keep her social and fearless which I never was as a child.
Ricky - That's awesome! How are times different when you were a kid to how it is for her? What do you think has made the difference?
Lena - I feel like there is more accessibility to just about anything. You have more role models for all sorts of people and it helps find someone you identify with. The fandom communities have grown which is also helpful so you can meet people and interact with those who share interests.
Ricky - I think so too. It seems that with social media, there's literally communities for people that are into so many different things. Plus it's like comics and fandom type things have grown to be so much more mainstream than when we were kids. What's a lesson that you've learned that you'd like to pass on to her?
Lena - Don’t be a gatekeeper. You can like things differently than other people or know more or less than others. It doesn’t make you or them any less of a fan. It’s about having fun and if it’s not fun then what’s the point.
Ricky - Hell yeah! Words of wisdom dude! One last question - what's your best memory from a con and what's your most embarrassing memory?
Lena - I think actually seeing Emberlin go up and take part in the costume contest with her Leatherface is probably one of my favorite memories. She looked proud and and had fun everyone was a winner and they all received a prize. I also met my boyfriend at a convention after party not a memory from the show itself but still a good memory. Not a lot of embarrassing memories but there was a few shows I’ve been too where people I had with me noticed some people hiding behind poles and pillars to take inappropriate photos my backside while in the Black Canary costume. I understand some of my costumes are provocative but that still isn’t cool considering how many others they were probably doing it to and who knows how old the victims could have been.
I also just want to point out while there are creeps out there I’ve met some of the coolest creators and artists out there and am proud to be able to call them friends.
Ricky - Oh damn! That's pretty messed up man! That brings up a good point. What's the proper etiquette for people to come up to snag a photo. Let's face it, at a con you've got people wanting pics. Whether they are fans of your character, or dudes that want a pic with a provocative looking Black Canary...how should they approach and act getting a pic?
Lena - I think the biggest thing is just to be cool about it. If you want a photo just say “Hey I love your costume can I get a pic?” Simple as that when it’s busy you have people just gesture with their camera which is fine too. Just be polite, ask if you mind the arm around you and never bring it lower than the waist. If we’re dressed up we know there will be people wanting pictures just make sure you know your boundaries and if you feel like someone crossed it don’t brush it off. Let security know or if you think it was a misunderstanding tell them “hey man back off not cool”
Not everyone is a predator but not everyone is going to respect you and your boundaries.
Ricky - Very smart and well said dude. It's what should be common sense but sadly a lot of people don't respect those boundaries. Where can people follow you on social media?
Lena - Facebook page is Lena Leather you can also find me on the GeekxGirls page. I also enjoy Instagram for more everyday and cosplay life on @lena_leather
Ricky - You rock dude! Thanks so much for talking to us about cosplay and life.
I really hope you enjoyed this interview with Lena talking a little bit about life and a lot about cosplay. As always, this project I’m trying to come at it from a documentary type style, sharing as many stories and personalities from the tattoo community as I can. Not all viewpoints are my own. If you enjoyed this, let us know, and share away. I’ve been overwhelmed from the feedback so far on these stories and I can’t wait to bring you some more.