The Malta Independent 20 February 2019, Wednesday

Maltese cosplayer John Peel set to take the industry by storm one convention at a time

Mathias Mallia Monday, 9 May 2016, 09:54 Last update: about 4 years ago
Props in various build stages. Photograph: Michael Camilleri
Props in various build stages. Photograph: Michael Camilleri

Maltese cosplayer, 24 year-old John Peel, has taken the local scene by storm.  He has been invited to be a guest judge at the Arcadia Convention in Ragusa in Sicily, along with two other Italian judges, after winning first place at the Maltese Comic Con costume competition, and he will also be taking part in a conference to discuss his work and techniques with fellow cosplayers.

Cosplay, short for 'costume play', is a kind of performance art in which people make or buy costumes and accessories to emulate characters from video games, comic books, films or Japanese anime cartoons. The practice exploded and is widely practiced in Japan, and it is also very popular in the West as well, with massive conventions taking place all over America and Europe.

Edward Kenway from Assassin's Creed. Photograph: John Peel

(Edward Kenway from Assassin's Creed. Photograph: John Peel)

The Malta Independent on Sunday caught up with John to learn more about the art. The reason the cosplayer gives for his passion is that he feels empowered as the characters he plays explaining, "Actually wearing the costume makes me feel as though I am in the movies I love, such as Star Wars." That being said, however, John isn't as into acting as one would imagine, the performance is all in the posing for photos and physically portraying the character.

The first costume he purchased was of Edward Kenway, the main character from Assassin's Creed 4. John also bought a Jedi costume with a realistic lightsaber.

These, however, were the only costumes he actually purchased, the rest John creates from scratch.

He most recently portrayed one of the War Boys from the Mad Max film franchise, including the full-body white makeup and realistic chrome spray which the characters are seen using throughout the stories. When it comes to acting, this character is meant to look mean and John pulled it off perfectly, jokingly explaining that, "I was angry because it was really hot, the makeup was coming off with the sweat and so I got upset. It helped for the character because I had the angry face."

(Jedi. Photograph: Sven Farrugia)

But his masterpiece, which won him the cosplay competition at the December 2015 Comic Con in Malta, is a Mandalorian bounty hunter from Star Wars. This costume took four and a half months of painstaking work with John, along with his father, fashioning the character's armour parts and gauntlets from PVC piping.

Asked what made him take the leap from buying costumes to making them, John explains, "There's more pride in making your own costumes and you get more recognition from the 'I made this' factor - that I'm not just wearing something someone else made. It takes quite a bit of time depending on what I'd be working on but I feel better taking part in a competition presenting my work rather than wearing what someone else made."

For his future costumes, the cosplayer will be experimenting with other mediums such as fibreglass and cardboard. "My next costume is Lord Starkiller from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, the video game. The technique I'm going to be using to make this costume is a process called Pepakura."

(Mad Max War Boy. Photograph: Sven Farrugia)

Pepakura, John explained, is a technique where one imports a model online and it is then flattened out on A4 sheets of paper which are subsequently printed and cut individually. The numbers of the various parts then need to be matched and glued together to form a paper mould of whatever design was originally imported.

When it comes to fibreglassing, which is how John intends to fashion his Lord Starkiller costume, he explained the tedious process of transforming the paper mould into a fibreglass one, adding three of four layers of car-body filler, sanding it, adding more filler, sanding it again, adding an undercoat, sanding it yet again and then adding a final coat of paint over the top.

"This is similar to fixing a dent in a car," John remarked.

Another future project in store is a full Iron Man suit, which the ambitious cosplayer is fashioning entirely out of cardboard. He explains how he needed flat cardboard like that of electronics boxes; however he decided that the entire costume entailed too much work to be completed for this year. "With help from my dad it takes less time, but it will still be a very long job. The helmet alone took a month and a half and it still isn't done." This costume should be finished by the end of 2017.

Asked whether he was looking into turning his passion into a full-time job, and whether it was even possible to live off the cosplay industry, John explains, "I would like to take it to a professional level, but I don't think it's very viable. There are a lot of cosplayers who make money from selling merchandise and then there are others who make kits or ready-made props - so there are ways to do it. At the moment, until I fully grasp some of the more complex techniques, I could possibly start making costumes, but I also need to learn how to make templates myself."

(Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. Photograph: Sven Farrugia)

When asked what went into making original costumes and props, John spoke about experimenting with different materials until you find one which you feel the most comfortable with. In his case, although there is still some experimenting left to go, he believes his fibreglass method will yield the best results. Foam, however, is another medium which John pointed out as being inexpensive and easy to bring out textures.

There is also the element of design which goes into original costume design. "Right now I find templates online but if I learn how to make my own templates, it would be a possible to make things for other people. What you need to make a template is freehand drawing, and trial and error."

The interview ended on an exciting note because John could say that the world of cosplay is leading to him meeting people he looks up to, like the actors from the most recent Star Wars instalment. "In July I'm going to the Star Wars Celebration, which usually takes places in America but this time it will be in England."

After having his Mandalorian helmet signed at the Malta Comic Con by the late Tony Dyson, the creator of the much loved Star Wars character R2D2, John intends to have his entire helmet so covered with autographs that he will potentially need to make himself a new one.


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