Cosplay wasn't even really a term back when the native Angeleno who goes by the name of Annisse Dame Fatale went to her first comic book convention back in 1999, but she loved to play with clothing and dress up and she was obsessed with the TV series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven as well as the film that spawned it, The Crow. Meeting like-minded fans via internet forums and chat rooms proved inspiring and, ultimately, encouraged her to transform herself into the characters she loved so much.
"I jumped on the forum for this TV show and everything changed for me," she says. "From there I discovered other platforms to meet people into The Crow, such as ICQ. Yeah, we're going way back now. Someone told me about this comic book convention held in San Diego [and] that year there was a screening for The Crow: Salvation. When the time came for Comic-Con, I had no idea what to expect.
"I dressed up as Iris Shaw, a Crow character by James O'Barr, creator of the original Crow graphic novel," she continues. "I rented a car and drove from L.A. to S.D. late that evening for the screening. The next day I went to the convention and my life changed forever."
Though she had been making costumes for years (she sewed her first Harley Quinn suit by hand for a Halloween party in high school), Fatale found that comic book conventions took her craftsmanship to another level. In the 27 years she has been making her elaborate cosplay creations, she estimates she's designed more than 100 costumes, including original ideas she's created for fashion shows, clubbing and other themed conventions outside of the comics realm. Her Crow and Harley Quinn looks hold a special place in her heart, but Fatale's other faves include Maleficent (from the live-action movie starring Angelina Jolie), Catwoman, Batman, the Joker and Silk Spectre II from The Watchmen movie. "Basically I am a DC girl," she proclaims.
"My favorite cosplays are my latex ones such as Silk Spectre II from The Watchmen, Siren from Tron: Legacy, Catwoman from Batman Returns, to name a few," says the North Hollywood resident. "I got into latex in 2006. Building a costume out of latex sheeting is a whole different world. I'm a self-taught seamstress as it is, and there was not really any other way to learn how to make latex clothing but to just dive in and practice on yourself. Luckily there was a designer in Europe who posted tutorials on her website and a book I purchased called Making Latex Clothing that helped me a lot in the learning process."
Fatale's process includes drawing ideas on paper, pattern design, intense photo reference research online, taking stills from a movie and/or using a 3-D model of the characters she creates. "For my Silk Spectre II remake, I was lucky to have seen and taken tons of photos when the actual costume was on display at the ArcLight Hollywood," she recalls. "I also am the only cosplayer who obtained the remainder bolt of latex that was used to create the movie costume."
With Comic-Con next week, Fatale finds herself in busy prep mode as usual, trying to decide which of her many amazing getups to wear. She says running out of time is usually her main challenge, as she puts a lot of thought into every little detail that goes into her cosplays. "Trying to juggle working full-time and coming home to do more work, sometimes in the middle of the night and no sleep, is pretty challenging," she says. "In the last year I am trying to focus on being more relaxed and starting a costume project sooner. When it gets down to the wire and you are two weeks away from the event you plan to wear your costume to and not even halfway done, that is no fun."
She estimates many of her looks cost somewhere around $1,000. "I don't mess around," she proclaims, "and no, I'm not rich, I just care too much about details."
So what kind of person becomes a cosplayer? "Anyone who has a passion and love for a character so much inside them, they want to express it for the world to see or even just for themselves," Fatale says. "It is fun being a kid at heart, and I think that's part of the reason us adult cosplayers do it. It's escapism. Then when going out to a comic book convention and meeting like-minded individuals who poured their soul into making their cosplay a reality, there is nothing like it, and no way to describe how wonderful that feeling is. Some of my closest friends to this day I have made from when I first attended San Diego Comic-Con back in 1999."
But can't fellow cosplayers often be one another's toughest critics? "Yes, but this is like life," she says. "You can't satisfy everyone in this world and there is always going to be someone that is going to try and bring you down. My advice is, don't let these people get to you. Walk the other way and be a better person. You can't control other thoughts and what they are going to say. As long as you know you are having fun, proud of your work and are not hurting anyone, don't let what others think of you get you down. Losing sleep over it is not worth it."
For Fatale, part of the fun of cosplay and convention life is "saying 'I made this' and watching people's reactions like they can't believe all the work I put into my cosplay," she says. "People seem to notice the little details I put into all my work. It means a lot to me when I didn't even think that was something that would be acknowledged."
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In recent years, the cosplay queen — who's also a big fan of the L.A. goth and tiki scenes, as well as a self-proclaimed Back to the Future nerd (she owns a DeLorean) — has been making costumes for others as well as herself, and why not? Her attention to detail is impeccable and her ability to transform herself into so many different personas serves as an alluring advertisement for her work. Still, this fashion-driven fan girl does what she does not for business but for pleasure. "Expression, love for your fandom, making new like-minded friends— it's inevitable," she says. "It will happen when you attend [cons] if you open yourself up for it, and I'm looking forward to good times ahead."
See more of Annisse Dame Fatale's cosplay looks and costume designs at Damefatale.com.