Interview with SunseenLi

It’s time for another interview, this time with SunseenLi! She’s a cosplayer in New York, who is best known for her Sailor Moon Avatars cosplay site and her lovely Sailor Mars costumes!

SunseenLi out of costume, photo by Vasilion Photography

What’s your cosplay alias and why did you choose it?
SunseenLi is the identity I use for just about everything. I moved back to New York City in the eighth grade, after being gone for three years, and all my former friends had changed and didn’t really like me anymore, so I started hanging out with this different group of girls, who all happened to be Cantonese. One day they were all talking about their Cantonese names, and I felt kind of left out, so they decided to give me one. They asked me what my hobbies were, and… they’re pretty diverse. When I finished listing them, they said I had way too many to just pick one to name me after, so they chose “Sunseen”, which meant like “angel” or some other sort of heavenly deity, so that it was all-encompassing. Years later when I had to make an AOL screen name at my grandparents’ house, I tried a few that were all taken, so I finally used Sunseen. When I got my own account here in New York, I wanted to use the same name because Sunseen had become such a part of my life, but since it was already taken (the aforementioned account at my grandparents’) I had to add on the “Li” (in honor of Chun Li, my first character obsession) and now I use it for just about everything.

SunseenLi as Rogue from X-men, costume by Setsuna Kou and photo by David Ng

How many years have you been cosplaying and what got you started?
It’s a bit of a long story. I’ve always LOVED Halloween, and even as far back as the eighth grade, I wanted a Chun Li costume, but I had no idea how to go about it. I always thought I’d have to take my Street Fighter booklet (this is from the days before the internet!) to an old German seamstress somewhere in my neighborhood, and that it would cost a thousand dollars, and that it probably wouldn’t come out right (it’d end up looking like a dress, because that’s all most old German seamstresses know how to make), so it was a lost cause.

Then one day (spring of 1999, I think), my stepfather e-mailed me with a link to an eBay auction for a Sailor Mars fuku. I missed the end of the auction, but I was so disappointed, I took a chance and e-mailed the seller, who turned out to be Setsuna Kou. She made me one of my very own, and that was my first cosplay costume. To tell you the truth, though, at that point, I didn’t even know the term “cosplay”! I just wanted a Sailor Mars costume for…whatever. So I hung on to it.

About the same time (perhaps a little earlier), my friend Usagi Seion (who was the person who got me into Sailor Moon in the first place) and I wanted to start “Teh best Sailor Moon page EVAR!” (okay, we weren’t really going to call it that, but I think that’s pretty much how we thought of it in our minds), with images of EVERY Sailor Moon artbook image, screencaps of every episode, just…you know. Everything. The only problem was, neither of us knew how to make a website. *laugh* So Usagi Seion decided she’d be in charge of the artistic design, and I decided I’d be in charge of the technical mumbo jumbo. Now, I learn better by trying, then by studying, so I decided to make a “trial” webpage to learn on. I still wanted it to be useful, though, and Sailor Moon related, so I decided, since most Sailor Moon images exist somewhere on the web already, I’d make an image gallery of people dressed up as Sailor Moon characters. My search for people dressed in Sailor Moon costumes led me to a Sailor Moon newsgroup, which led me to my first Sailor Moon cosplayers, which led me to the COSP mailing list…and it was all downhill from there. 🙂

What has been some of your favorite things to work with when constructing costumes and why?
For the most part, I don’t make my own costumes. The most I’ve done myself is alter some store-bought clothing, or some basic repairs. So instead, I try my best to find other ways to add to the look of each character–you’d be surprised by what you can do with makeup. Even just small differences such as whether to use eyeliner on your lower lid, or where you apply your blush, or mixing two lipstick colors to make a third shade, can really alter your face. I love when I get a makeup idea in my head that then turns out EXACTLY the way I envisioned it. Rare but exciting!

What are you excited to be working with in the future and why?
It’s hard to say–I don’t have a lot of concrete plans for the immediate future.  In general, though, I love that my cosplay group, Outer Power Inner Beauty, wants to do each version of the Magic Knight Rayearth armor as it evolves, it’s just adding pieces to the school uniforms we already did, so yay for reusing costumes! Any group cosplay idea is an attraction for me, doing costumes alone isn’t nearly as much fun as doing it with your friends.

What are some of the traits you like to see in other costumes and who do you think does well in them?
I don’t want to single people out (especially since I don’t know much about construction) but I have to say that in general, the overall level of cosplay has vastly improved in the last decade. People went from altering T-shirts and bathrobes to make an approximation of the characters they love to getting EVERY detail down to the nitty-gritty correct. Don’t get me wrong, I would never look down my nose at any costume, since we’re all just doing this for fun, but it’s hard not to be blown away by the accuracy that’s become almost commonplace these days.

What is your view of the “cosplay scene”?
It’s hard for me to say because I think that any view of the cosplay scene is unavoidably colored by where you stand in it. My first impression to say that it’s not as close knit as it used to be, that there aren’t as many “known names” as there used to be, but that could entirely be because I’m not as close to the center to it as I used to be. Before I even started going to cons, I knew more of what was going on in the scene because I was part of the COSP mailing list, and everybody who was anybody was on there. Then the social network of choice moved to LiveJournal, and I was really active on there, and met a lot of wonderful people that way. Now, I’m not entirely sure where “the” cosplayers make connections the most–is it Facebook? Is it something else? Or am I wrong and the scene has grown too large to really have anybody stand out from the pack?

SunseenLi as Umi from Magic Knight Rayearth, costume by Beverly Faerie and photo by Pat Gavin

What are some of the things you want to see change in the scene?
This may come across as very bitter-old-hang, “get off my lawn” sounding but there are SO MANY younger people screaming and running around and generally being obnoxious that a lot of veteran cosplayers have started avoiding the cons and only cosplaying for private photoshoots. I think it’s wonderful that there’s a new generation of cosplayers, but maybe if the convention center didn’t sound like the hallway of my local high school, with the screeching and the squealing and all that, it might be more enjoyable. That, and the jailbait. Good lord, if you’re thirteen years old, please cover up. I don’t want to feel like I belong in jail because I accidentally looked at you and saw WAY more than I should have.

What is some advice you could give people starting to get into cosplay?
First and foremost, be very sure about why you’re cosplaying. If it’s because you love a specific character, or a specific universe, or whatever, then go nuts! It’s a lot of fun to express our devotion through costuming, and you meet some amazing people. But if you’re doing it because you want to be the best (or worse, better than a specific somebody else), or because you think it’ll bring you some form of internet fame or popularity…you’ll be disappointed and bitter if it doesn’t work, and if it DOES work, it very well might bite you in the rear. More than one well known cosplayer has retired before her time because of the price that came with “fame”, and because there really aren’t any practical benefits.

What are some of your favorite conventions you’ve attended and why?
Otakon, every year. It’s expensive, but it’s an extraordinarily run convention, staffed by for the majority very helpful and knowledgeable people, the convention center is a BEAUTIFUL space that is laid out rather well with an intuitive flow, and Baltimore itself is a pretty city.

Give a random fact about one of your costumes that you’re proud of!
Maybe this is because I haven’t constructed most of them, but it’s very hard to narrow it down! Wait, I’ve got one: the white kimono and the red hakama I wear for Rei’s “temple robes” (and once for Kikyo from Inuyasha) are authentic miko garments brought back from Japanby the owner of a kimono retail store I know. I can’t take ANY credit for that, but I think it’s all kinds of cool!

SunseenLi as Rei from Sailor Moon, costume by Erin Garlowe and photo by Pat Gavin

Thanks for the interview, SunseenLi! You can see more of her work on her website!

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About Yunie

I am a cosplayer, a nerd, a geek. I am whatever you call me. However, I have a brain and tend to use it.
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