Yaya Han is definitely a veteran and fixture within the cosplay community. The level of detail and quality to her cosplay outfits is definitely the stuff that cosplay legends are made of. Always kind and sweet, she never fails to warm up to her fans and greets each and every one of them with a smile. Having met Yaya a few times at various conventions over the years, I have had the distinct pleasure of personally seeing her mature and grow as both a person and a cosplaying role model. Though I wish we were closer friends than just the acquaintances we are, she never makes me seem any less important than her close circle of friends and has even obliged to the occasional picture with my children, all three of which are also fans of her work.
Richard: Can you please give our readers a quick description of who you are?
Yaya: I am a veteran cosplayer. I am Chinese and grew up in Europe and Asia and migrated years ago to the US. I discovered cosplay in 1999 and when I started I was just having fun at conventions like Anime Expo. Soon it went from a hobby to a profession. It took me a long time to actually realize that and only recently started calling myself that. Right now the larger part of my life revolves around cosplay and I have even contributed to the writing of a book about cosplay and work exclusively in cosplay.
What series or properties do you draw your inspiration from when designing your cosplay outfits?
I have been a geek whole life: anime, manga, American comics, video games… you name it. I also like fantasy and read lots of books on the subject. So I think cosplay is just a way for me to express what I love. So anything I see, anything I watch… even adapting my love of history and love historical elements – overall when you look at my portfolio you’ll see a wide range as opposed to other cosplayers who repeat a specific genre. The various influences I take from really represent that I like many different things and hopefully you can see that in my work.
On average, how much time does it take you to complete your outfits?
Wow, that can be anywhere between 6 hours and 6 weeks; and depending on the costume where some are simple and quick to make while others require much more detailed work. My Psylocke costume took me only 6 hours complete, while others like my Fiora took between 5 to 6 weeks to finish. And when I work on costumes I spend anywhere between 8 to 10 hours a day on them. So usually when I say that I worked 100 hours on a piece I am not counting anymore because I have spent so much time on it I’ve worked on it. Cosplay is a full time job, but I still try to keep it fun. I do answer emails I receive and do my social media stuff to connect with my fans; but cosplay is my life now. It’s hard to take time to myself. It’s why I travel around to make sure I have some personal time away from my workshop.
You’ve certainly made quite the name for yourself over the past several years, many of those years I would admit to being a huge fan of yours. How do you react to that knowledge knowing that when there are events that you are advertised as attending, people are going to attend just to meet you?
Hmm, I think only in the last few years have I said it t myself I have a fan base. It’s difficult to make that switch from a fan at any con to a provider of entertainment and people looking to me as part of their con experience. It’s more responsibility, at least that’s how I see it. You can’t just go for fun. No, people are coming to see me. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or not feeling up to it; you are obligated to the con or project and for me it makes me work harder cause it is not for me but for others who are coming to see me. I am running to do stuff I love, to keep it personal and not all business. I just want to connect with a group who likes the same that I do. I try to stay a fan and still try to say it’s my hobby but I have that responsibility now and I try to balance that with having fun. I think it difficult for some in the community to balance fun and try to keep the fans happy as just opposed to yourself.
I’ve watched you grow as a cosplayer over the years and you continue to perfect and improve on your skills. How do you do that?
Easy; there are constantly things to learn. That’s why I love cosplay. Depending on cost and design and materials, there are always more things out there. It’s really limitless. Obviously I have lots of costume that are similar but the technology is constantly changing, so you will never run out of things to learn, and I think that’s important for cosplayers to keep in mind. I always want to keep pushing and learn and work with new materials and not to stay at a level I am now; I always want to do better. It’s more like a curiosity and have a thirst for learning. You don’t always have time to realize things but you have to find balance between time, money, resources and I have to adapt. I am also very hands on in making these accessories to keep finding out more about what I can do and learn. It’s important that I don’t get stagnant in anything that I do.
Your costumes, not all of them, but some, can definitely be described as ‘sexy’ and ‘provocative’ – and you definitely have the figure to pull them off, if you don’t mind me saying. That being said, do you chose your outfits based on what you think your fans want to see, what you feel comfortable in or a combination of both?
Well I definitely do not choose an outfit with that in mind. Some fans say I did sexy and provocative back between 2002 and 2005 when I did Felicia from Darkstalkers and they were like ‘Oh my god, so scandalous.’ Back then I was seen as a fan of the character and people realized, at least the fans knew that was the character was designed like that. Now if I wear it it’s a scandal and I hear comments like ‘you’re only doing this for attention’ or ‘you never played that game’ and stuff along those linest. Because the cosplay scene has grown, the theme has changed and they don’t understand that side of the community. Newer fans to the scene only see you for face value and make assumptions of you. Dressing sexy has never bothered me. I do it because the character is strong and confident, and I like that. Again, balancing what you want to do and what is appropriate nowadays. And security at cons is a lot stricter. If anything, I think I adopted to the change.
With some of your costumes, you have taken some liberties to the overall appearance of them, the Chun Li outfit from last year’s SDCC and AX to be precise, either on your own or through inspiration from another artist. Do you do this consciously as a way to individualize your expression of love for that particular character or t challenge yourself to do the unexpected with certain costumes and characters?
Um, with Chun Li, she was actually a piece of concept art drawn by another artist, so I didn’t design that one. Everytime I post about it I mention that I didn’t that the artist who did had a great idea to do an art nouveau Chun Li and when I saw it thought it was a Chun Li design for me, something that I liked using in my costume design with lots of details and right up my creative alley. I actually thought some people would be confused as to who I was cosplaying but everyone accepted readily that this was Chun Li, even though it isn’t an official design. People really liked it. As for taking creative liberties, I do not always follow the design and have always been like that. I think about translating a character from 2D to 3D, something that would work as an honest movie style costume. I always try to translate it to something I could wear and add depth or texture with different fabrics and materials. No disrespect to the original artists and designers, but this is just to show my own artistic expression on a character I love.
When I first learned that you would be on the cast for Heroes of Cosplay I was pretty excited and ecstatic that someone I knew would be on the show. That being said, how did you react to the news that you had been selected?
I was actually the first person cast for the show, and when I was cast it was a different show completely. It was still about cosplay but it didn’t have the format it does now. Long story short, the show has evolved from that point, and I think it have been very positive. It could have had a less truthful format and since then we have added a few extra cosplayers, some who I haven’t met before the show, and some I have gotten closer to because of it. It has been a great journey.
I was like, “Okay, how is this going to work?” When I first got selected there was nothing like this show in anybody’s mind, so I had to teach and educate what cosplay was. Now everyone on the show knows what it is. Not everyone who worked on the show knew what cosplay was, it was a whole new world and I was showing it with as much honesty and truthfulness as I could. I know that for me, while I am on the show, I feel that if I am on the show I can make sure that I help introduce cosplay to others in the right way. To show the hard work, the good work and what it is to be a cosplayer. I just wanted to help make the intro for those who don’t know about the community. I have been in the cosplay community for years and watched it grow and have hopefully influence it in some ways and I wanted to continue that – and I wanted to make sure that I represented cosplay in the right way.
What do you expect to gain from your time on Heroes of Cosplay?
Mostly I would like … I mean I really want people to know our world and hopefully fall in love with it. I am realistic, some will love it, some will hate it… but from that standpoint, I am prepared for everything. Being a cosplayer you have to take criticism, but I hope we can reach those who never heard of cosplay and want to learn more about it and even make a costume. That is what I want. Obviously, personally, there will be more recognition, like it will be for everyone else on the show, but I need to make sure my company is ready for it; to be prepared for what comes from it. I need to prepare my company for whatever flux there might be… I am gearing up just in case. I am hoping this will lead to other opportunities to voice my belief in cosplay more. I have so much to say about it, the different aspects, I really want to tell people about it. I want to tell and be heard more.
Do you hope this may be a gateway from cosplaying to other projects you may have a passion for? I know you have some interest in acting. Your recent portrayal as Ada Wong on the Ada Rising Resident Evil fan film certainly makes one wonder if you would like to pursue that route.
Yeah, I definitely hope for a lot of us that it is. I think that for some of us it was a represent the full culture of cosplay; it was important to me to represent cosplay right. I have to say, that while I do believe I want this to be a gateway, I am a horrible actress, I don’t think that it is for me. I am a genuinely awkward person. I think that my worse part of being on the show was being on camera constantly; I never knew what I wanted to say. I don’t think acting is in my future – but anything is possible. Maybe it can still happen. I never thought I would spend my life in cosplay, but I want to keep being creative. And make cool things. And dress up. I’ll do whatever project would let me continue that… and travel! Anything to travel.
If you had any advice for anyone wanting to start cosplaying or trying to better themselves at the craft, what would it be?
Well, it is easy to get in, so my advice is utilize the people available. There is so much information out there to make costumes and there is no excuse for making a costume for yourself. When we started there was nothing else; the internet was not there – people shared and talked about techniques. But now it is there for them. If you are passionate and want to cosplay, you will have that desire to look up that information. Some people don’t have time but the option is that to have something made for them, and that’s okay. But enjoy all aspects and get hands on. Try to make your own costume. Supplement some things if you have to, but try to make things on your own. Don’t be afraid to do your own work. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t let the negative feedback get you down. My advice is not to be deterred by any negative mentality but to look at cosplay as a pastime and something personal and do it for yourself and enjoy the creation process. That is the best advice. Take it all for the fun factor but remember that cosplay is more than fun; there is more depth to it than just fun. It really is a passion.
Yaya Han was definitely a blast to talk with, and I promise to bring you more of Yaya soon as we are currently planning some kind of collaboration for PopCults, so if you are a fan, be sure to check back here for some more details as they become available. But definitely keep an eye out for Yaya when SyFy’s Heroes of Cosplay debuts on August 13. If you would like to learn more about Yaya before then, please check out the following links: