Supergirl with Ashayla Webster

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out, families are strolling around the river, everything seems quite normal until Ashayla Webster confidently strolls down from the city. Already in full costume people can’t seem to get enough of the cosplayer. Heads turn as we make our way around Perth’s Elizabeth Quay, parents whisper to their children that “Supergirl is here”, while the more brazen yell something out, none of which seems to bother her at all as we sit down for lunch. Ashayla is surprising to say the least, an ex-paramedic turned writer and social media consultant she has been doing cosplay for the past few years and gained quite the following, despite this though she is as down to Earth as they come. She happily orders anything that has chicken and pineapple as we start to discuss the merits of comic book TV shows, movies, and the idea of “geek” in general. It’s not long until it becomes clear that Ashayla is someone who cares a great deal about the roles women play in all of this and the effect that has on audiences in general. For that reason we decided to skip the interview and give the floor to Ashayla to talk about something close to her heart, Supergirl.

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I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, in fact, when I was first introduced to comics, I downright disliked the guy. The draw of superheroes, to me, is their dichotic natures. They’re badass crime fighting heroes who risk their lives to save others, but they’re deeply flawed people. They’re running from something, hiding from something, battling their demons and consciences and often struggling to live a normal life. I can relate to that. Superman was different though. He was the all-American boy, ray of sunshine and woefully free of so much of the turmoil others faced. In other words, he was boring. His cousin on the other hand, was much more my speed.

Supergirl was everything Superman was and more. Whilst she stood for hope, peace and love, she had a temper and a darkness to her. Unlike Superman, she didn’t grow up on planet Earth, she’d lived a different life before arriving. Here was a young woman, already having to deal with the mess that is puberty, thrust into another world and culture after watching her planet die. At such a young age, she was given a mission of utmost importance, a mission that should never fall to a child; protect your family…only to arrive in another time and find her task redundant. She had lost everything, her home, her family, her life, her mission and she found herself in an entirely foreign realm. To top it all off, suddenly she has super powers. She had to learn to live as a human and hide her true identity as a Kryptonian and super powered teen. As Executive Producer of the Supergirl television show, Sarah Schechter, said: “I still maintain there’s nothing more frightening or terrifying in the whole universe than being a 13-year-old girl. Period. So, for her to have to go that and try to fit in, and in trying to fit in, she suppresses all the things that make her different.” I’d be an emotional wreck too.

When I heard they were bringing this dynamic and severely underrated character to the small screen in a new television series, this super-fan was excited. There was trepidation though. Would they treat such a developed and layered character with the respect she deserved, or would they turn her into what so many other female superheroes have been portrayed as? As fluffy cheesecake pinups, truly only serving the purpose of looking good. Would they skimpify her outfit and simply not take her seriously because she’s not the big-name hero that Superman is? Would the show be something worth watching and not a filler to meet ‘diversity requirements’? All of this filled my mind as I sat down to watch the first episode…and all of it was washed away by the end.

Supergirl may be a bit blatant in its messages, but I truly believe this is not a show directed to the adult male geek population. It’s directed to women and, most importantly, it’s pitched to young women. It’s the kind of show a mother can watch with her daughter and both can enjoy. It’s a show about strong women, be they the hero or the villain. They handle situations as women so often do, by planning, by deliberation and assessing strengths and weaknesses, not by running in guns blazing. Despite its bright and airy feel, the show hits some deep cultural topics, such as racial discrimination and registration laws.

It’s a show that truly shakes the conventions of the superhero genre and does so unapologetically. Instead of tiptoeing around the feminist nature of the show, it tackles the topics of equality and women in authority head on. Supergirl isn’t treated cinema graphically like a female character, she’s treated like a male lead. This is evident in the fact that the show literally does not pull punches; in many shows, when a woman is being beaten, the camera pans away, but in Supergirl it doesn’t. As Schechter put it, “I think if a female kicking ass makes you uncomfortable, it’s a good opportunity for you to look at yourself.” The same can be said by the relationships of the female characters. They’re debates and differences aren’t petty, they aren’t about men and they’re not about competing with each other, if they’re fighting, they’re fighting over moral and philosophical differences.

It’s not just Supergirl breaking down the barriers either, the entire supporting cast plays a role. There’s James Olsen, a six foot plus black man, played by Mehcad Brooks, who is trying to prove he’s more than just Superman’s friend, being saved by Supergirl and entering his own journey of growth. There’s Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), attempting to protect the world from alien threat, without superpowers, whilst battling with her sexuality, societal norms and her feelings for her adoptive sister. There’s the sassy and sarcastic Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame, reminding us that we are women, hear us roar. And there are the badass ass villains, all with different personalities and goals, with two of particular note being Queen Rhea (Teri Hatcher) and Lillian Luthor (Brend Strong), showing a different side to motherhood. Nerdist’s Carly Lane best covered this particular breed of villain: “the combination of protective maternal instincts and the need to act in what they believe to be their children’s best interests allows for motives that are more complex than the need to create chaos, and characters like Lillian Luthor and Queen Rhea of Daxam are proof that older women can be just as much forces to be reckoned with as some of the most terrifying baddies around.”

There are certainly those within the geek community who see this show as pandering and childish, for others it just makes them uncomfortable, but for me, I see the character I wish I had growing up. Today I see young girls running around with Supergirl dolls, I see them in Supergirl t-shirts and dresses and donning capes, proclaiming themselves heroes, because they see someone they can identify with doing just that. They see a woman battling evil and saving the world and they think, I can do that too. Whether I enjoyed the show or not, this is the outcome that matters the most to me. As Cat Grant so elegantly put it, “if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”

Ashayla Webster is a Perth based cosplayer/volunteer/model/pineapple queen.

Facebook: Ashayla Webster
Instagram: Ashayla Webster 

Detective Bruce Wayne with Caped Crusader Cosplay

If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be standing in old Fremantle on a cold winter night with a man dressed as Batman I probably would have had a lot of questions. Nevertheless this is where I have found myself.

Al Fuller, Western Australias very own Caped Crusader, doesn’t let the cold get to him. The only thing the bone chilling winds seem to do is add to effect of his costume as his jacket blows in the wind. He is a man who loves what he does, standing proud in the cosplay he made in his home, and talking with passion about a character he clearly loves.

8B: So how long have you been doing cosplay for?
AL: I came into the game later then most, I had recently hit the big 4-0 when I did. I’ve always been a big kid at heart so it wasn’t the stereotypical middle-age thing… I don’t think so anyway. I already had bought the big red V8 to cover that! I’d been to the Supanova conventions a couple times as regular me but my sojourn into cosplay started at OZ ComiCon in 2013 when I convinced a friend to tag along, this time in costume. I borrowed a Dark Knight muscle suit from a friend and my mate went as Bane. It was a lot of fun to say the least and a little overwhelming in a way. It really was a buzz having people want photos with us. The popularity of the Dark Knight movie was obviously the source for the attention but from then on I couldn’t wait for the next convention.

8B: The cosplay community at conventions has gotten bigger in the past few years, how does it feel being a relatively well known figure in the community?
AL: I really enjoy the community of cosplay and the social aspect of being at the conventions with like minded people who you wouldn’t otherwise know. There’s really no barrier to getting involved. I enjoy being a character that people know and love. I enjoy catching the train to the conventions in costume and seeing the reactions from everyone. There’s nothing I really don’t enjoy, except probably what most cosplayers dislike…. the restriction in being able to use the toilet. Really it’s just fun, that’s what matters.

8B: You have a few variations of Batman, any reason you’ve chosen to focus on the Dark Knight?
AL: So far I’ve done a few Batman variations. The Dark Knight (my first one), comic style black and grey, comic style blue and grey, Batman bobble-head in both blue and black, Lego Batman (my biggest and most awkward) and DC Bombshells Detective Bruce Wayne. Something just drew me to the character long ago. Maybe it was the Corgi Batmobile and boat set I had as a kid? Or the plastic cake topper I remember seeing in a long gone bakery many decades ago? Either way it was imbedded somewhere, and in recent years it’s become something I’ve aspired to bring to life and have some fun with. I got back into comic collecting with Batman as my main focus when DC released the New 52. I used to love reading the Punisher, Lobo, and Judge Dredd/2000AD but it was Batman that really drew me back in. He’s a character that has no super powers so there’s an element and depth of reality to him. And seriously, if you could drive around in a Batmobile and punch bad guys why wouldn’t you?

8B: While we’re on the subject of different Batmen, do yo have a favourite?
AL: That’s a tough one. I definitely love the Batman of the silver and bronze age in the comics which is what my blue and grey suit is based on, but there are so many variations and takes on the character in both book and film that each adds their own element. I also love the Adam West Batman from the 1960’s. Ultimately I think it can really boil down to the look of the costume and characters. If it looks crap (did someone say 90’s films?) then it’s a lot harder to sell to the fanbase. I enjoyed BvS a lot and the Lego Batman movie is a really fun ride with so many hat-tips to everything that came before, even back to the serials in the 40’s.

8B: We know you like Batman, but is there a dream cosplay you are hoping to do?
AL: I don’t think I have a dream cosplay as such, although I’ve started to focus on my photos and how my character looks a bit more where I can. I’m currently working on something a but different; comic style Judge Dredd. He may not be Batman but there were some DC crossovers in the 90’s where the two characters had their disagreements but ultimately became unwitting allies. I’ve started the build and it won’t be without its challenges but so far so good. Learning new skills and working with different materials is always a challenge and my methods of getting from A to B in building and patterning can be a little unorthodox, but as long as i’m happy with the results then that’s what really matters. I’m always surprised with how things turn out and excited when I get them right. For everything else there is always a wheelie bin in the Batcave.

8B: How about highlights? 
AL: There are plenty of personal highlights and fantastic moments that i’ve experienced in cosplay, one of which was having the artist responsible for DC Bombshells, Ant Lucia, give me some info and awesome feedback which allowed me to add some fine detail into the detective costumes vest. But i suppose the biggest ones are the reactions from people of all ages who love Batman and seeing the character step out of the comics and come to life. It makes my effort all that more worthwhile. I also love getting other cosplayers together at the conventions by organising, and I’ll say that loosely, or participating in the various DC group photo gatherings. Catching up with other bat-family cosplayers is a lot of fun.

8B: Finally, where can people find you if they would like to see more of your cosplays.
AL: I started a Facebook page back in 2014 called Caped Crusader of Western Australia where I like to share my costume photos and the stuff I’m working on, plus bits and pieces of my collection and photos from conventions. I also have an Instagram called Caped Crusader Cosplay, that’s mainly cosplay but I mix it up with some other photos outside of cosplay as well.

Black Canary with Paris Burns Cosplay

 

Over the weekend we got a chance to do another amazing photoshoot with Paris Burns Cosplay. The costume was based on the art of Bruce Timm and his design for the character who first appeared in The Flash, issue #86 in August of 1947. The mantle has been held by a few characters over various mediums but is mostly held by Dinah Lance since the silver age of comics. She is a superhero vigilante who fights crime using martial arts and her trademark sonic scream.

For the shoot we wanted a back alley vibe keeping in line with the character, but also a bright vibrant and clean setting. Luckily for us having nice clean alleyways with cute little cafes in them is a thing now, so we managed to find one. We didn’t do an interview with Paris this time but did manage to get one answer to the only question that really matters at this point.

8B: So, who should play her in a movie?

PB: Katheryn Winnick, because her IMDb trivia reads like a Black Canary resume.

8B: Yes, we agree one thousand percent. ONE. THOUSAND. PERCENT!

Robin ’66 with Paris Burns Cosplay

 

 

8Bit: Robin ’66 is an odd choice for a cosplay, I don’t think I’ve seen it at any of the conventions I’ve been to. Was there any reason you chose this character?

PB: I love wearing characters with really iconic costumes, it was fun, and as soon as I thought about the idea of a female Robin with a beehive and winged eyeliner it all just came together.

8Bit: Is that where you get most of the ideas for your cosplays?

PB: Yeh, I feel like sometimes there is something that just needs to click. Sometimes it will be an era that I can explore with the character, sometimes it’s a hairstyle or accessory that i think will work. For instance when I did my Wilma and decided I wanted to have her wearing a fur dress with a stone necklace it just felt like it all came together so clear and I was inspired to make it.

8Bit: Wilma and Robin are both characters from the 60’s, is there something about older characters that draw you in?

PB: I definitely love cosplaying older characters. I’ve always been drawn to vintage fashion and that vintage aesthetic. Characters from the 50’s and 60’s have such simple and recognisable costumes that are fun to play with and bring to life.

8Bit: It’s nice to see those older characters popping up at conventions and in cosplays, it has a nice sense of nostalgia with it. Is there any other characters that your hoping to cosplay?

PB: I’d love to do a series of Hanna Barbera characters, my main goal is to make every single costume from Barbarella.

8Bit: Both of those sound amazing. Barbarella is a pretty out there movie, are you a big movie fan?

PB: Yes. I will watch anything, seriously. I am currently making my way through every Nicolas Cage film.

8Bit: Is there a standout so far? Have you discovered Maximum Cage?

PB: My favourite Cage performance was Vampires Kiss, that was max Cage. So far my actual favourite is a tie between Kick Ass and Con Air.

8Bit: Any chance of a Nicolas Cage cosplay in the future?

PB: Yes! I plan on doing a Con Air cosplay, I’m growing out my mullet as we speak.

8Bit: That is amazing and I can not wait to see it. Where can people find you if they want to keep up with what you’re doing?

PB: I have a Facebook page called Paris Burns Cosplay and my Instagram is Paris Burns, that’s where I post most of the things I do. That’s where I post everything I do actually.

8Bit: Paris Burns Cosplay, it has been a pleasure speaking to you and taking your photo. 

 

Paris Burns is an Australian cosplayer based in Perth, Western Australia
Facebook: @parisburnscosplay
Instagram: @parisburns