Coleen Rose Carlson
An Interview with Eric Renderking Fisk
Eric Renderking Fisk: Everyone likes a good origin story, so what's yours? How did you get into Cosplay and becoming a pin-up model and what were you like as a kid?
Coleen Rose Carlson: That one is easy, I was a nerd! My dad loves Star Wars and Star Trek and my mom was a huge Linda Carter fan, so I grew up with sci fi and superheroes. My origin story really starts as a young, impressionable girl in high school. My freshman year I was dumped by my boyfriend at homecoming, like in the actual dance, because he thought I was too nerdy. I remember being so devastated that I hid, I hid every unique part of me. Luckily I met some people in my schools theatre department that loved me for my nerdiness. It was uplifting and amazing. My best friend and now cosplay partner, is also my photographer and she was the one who convinced me to cosplay and slowly snuck the pin up genre into the lineup. She totally tricked me! I'm so thankful she has. I'm a mom of three, and I hope my kids understand and embrace their uniqueness the way I have been so lucky to embrace mine.
Eric Renderking Fisk: There's a lot of us who have similar stories, I can go on for ages about feeling I was such an outsider and felt like I was excluded because I was "weird." Tell me more about your experience with the group that I believe helped save my life and the lives of others: The Nerd/Geek community.
What do you think we're getting right and what are we getting wrong as far as being a community?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I find my biggest problem in the community I am so proud to be a part of, is that even as a comic collector of ten years, and a cosplayer/actor of over eight, I still have to defend my personal choices and actions, because I'm a woman. And if I can say this without being bitchy, I think it's worse because I'm an attractive woman. I am not a fan of Spider-Man. People tear me apart. They say things like "If you really read comic books..." I do. I've been collecting Hulk for ten years, Mark Waid is my favorite writer right now, very closely followed by Matt Fraction, my favorite artist is my personal friend George Perez, and my favorite colorist is Rico Renzi: What else do I need to say to prove to you, I really read comic books.
That being said, I have been embraced by so many people. Moonlight Players theatre in my hometown introduced me to some incredible people, including George (he created Teen Titans AND he drew me into his comic book, seriously, this man is my real life Superman) but I also me Leslie Howe, who allowed me to create Star Wars themed evening gowns for a charity gala, and Sonny Dyon who gave me the opportunity to work on my first film. Jan Sheldon and Cathy Mac, and Jennifer Julian with my high school theatre program, have created such an amazing place to allow young adults to follow their dreams. They absolutely saved my life. I think had I not met them, I would either not be here, or I would be a miserable person. Also, shout out to my husband, who was dragged into my nerdiness.
Eric Renderking Fisk: One of the things we discuss a lot in some of the groups we belong to have this strange duality. There is this one extreme where everything is very sexualized, very erotic and titilating, and the other extreme is beyond puritanical. There are some that are so uptight that they have to report anything that might offend them.
There’s the traditional paradigm or conventional wisdom that says you're not allowed to be a nerd or geek and be sexy or interested in sex, or you're not supposed to be attractive and be sexy or interested in sex. Only the "beautiful people" should be allowed to be sexy. People get thrown off by the notion of "Sexy Nerd" and they lose their minds. Even my own sister doesn't like the fact that I'm a total dork, and at least ONE woman thinks I'm attractive. And when some of us are really attractive, there are those that think we’re fake nerds, just in it for attention? What do you think about that and why you think that’s been the archetype for so long?
Why do you think it’s changing and who is responsible for changing it? And what’s been your role to change that?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I hope it is changing. I really do. But for so many years, I think sexualized women were forced on the nerd community because, I don't know, they couldn't get them on their own? I'm always so baffled why so many people are shocked by sexy nerds. Unfortunately, I think with the shift of nerd culture into pop culture, there are people out there who want to relevant to our community, and they use sex to become relevant because, let's face it: sex sells. I personally find the people who have the biggest problems with me and my photography and my costumes are other women! Which is not only upsetting to me, it should be upsetting to all women. We deal with enough inequality, we should not have to worry about other women looking down at us for what we choose to wear, or not wear.
Eric Renderking Fisk: What do you think people should know about doing extreme photo shoots, is it not as glamorous as it might seem, it's not all fun and games? It's hard work, but how so?
Coleen Rose Carlson: Have a great team. Seriously. If it wasn't for my amazing photographer and best friend, Alaina, and the third spoke of our wheel, Julienne Allen, who fixes everything from my necklace to my boobs, who picks me up off the floor in my six inch heels and my underwear, I would not still be doing this. Alaina has slowly made me comfortable enough with my body to get in front of the camera. It is absolutely hard work. It is grueling and scary, and you're at your best and your worst in the same few moments. But when it's over, it is so worth it. And I am so proud of the outcome of all our hard work. You don't know love until it's 60 degrees in the room you're shooting in and you're freezing and you can't move so your set help is fixing your jewelry and trying to wrap you in a blanket in between shooting. That's love!
Eric Renderking Fisk: One of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview with you is because you call yourself a Pin-Up model and a Cosplay enthusiast. Do you consider yourself more of one than the other?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I think I would call myself more of a cosplay enthusiast. Superheroes are my thing. I love conventions. I love seeing so many nerds in one place. That is my passion. I have been designing and creating my own costumes for so many years, it's such a proud moment for me to get out there and strut my stuff.
The most extreme shoot I've ever done was a shoot in the lace overdress I wore on my wedding day. It is see through, and I was naked underneath. And then my photographer said "take it off". I have never been so scared in my life. It was one of those moments you hear about in movies. It was my make or break moment. I talk big game about my confidence in myself, how confident am I really? I took it,and I ran. And I hope, for whatever it's worth, that I inspire someone to take it and run.
I have been smart enough to limit myself to working with people who I know and trust. So, when they say things like "take your clothes off" , I very rarely fight them. I guess my limits have yet to be discovered. I'm sure I will find them. I look forward to being pushed to that point.
I want to eliminate the thought that all girl nerds are fake nerds. I had the honor to meet Bob Layton (co creator of Iron Man) and he asked if I was uncomfortable walking around in my risqué costume (I think I was Scarlet Witch this day). Had people tried to touch me or approach me inappropriately? Well yes, they do all the time. But my obnoxious ability to call people out for doing it makes THEM uncomfortable. I want to make everyone who thinks that making people uncomfortable in their own skin knows they are wrong for doing so. (And world peace!)
Eric Renderking Fisk: Tell us about your entire creative process. How do you pick a costume and where do you go from there?
Coleen Rose Carlson: Right now, I still get to be selfish. I only make costumes for characters that I love. Mostly comic book characters that I love and have followed/collected/admired over the years. My process starts with me irritating my husband by going out and buying "source material " (comic books, movies) and rotting my brain with them. When I created Sally Jupiter from Watchmen, I must have re-read the novel and watched the movie over two dozen times. I sketched her multiple times. I had to ask questions like; which design of the character do I want to emulate? Do I want to stay true to the novel, which I call my favorite book of all time, or do I love Zac Snyders remake of her so much, I want to go with that? Which is easier to make? Which will look better in photos? I made it out of several different materials before I found something that really worked for me. And when I finally put it on, I hated it. So I made it again. This is a constant for any costumer I think. Make it and make it again until it is exactly what you hoped it would be.
Fun fact: My wedding song is Unforgettable by Nat King Cole, because it is the song playing when The Comedian is murdered. So, yes, Watchmen is really my favorite book!
Eric Rendking Fisk: Tell me about your favorite fabrics and material you love ot use and how you chose what to use for specific costumes.
Coleen Rose Carlson: Well, I'm a Scottish girl, so my forever favorite is real hand-spun wool Tartan. That being said, I really don't like to spend upwards of $100 a yard on fabric. But, it is totally possible! Right now I'm wearing a lot of cat suits for cosplay. I have fallen in love with performance knits, like the ones they make for dance costumes, because the give is amazing. The only problem is they're usually VERY shiny. So I've been flipping them over and using the "dull" side to avoid looking like a disco ball. When it comes to actually picking fabric for a costume, I wish my process was more than walking up and down the aisles of JoAnn Fabric, muttering angrily at myself. Sometimes I'll spend hours looking. With Silk Spectre, I think it took me two weeks to finally find the perfect shade of yellow. Just recently I started dying fabrics to get the exact color I want. I have yet to achieve that goal!
Eric Rendking Fisk: If time and money were no object, meaning that you had unlimited time and resources, what's the one costume you would do and why?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I think if I had unlimited resources, I would own several sets of Mandalorian Armor. Maybe a set in several colors. That's a girl thing, right? Buy one in every color?
Eric Rendking Fisk: What's on your Cosplayer's bucket List?
Coleen Rose Carlson: My bucket list is so vast, and it is constantly evolving. In May (MegaCon in Orlando) I personally will be debuting four new characters. Nit including those I've made for others. But right now the big thing I want to do is Shikla, Deadpool's wife. I'm also thinking about a gender bent Falcon. But, again, I'm a mom, a wife, and I have a 9-5 job. My time is precious.
Eric Rendking Fisk: A lot has changed in society in the past 50 years from society's acceptance of people with alternative lifestyles and hobbies that have gone from being something that was 'childish' and mocked to now being mainstream. We have cosplayers who dress provocatively to gender-swapping characters. Do you think that we've knocked down every barrier in this hobby, or are these some topics or ideas that are still taboo?
Coleen Rose Carlson: The gender equality issue is something I think our community is taking head on. I always tell people: I don't care if you're a different sex, size, race, or species as whoever your cosplaying. The only unforgivable thing in cosplay is a bad wig. I think there is very little taboo left in our nerd culture. I adore furries! They're ridiculously fun! I'm learning to embrace Bronies, too. Especially now that I truly believe Pinkie Pie is my spirit animal. I have yet to find a group that identifies as Nerdy that I don't like. The nerd in me recognizes and enjoys the nerd in you. My own personal twist on Namaste.
That being said, boundaries are everywhere. And I hope, in my travel as a cosplayer, I can help break them down. Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall. Would Stan Lee be Regan? What a thought...
Eric Rendking Fisk: Since cosplay has become more mainstream now, and more accepted by outsiders, has it lost some of its cache? Is now less hip or exciting in this day and age?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I really hope this kind of creativity stays popular. You know, I very rarely hear someone say "I used to Cosplay, but I don't now that it's a fad." I think if you're passionate about something, you don't let it's popularity decide whether or not you stay passionate about it. I have no plans or desire to stop cosplaying. I love seeing new nerds.
Nerds find their way
Eric Rendking Fisk: What's the one thing you wish non-cosplayers knew about cosplaying? Either from the craftsmanship involved in time and effort; what do you think non-cosplayers need to know about this hobby but don't?
Coleen Rose Carlson: I want everyone to understand how hard we work to look the way we do. I want them to know how many hours I put into every costume and how many tears and how much blood has gone into my work. But, more than anything, I want people to know that not everyone is going to have a flawless, expensive costume. You should not laugh, or tease people. Our people have enough of that without having to worry about it in what should be a safe place. If you try, and if you do what you can to bring justice to your character, you are a damn good cosplayer in my book.
Eric Rendking Fisk: Technology - especially the internet - changed the everything about costume reproduction, what do you think is going to be the next big innovation that will change this hobby for the better?
Coleen Rose Carlson: 3D printing! Oh my gosh it's incredible what people can print these days! My Black Bolt costume (to be debuted at MegaCon) has a 3d printed element. I'm still kinda nerding out over it. I want one of those things in my house!
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