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Geekdom, much like sexuality, has a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is “normal,” in sans serif font, black letters, fixing itself a cup of coffee, a pair of tickets to the St. Louis Cardinals game in its Dockers. On the other end, in a riot of color, dancing to “Caramelldansen,” a furry tail poking out of its pants, is “GEEK.” About 95 percent of humanity’s score lies somewhere within the spectrum, not at either extreme. Some geeks enjoy the Cardinals, and some normal people go to midnight showings of the latest Marvel or DC movie. My best friend owns a three-bedroom ranch, proudly carries a Coach purse, and can pull from her memory a Star Trek quote to fit any situation.

Then … there are Mikhail and Katrina Lynn.

“We are living in a subculture,” Katrina says.

Mikhail adds, “It’s a way of life.”

Every day, they live the life of the GEEK. Specifically, the cosplaying GEEK. They are known for being very, very good at what they do. And they do all of it together. The results are some of the most stunning self-made costuming seen in the Midwest. They have run four St. Louis area cons. (That’s right. Not attended, ran. All of the responsibilities, from recruiting the guest stars to booking the hotel, were theirs.) Their record number of cons attended in one year is 15, but “that was killing us,” Mikhail insists. They have been featured in numerous documentaries and publications. They are, in Midwest geek culture, the closest thing to celebrities as you can get.

In costume, they can be anyone. Anime characters or Dr. Who characters. Historical recreations or fantastical creatures. Lovers or foes. Men or women.

Out of costume, they are a delicate study in contrasts. Her hair is straight and neat; his is a frizzy mess contained in a ponytail. She is always smiling, cracking jokes, blurting out and interrupting; he makes quiet observations over the tops of his glasses, barely granting more than a smirk. She is all curves, but still slim, with round cheeks; he is a gangly twig, to the extent that I want to take him home and feed him, with sharp features set in a long face.

When you give your life over to being GEEK -- not “geek,” like me or my Star Trek friend, but GEEK -- you have to surrender everything. That includes your home.

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I walk into a one-bedroom townhouse in Marlborough, south St. Louis County, and I am immediately over-stimulated. GEEK is on the walls, on the shelves, on the refrigerator magnets. It is stuffed into four closets: from floor to ceiling, literally, forming leaning towers of storage bins and boxes.

“This one actually has regular clothing in it,” Katrina declares as she opens the bedroom closet. It is stuffed with costume parts. She stares inside, dumbfounded. “It used to have regular clothes in it …”

It is piled up in a corner on the stairway landing, an area they have dubbed “The Purgatory” that includes fake weapons, practice swords, real swords, a collection of standees (stand-up displays that were acquired from different promotions), and other random “supplies.” It is in the wig boxes, within their cat’s name, in their basement.

Yes, the basement. I get a quick tour, and I am spinning with the extent of their GEEK credentials. Was that wall really filled with signed photos of geek icons? Did they really undertake a wedding anniversary “project” last year in which they asked their favorite Deviantart and con-circuit artists to re-imagine characters from the video game series Metal Gear in love, and then slightly redesign the costumes and facial structures to look like them? Why did she make a hat with a giant ampersand stuck to the top? Why are GEEKs so obsessed with Dr. Who? Where do they sleep? Where do they eat?

When I round the corner and leave Purgatory behind, I descend the stairs into the basement … and see King DeDeDe’s decapitated head staring directly at me. But I don’t recognize him at first. I just see a plush face with a duckbill wearing a red cap, its giant, black pupils staring at me. The basement that is home to their gigantic costumes, massive projects involving months of research, geometry, supply searching, and sewing, sewing, sewing. DeDeDe’s head is not in a box, but the rest of the pieces of these creations are in containers that take up an entire corner of the basement.

One of their most heavily-honored costume pairs is also stored here: Kabuki Revolution EXTREME. They drew inspiration for the costume from the two sources in the name: Dance Dance Revolution, a dancing video game in which gamers had to follow on-screen commands with their fast-moving feet, which are on dance platforms; and Kabuki, an ancient Japanese drama and dance hybrid, known for its expressive makeup and excessive costumes. They used the obnoxiously bright colors in the game as well as the flashing arrows in the patterns on their kimonos. The hold arrows stretch down the obi, or sash, of the outfits, and flashing directional arrows can be found on the front and back of the costume.

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They have worn the costumes to Archon as well as Costume Con, earning high titles at both. They spent months on the costumes: not in just making them, but in preparation for their skit to display them. They choreographed a dance that combined the dramatic exaggerations characteristic of Kabuki as well as the frantic foot-stamping movements of the DDR player. They teased each other – Mikhail seduced, Katrina blushed and avoided – by flipping their fans at each other, decorated on both sides with the catchphrases of the game. Excellent! Boo! Almost! Perfect!

I imagine my own husband and me working for months and months on a project of this magnitude. Our efforts would involve a lot more boo’s and almost’s than excellent’s and perfect’s. We don’t have the perfect mix of characteristics that set Katrina and Mikhail apart.

Katrina is a loud and proud Type A. She gets a thrill out of writing on and scratching out calendars, checklists, and to-do lists. She has trouble spending months and months on a project; it’s more fun to get it finished. Mikhail, however, is more easy-going. In addition, he works with a quiet intensity, and his attention to detail pays off on their costumes. When I visited them, Mikhail had Photoshop open and was meticulously recreating the hatband pattern of the Fifth Doctor from Dr. Who. On the screen, it just looks like a few colored blocks. But when he zooms in on the Fifth Doctor’s head, I can see the same pattern surrounding his Panama hat. It is a minor detail, something most cosplayers would just get “close enough,” but they are having the hatband specially printed.

They each bring unique skills to the table. Katrina labels herself as a “jack of all trades, master at none.” There are few things she can do “pretty well” the first time she tries it, but it then takes her months to get beyond that level. There is only one exception to this rule: sewing. When her grandmother first tried to teach her the craft, she was awful at it. She had to work very hard and had to learn patience to improve. She had to overcome her issues with Attention Deficit Disorder to reach her goals.

“If I didn’t focus on it, it wasn’t going to happen,” she explains.

Mikhail can sew, as well, thanks to Katrina’s tutelage. Mikhail claims to be a terrible artist. He shows me a sketch of a costume he designed – a re-imagining of Setzer from Final Fantasy VI as a Yakuza gambler – and it is eons beyond my stick figures. He insists his designs only make sense to himself and Katrina, but I let it drop. Both of them can eyeball the tiniest of measurements – to a 32nd of an inch – because they work with them every day.

If there is one time they have to come together as a couple, it is when they put on a costume for the first time. They try on each piece, holding their collective breath. Is it going to fit? Is it going to fall apart? They each notice every tiny flaw, every little thing that needs a stitch, or a new color, always something. They go back and make corrections. Sometimes, it’s something minor. Sometimes, they scrap everything and try all over again, like Katrina’s costume of The Boss from Metal Gear. While they are on display at cons, the errors in their work are always hideously obvious.

“We can see things that are not right, even if other people can’t,” Mikhail said.

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While they are in costume at cons, they both get hit on by men and women, they said, which is only exacerbated when they cross-play. Mikhail has tried it once, but Katrina does it frequently for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she finds gender-bending freeing and fun. Secondly, it is hard for her to find female characters that she likes enough to inspire her. When she is trying to choose a character to cosplay, she has to like the character as a person as much as she likes that character’s outfit. Few female characters have provided her with both, and she made a plea to female geeks and gamers. She wants them to push developers and designers to give them the strong, fascinating female characters they deserve.

Through their teamwork, they run four cons: Kawa Kon, an anime convention; Bishie Con, a yaoi and slash convention (and if you don’t know what those are, Google with caution); Escape From Outer Heaven, a Metal Gear convention; and Ecto Con, a Ghostbusters convention. However, to “maintain their sanity,” they plan to make Kawa Kon their big annual conference, and then only run one other specialty con on a rotating basis each year, Mikhail said.

It’s a relationship that began the way you would most expect: through cosplay. It was September 2004, and Katrina and Mikhail were both film majors at Webster University. (Yes, the same Webster that was attended by Christine Thompson. Katrina and Mikhail were also part of the Webster Anime Society team credited with starting Anime St. Louis.) As a sucker for long hair, Katrina had been admiring Mikhail from afar, but she thought he was stuck up. He thought he was better than the other film majors because he had watched all of these obscure movies.

Mikhail has grown since then. “Everyone who enters college is stuck up,” he says dismissively. Katrina chuckles.

They enrolled in the same class, “Narrating Pathology,” and the professor was discussing the classic cult film Clockwork Orange. To make a point, he said he would give extra credit to any student who dressed as Alex, the main character. He wasn’t expecting anyone to take up the challenge. Katrina did. She spent the entire weekend gathering together the pieces.

When she wore it to class, Mikhail cornered her and immediately started pointing out the errors in the costume. Some parts were the wrong color. She wasn’t wearing a codpiece. And those aren’t paratrooper boots.

“I thought he was being an ass,” she said. However, Katrina needed a ride to an upcoming con, so she asked for one. Mikhail didn’t have a car, but it was still the icebreaker that led to a deep friendship. They were experimenting with romance; Katrina was the first to try to kiss him. However, he had never been kissed before and didn’t know how to react. He wasn’t interested in a relationship, he told her, and said he just wanted to be friends. Katrina didn’t want him out of her life, so she stuck around.

“We were best friends bordering on I don’t even know what,” Katrina says. They were a constant comfort to each other, and they were happy with what they had, even if they couldn’t put a label on it. They moved in together during their second year of college. Nothing happened back then, she insists, and candidly blurts that the couple “waited” until after they were married.

Mikhail shifts, and his pale cheeks flare. He tries to change the subject. “Let’s talk about how the kitty came into our lives!”

I laugh, and I oblige, although we never did talk about the cat.

As graduation neared, Katrina began to fear that she was about to lose Mikhail. “I didn’t want him to move out of town,” she said. In December 2006, during a road trip to visit family, Katrina and Mikhail came to a mutual decision to get married. There was nothing formal about it; it just seemed logical.

Only when they had arrived did Katrina realize that no one had really proposed. She mentioned this to Mikhail. “He pulled the ring tab off a carton of orange juice and put it on my finger. We didn't say anything until that summer when we'd worked out we were definitely going to get married,” she said.

They were united in marriage in July 2008. Of course, it was a cosplay “costume formal” wedding. Katrina made most of the costumes herself, and she got her “teenage dream”: She dressed as Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings, and Mikhail and the groomsmen dressed as the Shinsengumi, a police force in Japan's Tokugawa Period. While many of their family members got into the cosplay aspect of the wedding, some just wore jeans, which the bride still finds annoying.

“I guess if you have costumes, all sense of wedding propriety goes out the window,” she said.

When I talked with them, the couple was preparing to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary. “Now we’re relatively normal, right?” Katrina asks. Mikhail just smiles and shrugs.

Of course, “normal” to most people is not “normal” to Katrina and Mikhail. When “normal” life and “geek” life intersect, the results range from awkward to amused. Katrina’s boss, for example, read an article about his young employee in The Riverfront Times. It described, in cartoonishly graphic details, Katrina and Mikhail’s Bishie Con. He informed her that he didn’t care what she did in her spare time. Katrina is employed at a video editing company that primarily makes training videos for corporations, and Mikhail works at Sam’s Club in the marketing department. Both of them use the resources from their jobs to help with their GEEK projects. They get many of their promotional materials for their cons printed at Sam’s Club. And Katrina’s boss served as the voice of the announcer on the Kabuki Revolution music. “It’s time for Kabuki Revolution!” he shouted before the performance began.

Katrina described her boss as very straight-laced, but he understands this lifestyle is not for everyone.

In another cross-world mishap, a neighbor walked up to Katrina and nearly introduced himself. Katrina, embarrassed, told the friendly man that she had lived in the apartment complex for six years. The man said she had seen Mikhail and Katrina unloading their vehicle a few days earlier.

“When we get back from a con, it’s like we’re moving in all over again,” Katrina says. In fact, Katrina’s car, a Toyota Matrix, was chosen specifically for its storage, making it the perfect cosplaying geekmobile.

Reaching out and meeting new “regular” people is hard for the couple. Katrina is better at, as she puts it, “normalizing,” than Mikhail, but they both prefer the company of other geeks.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking to people who don’t know what I’m talking about,” Mikhail says.

Despite this, their social calendars are very full, but with geek-related outings. Recently, they have enjoyed attending and volunteering for events at the St. Louis Science Center in costume. In addition, Mikhail sets up a Ghostbusters table at the ToyMan Toy Show once every two months. Katrina serves on three committees and is in choir at church. They are proud members of the St. Louis CIA (a Doctor Who club) and the St. Louis Costumers Guild, as well.

As far as really cutting loose, they consider cons the only party they ever need to attend because cons are, to them, a big, expensive GEEK party that lasts all weekend. And what else could a GEEK ask for?

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Their reactions are complete opposites, like the sides of the moon.

On the bright side of the moon, pure joy. The smaller people, also known as the children, or the innocent, can’t contain their delight. They run up to him, squealing. They embrace him before he even has a chance to put his arms up to return the favor. They stroke his white fur and whisper, “Bye, puppy!” as they are rushed off.

The taller people, also known as the adults, or the parents, are the dark side. They are trying to obscure their emotions, but those who have lived long enough in the Midwest know that expression. The tight lips, the hunched shoulders, the wrinkled brow line. This isn’t the east coast: No one is going to yell at him and go, “Hey, who are you, touching my kid?” Instead, they make that carefully constructed passive aggressive face and stride off, bumping their strollers along at the maximum speed possible without breaking into a run.

This won’t last, I think.

And then, it doesn’t. Two women, both with handheld transceivers and official looking St. Louis Zoo button-up shirts, flank this giant white wolf man. They are less passive, more aggressive.

“Hey, who are you with, guy,” the bigger and buffer one asks.

“We’re writing a book,” I interject, knowing this is a partial fib, knowing that the wolf will not answer while in costume. “We received permission from the parking lot attendant.”

“Well, you can’t be here.”

Of course we can’t, I think. I would be nervous, too, if a man in a wolf costume frolicking around the St. Louis Zoo parking lot hugged my kid, too many weeks away from Halloween to be socially appropriate.

Natale and I apologize about 10 times, no exaggeration, and make a beeline back to our vehicle. We drive a little up the road, to an area of the iconic and historic Forest Park that is slightly more secluded and more welcoming to furry creatures. As soon as we park and the head is on, the wolf man is back in character again.

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He bounds over to a building and sniffs it on all fours. He leaps into the air, and then hides his face and shakes and bobs with delight. Natale is furiously snapping her camera, but she provides no direction to our target. He is so immersed in the character, it is more like trying to photograph a wild animal than a man. Before we can protest, he dashes down a hill, past a pavilion, and around a bend of a trail. As we jog to catch up, an amused runner asks, “What are you guys doing?”

“Writing a book,” I reply, out of breath, as the wolf bounds up another hill, leans up against a fence, and begins waving at cars zipping by on Interstate 64.

“Oh,” he replies, amused, as he lopes off.

As I watch this canine, in complete harmony and joy with the sights and smells around him, I think back to less than an hour ago, when I was interviewing the man that was inside the costume. If the wolf is his light side, his “regular” self is the dark, all quiet and reserved, sipping his caffeine and not meeting me in the eye often as we talk. He explains what it means to be a furry, and why he chooses what many believe to be its own lifestyle.

Darryl Glover says he enjoys wearing the costume because he can “make people smile as well as just be myself,” he says. “I can be something I’m not. I think everyone should stand out and be who they want to be.”

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When Glover first bought the suit, he had no intention of using it at anime conventions. He just wanted a fur costume so he could become a furry. The costume’s low cost as well as the character it featured both convinced him to buy it. The white wolf with the red marks is from Okami, a video game on the Wii that features a wolf goddess as the protagonist. It wasn’t until later that he thought about taking the costume to cons.

He was born Feb. 7, 1994, in Russia, and was adopted when he was 6 months old. He lived in England with his adopted family for about seven years, he says. When he was still young, his adopted parents separated, and he lived alone with his mother for a while. Things then “got out of hand,” he says, when his mother became abusive. As a result, his father received custody of him, and he moved to Wyoming in the United States with his father.

After staying there for two years, his father moved to O’Fallon, Mo., when he was about nine. He attended school in the Fort Zumwalt North School District.
Although Glover didn’t retain many memories of his physical and mental abuse, he knows it played a part of his inability to make many friends.

“I’m grown out of it now, but early in high school, it made me shy,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to socialize with many people. I did, but it was hard for me to.” He had a close-knit group of about three friends that he would hang out with, but he formed few other relationships, including romantic ones.

He first discovered the furry culture on the Internet. He found some furry artwork, and he was fascinated by it, he says. He didn’t know the word for it at first, but he eventually began to identify himself as a furry. This means he gets to put on a costume of what “I wish I could have been in reality,” he explains.

If it was up to Glover, he would be in costume every day. He has to find the time in between going to classes at St. Charles Community College for graphic design as well as working shifts at Dairy Queen. And the reactions are not always positive. For example, he has been banned from the local Wal-Mart.

Much like the encounter at the zoo, Glover and his friends asked permission if they could take a few photos inside the store. He made it about three quarters of the way through the store before he ran into some “high school rednecks” in the hunting and outdoor department, he describes.
“They saw me and started betting money on who could remove my head,” he recalls. He was able to sneak out with his group of friends by snaking through the aisles, but he is never allowed back inside for posing a threat to the public.

One place he is always accepted in his costume is at anime conventions, where most people are in weird costumes and fall outside of society’s definition of “normal” for one reason or another. Con attendees will ask him for hugs, pet his fur, pose for pictures with him, and, of course, glomp him. So far, he has only attended three anime cons.

While he is in costume, he never speaks. His playful puppy mannerisms come naturally, he says; he never practiced them. It takes him about 10 minutes to get into costume. First, he puts on the body, and then the feet and paws. The head, which goes on last, has a plastic ridge that holds it in place. When Glover wears the head for an entire day or more, such as at a con, the ridge starts to chafe and scratches up his nose. The entire costume can feel hot and a little heavy, but these are minor inconveniences.

What isn’t a minor inconvenience, however, is the smell that develops after being a wolf all day. After attending a convention, Glover will put the fur suit in a big plastic bag until he has time to wash it. The cleaning process is simple. He tosses the entire costume into a big, plastic storage tub, fills the tub with hot water, and pours plenty of Herbal Essences coconut-smelling shampoo on it. After swishing it around, he squeezes as much of the fur out as he can and then puts the costume outside to dry. It usually takes an entire day to dry completely.

Currently, Glover resides with his grandmother and her husband. He stayed with his father for about three years, but he didn’t get along with his stepmother. Luckily, his grandmother lived next door, so he moved in with her. He doesn’t think his grandmother could ever understand his furry lifestyle, so he doesn’t bother trying to explain it to her.
“I told her I bought the costume for $50 so she wouldn’t nag at me,” he says, “She doesn’t ask many questions about it, other than what it is. I tell her it’s a costume.”

One place he has found some recognition and acceptance is through his college. He recently took a Photoshop class and entered one of his projects in a show. Of course, he entered something of himself in costume. In the piece, the familiar white wolf is walking trough a dark forest, but his fluffy arms look like feathery wings, flapping frantically. He won the showcase and $100 to boot.
Reactions to the piece have been positive, with many people expressing they have never seen anything like it before. Glover doesn’t care what meaning people take from it. “Whatever they get out of it is what they get out of it,” he said.

Glover is looking to the future in more ways than just going to classes. Some day, Glover hopes to find someone he can share his life with. He wants to find a wife who would be a furry, just like he is, so they can “share a common interest, to be able to do the same thing as me,” he says. He dreams of he and his wife spending time and going out together in costume. He also hopes to find the time and money to attend a furry convention, a gathering just for other people like him.

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The origin story.

Most anime characters have one.

It is the story of what happened before, before the hero became who she is now, before she was known, respected, recognizable. It is the story that answers the “how.” How did she acquire that signature weapon? How did she learn that special move? How did she get to be so, you know, awesomely epic? For anime fans, that is usually enough. Just seeing their character living a normal life is endearing, adorable, and memorable in its simplicity.

Sometimes, the really good origin stories also answer the “why.” Why does this character continue to strive for her goal, despite all the obstacles? Why did this character choose a life of danger and disaster over a peaceful, normal life? Why do they choose to be so -- let’s just say it -- different?

Cosplayers, much like the characters they adore, also have origin stories. How did they get introduced to anime and manjga? How did they get hooked? How did they first learn about cosplay? And more interestingly, why do they choose to wear costumes in public?

Christine “Cat” Thompson has given careful thought to the answers to these questions, not just in relation to others, but herself. As a quasi-famous podcaster and blogger in her nerd circles, she has been asked to speak and write about the culture of cosplay multiple times. (Namedrop, for the uberly nerdly and curious among us: She is a host at, owned by Channel Awesome.) Every time, she forces herself to answer the question many cosplayers would rather brush off: Why am I dressed like this?

Her answer is a complex one, rooted in shame and a quest for self-identity.

Not the kind of shame that drew most of us to anime and cosplay. We were losers in middle school or high school; we found other like-minded losers; we bought anime boxes at the now-defunct geek heaven Suncoast; we refined our tastes; we grew obsessed; we bought or made costumes. Some parts of this common, community-wide origin story are also Cat’s story, but her shame is not as one-dimensional. Hers is the kind of shame rooted in the questions that have puzzled many characters and their human creators and fans forever. What is home? Who am I? Where do I fit in?

She knows these answers now, but it took her many, many years and many, many cosplays to find them.
It is a hot June day. St. Louis summers are notorious: from late May to early September, area residents are held in a tight grip, and that grip is sweltering, smelling, and swimming in its own sweat. Typically, there is a progression to this misery, in which the peak is typically not felt until mid-August. However, there are exceptions, always exceptions. Like this June day, and Carmen Sandiego is getting out of my car.

We are standing at the tip-top of Art Hill next to the St. Louis Art Museum, and Carmen is not dressed for the weather. Her wide-brimmed, felt hat is tight against her head. Pleather combat boots reach her knees. Her black gloves are lined with white fleece. A belted trench coat reaches her calves. The sun is directly overhead, and the only shade is being cast by the proud, looming statue of Crusader King Louis IX and his mount. Young families, solitary art students, and hipster couples are milling about on their way into the museum, and their reactions range to peeks over the shoulder to blank stares. I can’t blame them. Carmen stands out. She is a cartoon character, with blacks too black, reds too red, and yellows too yellow compared to the dying, dusty grass and brown dirt covering Art Hill.

It only makes sense that Carmen Sandiego, despite her ill-preparedness, would be lurking at the St. Louis Art Museum. Among the 30,000 works of art housed in the museum are masterpieces by the greats: Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Matisse. And even though the museum draws nearly half a million visitors per year, it is relatively quiet on this day. Besides, Carmen has stolen the entire Eifel Tower before. Making off with a painting or two in broad daylight should be simple to her, hipster couples or no hipster couples.

Carmen Sandiego, for those of you too young or too old to remember (essentially, those who are not late Gen-X’ers like us), is a globetrotting, thieving supervillain. She is the subtly sexy protagonist of a series of educational television shows and video games that were an essential ingredient to the childhood of any ’90s kid, right up there with Goosebumps, Pogs, and Ring Pops. Child players of her products had to answer questions that would, hopefully, lead to Carmen’s capture. Much to the glee of parents, Carmen’s scattered clues taught their children lessons in all of their core subjects. Most parents, I’m sure, thought the products were sneaky, convincing children they were detectives while subtlety teaching geography and history lessons, akin to squiring liquid vitamin on their cookies. I remember knowing exactly what the games were: trivia contests. That didn’t stop me from wanting to see that sultry scoundrel behind bars.

And here I am, a (nearly) grown woman, watching as Carmen Sandiego poses for photos with mummies, paintings, and sculptures. The museum art attendants, especially, welcome our presence: “You’re Carmen Sandiego, aren’t you?” they ask, unable to contain their smiles. It is in this moment of shared recognition that Cat most deeply gives into her Carmen character, pouting slightly with her cheap, exaggerated lipstick and peering at her fans from under her hat’s brim. She is striking. “Why yes!” she coos. And the employees laugh, in on the joke, a part of our fun, remembering their own adventures with Carmen, who is now standing in front of them, in the flesh, sort of.

“We’re drawing attention,” Cat gushes as we round a corner. “It’s awesome.”

This is why we cosplay. Even if Carmen isn’t an anime character, Cat plays her because she loves the character as well as the reactions she receives when she is in her costume. It’s that shared recognition and that private sense of community, created through the recognition, that gives cosplay its pull.

But aren’t there other ways to attract positive attention, or even fans, similar to those who now hound Cat? Why cosplay?
After the photo shoot, we shove Carmen back into my car and blast the air conditioner. She deftly unties her coat and throws her wig and hat over the passenger’s side chair, gasping for air. As we ensure that she isn’t going to pass out from heat stroke, we aimlessly drive until we end up in the Applebee’s parking lot at Kingshighway and Chippewa. Carmen finishes her transformation to Cat in the restaurant bathroom. She flops in the booth, the red lipstick wiped off, the red trench replaced with a Mario t-shirt, and her hair mussed and matted.

As she rehydrates, Cat nonchalantly tells her origin story, which is, in my humble opinion, the greatest cosplayer origin story ever.

It begins before she was even conceived. Her parents were U.S. Naval cryptologists.

“It’s a code breaker,” she bluntly states, ignoring my incredulous stares. Her parents were both stationed at a base in Scotland, but Cat knows few details. “I don’t really know what they did because it was all classified,” she said.
I tell her I find this slightly arousing as well as badass. This could be the beginning of a good anime. Right?

“It’s really not all that exciting,” she deadpans. The excitement, according to her, ends at the badass title of Naval cryptologist. The day-to-day work involves a lot of math and staring at machines. (I still refuse to believe this.)
Love blossomed between the codebreakers, and they were united in marriage May 2, 1980, by their superior officer. Her older brother, John, arrived in their lives Dec. 2, 1982.

Their next station was in Japan, and Cat was born July 11, 1985. She has no memory of the family’s time in Japan because they stayed for less than two years. This marked the beginning of Cat’s globetrotting childhood. After Japan, the family hopped to West Virginia, Germany, Puerto Rico, and Maryland. Cat said much of the “beauty and the danger” of living in these locations was lost to her because she was too young to remember them. Her family was in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. While in Puerto Rico, the locals would start fires and set loose wild dogs in an attempt to scare off the people at the base. At the time, she saw these events as fun interruptions to the daily routine, if they even registered at all.

Although there is no one place that she calls home, Maryland comes the closest for Cat. She spent 10 of her formative years in the state, so she was granted something that resembled a normal childhood. It helped that she was surrounded by a similar species: the “military kid.”

“Fort Meade, which is the big base up there, is home to a lot of people who went to my school,” she explained. This resulted in her school being jam-packed with military kids. Cat said children of military families share many traits. Most of them are comfortable with multiple languages. Cat, for example, attended American schools, but she still absorbed the languages that surrounded her as a child. (She attributes much of this acquisition to her father, who would use other languages with his children during daily household goings-on.) She speaks “a couple of words” in German, used to be fluent in Spanish, and remains fluent in Japanese.

“I also speak fluent sarcasm,” she quips at me. “You should know about that.”

Military kids also value friendships to an unusual degree. Friends are something to be treasured, not tossed aside casually. These kids know they have to stick together, so they are quick to make amends when conflicts arise. They don’t want to break this fragile thing for the few years or even months that it will last, until one of their families is transferred yet again. They need each other because they share a common experience that few “normal” children would understand. For example, non-military children had to teach Cat about Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. She had grown up in a world where “normal” was having parents who not able to, ever, answer this age-old family dinner conversation staple: How was your day?

In addition, military kids are never taught about world cultures: they are inundated with them beginning at birth. This results in the type of tolerance that can only be learned through experience. Stereotypes are nearly nonexistent.
However, she was still teased for her background. This teasing didn’t come from other schoolchildren. It was from her older brother.

“My brother was very big into war stories and history. And he would always tease me for being from an Axis country,” she said. “Normal” older brothers tease little sisters by telling them they’re a superhero villain; military kid big brothers tease their little sisters by labeling them as a group of countries that opposed the Allied powers during World War II.

This stuck with Cat in a powerful way. “My whole life I think he did it,” she said. “He teased me, and I didn’t have anything to respond. He was born in Scotland.”

Eventually, the teasing led to Cat feeling “a small margin of shame” for being from this place, this Japan, she said. This resulted in a reluctant, hesitant curiosity about the country and its culture that she couldn’t ignore. She wanted to know if her brother was correct, or if she should, instead, be proud of the part that Japan plays in her life story.

Although she had no recollection of Japan, Cat didn’t have to look far to begin her search for her birthplace. Her parents had acquired a variety of Japanese items and relics during their time there, and she started asking questions about them.
Close to the same time, Cat fell in love with a TV show that she knew she was probably too old for: Sailor Moon. The 13-year-old Cat couldn’t resist the show’s pull, even though she would quickly click it off whenever another family member walked into the room.

“I didn’t want people to know I was a grown girl, watching cartoons like a little kid,” she said. “It took quite a while for me to realize that it was OK. I had to understand what these cartoons were.”

Soon after, her brother gave his little sister an assignment: Check out this Dragon Ball Z and tell him what it was all about. Cat fell even deeper into her growing obsession. Anime series were like no other cartoon she had watched in the past: ongoing story, intense action, awesome superpowers, and strong characterization set them apart.

She went to her first convention, Otakon, at age 15. She and some friends all dressed in high school uniforms they threw together with spare parts laying around the house. They drew attention and loved it. Cat had managed to build herself an anime nerd clique, and the friends began hitting area cons as a group. She started slow, only going to one convention a year.

Cosplaying has always been a part of the con experience for Cat. When she attended Otakon in 2002, she cosplayed for the first time as Kamatari from Rurouni Kenshin, Gradually, she attended cons more and more frequently, and her cosplaying also became more sophisticated. Now, she volunteers at about three anime cons and attends five cons, most of them in the Midwest. And that doesn’t include the sci fi and other nerd cons. She has cosplayed so many different characters that she has lost count.

After Cat earned an associate of arts degree at Anne Arundel Community College, her family moved to the St. Louis area because her mother is originally from here. Her parents had retired from the military, but her (badass) father still does (badass) classified work in the private sector, she said.

“For a little while, he was writing defense reports of ‘things’ going on the Middle East,” she said. “And that is all I will never know about it.”

She began to explore colleges, but with two objectives: stay close to her family and go to Japan. Webster University in Webster Groves was a perfect fit due to its study abroad program. She majored in international studies, naturally, and studied in Japan from September 2006 to July 2007. While there, she attended Kansai University in Osaka.

And just like her high school years, she also managed to find a nerd contingent: the Webster Anime Society, a club devoted to the love and consumption of all things anime. However, this nerd contingent was special. They are credited with starting the St. Louis Anime Convention and then nurturing it into maturity. During the con’s third year in existence, Cat was asked to serve on the con staff, and some challenging duties were dumped into her lap after another staff member quit.

“I was suddenly, like, a marketing director, out of nowhere. I don’t think that was my title, but that’s what I called it,” Cat said. “It was very strange, and it was pretty stressful.” She was the newest person on staff and felt she didn’t have the expertise necessary for the position. She also was running seven con panels and was picking up other tasks along the way. The stress was matched by the intrinsic rewards she received from the experience.

Gradually, she continued her climb up the nerd ladder. Her fame with began through a connection in college. A friend had been picked up by the Web site, and she quickly followed suit and was named to the staff. Although the written portion of the Web site is currently shut down, the podcasting team of Nerd to the Third is going strong. She is looking to the future when the podcast can branch out on its own website.

There may be one other reason Cat chooses to be a part of the geek culture. There are few fans as loyal as geek fans. Before the interview began, Cat cryptically warned us that if we mess up this story, she will put the word on the Internet and will send her fanboys after us. Just what that means, I’m not sure, but it’s intimidating all the same.

Her fans flock to her and follow her. Around the country, so it seems. Recently, Cat had casually mentioned in an Internet post that she would be attending a con in Louisiana.

“A guy ended up showing up just because I was there. Just to meet me,” she said. “He was nervous and shaking, and it was just the sweetest thing.”

Fan encounters are still very surreal for Cat, who said her entire Internet presence is based on her being herself, geeking out over the things she has always geeked out over, being silly, and having fun.

“And then, to know that people follow that and really love it and appreciate the work I do,” she mulls, “it’s very strange. But it’s also very flattering.”

Cat currently resides in Fenton with her badass parents and two cats.


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