The world of cosplay is many things to many people. It’s a safe haven, an escape from reality going back to the place that you can call home. The journey of making one’s cosplay however, isn’t always a walk in the park. From commissioning to sewing to gluing to shaping to burning yourself how you make your cosplay is entirely up to you. I had the honor of getting the inside scoop from Hilton George, aka: Con-Man Hilton, a relatively new cosplayer that proves that there is nothing “newbie” about his elaborate cosplays.
NC: How long have you been cosplaying?
CMH: Not long. Roughly six months since my first event, MAGFest, this past January. Before then, I was just a guy who grew up on comic books, video games and anime. I didn’t even know that cosplay existed until the Halloween of 2014 when two guys pulled me to the side asking about a costume I had constructed. Once I told them how obsessively I had spent money, time and energy building it over 8 months, they asked “Do you cosplay and go to cons?” I told them no, but that I would be interested in it, they dropped the dates and locations of the upcoming events and the rest is history! I stepped into MAGFest knowing NO ONE and was greeted with open arms by all the cosplayers there. I had a blast and made dozens of new friends in a few short hours. That’s when I knew I was hooked.
NC: What inspired your cosplays?
CMH: I was fascinated by Lord Raiden from Mortal Kombat from the first time I saw the game being played! I felt I could do something new and exciting with this character that isn’t widely cosplayed. I also obsess over a concept. It’s like Inception once the idea came to me to make lights and sound, I simply COULD NOT STOP until it took shape. Cosplays aren’t very inspiring before they truly take shape — my lab (i.e. my basement) looked like a typhoon hit a Japanese flea market for at least two months before I had anything to show. But once it did, the rush hit and I was able to put a rudimentary cosplay together in time for MAGFest. The welcome I received from the cosplay community was so positive and awesome, I knew I had found my tribe!
NC: What made you decide to take the elaborate, detail-oriented route with your cosplays?
CMH: I was always that guy who wanted to go all out for Halloween, trying to do group themes, and elaborate costumes. In that way, I’ve been cosplaying for years. So when I fall into a project and am running on imagination and emotion, everything takes a back seat. There is always something to tweak or improve and it just HAD to be right. Lord Raiden as he is seen here, is as complete as I can imagine him to be. But Katsucon came a mere 30 days after MAGfest, and I lamented that I only had one cosplay for a three day event. So I began “scrapping” in my own lab for bits and parts to see what I could throw together. I remember someone yelled out “SUB-ZERO!” at me with the LED mask and lights I built into my last Halloween costume. So, working with that concept I assembled the master of the Lin Kuei using spare and commissioned parts I designed with John Paul Rishea at Bionic Concepts, fashion designers Crisiswear and a lot of first time crafting on my part.
NC: What’s the most difficult part about putting your cosplay(s) together and how do you go about it?
CMH: The technology for my Raiden lightning uses a motion detection system called an accelerometer, where you can effect lights and sound by moving and positioning your arms and body in certain positions and motions relative to a system programmed to react. I retrofitted bits and pieces from two systems I was able to miraculously acquire, placing the sound system, wiring and LED lights into my coolie hat. Much soldering and experimentation went into getting this most sensitive of systems up and running.
I knew what I wanted to do, but I had NO idea how to bring it about. Props go out to Kyle of Asgard for showing me the idea and tech for the glowing eyes. But even then, I knew I had to craft my own system if I was going to make it work. I work somewhat in the engineering field, so I had resources to bridge the gap and get me started. For this to work, it would have to be light, self-powered, durable and made up of pre-produced components. MOTORCYCLE ACCENT LIGHTING SYSTEMS! Eureka! All the switches, wiring, connectors and power packs I would ever need. Wiring a bike to blink and light up while hiding your tech is exactly the same as doing it for a person.
I spent weeks blowing fuses, zapping incompatible components and trying to find the right size, fit and adjustability to make the glowing eyes effect work. Voice changers? Let me tell you, there are NO professional grade voice changers on the current market … ANYWHERE. So I will keep my Sub-Zero sound system solution secret for now. But I had to merge two systems, one to make the LED mask react to my voice and varying tones, the other to project my voice outward in front of me so the effect can be heard (otherwise I’d be a guy muffling incoherently behind a mask). Sub-Zero is such a character to inhabit as I can play with the voice and the eyes and the mask all in one simultaneous effect. Raiden is a wow-factor special effects demo that I don’t have to SAY anything in order to get the crowd excited.
NC: What is your next big cosplay?
CMH: My next project is Deadpool. The combination of his character and the special effect I have planned for him will be completely new to cosplay. Again, he was going to be a throw away cosplay to give me something not video game related to bring to the con. But as components took shape, he took on a life of his own and I think he may trump both my previous and be lots of fun to inhabit. I’m a natural comedian and can be “ON” like a Deadpool cosplay would require, but without being annoying. I designed a unique mask get that quizzical expression Deadpool is known for, but is never seen (at least by me) in cosplay. It would take another full article for me to explain how hard it was to bring boots about, but as the centerpiece I couldn’t — WOULDN’T — cosplay this character without them!
NC: What’s the best advice you can give for those out there who want to amp up their cosplays?
CMH: I was talking to one of my cosplay friends the other day about how awesome one of her cosplays was turning out and I asked “So where are YOU in this cosplay?” I think we sometimes get caught up in being spot on accurate EXACTLY as it appears in the comic, anime or video game and we forget that some of the best cosplaying out there comes from those pieces where the cosplayer comes through and their creativity, character or personality shines. Also, have fun BEING your cosplay! This is what separates cosplays from costumes. The PLAYing of the character that resonated so much with you that you spent months and weeks burning your fingers with hot glue and impaling yourself with sewing needles to create. I don’t answer to my own name when I’m in cosplay. I love being in that place so much — there’s no other reason to do it in my opinion. The cosplay community isn’t perfect, but I’ve never met a better community in my life. I’ve been so welcomed, so encouraged, so empowered to keep doing what I’m doing by some of the coolest people in life. It’s why we’re all here … right?
When asked if he had any final thoughts George said: “Oscar Wilde wrote ‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.’ The cosplay community is built on the idea that there’s an honesty that comes from stepping out of oneself and into someone, or something else. Geeks rock. I’m a geek and a cosplayer.”
You can find Hilton George on Facebook at Con-Man Hilton and Instagram at @conmanhilton.