Cosplay Profiles: Tom Catt Discusses Confidence, Cosplay, and Finding Your Inner Queen
Oct 16, 2020
Costumes have long been a Halloween tradition. Mummies, witches, and superheroes wander neighborhood streets on Halloween every year. But the creative souls in the comic book community have taken the notions of costuming and transformed it into a larger-than-life hobby, profession, and lifestyle with their tireless passion and creativity.
Each week leading up to Halloween ComicFest (which conveniently falls on October 31st this year), we’ll be spotlighting a different cosplayer to get an inside look at their creative process, what inspires their cosplays, and more!
This week, we’re chatting with Tom Catt!
Theydies and gentlebeings, introducing the mother of all cosplayers, cosplays "Golden Girl." Tom Catt has been in the cosplay community for over 10 years and has been professionally competing for the last 2. Their insight and over the top personality is one of the reasons they are such a standout amongst their peers. This is their story.
Before we jump in, tell us how you got into comics and what some of your favorite books, characters, and/or properties are!
I initially got into comics when my eldest cousin gave me my first comic. It was Catwoman #1 with Jim Balent and Jo Duffy. I had always loved the character of Catwoman since I was introduced to her by Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. I really took to the character because she was strong, confident, and independent and had a very gray moral code. I cannot, however, ignore my very real teachers. Disney villains were some of my earliest role models. My favorite character from the entire franchise being Ursula, voiced by Pat Carroll. Ursula and Catwoman both had a profound effect on my youth and subsequent early days of my cosplay “career.” It’s important to note that, from a character standpoint, Ursula was one of my biggest influences. She not only was based on legendary drag queen Divine, but was initially supposed to be voiced by Bea Arthur. A lot of what made Ursula who she was heavily influenced who I became. We’ll get to the Golden Girls a little later in this interview.
So now, tell us about your history with cosplay! How did you get into it and what were some of your first cosplays?
I have always been into the idea of dressing up and cosplaying since I put on my first costume when I was knee high to a grasshopper. It was The Shadow, which was a crime superhero film from the 90’s. It wasn’t until I was in high school that my love for drag and wearing makeup started. My girlfriend and I loved going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and she’d do my makeup every time until I got brave and started doing it myself. With that I became more and more confident and started dressing up for Halloween. First Ursula, then Cruella, then a friend suggested I go to New York Comic Con. I hadn’t thought much about it, but it changed my life. It gave me this unbridled freedom to be my most authentic self. Some of my first cosplays were Cruella DeVil, Ursula, and Dr. FrankNFurter. I could play as any character and the only person who could stop me was me…with some familial interference…more on that later.
Give us an overview of your process of putting together the pieces of a cosplay.
When it comes to putting together a cosplay it takes a lot of studying and research. Because I make most, not all, of my cosplays I make sure to get a few patterns in my head as how I want the overall ensemble to look. Then I find out fabrics/materials: do I want it to stretch? do I want it to shine? Do I want it to flow? Do I want to make this out of foam, or buy it premade? How much more money am I going to put into this damn project? These are questions I ask myself after I find a character, or character design, that inspires me enough to want to wear them. I try to be economical, but let’s face it, this is cosplay. Cosplay, like drag, can only be done so thriftily.
So once I have the character, and the patterns, and the fabrics I sit and cry because I know I’ll have to cut up the fabric and the patterns and sew them all up, which takes time and patience. Be good to yourself if this is your first time putting together a cosplay, you WILL get better. Please, also remember, unless you’re competing you do NOT have to go balls to the wall. Cut corners and do what makes sense to you. I hate myself, you see, so I put myself through this creative torture. Having said that, once the pieces are all sewn up and put together, and all the details are finished and clean, I can look back on the outfit with pride as I was able to create that.
Okay, so the costume is all made. Walk us through getting into character, including hair, makeup, and finishing touches. What’s the most challenging part of this stage? Your favorite part?
So the costumes done! You’ve cried out with pride! You’ve posted pictures of yourself with an unshaven face and un-tweezed eyebrows all over social media looking like a marvelously dressed caveman. Now what!? In terms of getting into character there’s a lot you can do. For me, it’s easy because I’ve played the same character for *muffled number* years. It’s easy to get into character so long as you’re not arrogant about it. You can be the Joker but remember you’re still a human beneath all that paint and purple polyester. You go to a convention and you’re surrounded by veterans, casuals, in-betweeners, every walk of life; have a modicum of decorum even if you’re a villain. I remember my first convention I was walking around as Ursula and a person called out to me “I love you!” rather than telling the person “bugger off” I said “Thank you, dahling, I send you oceans of love!” You HAVE to remember you’re playing the character, make yourself memorable for the right reasons.
Usually I have my lineup picked out for a convention weeks in advance so I already know the type of “Character” I intend on putting on. Acting, for me, is the most fun. When doing your makeup remember to moisturize before and after putting on and taking off your face. You’ll thank me later. The character will determine how much or how little makeup I need to put on. If I’m genderbending, or in “boy drag” I wear what makeup I feel is appropriate; eyeshadow, lipstick, and liner, but when I’m crossplaying, or in “drag” it’s a huge production. REFERENCE PICTURES ARE A MUST. I could talk makeup and cosplay for hours, but please do your research, watch makeup tutorials, know that you’re not going to look exactly like the character, and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on it.
I wake up around 9. I have my morning coffee and constitutional, then I start getting into makeup and then hit the con floor at 1 sometimes 2 o’clock. Always remember to pack sewing supplies in case something pops and needs a quick fix. I know friends who’ve brought sewing machines, glue guns, heat guns, spray paint, and pretty much 25% of their crafting supplies to the con because they didn’t finish a prop, or costume piece. Your mental health is more important than the cosplay. Try and get all of that done prior to the show, if you can. The most challenging part of getting ready is determining if you should eat something before getting ready. I am infamous for only having coffee, vitamins and a spoonful of peanut butter before getting into cosplay. Remember to nourish yourself at least some point during the show and STAY HYDRATED. Also, if you wear heels, wear multiple socks and several pairs of tights, your feet will thank you. My first con I only wore 1 pair of socks and had blisters all weekend. Now? I wear about 4 pairs…cushion is important.
As for hair? Pack brushes, wig heads, and hairspray. I use hairspray for not only my wigs, but to seal my makeup. I implore you, DO NOT DO THAT. Your makeup won’t move but your lungs will hate you. As with the costume and makeup, reference pictures are very important and either you’ve commissioned someone to do your wig, or you styled it yourself. Don’t pack it in with the rest of your costume pieces, instead keep it on a wig head and securely pin the wig to it. It’ll keep its shape and you won’t have to brush or style it when you’re ready to put it on before heading to the con floor. I make sure my wigs are securely on my head with a stocking wig cap and bobby pins. Again, all this information is readily available by drag queens who’ve had these secrets for years.
How do you choose which characters you want to cosplay?
Choosing your characters is sometimes the most fun because it gives you an opportunity to try new things. My staples are villains/witches, just because they’re fun to play as. Their costumes are delicious, and their personalities are over the top. More often than not, people choose the characters they feel they resonate with in terms of cosplay. For me it’s all about confidence, playing the part I know I could never play on the stage or screen. I’m 6’4 and a hulk of a human being, but I want to play the femme fatales cause they get to have the most fun and chew up every ounce of scenery. Remember the Golden Girls? For years I was told I looked and sounded like Bea Arthur, but it wasn’t until 2015 when I got the bright idea to impersonate her. In the Deadpool comics, Wade Wilson loves Bea Arthur, so I decided to buy a Deadpool suit, I’d already had the wig from when I cosplayed as Ursula, and a belt from one of my Catwoman cosplays, put them all together and created BeaPool. It was one of those cosplays that just rocketed me to mediocrity, but it gave me a hook, because I looked and sounded exactly like her. So from there I started looking up new and inventive ways to incorporate Bea Arthur into the world of Cosplay. I lovingly refer to myself as the Golden Girl of Cosplay or Cosplays Golden Girl. There was, however, one time I decided to cosplay as Batman, which was so far from my norm, most of my friends were shocked, but it got me the most “in person” attraction second only to my Winifred Sanderson. Always remember that cosplay is for everyone and no one character is going to be cosplayed the same. Everyone brings something special to the character and no one, but the companies that created the characters, own them.
What have been some of your favorite cosplays?
For me my personal favorite cosplays are the ones I get to truly just let loose and have fun in. Harem Genie (for reference watch “Prince Ali” the moment where Genie erupts from the window of the Harem) is a special tribute to Robin Williams. Winifred Sanderson, there’s nothing I love more than shrieking “Sistahs!” as we turn and twirl and light up whatever room we are in. Catwoman is also another fun one as it’s one of the most comfortable cosplays I own, and I get to carry around my bullwhip, which I’m pretty good with. Everyone needs at least 3 comfortable cosplays. Pikachu is also another favorite of mine because it’s so unexpected. I like surprising and tickling my audience with not only exact interpretations, but fun and different interpretations of familiar or even obscure characters (like Ackmena from the Star Wars Holiday Special).
Overall, what would you say is your favorite thing about cosplay? What’s the hardest thing about cosplay?
My favorite thing about cosplay? The ability to play. The ability to be creative. The ability to surround yourself with like-minded nerds and geeks. There’s so much negativity that can be said about the cosplay community, but look at any fandom and you’ll see how toxic it is. With that in mind, cosplay has given me some of the closest friends I’ve ever had that I consider family. Which brings me to the hardest thing about cosplay. Some families are easier to talk to about dressing up and going to different states or parts of your own state. Mine however is a constant struggle. Being my most authentic self has gotten me dirty looks, has gotten me into very aggressive arguments, I’ve been threatened with violence, but never have I been tossed out of my home for being who I am and what I stand for. Some others are not as fortunate. One of the reasons I called myself “Con-Mom” for such a long time, and still do, as a matter of fact, was because I never wanted any of my “kids” to be treated in the same way as I was/am. Cosplay has gifted me a beautiful support system without which, I don’t think I’d still be alive to talk about it. You find out what you’re passionate about in cosplay and you create your own path with that. I’m so grateful for all that cosplay has granted me in terms of creative freedom, family, and lifelong friendships.
What have been some of the most memorable reactions you’ve gotten to your cosplays from fans, other cosplayers, etc.?
In terms of memorable interactions there’s so many. Of all my cosplays, Winifred Sanderson gets the most love. It’s a familiar part of people’s childhoods. She’s easily recognizable, and when people see my sisters and I together (Canvas Cosplay as Mary and PepperMonster as Sarah) it only enhances our performance. Also shrieking “Book” doesn’t hurt matters…You don’t expect a person my size to hit notes that high. It’s all about the performance and leaving a memorable impression. Most of my Bea Arthur cosplays also receive some love because they’re so different, but people love the interpretation and attention to detail. Again, Batman was also a success as it just shocked so many, in such a wonderful way. The best kind of reactions are the ones where your audience leaves with a smile on their face and a follow on your social media. That is to say, I’ve also gotten some questionable glances when I’m in other cosplays that show a bit more skin. Harem genie, Pikachu, Poison Ivy, Raven they’re all cosplays that I get double takes in because no one expects it or they find it indecent. People who are easily shocked should be shocked more often. Amazon Eve was one of the most terrifying for me in terms of reactions. An AHS group and myself were in Baltimore walking towards the merry go round for our shoot and we passed a group of older men, late 50’s early 60’s. It was the first time I was ever catcalled. As Amazon Eve I was well developed with long shaven legs in high heels with a beautifully painted face. That marked a shift for me and it really educated me on how women get treated on the regular. I’d do it all over again, however with the confidence I have now. Always leave your audience wanting more. Having said that when you pal with other friends and they see your body of work and how much you’ve accomplished it’s nice to physically see them in person and give them a great big hug and say, “You did it…you slayed it…you nailed it. I’m proud of you.” There have been a number of occasions where I’ve done that and have had that done to me. We all try to have fun and gas each other up…it’s one of the things I really love most. It’s the love and support you give and receive.
To get serious for just a moment, why is cosplay important?
Why is cosplay important? It gives those who don’t have an outlet…an outlet. It gives those creative few who like acting, performing, sewing, crafting, etc. an outlet to be who they want to be. It’s helped me discover who I am as a non-conforming person (my pronouns are they/them). It’s been such a help to those who have no other community to join in. There are people who make cosplay their entire personality which can be quite toxic, but more often than not the positives of being involved in cosplay far outweigh the negative. It’s given me a family I never knew I could have. There’s so much love, comradery, respect, and humility when you’re involved in this craziness. I’ve seen the good and bad sides of cosplay and I wouldn’t trade my memories, my friends, my family, my outfits, for nothing. There are things I’d like to change, certainly. Cosplay has sort of become a popularity contest where they who have the most followers/likes wins and that’s just so wrong, but unfortunately you can’t stop a speeding train, have to wait for it to pull into the station to let off some passengers. Cosplay, at the end of the day is what you make of it. That’s what makes it so special. It can be…anything.
What are some tips and tricks you would recommend to those new to cosplaying?
Tips and tricks: DON’T TAKE COSPLAY TOO SERIOUSLY. Unless you want to turn it into a business that makes money than you’re talking serious work, as well as business and networking abilities. Don’t take your mental health for granted, cosplay can be incredibly mentally exhausting, which is why I’m so thankful for the quarantine it’s given people a moment of repose to collect themselves. If you don’t think you’re going to spend a lot of money on cosplay you’re wrong. It’s part of any hobby or business you WILL spend money on wigs, materials, makeup. TALK TO EXPERTS. Watch/Follow Casey Renee Cosplay, Jedimanda, Tock Customs, SKS Props, Kamui Cosplay, ThatTomCatt, LuckyGrim, Nerdcaliber, Canvas Cosplay, PepperMonster, Downen Creative Studios, Sharon Rose Cosplay, Ivy Doomkitty, Ani-Mia. There are so many people you can research and look up who give advice on sewing, crafting, cosplay in general, these are the people whom I’ve learned from and who I’ve watched grow and flourish and succeed. Just show up and be present. Put yourself first. Your mental health is so important. If you’re not going to finish that cosplay don’t worry there’ll be another convention to have it ready by. It’s ok if you mess up, messing up or failing will only make you humbler and will only make you a better cosplayer. Do your research, know that there are resources available, and know that you’re not alone.
Finally, on PREVIEWS Game Night, one of the fill-in-the-blank questions we used to ask “Cosplay just isn’t cosplay without __________.” Finish that sentence for us!
“Cosplay just isn’t cosplay without ThatTomCatt, dahling!”
And one last question: if people want to follow you, where can they find you online?
My socials are ThatTomCatt on everything from Facebook to TikTok.