Do not let Monika Lee’s young appearance fool you. Since first cosplaying at the tender young age of 13 she has gone on to become one of the most recognized cosplayers around the convention circuit. Though I have only met her once throughout the years, at last year’s E3 expo in Los Angeles, she definitely showed that she is both a friendly and open cosplayer with her fans as well as a professional in every sense of the word. I have been following her work around the internet for several years now and I am continually amazed at each new piece she debuts.
Richard: Can you please give our readers a quick description of who you are?
Monika: My name is Monika Lee; I’m a 20 year old cosplayer from Atlanta, Georgia. I have been cosplaying since 2006 from various anime, manga, TV series and video games. Nowadays, I tend to lean more towards the gaming genre because I’ve loved playing video games ever since I was little. When I’m not cosplaying, I am a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology for Industrial Design. Also, I love food.
What series or properties do you draw your inspiration from when designing your cosplay outfits?
I typically cosplay from video games. Sometimes it’ll be because I love a game, a particular character or simply the design, but it’s usually a combination of all three. I like to choose outfits from whatever game I’m playing at the time because my inspiration to create the costume paired with my excitement for playing the game goes hand in hand. Playing the game also serves as an awesome reference for the character’s design. (laughs)
On average, how much time does it take you to complete your outfits?
It really varies on the design, my research and piggy bank at the time. If it’s an easy design with mostly sewing, I can complete it no time. For example, I finish my Belle costume in 4 days, my Assassin’s Creed Blackbeard in 2 days because I was fairly familiar with what I was doing. However, my Diablo Wizard took 3 – 4 months because there were a ton of details to contend with and the whole costume was a learning process for me.
Admittedly, I am a big fan of yours, but I also know little about you other than what I see online. Still, the one time that I did meet you, you seemed like an inviting person to talk to as well as a true professional at your duties at the Hyperkin booth. I would definitely not call you a booth babe as your credentials set you apart from that, but how was your experience as a presenter at the booth?
It was great! Ramon and the guys presented me with the opportunity after they had seen my work on Facebook and they were nothing but courteous. I made sure to educate myself about the product they were marketing at the time (the AK Striker) so that I could do the job properly. I saw the guys at this past E3 and they were super nice and I look forward to any collaboration we have in the future.
One of my favorite pictures of you that I was personally there to witness yet horribly forgot my camera that day to immortalize is that of you and you fellow Heroes of Cosplay cast members, Yaya Han, Riki LeCotey, Victoria Schmidt and Becky Young, as well as fellow cosplayer Jessica Nigri, as the Ponies from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic at the inaugural Comikaze. How does it feel to collaborate on a photoset like that with other well-known cosplayers?
When I cosplay with these ladies, I don’t think, ‘Hot dog, I’m cosplaying with world famous Jessica Nigri!’ (mocks hyperventilating) It’s more of, ‘hey, we’re best friends, we like this thing, let’s cosplay, yay!’ We share really similar interests and these girls all make incredible costumes. I like to work with them, not only because we’re good friends, but because they motivate me to make better costumes. Also cosplaying with friends is infinitely better than cosplaying alone, in my opinion.
Your costumes have a genuine and natural look to them, and when wearing them, you look exceptionally comfortable in them. How does it feel to you when you put on one of your outfits and meet the fans you have made over the years at these shows?
I’m glad they look comfortable because more often then not, they aren’t! (laughs) It’s still bizarre to think I have fans. I try and let people know that I’m just like them, I go to school, work and sit at home playing video games until 3 AM. It’s still incredibly motivating though when someone tells me I’ve inspired them to cosplay because that’s really what I love to do. I want to show people how I love cosplay so they can love it the same way I do.
You started cosplaying at 13. Who inspired you to start cosplaying or was it simply something that you had seen done and wanted to try your hand at?
There was this group of cosplayers online called JAC productions in Texas and I was addicted to their Naruto, Bleach and Kingdom Hearts parodies they had on YouTube. It seemed like so much fun and that combined with my anime addiction spawned the unhealthy cosplay child that I am today! (laughs)
At 13, it’s rather hard to start cosplaying on your own, so how did your parents react to your decision to start going out to events dressed as certain characters? I know when I started cosplaying, my mother was understanding of it as she was a costume maker when she was younger but my ‘traditional Latin values’ step-father found it kind of odd and humiliating. Hopefully you never had to go through that.
I actually snuck out quite a few times to hang out with my friends to go to cosplay gatherings in the area when I was younger. After a couple of years, my parents gained a better understanding of the skills I was learning and realized, ‘Hey, she could be doing drugs and stuff, but she’s making costumes, playing video games and is in marching band.’ I think that was the moment they realized they had a geek in their hands. (laughs)
I wouldn’t consider my dad strictly Chinese (if anything, he’s pretty un-Chinese for a Chinese man — he married a white woman after all!), but he’s still pretty hard on it in that it takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. If I was the ideal child, I would be getting my degree at school instead of getting my degree, chasing a job in the games industry and cosplaying around the world at the same time. Despite that, I think he still secretly enjoys helping me make props though.
What do you expect to gain from your time on Heroes of Cosplay?
I’d like for people to gain a better understanding of cosplay and to enjoy it the way I do. This is something that has never happened to the cosplay community before, much less happened to me so I’m still kind of taking it one step at a time.
If you had any advice for anyone wanting to start cosplaying or trying to better themselves at the craft, what would it be?
I always tell people to not be afraid and to try everything! I learned by experimenting and reading tutorials online. We are very fortunate to have many resources around us to make whatever our heart’s desire. Research, get hands on and go crazy!
I am a huge fan of Monika Lee and I am extremely interested in seeing what happens with her throughout the Heroes of Cosplay series when it debuts on SyFy on August 13. She is a sweet and kind person and I am happy for her appearing on this show. If you are interested in learning more about Monika, please visit the following links: