The Art of Crossplay– Becoming Starfire

We are honored to have the sublimely inspired cosplayer @geekyjcosplay share the following process essay with us about his recent Starfire crossplay and the history of how this character has been depicted in DC comics and animation. James is a project manager, culinary writer, cosplayer, and avid geek living in Cambridge, MA. Without further ado, take it away, James!–Dr.G

Genre fans have long been acquainted with how women are depicted: the chainmail bikini, battle lingerie, and the fact that the most common superpower is remarkably large, gravity-defying breasts. My approach to cosplay has been to take some of those tropes and reinterpret them for male anatomy as a form of equal opportunity objectification. Men showing skin isn’t unheard of in the geek sphere; there’s Conan, He-Man, Namor, and the Hulk, after all. But I notice there’s something considered extra illicit in offering up the male form specifically in the male-gazey outfits foisted upon women: that illustrates the tensions between how media treats gender expression and what our society declares acceptable objectification of men versus that of women. After the great reception my first cosplay as Huttslayer Leia/Leo received, I wanted to keep up the theme, choosing DC’s Starfire. Created as a member of the Teen Titans in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez (but perhaps better known from the Cartoon Network series Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go), she was originally conceived of as “Red Sonja from Outer Space.”

Much as Red Sonja’s iconic look is the chainmail bikini, Starfire has always been associated with showing skin. Her original outfit is a purple monokini, where a V of fabric joins brief bottoms to a collar. The cartoon modified this look into a crop top and miniskirt and DC Super Hero Girls tries to be even more conservative, making it a minidress with a décolleté window. Starfire comes from a hedonistic, polyamorous species that derives superpowers from absorbing sunlight, which perhaps explains her choice in fashion, but as she is a character/simulacra rather than a nonfictional woman with her own agency, the fact that she’s typically dressed and characterized by an all-male team (and positioned for a primarily male audience) can make any claims of portraying body confidence and sexual liberation somewhat questionable. This came to a head in the New 52 run of Red Hood and the Outlaws, where Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort debuted her most revealing outfit yet, while also seemingly stripping her of her memories and emotions. The subsequent solo Starfire series (I call it an “apology tour”) helmed by Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti gave her another redesign: a more playful look with a long-sleeved crop top and hotpants, and her most recent incarnation in DC’s Rebirth goes for more coverage still: she now wears an armored leotard with opera gloves and thigh-high boots. With so many Starfire looks to choose from, I couldn’t decide on just one, so I picked three different versions of the character (cartoon, New 52, and Rebirth), one for every day of Rhode Island Comic Con.

When it comes to making a Starfire costume, the relative brevity of coverage makes things easy. Things come down primarily to spandex and craft foam, as you want light, flexible materials that can approximate the skin-tight, painted-on appearance of the comic books. I used a combination of craft foam armor, sealed with Plastidip and painted in metallic acrylic to preserve its flexibility, worn over shorts and singlets sewn from metallic purple 4-way stretch spandex.

I made patterns by draping kraft paper over my body, having my long-suffering husband trace the shapes, and then fitting paper test pieces together with tape. Craft foam is a fairly forgiving material, and it beats the thicker EVA foam floor mats as it can be easily cut with a sharp pair of scissors versus carving pieces out with a razor knife.

I also recommend adopting my painting method: glopping on thick, irregular layers with a sea sponge. It takes longer for the paint to dry, but it creates a nubbly, quasi-organic texture that helps conceal any mistakes.

One thing to keep in mind is that hot glue cures quickly and bonds instantly with craft foam, but it is terrible for applying spandex strapping to the foam. Every fabric strap I tried to fix with hot glue broke over the course of the convention. I highly recommend using contact cement or E6000, instead, which smell awful and take longer to cure, but also provide stronger, flexible hold.

Since Starfire’s species is orange in hue, extensive makeup was required. Probably more than I would’ve wanted to deal with for three consecutive days had I more presence of mind. As I’ve never dealt with makeup at all, before, I found Lindsay Loves Makeup’s Starfire tutorial video on YouTube immensely helpful, as well as the help of my friend, Laura. While I originally planned for lots of green eye shimmer and bold violet lips, Laura helped pull me into a more natural palette. She pointed out that what gives people their own coloration is not just the skin’s surface pigment, but also the flesh beneath it, and she helped me choose an assortment of flame colors that enhance the orange. The base of the makeup is Mehron’s liquid makeup in orange, blended in 1:1 ratio with foundation for the face and body lotion everywhere else. I used red hair wax to color my hair, eyebrows, and beard, then a parade of eyeshadows for contouring. I used an all-over deep orange matte for flawless coverage, burnt orange shimmer for shadows, and superfine gold ultra shimmer to highlight. The eyes are defined with all-over orange shimmer, coral shimmer at the outer edge, and dots of canary shimmer at the inner edge and gold shimmer at the lower center of the upper lid. For the lips, an orange base is tinted deep red at the outer edges and shimmering gold at the center, then blended together, and black mascara and eyeliner complete the look.

The most important element of a Starfire costume is supreme body confidence, which I’d encourage everyone to try to develop. Being so “exposed” in public can be liberating and affirming rather than vulnerable. If you’re a woman, your choice to don the costume can become an empowering reclamation after so many years of fan service to the male gaze and, if you’re a man, it’s a fun subversion that proves what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. With so many different Starfire looks to choose from, it’s also easy to find one you’re personally comfortable with, so be sure to have fun! A tremendous amount of work went into the costumes and doing the makeup each day, but I was really pleased with the finished results. Way more people recognized Starfire than I expected and we were stopped every few steps for photos. Even better, I ran into a few of my Starfire sisters on Sunday!

You can follow more of @geekyjcosplay ‘s fabulous adventures on instagram! Thanks so much James, for sharing this with our readers, and the further reading with his sources linked below:

History of Starfire (Wikipedia)

Starfire Costume Retrospective (Women Write About Comics)

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